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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of June 29

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THE ART OF GETTING BY An appealing small fry in Finding Neverland (when he was 12) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (13), Freddie Highmore now turns up in his first significant role in years at the age of 19. To quote Fred Willard in A Mighty Wind, "Hey, wha' happened?" Of course, it would be cruel and unfair to call for a career moratorium based on one performance, but the thing that surprised me the most about this picture is that Highmore has morphed from a promising child actor into a generic, boring teen. Then again, that might simply be because he's surrounded by a generic, boring movie and has elected to camouflage himself, Rango-like, by blending into his surroundings. This shares much in common with last year's stillborn It's Kind of a Funny Story, right down to a co-starring role for Emma Roberts and a plotline that focuses on a self-centered twit whose problems don't amount to a hill of beans in Casablanca, Cleveland, or this film's NYC setting. Highmore's George Zinavoy refuses to do any homework and frequently skips school, all because he realizes that one day he'll die and why waste time on meaningless activities? George is committed to remaining aloof — at least until he gets to know his classmate Sally (Roberts) and starts to secretly hope that their friendship will turn into something more meaningful. The domestic sequences involving George's mom (Rita Wilson) and stepdad (Sam Robards) are even more dull than the school-set ones, though it's the many scenes focusing exclusively on the young couple that feel especially trite and shopworn. And with Highmore and Roberts both so colorless in their respective roles, it comes down to a classic case of the bland leading the bland. *1/2

BRIDESMAIDS Bridesmaids can't maintain a high level of hilarity over the course of its 125 minutes, but when its game is on, it ranks among the funnier endeavors of the past few years. Judd Apatow is one of its producers, and the film certainly falls in line more with his brand of product — raunchy comedies that often reveal unexpected depths (e.g. The 40-Year-Old Virgin) — than with the usual formulaic rom-coms with female protagonists and wedding themes (e.g. the abysmal Something Borrowed). But let's be quick to steer most of the credit away from Apatow — and even director Paul Feig — and place it where it clearly belongs: at the feet of Kristen Wiig. The talented comedienne has perked up many a movie in supporting roles, and she's sensational in her largest part to date. Working from a screenplay she co-wrote with Annie Mumolo, she plays Annie, who's been chosen by her lifelong best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to serve as her maid of honor. But Annie feels increasingly threatened by the presence of Lllian's new friend, the lovely and wealthy Helen (Rose Byrne), and matters soon get awkward and out-of-hand. Wiig possesses the same sort of brashness that the likes of Madeline Kahn and Bette Midler used to display in comedies, yet her more delicate features allow her to smoothly apply the brakes and ease back into the more vulnerable aspects of her characterization. As expected, the film contains a smattering of gross-out gags, yet while some are undeniably funny, they can't compete with the moments in which the laughs stem mostly from Wiig's genuine comic chops, whether it's the perfect scene involving a microphone stand-off or the sequence in which she unwisely mixes booze and pills while aboard an airplane. Granted, the actress has been around for years, but with Bridesmaids, it's not exactly inappropriate to declare that a star is born. ***

THE DOUBLE HOUR Giuseppe Capotondi made his directorial debut with The Double Hour while the picture's three screenwriters all began plying their trade in 2005. Presumably, all of these relative newbies spent the previous years watching endless cycles of twisty thrillers and taking as many notes as possible. But based on the evidence of this film, their hands began cramping before they finished jotting down pointers on how to maintain interest from first frame to last. After a gripping (and bloody) opening, this Italian import emerges as a mature romance between a hotel maid named Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport) and an ex-cop named Guido (Filippo Timi). But a burglary committed by a group of masked thugs ends in tragedy for the couple, and from this point forward, the film starts messing with both character and viewer minds with all manner of unusual clues and fake outs. Unfortunately, this is one of those labyrinthine yarns that becomes less interesting as more mysteries are unraveled, and one of the major plot pirouettes will strike many viewers as a cheat. The Double Hour obviously wants to be compared to efforts by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma and Christopher Nolan, but it's ultimately like watching a child clamoring to sit at the table of the grownups. **

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