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BAD NEWS BEARS Hollywood's penchant for recycling continues with Bad News Bears, an update whose most surprising feature is that it's directed by Richard Linklater. Linklater, coming off an Oscar nomination for co-writing Before Sunset and a box office hit with School of Rock, has basically fashioned an offshoot of Bad Santa that's set in the world of baseball (Bat Santa?) -- no surprise, given that Bad Santa star Billy Bob Thornton and writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are also involved. For those who missed it, the 1976 Bears is a charming film about a beer-guzzling guy (Walter Matthau) who agrees to coach a Little League team even though he has no fondness for kids. The players initially prove to be hopeless, but under the reluctant guidance of their curmudgeonly coach, they eventually rise to the level of contenders. Like the 70s version of The Longest Yard, the original Bears was notable for milking the underdog formula for all it was worth -- and sweetening the pot with its decidedly non-PC aspects (such as small kids swearing). Yet although the remake is similar enough to the '76 version that original screenwriter Bill Lancaster receives a screen credit (though he's been dead for several years), the underdog angle has since suffered from overexposure (this summer alone has also given birth to Kicking & Screaming and Rebound), and in today's anything-goes society, the sight of 12-year-olds cussing like sailors on the screen no longer carries any novelty (if anything, the incessant scatological humor in this new take grows annoying). Thornton is funny as the uncouth coach, though his character -- harsher than Matthau's -- seems out of place in a movie that's being positioned as a family film.

STEALTH Stealth is young, dumb and full of fun. It's exactly the sort of movie you'd expect from Rob Cohen, the director of XXX and The Fast and the Furious -- lots of hot young bods, lots of shimmering hardware and lots of improbable stunts that even Batman would have trouble executing. Three charismatic actors, Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx, play Navy pilots who, having been designated the best of the best, are chosen to fly the US's most sophisticated stealth fighter jets. The trio work exceptionally well as a team, which is why tensions arise when a fourth plane, an unmanned vehicle run by its own computer system, is added to the mix. The pilots' trepidation proves to be well-founded once the RoboJet (nicknamed EDI) develops a mind of its own and begins carrying out bombing runs by its own authority. The attempt to mesh the movie's outlandish escapades with real world horrors (Middle Eastern terrorists plotting a strike on American soil and hostile relations with North Korea both figure into the plot) doesn't quite come off, and the movie's dialogue runs hot-and-cold (poor Sam Shepard, as the outfit's commanding officer, gets saddled with most of the clunkers). Yet unlike, say, Michael Bay, Cohen knows how to keep his action fresh -- the aerial sequences are especially dazzling -- and the Jekyll-and-Hyde persona of EDI, a cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL and Knight Rider's K.I.T.T., allows the plane to emerge as a memorable, uh, character. 1/2

Current Releases

BATMAN BEGINS One of the finest superhero films ever made, Batman Begins marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship -- between the creative forces who have resurrected a popular franchise and the fans who felt betrayed when that same franchise went belly-up in the late 90s. Never afraid to peer into the darkest recesses of the mind, director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) has created a brooding picture that has as much in common with his previous works as it does with the storied saga of the Caped Crusader. To dismiss this as escapist fare would be to ignore the myriad adult themes that bulk up the picture, issues ranging from the duality of man to the politics of fear. Christian Bale leads a sterling cast that also includes Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson; their committed performances help make this that rare summer movie in which thought often speaks louder than either action or words. 1/2

BEWITCHED As far as ill-advised Nicole Kidman vehicles that plunder past artifacts of pop culture are concerned, the nicest thing one can say about Bewitched is that it's better than The Stepford Wives. That's primarily because of Kidman herself, who manages to harness her maddeningly inconsistent role with such success that the result is an offbeat and original characterization. Otherwise, this initially clever comedy, in which a real witch (Kidman) is cast as a fictional one on an update of the TV series, takes one wrong turn after another beginning around the halfway mark. As Kidman's unlikely love interest, a miscast Will Ferrell delivers a manic performance that quickly grows tiresome, while Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine are both wasted.

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