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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of April 29

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I LOVE YOU, MAN Like most films in the Judd Apatow vein (the man himself wasn't involved with this project, but the principal players are all veterans of his works), this attempts to strike a desirable balance between sweet sincerity and risqué raunch. Yet perhaps more than any of the other films (Knocked Up, Superbad, etc.), it frequently pulls back when it reaches the edge of vulgarity. (That's not to say the picture doesn't fully deserve its R rating: With its ample selection of crude language, no one will be mistaking it for Mary Poppins.) Paul Rudd (in a disarming performance) stars as Peter Klaven, a nice guy who's always put his energy into his relationships with women. Because of this, he doesn't have a single male friend, so after he proposes to his girlfriend Zooey (immensely appealing Rashida Jones) and realizes he has no one to serve as his best man at their wedding, he sets out on a mission to find an eligible dude. His first few "dates" are disastrous, but he eventually meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), who's his complete opposite: disheveled in appearance, able to converse openly about sex, and completely comfortable in his own guy-skin. It's after Sydney's first appearance that I Love You, Man had the potential to self-destruct, as most filmmakers would turn Sydney into a complete creep or psychopath, a walking nightmare fueled by booze and testosterone. Yet while he does often come across as boorish, he's allowed to remain a fundamentally ordinary guy, and an often decent one at that. Unlike some of the other sweet-and-sour comedies of modern times, this one doesn't provide much in the way of large belly laughs. But it's pleasurable enough to paste a smile on the face for the majority of its running time. ***

KNOWING Sober in its intentions but laughable in its execution, this begins promisingly, as a letter written by a little girl in 1959 finds itself, 50 years later, in the hands of John Koestler (Cage), a widowed MIT professor raising his son Caleb (wooden Chandler Canterbury) by himself. Koestler soon figures out that the piece of paper, on which the child scrawled nothing but numbers, foretold all the major disasters of the past five decades (well, all the disasters that resulted in deaths, as it appears the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were not included). The problem is that three of the prophesied disasters have yet to occur, leaving Koestler in the unenviable position of trying to figure out how to prevent large-scale tragedies. Meanwhile, a group of shadowy figures spend their time trailing Caleb; they're meant to appear menacing, but that's hard to accomplish when they basically all look like Sting impersonators. Knowing was directed by Dark City's Alex Proyas, although it feels like the sort of poorly defined spiritual salve that M. Night Shyamalan concocts in between preening sessions in front of the mirror. But early discussions regarding destiny versus randomness soon get sidestepped for one CGI set-piece after another, most of them hampered by mediocre effects work (and tasteless, too; did we really need to see blood repeatedly splatter on a subway car window as it rams into each successive victim?). Eventually, the film only elicits misplaced chuckles, as awkward acting, lulls in logic, and a cameo appearance by The Fountain's majestic tree combine to make this a movie not worth knowing about, let alone watching. *1/2

MONSTERS VS. ALIENS With a title like Monsters vs. Aliens, the latest animated effort from DreamWorks sounds as if it could match all those Pixar gems in terms of emerging as a toon tale equally likely to entertain the adults as the small fry. After all, what film-lovin' grown-up, specifically one weaned on a steady diet of 50s fantasy flicks playing all night on late-night TV, could resist a movie guaranteed to be crammed with more inside jokes than anybody could reasonably hope to absorb during the initial viewing? Unfortunately, this doesn't come close to fulfilling what appeared to be its lot in (cinematic) life. Sure, there are plenty of bright colors and wacky characters and slapstick antics to amuse the children, but many adults will, to a degree, be left wanting. The monsters, here reconfigured as the good guys, are all based on creatures found in classic sci-fi romps of the 1950s: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Blob, The Fly, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Japan's monster mash (Mothra, Godzilla, etc.). These creations are amusing enough, but what of the alien half of the equation? Where's the savory mix that would pay homage to the E.T.s found in The Thing (from Another World), The Day the Earth Stood Still, This Island Earth – heck, even The Monolith Monsters? Instead, we get one tiresome extraterrestrial megalomaniac (Rainn Wilson), a clear indication that inspiration ran out long before this promising premise was saturated. The film's visual scheme is inventive, but for a movie that had the potential to knock the genre out of this world, the pleasant but frequently pedestrian Monsters vs. Aliens remains too earthbound for its own good. **1/2

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