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December 22, 2006|By Capsules by Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach

Apocalypto -- pits a spotless young man, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), the son of Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead), a Mayan jungle chieftain, against evil marauders led by their majestically efficient captain Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and the satanically sadistic Snake Ink (Rodolfo Palacios). Although it's told in a Mayan dialect, with English subtitles, the movie is just an arthouse film for jocks. Only the surface is exotic: the Mayan empire in its late-decadent phase. Otherwise, the life-or-death jeopardy is so basic, director Mel Gibson might as well be filming a good guy trying to stop a train before it hits the damsel tied to the railroad tracks. (M.S.) R 138 minutes C-

Blood Diamond, -- an adventure film that spotlights the practice of using the trade in precious stones to fund murder and other violence in certain African countries, has the unenviable job of serving two masters. It has to be exciting, but not so much that its message is lost. It has to be moralistic without being preachy. It's only in what amounts to the film's epilogue that things fall out of whack. But by then, the film, with compelling star turns by Leonardo DiCaprio (as an opportuistic South African soldier of fortune) and Djimon Hounsou (as a desperate father struggling to reunite his family), has earned too much good will to let a few stumbles kill its momentum. (C.K.) R 138 minutes B+

Bobby, -- a star-filled fictional account of what 22 disparate people were doing at the Ambassador Hotel the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated, is a lament of what might have been. With sincerity and untempered hero worship, it offers Kennedy as a paradigm of what a leader should be. For those who believed in RFK, Bobby will pack an emotional wallop. (C.K.) 112 minutes B+

Borat -- features a terrific, risky comic creation: a village idiot for the global village. A TV reporter from Kazakhstan comes to the United States and discovers everything you always wanted to know about America but were afraid to ask. British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles give Borat the high-low genius of an aces episode of South Park. (M.S.) R 85 minutes A

Casino Royale -- showcases that terrific actor Daniel Craig as he and the whole creative team go back to novelist Ian Fleming's original conception of the super-agent as a somber, driven operative on Her Majesty's Secret Service. It's a shrewd and often exciting relaunching of a franchise, but the filmmakers show too much of their sweat. (M.S.) PG-13 144 minutes B

Charlotte's Web, -- based on E.B. White's great children's book, follows a valiant young girl named Fern (Dakota Fanning) as she saves the runty pig Wilbur from her father's ax; then a spider in her uncle's barnyard, Charlotte, saves Wilbur from being turned into a Christmas ham. It's impossible to think of anyone besides Dakota playing Fern and bringing the same rapture and strength to the character. But here she's merely the first among equals, including the vocal cast led by Julia Roberts as Charlotte and Dominic Scott Kay as Wilbur. And Gary Winick proves to be the rare filmmaker who is a true heart and a good director. (M.S.) G 98 minutes A-

Deck the Halls -- stars Danny DeVito as a car salesman with a dream: erecting a holiday-light display so huge it can be seen from space. In the process he alienates his neighbor, optometrist Matthew Broderick, heretofore the local "Mr. Christmas." There isn't an earned moment of uplift or laughter in the movie. (M.S.) PG 95 minutes F

The Departed -- illuminates, with a blowtorch, the tangled roots of urban corruption when a Boston Irish kingpin (Jack Nicholson) puts a mole (Matt Damon) in the State Police and the police put a mole (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the mob. The direction (Martin Scorsese) and the writing (William Monahan) burst with exposed-wire energy; so does the ensemble, including the scene-stealing Mark Wahlberg as a police sergeant. (M.S.) R 149 minutes A

Eragon -- is the story of a boy and his dragon, and of the war for freedom they help lead. It isn't much, but its baby dragon sure is adorable. A sword-and-sorcery saga that desperately wants to be another Lord of the Rings, Eragon succeeds in being only the palest of imitations. It lacks scope, grandeur, humanity and style. What it does have is a teen-heartthrob hero, plus some passable special effects and a handful of big-name stars on hand to collect a paycheck. (C.K.) PG 106 minutes C-

A Good Year -- features Russell Crowe as a ruthless London bond trader who inherits a chateau and vineyard in Provence, France, from his uncle (Albert Finney) and rediscovers his soul. But this overproduced frolic seems like proof that money can't buy happiness. (M.S.) PG-13 120 minutes B-

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