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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of July 22

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ANGELS & DEMONS Angels & Demons, the follow-up to the international smash The Da Vinci Code, feels like nothing more than a cross between a Frommer's travel guide and a scavenger hunt, as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon hits all of Rome's holy hot spots gathering up clues as if they were empty Dr. Pepper bottles or grimy 1992 pennies. The events in author Dan Brown's Angels & Demons actually take place before those in Da Vinci, but for the sake of movie audiences, the pictures follow a chronological trail, so that the new film finds the Catholic Church putting aside its dislike of Langdon (Tom Hanks) based on his Da Vinci discoveries so that he may help the organization with its latest crisis. It appears that the ancient group the Illuminati, the Catholic Church's sworn enemy from way back (the film posits the warring factions as if they were the Hatfields and the McCoys), has been resurrected, and its new kids on the block have not only taken to assassinating the candidates for the post of Pope (couldn't they have gone after Miss USA contestants while they were at it?) but also planting a time bomb deep within the bowels of the Vatican. Naturally, it's up to Langdon and his beauteous Italian sidekick (Ayelet Zurer, as bland a companion as Audrey Tautou proved to be in Da Vinci) to save the Cardinals, the Vatican and Rome all in a single bound. Ron Howard's direction is about all this film has going for it, as his need for speed distracts audiences (to a point) from the fact that the script is a shambles, relying too heavily on absurd developments and lengthy explanations to move the action from Point A to Point B (or, more accurately, from one Italian landmark to another). And watching Hanks embody such a vanilla role as Robert Langdon is akin to watching a Nobel Laureate reduced to washing diner dishes for a living. **

AWAY WE GO One of the best films of 2008, director Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road offered a powerful and penetrating study of a bickering couple trapped by the conformity they felt defined – and controlled – their lives. Mendes' latest picture takes a different tack, examining a loving pair who forge their own path in an attempt to find their place in the world. It's a nice about-face for the director, even if the results prove to be wildly uneven. Working from a script by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, Mendes focuses on Burt (John Krasinski) and his pregnant girlfriend Verona (Maya Rudolph), who travel far and wide in an attempt to figure out the best place to raise their child. Initially, they're mainly forced to contend with folks who behave outrageously – Burt's parents (Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels) and Maya's former boss (Allison Janney) among them – but calmer visits to old college chums (Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey) and Burt's brother (Paul Schneider) allow them to take stock of their situation in a more clearheaded manner. Away We Go is an introspective piece about young people wrestling with the notion of what truly constitutes the cherished notions of "home" and "family," yet even indelible comic turns by Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal (as a New Age weirdo who believes it's important for children to watch their parents having sex) can't completely subjugate the smugness and self-importance that alternately raise their heads through the first half of the film. The second part is more affecting, though it similarly suffers from an episodic structure that curtails some segments before they reach their full potential. **1/2

CHERI Michelle Pfeiffer has been excellent in all manner of movies, but in such period pieces as The Age of Innocence and Dangerous Liaisons, she has proven to be especially memorable, ably portraying passionate yet stifled women who find themselves as constricted by the mores of society as by the corsets they don under their extravagant dresses. In Cheri, the movie itself is the corset, strangling the actress and everything surrounding her until all the breath has been driven out of the material. Adapted from two works by Gigi author Colette, Cheri and The Last of Cheri, this new collaboration by the Dangerous Liaisons team of Pfeiffer, director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton is a deadly dull affair about a deadly dull affair between a retired courtesan named Lea de Lonval (Pfeiffer) and Cheri (Rupert Friend), the young son of another former courtesan (Kathy Bates). The wealthy Lea takes care of her young stud for several years, but their relationship is threatened when Cheri's mother helps arrange a marriage between her son and a demure woman (Felicity Jones) closer to his own age. Friend is excruciatingly boring as the supposedly magnetic Cheri, meaning that it's a mystery why Lea would want to spend one minute with him, let alone many years. The lack of chemistry between the pair serves to weaken an already rickety enterprise, with the miscast Bates' incongruous turn (she's about as French as Captain America) providing some unexpected relief in this cinematic flatline. *1/2

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