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THE BROTHERS GRIMM The final gasp of Miramax Pictures (disbanded by parent company Disney, with the Brothers Weinstein heading off on their own) brings more than just Grimm tidings; among the handful of shelf-warming final releases is at least one unmitigated disaster. There's still enough summertime left for another financial mega-flop to clear out movie houses and studio coffers (see also The Island and Stealth), so why not The Brothers Grimm, an $80 million stink bomb that also has the dishonor of being the season's worst release? (Keep in mind that I skipped Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.) Terry Gilliam, the former Monty Python member whose peculiar brand of genius doesn't always translate comfortably to his motion picture endeavors, has concocted an overstuffed boondoggle that's miles removed from the mind-bending highs of Brazil or Twelve Monkeys. Wrestling with a muddled screenplay by workaholic Ehren Kruger (his third script this year, after The Ring Two and The Skeleton Key), Gilliam has created a noisy and nonsensical eyesore that quickly morphs from a movie into an endurance test. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are cast adrift as the title characters, con artists whose ability to fool the local yokels of Germany with their fabricated yarns gets put to the test once they encounter genuine monsters. Gilliam's dark sensibilities (the movie plays like a joyless version of Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow) would have been better served if the creatures had been lovingly crafted under the auspices of innovators like Jan Svankmajer or the Quay Brothers; instead, they're brought to cheesy life by the same unconvincing CGI effects presently being used by everybody else in Hollywood. A bright idea threatens to surface every now and then, but it's quickly bludgeoned to death by the rest of this fractured fairy tale. 1 star

THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN The summer's most unexpected surprise, The 40-Year-Old Virgin mixes honest sentiment and raunchy humor in a manner that's more satisfying than in just about any comparable modern comedy, including the current hit Wedding Crashers -- in fact, not since There's Something About Mary has a movie combined these disparate elements so seamlessly. Displaying sparks of comic invention in small roles in Bewitched, Anchorman and Bruce Almighty, Steve Carell catches on fire here, playing a sympathetic character he created with director Judd Apatow (both are credited with the screenplay). Carell plays Andy, a man-child who sports an impressive collection of comic books and action figures (all in mint condition, of course), rides a bicycle to work every day, and never has even come close to knowing the joys of a relationship, let alone the attendant carnal pleasures. His three co-workers at the electronics store (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen) make it their mission in life to hook Andy up; he eventually bumps into a few prospects, the most promising being Trish (excellent Catherine Keener), a divorcee with three kids and a flailing Internet business. The 40-Year-Old Virgin runs almost two hours -- normally, that's a suicidal length for a comedy of this sort, but in this case, Carell and Apatow use the time wisely, developing the Andy-Trish romance at a believable clip and also turning Andy's three buddies into fully formed characters rather than the one-note sidekicks we're accustomed to seeing. The movie includes the usual mix of gross-out gags, yet out-of-left-field jokes involving Hair (the musical, not the filament), Asia (the band, not the continent) and the Six Million Dollar Man's boss signal that this is a comedy with smarts. 3.5 stars

VALIANT This animated feature clocked in at 109 minutes during its recent run in England, and for once, I'm glad American tots have short attention spans, as the movie has been mercifully chopped down to 76 minutes for its stateside engagement. Even the suits at Disney must have known they had a dud on their hands, choosing to release this right before the school year begins rather than smack in the middle of the lucrative summer season. The most interesting moment in this turgid film is the revelation at the end that of the 53 Dickin Medals given to animals for bravery during World War II, 31 went to pigeons. That sounds like a compelling subject for a live-action documentary (March of the Pigeons?), but instead, the topic has been tossed away on a rigidly rote cartoon that features the usual mix of audience condescension, uninspired computer-animated graphics, obvious morals aimed at small children and, oh yeah, flatulence gags. Ewan McGregor, in his second 2005 tour of duty in a mediocre cartoon (following last spring's Robots), provides the voice for the title character, an undersized pigeon who gets to prove his mettle by delivering important messages as part of the Royal Homing Pigeon Service. Ricky Gervais (BBC's The Office) co-stars in the annoying role of a smelly, fast-talking bird named Bugsy, and the only consolation is that this role wasn't given to the obvious choice, Robin Williams. The impressive cast -- would that they had been assembled for a distinguished live-action production! -- also includes Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese and Tim Curry, but they fail to add any distinction to this featherbrained effort. 1.5 stars

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