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Short Subjectives

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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BEST IN SHOW (PG-13) Mockumentarian Christopher Guest reunites his Waiting for Guffman collaborators (including Eugene Levy, Parker Posey and Catherine O'Hara) for a similar venture about the eccentric participants at a national dog show. A bit disappointingly, Guest and company rely on easy targets (tacky middle Americans and fatuous city dwellers) but also show a surprising affection for canine pageants and their four-legged contestants. -- CH

BILLY ELLIOTT (R) A hybrid of the miserable-English-childhood film and performing-British-nonconformist movies such as The Full Monty, Billy Elliott depicts an 11-year-old coal miner's son (Jamie Bell) who develops an improbable passion for ballet. Some of the self-conscious flourishes (like the soundtrack prominent with T-Rex) can be strange, but it's an endearingly idiosyncratic film that puts some new moves on its "feel-good" premise. -- CH

BLESS THE CHILD (R) 1/2 Though neither intellectually stimulating nor spiritually challenging, this woman-and-child-in-jeopardy flick with a supernatural twist provides a tense couple of hours. Kim Basinger raises her niece Cody for six years, until she's kidnapped by Rufus Sewell's cult that's out to win God's special child for Satan. Cody has special powers but the script is unclear about what they are and under what circumstances she can use them. She may turn up someday in an X-Men sequel, enrolling in Prof. Xavier's school. As usual in these movies, the devil wins the special effects battle but God wins the war. -- SW

BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 (R) It's brighter, louder, funnier and scarier, but that doesn't mean it doesn't suck. Director Joe Berlinger had a good idea "to make a sequel to the phenomenon, not to the movie," but when, after some Scream-era self-referential cleverness, things start going bump in the night, I doubt it will have much appeal for Blair Witch fans or non-fans. There are so many false alarms, we stop believing anything we see and therefore can't be scared. At first the five new thrill-seekers seem more interesting and less obnoxious than their predecessors, but the curse of the Blair Witch eventually drags them down. -- SW

BRING IT ON (PG-13) 1/2 For a long while it's hard to tell whether this is a seriously comic look at high school cheerleaders or a tongue-in-cheek satire of teen flicks, and by the time it turns relatively serious you'll be caught up in the story and you won't care. Kirsten Dunst leads the all-white San Diego squad and Gabrielle Union is her inner-city counterpart in the face-off at the national finals. Eliza Dushku and Jesse Bradford bring LA attitude and romance to the (California) Southland. -- SW

THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB (R) A contrived effort to market gay life to a mainstream audience, this fluffy romantic comedy seems to believe shallow, one-dimensional characters and sitcom situations will lure a "Friends" viewership -- in that sense it may achieve the expected results of making its gay characters bland and superficial enough for any taste. Set in the Los Angeles gay enclave of West Hollywood, the film concerns six bosom buddies who are trying to overcome bad habits like promiscuity and self-hatred while they search for love on a competitive, looks-oriented dating scene. -- FF

THE CELL (R) The director of the "Losing My Religion" video offers a psychotropic serial killer thriller in which the mind of a murderer looks like an evening of MTV's "120 Minutes." When Jennifer Lopez makes a mental interface with deranged Vincent D'Onofrio, the film yields plenty of voluptuous, nightmarish images, which ultimately amount to no more than window-dressing to a high-tech knock-off of The Silence of the Lambs. -- CH

THE CONTENDER (R) Rod Lurie's follow-up to the underrated Deterrence lacks the complexity of the best political potboilers and could have been tightened considerably, but the stars deliver for Lurie and he's written them some sharp dialogue. Jeff Bridges earns my vote as the lame-duck president, trying to get his appointee for vice president, Sen. Joan Allen, approved by Congress. Gary Oldman promotes a sex scandal rumor to block her, and she refuses to dignify with a response questions that should never have been asked. The Contender deserves a "D" rating -- Republicans not admitted without a Democratic guardian. -- SW

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