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Nancy Drew, Knocked Up, Waitress, others

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NANCY DREW Unless I miss my call, Nancy Drew is the sort of kids' movie that will be treated with kid gloves by most critics, who will at worst dismiss it as a mere mediocrity. Don't you believe it. Nancy Drew is a glorious achievement of the so-bad-it's-brilliantly-bad variety -- I won't go so far as to state it's Battlefield Earth for the Clearasil crowd, but it's clearly a turkey no matter how it's sliced up. Author Carolyn Keene's teen heroine has endured in print as an old-school sleuth, but the makers of this featherbrained film, assuming (perhaps correctly) that setting this any earlier than, oh, 2004 would spell disaster at the box office, have updated it to function as a here-and-now preppy piece, as clueless about its deficiencies as Clueless (its obvious role model) was savvy about its milieu. Emma Roberts, portraying Nancy as something of a pill, quickly grates as her precocious character moves (along with dad Tate Donovan) from her comfy little hometown of River Heights to a spooky Los Angeles mansion, whereupon she immediately begins investigating the death of a famous actress who passed away decades earlier. Between its portrayal of a faded Hollywood as awash in corruption and decay and its casting of Laura Harring as the murdered starlet, this often feels like a demented attempt to make a kid-friendly version of David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. -- if only this one had also included a freaky white-haired cowboy to bump off the multitude of insufferable characters. And speaking of insufferable, the top honor in that category goes to Spencer Breslin wannabe Josh Flitter, a mini-Lou Costello who contributes more ham than the deli section in any given supermarket. *

Current Releases

BUG Nothing less than depression set in when Ashley Judd went from being an extraordinary indie actress to a dull studio-hack heroine, so it's gratifying to once again see her tackling offbeat roles. And in Bug, she has one of her most memorable parts yet; she plays Agnes, a lonely waitress who's introduced to Peter Evans (Michael Shannon), a quiet man who right off the bat assures her that he's not an axe murderer. Clearly, though, there's something off about this brooding guy, but Agnes enjoys his company so much (or at least having company, period) that she invites him to stay with her. This irks her thuggish ex-con ex-husband (Harry Connick Jr., about as menacing as a French poodle), yet even his threats seem irrelevant once Peter begins to complain about the insect infestation in her apartment. Yet do the bugs really exist, or are they only in Peter's (and maybe Agnes') imagination? Working from Tracy Letts' screenplay (itself based on the latter's Off-Broadway play), director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) maximizes the claustrophobic feel of the intimate surroundings while drawing suitably anguished performances from Judd and Shannon. Lett's story is rather limited in its examination of how a lonely person's neediness will often overcome all other emotions, and its employment of government paranoia feels decidedly old-hat. Indeed, it might have taken David Cronenberg, that insect fetishist (Naked Lunch, The Fly), to truly turn this into a freak-out session. As it stands, Bug deserves some measure of buzz, even if it never truly gets under the skin. **1/2

GEORGIA RULE On the heels of Jane Fonda's disastrous return to the screen in Monster-In-Law, it's clear that the career resuscitation isn't going exactly as planned. Fonda's Georgia, a family matriarch who runs her household the way a drill instructor lords over greenhorn recruits, is a one-note shrew, and one of this schizophrenic movie's greatest failings is that it never acknowledges that it's this woman's puritanical behavior which started the chain reaction partly leading to the miserable circumstances that plague her daughter Lilly (Felicity Huffman) and her granddaughter Rachel (Lindsay Lohan). Then again, it's not just Fonda's fault that Georgia is a poorly realized character; blame also must be directed at scripter Mark Andrus and director Garry Marshall. Marshall in particular has no clue how to orchestrate the movie's heavy themes involving alcoholism (Lilly), nymphomania (Rachel) and possible child abuse (Rachel claims she was repeatedly molested by her stepdad when she was 12); after all, he's the director who viewed mental retardation as little more than an amusing character quirk in The Other Sister. Here, he tries to lighten the movie's mood by having Rachel give a blowjob to a nice Mormon boy who's seriously trying to serve God (har har) and then painting the lad's girlfriend and her pals as the story's heavies. Worthy mother-daughter sagas reached their zenith with 1983's magnificent Terms of Endearment; Georgia Rule, by contrast, fails to elicit much in the way of any genuine emotion. If there's not a dry eye in the house when Lilly and Rachel finally hug, it's only because audiences will have cleared out by that point. *1/2

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