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KNOCKED UP Director Judd Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin was unique in that it managed to successfully mix raunch with romance. Knocked Up, which reunites Apatow with Virgin supporting player Seth Rogen, attempts a similar balancing act, only it falls a tad short of attaining the same success as its predecessor. There's a sweet love story on view here as well, only because it's more rushed and not allowed to unfold at a natural clip, it ultimately plays second string to the picture's comedy quota. Fortunately, on that front, the movie's an unqualified hit: It's doubtful another film will be released this summer -- maybe even this year -- that offers as many theater-rumbling belly laughs as this one. Rogen plays Ben Stone, a slacker who meets and has a drunken one-night stand with Alison (Katherine Heigl), who's out celebrating the fact that she has just been promoted to an on-air position at E! Entertainment Television. Alison learns a few weeks later that she's pregnant, and she decides that she and Ben (with whom she discovers she has nothing in common) should attempt to make their relationship work for the sake of the baby. Apatow fails to sufficiently flesh out their courting period between that initial tryst and the birth of the child; still, thanks to the sweet performances by Heigl and especially Rogen, there's plenty of warmth to be drawn from the resultant drama. Yet in this picture, it's comedy that's king, with a nonstop barrage of great lines as well as deft contributions from a capable cast.  ***

LA VIE EN ROSE Say what one must about La Vie En Rose, but there's no arguing the excellence of the performance at the center of this ambitious and erratic biopic about French singing sensation Edith Piaf. Piaf's life contained enough drama to fill 10 HBO miniseries, and here director and co-writer Oliver Dahan attempts to cram it all into one 140-minute motion picture. Faithful in some instances, negligent in others, he has nevertheless fashioned a screen biography that employs some tricks of the trade (hopscotching between different decades, moments of stark surrealism) to allow this to break away from the generally staid biopic form. His film isn't always successful, but it always remains watchable, thanks primarily to the fervent turn by Marion Cotillard. In the same manner as Jamie Foxx with Ray Charles and Reese Witherspoon with June Carter Cash, Cotillard doesn't play the role as much as become possessed by it. From a feisty waif singing for her supper on the mean Parisian streets, to the regal songbird known internationally as La Mome Piaf ("The Little Sparrow"), to the emotionally and physically battered woman who still managed to successfully headline concerts (in this respect, she and Judy Garland had much in common), Cotillard is an indomitable force as she eats, breathes and sleeps every moment up until Piaf's early death at the age of 47. As a movie, La Vie En Rose est bon. But as a performer, Marion Cotillard est magnifique.  ***

A MIGHTY HEART The sort of drama that generally gets released in the fall, A Mighty Heart proves to be a fine summertime distraction for discerning older audiences, even if it doesn't quite pack the punch of similar titles like Missing and Under Fire. Yet films about idealistic Americans (usually journalists) abroad work more often than not, and this one's no exception. Based on Mariane Pearl's book A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl, the film finds Angelina Jolie delivering a restrained performance as Mariane, whose husband (played by Dan Futterman), a Wall Street Journal reporter, is kidnapped while the pair are living in Pakistan in 2002. Six months pregnant, Mariane tries to stay optimistic in the face of this grim situation, using her own sources to track him down while also relying heavily on the aid of the Pakistani anti-terrorism unit (Indian actor Irrfan Khan is particularly memorable as its leader), American diplomats and the FBI. Given Hollywood's propensity for promoting American know-how as well as its can-do attitude, it's perhaps the movie's most surprising development that the efforts of the Pakistanis, not the U.S. officials, go the furthest toward cracking the case and bringing the terrorists to justice. As the local lawmen and their stoolies scour the streets looking for any clues that will help them find Danny, we realize this isn't like looking for a needle in a haystack -- it's like looking for a needle in the Atlantic Ocean. So when their tireless efforts lead to real success (muted by the final outcome, of course), it's a testament to their determination and resourcefulness.  ***


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