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THEN SHE FOUND ME Before Then She Found Me, it appeared that only two reactions to the soft-spoken Colin Firth were at all possible. Either audiences found him charming in that brooding sort of way (as did the legions of women who swooned over him in Bridget Jones's Diary and the miniseries Pride and Prejudice) or they found him on the dull side in that drowsy-Brit sort of way. But with this picture, Helen Hunt successfully turns Firth into something new: an annoyance. Firth delivers such an aggravating performance that you just want to separate him from his character and slap them both. Then again, everything about Hunt's directorial debut – she also co-wrote the script and served as one of the 13 producers – is similarly obnoxious, to say nothing of arch and artificial. Hunt stars as April Epner, an elementary school teacher who, at 39, is desperate to have a baby. Having been adopted, she's insistent on giving birth herself, a problem when her newly anointed husband Ben (Matthew Broderick, becoming less interesting all the time) abandons her. She does strike up a relationship with the dad (Firth) of one of her students, but even that romance is fraught with tension. Most of her troubles, however, come from the fact that her natural mother (Bette Midler) shows up after all these years hoping to get to know the daughter she gave up decades earlier. Hunt, an overrated actress (her Oscar for As Good As It Gets should be classified as a felony on the part of the Academy), directs as unimaginatively as she performs, which is to say in the traditionally limiting manner of the TV sitcom genre in which she garnered her fame and fortune. Midler tries to provide some lift, but she can't begin to dent the film's slipshod construction. *1/2

YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN It was Mae West who quipped, "When I'm good, I'm very, very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better." This film inspires a bastardization of that quote: When it's funny, it's very, very funny, but when it's bad, it's downright awful. That's a shame, because choice moments suggest that this could have been Adam Sandler's best comedy – not a Herculean feat, by any means, but after a career littered with the likes of Big Daddy and Little Nicky, we'll take what we can get. Sandler plays Zohan, an Israeli antiterrorist agent who tires of his violent lot in life and becomes a hair stylist in New York. As with most scattershot comedies, some gags score while others widely miss the mark. This one contains a greater success ratio than most Sandler flicks, but these humorous moments are still too few and far between, like Easter eggs hidden throughout a grassy field. Most of the time, we're forced to contend with elements that drag down most Sandler comedies: puerile humor aimed at 10-year-old boys, "gay-panic"-inspired discussions of penis sizes, and Sandler regular Rob Schneider again demonstrating that he possesses the comic instincts of Dick "West Virginia" Cheney. The final half-hour is especially ghastly, and as for the various cameos, they represent one squandered opportunity after another. And what's with the appearance of the wretched Mariah Carey? After watching her struggle through her agonizing scene, I was ready for Sandler to bring back the puerile penis jokes. **


GET SMART: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, The Rock.

THE LOVE GURU: Mike Myers, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake.


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