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Short subjectives

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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MURDER BY NUMBERS (R) This fitfully entertaining thriller casts Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling as two privileged high school seniors who elect to pull off the perfect murder. As long as the film places them front and center, it avoids the standard "cop flick" trappings. Much of the running time is frittered away on scenes involving the troubled detective on the case, shakily played by top-billed star (and executive producer) Sandra Bullock.--MB

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING (PG) While not as accomplished as Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding,- this is nevertheless a gratifying romantic comedy that gently tweaks stereotypes even as its characters wallow in them. Adapted by Nia Vardalos from her own one-woman show, the film centers on the plight of a 30-year-old lonelyheart (Vardalos) who risks the wrath of her family when she falls for a non-Greek (John Corbett) .--MB

THE NEW GUY (PG-13) A bullied high schooler (DJ Qualls) gets revenge on his peers after a wisecracking convict (Eddie Griffin) gives him pointers on being a badass. Also starring Eliza Dushku.

SCOOBY-DOO (PG) After a messy break-up, the reunited Mystery Inc. gang is summoned to Spooky Island resort and amusement park to figure out why its clientele keeps turning into zombies. Matthew Lillard (Shaggy) upstages his cast-mates and interacts nicely with the CGI-animated title canine. Unfortunately, in bringing the psychedelic Saturday morning cartoon to life, director Raja Gosnell (Home Alone 3) can't decide between full-fledged camp or slapstick kiddie fare. --Tray Butler

SPIDER-MAN (PG-13) The long-awaited adaptation of the Marvel comic book works because director Sam Raimi and scripter David Koepp turn their movie into a successful tightrope act between soap opera and spectacle, retaining the personal elements that made the comic book so popular while also providing special effects that thankfully never overwhelm the story. As Peter Parker, the boy who becomes a superhero, Tobey Maguire is wonderfully appealing.--MB

SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON (G) The title character in this old-school animated feature may be a horse, but the movie automatically wins points for not anthropomorphizing it (the most we hear are its inner thoughts, provided by Matt Damon). The cuteness quotient is remarkably low in this engaging if not particularly distinguished tale about a magnificent stallion that befriends a Lakota lad in the Old West. The songs by Bryan Adams are the musical equivalent of live leeches being driven into the ear drums, but this is still worth a look.--MB

THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (PG-13) A well-crafted throwback to the thrillers of Cold War era, this Tom Clancy adaptation brings back our fears of potential nuclear conflict. At first Ben Affleck seems over his head as CIA analyst Jack Ryan (a role played by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford), but he ingratiates himself while trying to unravel a terrorist conspiracy against America. The transcontinental plotting can be murky, but the third act features spectacular disasters and the chilling sensation of events spinning out of control.--CH

THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING (R) Director Jill Sprecher follows in the seemingly random footsteps of Short Cuts and Magnolia exploring the meaning of life and luck through four intersecting New York stories. Alan Arkin's subplot, about a claims adjuster aggravated by a subordinate's optimism, reveals obsessive behavior and bureaucratic oppression with the acuity of a Russian novelist. But the lack of subtlety and natural-sounding dialogue undermine the narrative ambitions.--CH

ULTIMATE X (PG) See extreme sports on the Mall of Georgia's extremely large IMAX screen in this documentary of ESPN's Summer X games, which includes skateboarders, BMX riders, motocrossers, and street lugers. Rated PG "for daredevil sports action and mild language." Mall of Georgia IMAX Theater, I-85 at Buford Drive, Buford.

UNDERCOVER BROTHER (PG-13) Can you dig it? Beating the Austin Powers films at their own game, this highly amusing blaxploitation spoof casts Eddie Griffin as the title character, "a Soul Train reject with a Robin Hood complex" who joins up with the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. to take down The Man. Even at a mere 88 minutes, this slight film tempts fate, but the big laughs are tumultuous enough to barrel right over the slow patches.--MB

WINDTALKERS (R) Marked by surprisingly unspectacular battle scenes and little of that patented John Woo energy, this drama fictionalizes the case of the real life codetalkers -- Native Americans who transmitted an unbreakable code based on the Navaho language during WWII. Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater -- each trying to out-butch the other -- are two of the Marines who must keep two Native American codetalkers from falling into enemy hands.--FF

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