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July 11, 2008|By Michael Sragow or Chris Kaltenbach

Capsules by Michael Sragow or Chris Kaltenbach, unless noted. Full reviews are at baltimoresun.com/movies.

The Children of Huang Shi Jonathan Rhys Meyers delivers a noble performance as a British war correspondent who travels to China in 1937 to assess the looming Japanese occupation and instead becomes a teacher and savior of 60 Chinese children. The director, Roger Spottiswoode, depicts tragedy from a point of view that draws us into human loss, rather than merely making us flinch at ugliness, and with the help of a cast that includes Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, creates the rare movie that deserves to be called "inspirational." (M.S.) R 114 minutes A

Get Smart Steve Carell's knack for sneaking humanity into broad comedy is all wrong for Maxwell Smart, the blundering, incredibly lucky agent for the super-secret government spy agency CONTROL. In a misguided equivalent to a comic-book "origin story," the movie portrays Smart's entrance into the world of field agents as a revenge of the nerds. (He even has a couple of lovable funky-geeky sidekicks.) He's now a former fatty and ace analyst who yearns to be as effective in harm's way as in the briefing room. Carell hasn't lost his comic timing, and at times his amiability wins you over. But the movie is a time-killer without a killer instinct. You never get the sense that the director, Peter Segal, knows where the funny is, whether in his star or in the story. Even if it lolls you into a pleasant mood, it evaporates from your mind the minute you leave the theater. (M.S.) PG-13 110 minutes C+

Gonzo Alex Gibney's documentary biopic about "Gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson uses any means at hand to make the rare movie that actually takes us into a writer's head. It pulls you through the manic vortex of a man who attempted to embody the mood swings of his time until he shot himself in the head in 2005, at age 67. This movie is both subjective and objective: It's some paradoxical kind of great documentary. (M.S.) R 118 minutes. A

Gunnin' For That #1 SpotThe lives of eight high school basketball players who dribble, pass and shoot their way into the ultimate city-park game: the "Elite 24" tournament at Rucker Park in Harlem, N.Y. in 2006. The movie becomes a true melting pot jamboree: The Summer Olympics may offer more high-stakes spectacles, but nothing will top the last half-hour of this film for high spirits. (M.S) PG-13 90 minutes B

HancockWill Smith stars as a surly, feckless Los Angeles superhero who makes nice with humanity under the guidance of a big-hearted public-relations man (Jason Bateman). Smith and Bateman are cute together, and they trigger some theater-shaking belly laughs. Yet once their story line runs its course, the filmmakers resort to a twist that fills the movie with unearned sentiment and cheap suspense. (M.S.) PG-13 90 minutes. B-

The Incredible HulkIdealistic scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) tries to find an antidote to the gamma-radiation poisoning that makes him transform into the Hulk in states of excitement or stress. This movie brings new meaning to the phrase "hit or miss" - when a legendary figure like the Hulk hits, the impact is startling, and even when he fans, he generates gale force. (M.S.) PG-13 114 minutes B

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullIndiana Jones (Harrison Ford) fights a Soviet super-agent for the Crystal Skull of Akator, an otherworldly artifact possessing mystical powers. Amid a string of hilarious and outlandish shocks, Harrison Ford makes Indy more engaging than ever. You also get Karen Allen and Shia LaBeouf. (M.S.) PG-13 120 minutes B+

Iron ManRobert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark, a self-absorbed munitions tycoon who, after a political kidnapping, gains a novel slant on life that makes him a dynamite do-gooder. He creates new-millennial armor that turns him into a superhero and alters his relationship to two close associates: his right-hand gal Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and his business partner and surrogate father, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). What gives the movie its sky-high lift is that it plays these changes for humor and pathos as well as thrills and suspense. (M.S.) PG-13 120 minutes A-

Kit Kittredge: An American GirlAbigail Breslin plays a plucky young Cincinnati lass who maintains her honor and high spirits while her father (Chris O'Donnell) tries to find work in Chicago and her mother (Julia Ormond) turns their home into a boarding house. The story becomes a blunt cautionary tale of prejudice, with hobos standing in for all stigmatized or oppressed groups. The movie itself is a sort of hobo stew, full of ingredients that only fitfully cohere. (M.S.) G 101 minutes C

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