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CARS Ever since Pixar Animation Studios began its incredible run with Toy Story back in 1995, haven't most observers been wondering when the company would hit a critical and/or commercial roadblock and watch its latest effort crash and burn? Newsflash: It hasn't happened yet, and it ain't happening with Cars. The storyline seems a little hoary: A big-city slicker learns to slow down and smell the flowers -- or, in this case, the diesel -- in a small town in the middle of nowhere. But the picture's six scripters expand the parameters of this plot description to make an entertaining and even poignant tale about the lure of the open road and the passing of a quaint chapter in modern American history. That race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) will find redemption in the small town of Radiator Springs (populated by vehicles played by, among others, Paul Newman and Bonnie Hunt) is never in doubt, but like the best storytellers, John Lasseter and his co-writers make the journey to self-discovery as interesting as possible. So for all its high-gloss NASCAR trappings, Cars is ultimately a paean to Route 66. ***1/2

CLICK Venturing into the "Beyond" section of Bed, Bath & Beyond, harried Michael Newman (Adam Sandler) stumbles upon an eccentric employee (Christopher Walken) who gives him a universal remote with the power to control his life: He can mute the dog's barking, fast-forward through foreplay and even listen to audio commentary (provided by James Earl Jones) on past events in his life. For the first hour, this clever concept leads to some genuine laughs but more often gets buried under the sort of adolescent humor that long ago became the actor's calling card (how many times do we have to watch the family dog hump a stuffed animal?). Then the movie morphs into an update of It's a Wonderful Life, with Michael learning valuable lessons as his life turns tragic. The comedy isn't as pointed as desired and the drama isn't as maudlin as expected, yielding decidedly mixed results. Still, it will make an acceptable DVD rental in about six months; if they can get James Earl Jones for the audio commentary, so much the better. **1/2

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA Meryl Streep deserves all the accolades she can stomach for her poison-dipped performance in this satisfying screen version of Lauren Weisberger's best-selling novel. As Miranda Priestley, the ice-cold and rock-hard editor of the fashion magazine Runway, Streep delivers a terrific comic performance, as rich as the ones she gave in Postcards from the Edge and the otherwise unwatchable She-Devil. But let's not undervalue the contribution of Anne Hathaway, who's just fine as Andy Sachs, a college grad whose cluelessness about the fashion industry proves to be a drawback in her stint as Miranda's worked-to-the-bone assistant. (Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt, as Andy's cynical coworkers, likewise deserve kudos.) The film's peeks into the fashion world are amusing, and the script makes some salient points about the lengths to which a person will allow themselves to be humiliated simply to hold onto a job. Once the focus turns to Andy's crisis of conscience, the picture loses some of its bite. But not Meryl, whose ferocious work continues to take a sizable chunk out of the couture culture. ***

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH The cacophonous naysaying has already begun (largely by those who haven't seen the movie, natch), but this absorbing documentary about global warming gently pushes a message that all Americans of sound mind and good conscience can embrace: Let's work together to make the world a better place. It's a tall order, but the beauty of the film is that it inspires audience members to actually believe they can be a part of something important -- as Gore notes, all the resources are already available for combating global warming, and the only thing that's missing is "political will." Personal anecdotes, charts, slide shows and even cartoons are employed to allow the information to be easily digested by almost anyone. As for Gore, he's far more personable and animated than he ever was on the campaign trail -- what remains unchanged is his blazing intelligence, a far cry from the monosyllabic chimp presently sitting in the White House. As has been the case with Jimmy Carter, getting ousted from office might end up being the best way for Gore to serve his country. ***1/2

THE LAKE HOUSE Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock reunite for the first time in 12 years, but the end result clearly isn't up to Speed. Two strangers who become pen pals come to the startling realization that they're actually corresponding over the years -- she's writing and receiving his letters in 2006, he's doing likewise in 2004 -- and that the mailbox at the title property serves as the magic portal through which they're able to communicate. The Lake House certainly has its heart in the right place, but the end result doesn't even begin to inspire the requisite level of swoony romance on our parts. Director Alejandro Agresti is more interested in the film's look than its substance, while David Auburn's script is arid and uninvolving. As for the leads, Reeves acquits himself well enough -- he's learned how to take advantage of his scruffy appeal -- but Bullock once again plays against her natural charisma by offering a dour, dull characterization. After about 20 minutes, you just wish somebody would tickle her. *1/2

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