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NEW RELEASES

KILIMANJARO: TO THE ROOF OF AFRICA It's hard to say who will reap the most benefits from the latest IMAX feature to be presented in Discovery Place's Omnimax Theater: the patrons who elect to check this out on the big(gest) screen or the travel agencies that might potentially find themselves swamped by tourists hoping to see the majestic mountain for themselves. David Breashears, whose 1998 smash Everest still ranks as the ne plus ultra of IMAX efforts, has produced what basically amounts to Everest Lite: another film about an imposing mountain structure, yet one which lacks the dramatic tension and narrative smoothness of its predecessor. Kilimanjaro instead centers on the journey taken by a handful of trekkers as they venture to the top of the mountain that's located in Tanzania next to the Kenyan border. The breakdown of the group members seems so calculated that the movie could easily pass itself off as Jurassic Park IV -- there's the middle-aged British scientist, the vivacious 12-year-old American girl, the thoughtful 13-year-old African boy, the gorgeous Danish model, etc. -- yet the focus of the picture thankfully isn't its players as much as its setting. Dropping bread crumbs of scientific info to add subtext to its absolutely stunning imagery, Kilimanjaro offers education that's easy on the eyes and ears.

WINDTALKERS On the heels of the art-house effort Enigma comes another movie about the wartime practice of speaking in codes. Yet whereas that previous picture smoothly integrated its World War II history into an absorbing "cloak and dagger" yarn, this latest endeavor brings up a fascinating footnote in US history then largely ignores it in favor of spinning an overly familiar action pic that won't impress anyone who's caught, say, The Sands of Iwo Jima or The Naked and the Dead on late-night Turner. Nicolas Cage, who hasn't delivered a particularly memorable performance since his Oscar-winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas seven years ago, is all brooding boredom as Joe Enders, a psychologically tortured Marine (all the men under his command were killed during a recent Pacific battle) whose latest mission pairs him with Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), a Navajo whose language has been adopted by the US military as the foundation for a code that the Japanese have proven unable to crack. Enders' mission is to protect the code, not the man, meaning that Yahzee's life is expendable should it appear that he's about to fall into enemy hands. There's a terrific movie buried somewhere in Windtalkers, but director John Woo (Mission: Impossible 2) and his scripters downplay it in favor of spitting out yet another stale "war is hell" bombardment of the senses, with redundant action sequences and character types that have largely worn out their welcome (most notably the "woman left behind," played by Frances O'Connor in an embarrassingly unwieldy role).

CURRENT RELEASES

BAD COMPANY Taking an explosive comic actor like Chris Rock and corralling his talents by sticking him in a dull action film would be like buying a ridiculously expensive sports car and solely using it to drive to the grocery store down the block. Yet that's the story that unfolds with this blob of studio-generated claptrap that's so generic, nobody could even bother to come up with a more original title (there have been approximately a dozen movies over the years with this same moniker). Anthony Hopkins, whose appearances in subpar films are so frequent that one suspects he's planning to purchase a small nation with his blood money, plays veteran CIA agent Gaylord Oakes, whose partner (Chris Rock) gets killed while they're both on a mission involving the appropriation of (what else?) a nuclear weapon. Needing a stand-in or the whole caper goes bust, Oakes recruits his late partner's twin brother, a street-smart small-timer (also Rock), to pose as his slain sibling. What could have been a savvy mix of laughs and thrills (think Beverly Hills Cop) is instead transformed by director Joel Schumacher and a quartet of writers into a strained comedy that quickly jettisons all opportunities for Rock to make his mark by serving up the usual chaotic nonsense. Needlessly overlong at 112 minutes (there are at least two points where you think the movie's wrapping up, but nooo), this is also the sort of sloppy cinema in which a character gets shot point-blank in the back yet reappears a few scenes later with only his arm in a sling. 1/2

DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD Because it largely takes place in Louisiana (though filming was done in Wilmington), it's appropriate to tag this adaptation of two novels by Rebecca Wells as a big pot of gumbo, with varied ingredients all swimming together in a sea of saucy girl power. Yet while many of these ingredients may stick to the heart, they don't necessarily stick to the head: Divine Secrets is sloppy in a number of fundamental ways, with the chronology making little sense (the story whiplashes between at least three different time periods), entire themes getting discarded within a matter of seconds, and important characters given too little screen time. And yet, for all its random chaos, this works because of the power of its convictions -- and its cast. Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Smith, Fionnula Flanagan and Shirley Knight play the title lifelong friends in their advanced years, with three of them coming to the rescue to prevent the fourth (Burstyn) from severing all ties with her angry young daughter (Sandra Bullock), who doesn't know the dark secrets that have haunted her mother over the years (Ashley Judd plays the young Burstyn in the flashback sequences). The tough-love approach taken by writer-director Callie Khouri (still best known for her Oscar-winning script for Thelma & Louise) makes this a curious yet ultimately satisfying melodrama.

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