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Film Clips

Roman de Gare among capsule reviews of films currently playing in Charlotte

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JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH Ever since the 3-D process first appeared in cinema in 1952's Bwana Devil (advertised with the tagline, "A lion in your lap! A lover in your arms!"), filmmakers have attempted to turn this innovative technique into more than just a fad that appears at regular intervals over the years. The pictures have been both good (1953's Vincent Price chiller House of Wax) and bad (the 1980s' Jaws 3-D and Friday the 13th Part III), but it wasn't until last year's Beowulf that the technology was finally perfected. Seeking to build upon Beowulf's breakthrough, Journey to the Center of the Earth takes the 3-D ball and runs with it. In presenting this tale of a scientist (Brendan Fraser) who discovers that Jules Verne's classic novel is more fact than fiction and subsequently travels beneath the surface with his surly nephew (Josh Hutcherson) and their hottie guide (Anita Briem) in tow, the filmmakers throw everything but a three-dimensional kitchen sink at us: a dinosaur's snapping jaws, prehistoric piranhas' pointy teeth, oversized Venus flytraps, bouncing balls, a protruding tape measure, even spittle. It's all rather nifty, but the problem is that the majority of theaters are not showing the picture in 3-D (most multiplexes don't have the capability yet). And whereas House of Wax and Beowulf remain entertaining yarns when watched in the normal, flat format, this Journey is so insipid that it'd be a chore trying to sit through the simple-minded narrative without the added incentive. As for Fraser's overacting, he's such a ham that his eyes pop out of the screen even more menacingly than those sharp dinosaur choppers. **

KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL For its first two-thirds, this motion picture, based on the both the popular doll line and the equally successful book series, emerges as one of the season's most unexpected delights, precisely because what could have been a rehash of last summer's painful Nancy Drew adaptation instead registers as a mature and intelligent drama – in this case, the G rating stands for Grown-ups as much as it stands for General Audiences. It's just a shame that the movie loses its bearings and turns into a Home Alone clone during the final stretch. The film is set in Cincinnati during the height of the Great Depression, and preteen Kit (Abigail Breslin) watches as her father (Chris O'Donnell) has to move away to Chicago to look for work and her mother (Julia Ormond) is forced to rent out rooms to boarders. Still, kids will be kids, and although she has to take on more than her share of adult responsibilities, Kit also finds time to dream about becoming a published writer and manages to make some new friends. The various plights of the Kittredges, their struggling neighbors, and members of the hobo community add a bracing topicality to the piece: As wealthy conservatives untouched by the Depression rail against (and refuse to help) everyone who's been financially decimated, it's hard not to view this community as a microcosm of today's United States of America. The weighty themes remain throughout the picture, though they end up taking a back seat to the buffoonish antics of Joan Cusack (as a clumsy librarian) and a tepid subplot involving a string of burglaries. ***

THE LOVE GURU If I had ever entertained the notion that Mike Myers would some day make another movie as awful as the infamous live-action version of The Cat In the Hat, I might have opted for early retirement long before the fact. Yet here comes The Love Guru, and it matches that Dr. Seuss bastardization step for step when it comes to thinking up evil ways to torture audience members. I daresay that even a splinter in the eyeball would be less painful than sitting through this debacle. Myers, who also co-wrote what we'll loosely refer to as the screenplay, stars as Guru Pitka, an American-born, Indian-raised spiritual leader who's miffed that he constantly places second to Deepak Chopra when it comes to the popularity of self-help gurus. Pitka is given a golden opportunity to excel when he's hired by Toronto Maple Leafs owner Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba, and you know you're in trouble when she's one of the more tolerable aspects of a movie) to patch matters up between the hockey team's star player, Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco), and his wife Prudence (Meagan Good), who lately has been stepping out with the enormously endowed Los Angeles Kings goalie Jacques "Le Coq" Grande (Justin Timberlake). And yes, every time Le Coq pulls out le cock, we predictably hear a thud as it hits the floor. In fact, predictability is a rampant problem with The Love Guru, as a substantial amount of gags can be guessed before they even finish coagulating. That's not to say every joke is apparent before the fact, as witnessed by ones involving copulating elephants, urine-saturated mops and the term "monkey mustard." An embarrassment, to say the least. *


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