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NEW RELEASES

L'AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE Xenophobes and the old at heart need not apply, but most discerning moviegoers will get a hedonistic kick out of L'Auberge Espagnole (translated as the Spanish Inn), a French import that was a deserving critical and commercial hit in its homeland. Invoking the spirit of such youth-themed fare as The Graduate and National Lampoon's Animal House, this light-hearted romp with serious undercurrents follows the odyssey of Xavier (Romain Duris), a 25-year-old French exchange student who leaves behind his fussy girlfriend (Amelie's Audrey Tautou) to attend college in Barcelona. After briefly staying with an obnoxious doctor and his sexually repressed wife, Xavier ends up sharing an apartment with several other students who, combined, represent a United Nations of sorts (one's British, one's German, one's Italian and so on). With so many characters and so many subplots crowding the screen, it's almost inevitable that not every story strand will flow smoothly (one embarrassing interlude would have been right at home on Three's Company). But rarely has a modern movie done such a sound job of capturing the messy, giddy, self-centered realizations that accompany the flush of youthful vigor, or convincingly pushed the soulful benefits of global fraternization (as someone who partied in Europe during his youth, I can attest to the movie getting these vibes right). In fact, with its scenes of members of different nations co-existing peacefully, this film should be required viewing for the current administration and its lockstep supporters, who've effectively built a wall of fear and bigotry around this nation's borders.

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN A fascinating fiasco, this adaptation of the graphic novel created by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill is clearly a failure on just about every level, yet like the best "bad" movies, it holds our interest if only because we're dying to see what it will do wrong next. The concept is certainly fiendishly clever (and oh-so-calculated): At the turn of the previous century, a ragtag band comprised of famous literary characters must unite in an effort to stop a masked megalomaniac known as The Fantom from instigating a world war. Thus, we get adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), late of King Solomon's Mines, leading a motley crew that also includes Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), the Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Dr. Jekyll and his monstrous alter ego Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), Dracula vampire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), Oscar Wilde's immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), and Tom Sawyer (Shane West), who has grown up to become a secret agent for the US government (I kid you not). It's a promising premise that's immediately undermined by the casting of several of the most boring actors imaginable (even Connery's asleep at the wheel) in roles that never break past the "gimmick" stage. Add to this dilemma a script that lurches from one schizophrenic set piece to the next, unappealing art direction that screams "Clutter Chic," and plotholes big enough to steer Nemo's sub Nautilus through them, and what's left is a blockbuster bust. 1/2

CURRENT RELEASES

CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE One's enjoyment of Charlie's Angels will likely determine that same viewer's tolerance of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. This follow-up to that 2000 hit isn't so much a sequel as an extension -- if movies weren't so time- and cost-consuming, it'd be easy to picture a new Angels flick hitting the multiplexes on a weekly basis (in that respect, it emulates the 70s TV series on which it's based). Like its big-screen predecessor, this new T&Angels adventure features countless scenes that serve as nothing more than mini-vanity projects for its three lovely leads (Cameron Diaz as giggly party girl Natalie, Drew Barrymore as street-smart riot grrl Dylan, and Lucy Liu as sophisticated smart girl Alex), reams of smarmy double entendres that are sure to elicit as many groans as giggles, and several stunt-heavy, death-defying feats that are simply absurd beyond reason. But so what? Indefensible as it may be on a hoity-toity level, this works more often than not because of the infectious atmosphere generated by its leading ladies as well as returning director McG. I've never been a fan of Demi Moore, so her much ballyhooed "comeback" in this picture (as a former Angel gone bad) means nothing to me, and the unfortunate reliance on smutty humor brings it perilously close to Austin Powers territory. But let's face it: When our heroines are disguised as welders at one point, who doesn't want to hear Irene Cara's Flashdance... What A Feeling playing in the background? 1/2

HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE When The Matrix Reloaded opened, much of the talk centered around the highway chase sequence that lasts a full 15 minutes. But that set piece is mere child's play when compared to the climactic chase that closes Hollywood Homicide: This one lasts a full three hours. Or so it seems. Truth be told, I can't pinpoint exactly how long this interminable sequence goes on, because during that portion of this dreadful action-comedy, my brain was so numb that even a lobotomy would have seemed like a welcome diversion. Charitable moviegoers -- and I use "charitable" to the extent that Mother Teresa comparisons are in order -- might describe this disaster as the perfect popcorn picture, but even that's provided you like your bag filled with burnt pieces and unpopped kernels. Harrison Ford (tired and bored) and Josh Hartnett (bland and boring) play the usual mismatched cops -- one's old and cranky, the other young and sensitive -- who spend as much time pursuing outside interests (real estate and acting, respectively) as they do investigating the slayings of four rappers. Writer-director Ron Shelton, a long way from the career high point of Bull Durham, has crammed this picture with the sort of forced comedy generally found in bad Nora Ephron movies, while the action sequences prove to be clumsily staged and rarely exciting. Hartnett is a Next Big Thing who deserves to become a Where Are They Now?; as for Ford, there's simply no way to defend his sell-out choices anymore.

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