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Lars and the Real Girl, Across the Universe, The Assassination of Jesse James, others



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DAN IN REAL LIFE One look at the coming attraction preview for Dan In Real Life reveals that here's a movie that's going to try to milk audience emotions for all they're worth. You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll sing! You'll reflect! You'll hug the moviegoer sitting next to you, even if he smells like an NFL wide receiver's socks after a particularly grueling Sunday match-up! The trailer doesn't lie: Dan In Real Life wants to offer it all – a fine sentiment when a movie can pull it off, an example of trying too hard when it doesn't. This one falls somewhere in the middle: There are individual scenes that work nicely, even if the finished product doesn't produce the flood of emotions one might have reasonably expected. Writer-director Peter Hedges soft-pedals this material, offering a warm and fuzzy tale of a popular newspaper writer (Steve Carell) whose column, "Dan In Real Life," offers practical advice that he can't seem to apply to his own life. A widower with three daughters, Dan travels to Rhode Island for the annual family get-together; he falls for Marie (Juliette Binoche), a Frenchwoman he meets in a book store, only to learn that she's the girlfriend of his brother Mitch (Dane Cook). It's nice to see this normal a family on screen, but the movie pays a price for its politeness, since there's never any sense that feelings might be hurt or egos bruised – this is especially true at the conclusion, which basically ignores conflicts that have already been established in order to send everyone home smiling. Dan In Real Life is the equivalent of a warm glass of milk, and that's meant neither as a compliment nor a criticism, merely a stated fact. **1/2

THE DARJEELING LIMITED Wes Anderson is the type of filmmaker who stirs love-him-or-leave-him vibes in audience members, which makes my own ambivalence toward him slightly perplexing: I've mildly enjoyed all of his films to date, yet I've never detected that spark of genius that his fans (and many critics) insist he possesses. Anderson's movies are too slight to earn such hefty acclaim, and were they not peopled with strong actors who can punch across his sweet-and-sour declarations (most memorably Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums), they would blow off the screen with the ease of a dandelion caught in a summer breeze. The Darjeeling Limited is Anderson's most wispish work to date, a road movie in which the road is made of railroad tracks. Carrying over the thematic baggage of most of his previous efforts, this one also concerns itself with familiar discord – here, Francis (Owen Wilson) invites his younger brothers Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) to India to join him on a spiritual quest. They travel mainly aboard the train The Darjeeling Limited, attempting to communicate (but often just miscommunicating) with each other as they reflect on their relationships with loved ones as well as with each other. Anderson regular Bill Murray pops up at the very beginning, and his shaggy-dog appearance sets the tone for the remainder of the picture. This is a mixed bag of a movie, with some exquisite camera shots and clever exchanges not quite enough to overtake the tale's slenderness or the limitations of the lead characters. But it still offers enough modest charms to earn it a mild recommendation. **1/2

THE GAME PLAN After his film career began floundering, action star Vin Diesel turned to the family audience with The Pacifier and ended up with a $113 million hit. Along the same lines, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson now throws himself on the mercy of the small fry and their easy-to-please parental units with The Game Plan, an innocuous mediocrity whose biggest sin is its punishing running time. Rocky stars as Joe Kingman, a narcissistic quarterback who's blindsided when 8-year-old Peyton (Madison Pettis) shows up on his doorstep claiming to be his daughter. Livin' la vida loca with a lavishly designed bachelor pad, a European model for a girlfriend, and a flashy sports car to complement his lifestyle of the rich and famous, Joe (whose clunky gridiron nickname is "Never Say No Joe") learns that in order to become an effective parent (which he does so begrudgingly), he has to accept a pink tutu being placed on his bulldog, his football trophies getting BeDazzled, and his mode of transport getting downsized to a station wagon. Considering that The Game Plan holds next to no surprises for anyone who's ever seen a movie before, a 90-minute length would have been plenty; instead, this gets mercilessly stretched out to 110 minutes. Pettis mostly relies on calculated precociousness, but Johnson actually proves to be Rock-solid as Kingman, displaying modest but sufficient amounts of charm and comic timing. **

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