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August 01, 2008|By Michael Sragow

Capsules by Michael Sragow. Full reviews are at

The Dark Knight Heath Ledger gives a bravura performance as the Joker in this handsome piece of work, but it takes you from absorption to excruciation within 20 minutes, and then goes on for two hours more. It's scaled to be an urban epic about the deterioration of hope and possibility in Batman's (Christian Bale) hometown, Gotham City, but there isn't a single inspired moment in it. Yes, Ledger detonates a savage sick joke or two. But it's a Pyrrhic acting victory. The whole movie is set up for him to be the jiving put-on artist of destruction outwitting the squares. Director Christopher Nolan's use of incessant tension music and gun-to-the-head jeopardy cheapens even the classiest bits. PG-13, 150 minutes. C

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. 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. PG-13 110 minutes C+

Hancock Will 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). Once their story line runs its course, the filmmakers resort to a twist that fills the movie with unearned sentiment and cheap suspense. PG-13 90 minutes. B-

Hellboy II: The Golden Army Guillermo del Toro designs this follow-up to his 2004 Hellboy as a battle between the magical and fearsome creatures who roamed J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth and C.S. Lewis' Narnia and a handful of agents from the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, including the burly red demon Hellboy (Ron Perlman). Del Toro stuffs the film with wit and wonderments. Yet it often plays like a lovingly crafted synthesis of the superhero and fantasy sagas we've been seeing all decade, and especially this summer. PG-13 120 minutes B

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl Abigail 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. G 101 minutes C

Kung Fu Panda Reared to be a noodle maker, a jovial panda named Po (Jack Black), the hero of this martial-arts cartoon, leaps into the chop-socky big leagues when he accidentally wins a competition to find the Dragon Warrior destined to defeat an evil snow leopard. The film hits its stride when Po goes one on one with Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), a red panda who is as fleet and sharp as Po is roly-poly and fuzzy. Overall, it has a cuddly kapow. PG 88 minutes B

Mamma MiaIn this clunky version of the international stage smash showcasing ABBA's greatest hits, Meryl Streep plays a former pop-rock star who runs a decaying Greek tourist hotel, and Amanda Seyfried plays her daughter, who wants to know which of her mom's ex-lovers is her father. It's like a party where everyone is so desperate to have a good time that it makes you miserable. PG-13. 108 minutes. C-

Meet DaveIn this benign, pedestrian, kiddie-level comedy, Eddie Murphy plays a miniature space captain - we're talking Tom Thumb-size - from the distant Planet Nil. But he also plays the captain's spaceship, which looks and sounds exactly like the captain and obeys the captain's commands. PG 90 minutes C

Tell No One On the eighth anniversary of his wife's abduction and apparent murder, a Paris-based pediatrician (Francois Cluzet) receives an e-mail containing a link to a video Web site where he thinks he spots her alive. The e-mail comes with the warning "tell no one," because people will be watching. The movie, like its hero, is shrewd about the small lies and mini-corruptions that can lead to major crimes. Unrated 125 minutes A-

WALL-Eis the first dystopian parable that's actually ecstatic fun. The hero is a beeping, whirring Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth class, or WALL-E. He's the sole survivor of a mammoth cleanup operation, and he's lonely - until a sleek female robot named EVE comes looking for signs of organic life. G 90 minutes A

Wanted goes postal with wireless speed. It's a tall tale of skyscraper proportions: the gory story of a put-upon accountant (James McAvoy) who discovers that he's the son of a top assassin in a secret world of super-assassins. The film pulls you by the scruff of the neck and makes you thankful for it. R 110 minutes B+

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