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Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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STATE AND MAIN (R) **1/2 Such enjoyable actors as Alec Baldwin, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sarah Jessica Parker put what bite they can into David Mamet's limp showbiz satire. In depicting the havoc wreaked by a film crew on a Vermont village, Mamet means to pay tribute to small-town Americana, but his town comes across as phony as a theme park attraction, and wife Rebecca Pidgeon is over her head as the story's romantic lead. -- CH

SUGAR & SPICE (PG-13) ** Here's the stupid cheerleader movie we expected Bring It On to be before it proved to be a sleeper. It's partly about Jack (James Marsden) and Diane (Marley Shelton) and partly about Diane and her fellow cheerleaders. Jack gets Diane pregnant, and their families throw them out, so the girls rob a bank to help them finance life on their own. Major characters disappear for long stretches, making it seem more episodic and less cohesive than it is, but it doesn't deserve such serious analysis. The script is short on humor, with little sugar and even less spice. -- SW

THIRTEEN DAYS (PG-13) *** Kevin Costner plays a fly-on-the-wall presidential assistant and confidante in a richly-detailed docu-drama about the Cuban missile crisis. There's no shortage of Kennedy nostalgia, but Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp superbly render JFK and RFK (respectively) as flesh-and-blood men under enormous pressure. Though we know the ending, there are exciting U-2 spy missions and confrontations during the naval blockade, as if the United States and the Soviets are playing "Battleship" with real battleships. -- CH

TRAFFIC (R) ***1/2 A well-crafted, engrossing story of the drug war as it touches characters from Tijuana to Washington, D.C., from cops and politicians to teenagers and suburban wives, Steven Soderbergh's drama moves along at a ferocious clip. Even with its large cast of newcomers and Hollywood old-guarders, this psychological action film affirms Soderbergh's talent for making good, populist dramas that exceed the usual Hollywood standards. -- FF

UNBREAKABLE (PG-13) *** When a stadium security guard (Bruce Willis) emerges unscathed from a train wreck, an enigmatic dealer in comic book art (Samuel L. Jackson) suspects him of having extranormal abilities. With the same star, style and Philadelphia setting as The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan's follow-up provides comparable suspense and craftsmanship, even as the idiosyncratic plot teeters at the brink of comic book camp. -- CH

VALENTINE (R) ** This old-school slice-and-dice flick follows the formula of stupid young people getting killed one at a time, apparently by someone with an old score to settle. The characters are unlikable, the details inconsistent, some murders unmotivated, and the ending, which involves a twist for its own sake, makes no sense at all. Marley Shelton, Denise Richards, Jessica Capshaw and Jessica Cauffiel play prime targets, David Boreanaz one of about a dozen suspects. Perhaps someone thought the Scream generation was ready for a new wave of bad slasher movies. I hope they were wrong. -- SW

THE WEDDING PLANNER (PG-13) * 1/2 Comedically challenged Jennifer Lopez plays Mary, who has been so busy planning other people's weddings she forgot to have one of her own. She's working on a big one when she meets Mr. Right (onetime Next Big Thing Matthew McConaughey), who happens to be the groom. Call me The Wedding Panner, but never spent as boring a 105 minutes as I did watching this dud, and I'm not exaggerating as much as the person who labeled this lifeless mess a "romantic comedy." -- SW

WES CRAVEN PRESENTS: DRACULA 2000 (R) ** Patrick Lussier's direction is ho-hum but Joel Soisson's D2K screenplay has some new twists that justify dragging us through the story again. It links the old Count with the New Testament as original vampire slayer Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer), preserved by injections of Dracula's blood, tries to protect his daughter (Justine Waddell), from Dracula (Gerard Butler) in present-day New Orleans. Some sets are really tacky but there's fun in the Matrix-inspired fights, especially one involving the vampire version of Charlie's Angels. -- SW

WHAT WOMEN WANT (PG-13) *** Don't expect much more than a light social comedy on the level of Richard Brooks' The Muse and you won't be disappointed by the throwaway charms of this Hollywood lark about a chauvinistic ladies man (Mel Gibson) who is electrocuted in the bathtub and wakes up able to hear women's innermost thoughts. Director Nancy Meyers knows how to pander to a mainstream audience, and her predictable but often funny film has enough insight into the communication barriers between men and women to sustain interest in a rather thin plot. -- FF

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