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August 22, 2008|By MICHAEL SRAGOW

Capsules by Michael Sragow. Full reviews are at baltimoresun.com/movies.

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

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-

Man on WireThis documentary pays tribute to the high-wire walker Philippe Petit, who in 1974 plotted and executed a plan to walk between the tops of the World Trade Center's twin towers. Thanks to the suspenseful, sensuous direction of James Marsh, Petit's accomplishment registers, in its own balletic way, as potently as King Kong climbing to the top of the Empire State Building. PG-13 90 minutes A

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) becomes embroiled in a despicable warlord's efforts to bring the entombed Dragon Emperor (Jet Li) back to life. Three yetis, a yak and a couple of yuks. That's all you get in the way of original entertainment in this extravagant and frenetic third entry. PG-13 112 minutes C-

Pineapple ExpressA stoner (Seth Rogen) and a dealer (James Franco) are on the run from a loathsome drug kingpin (Gary Cole) and a crooked cop (Rosie Perez). The plot is merely an excuse for the audience to get a giddy hit off some heady secondhand smoke while laughing and cheering at cartoon sadism that attempts (and fails) to put the slap back in slapstick. R 111 minutes C-

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Lucasfilm's new feature-length cartoon gives fanboys and fangirls their chance to see sweeping big-screen images of the Jedi using their clone armies to protect the Republic against the Dark Lords of the Sith and their droid armies. It's not exactly thrilling, and it doesn't cover much new ground, but young audiences will lap it up like ice cream, and its good humor and faith in the Force will put adults in a Saturday-morning frame of mind, even at midnight showings. PG 98 minutes B-

Tropic ThunderA failing action star (Ben Stiller), a drug-addicted comic (Jack Black) and a celebrated Australian actor (Robert Downey Jr.) go on location to make the ultimate Vietnam War film and stumble onto real guerrillas working for a drug lord in the Golden Triangle. Downey is daringly funny as a white man from Down Under playing an African-American soldier; so is Tom Cruise as a feral studio chief. At its best, this movie wrings divine madness from wretched excess. R 107 minutes B

Vicky Cristina Barcelona In seductive Barcelona, romantic complications swirl around an artist (Scarlett Johansson), a grad student (Rebecca Hall), a painter with a past and a reputation (Javier Bardem) and the painter's ex-wife (Penelope Cruz). Woody Allen's affectionate, enlightening and, best of all, blissfully entertaining movie shows how much residue sexual desire or experience leaves in the brain and gut and heart. It's a summery idyll: his most entertaining picture since Bullets Over Broadway or maybe Sweet and Lowdown. PG-13 97 minutes A-

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