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AGAINST THE ROPES The real-life story of Jackie Kallen, the first female boxing manager, is a captivating one, and someday I'd like to see a movie about it. In the meantime, there's Against the Ropes, which is "inspired" by Kallen's life but ultimately has as much to do with her story as Schindler's List did with the War of 1812. Of course, Hollywood frequently bastardizes history for the sake of producing a compelling yarn -- hey, whatever works -- but when what's put on the screen is far less compelling than the actual events, it's like shooting yourself in the foot but having the bullet pass through the kneecap as well. Ropes clearly fancies itself a companion piece to Erin Brockovich, but really, it's just a third-rate Working Girl, with Meg Ryan cast as a plucky working-class heroine confronting sexism and oppression at every turn. The movie's Kallen is forced to bide her time as secretary to a piggish boss (Joe Cortese), but her opportunity comes when she decides to take a chance managing Luther Shaw (Omar Epps), a street thug she feels has the potential to become a champion boxer. This boxing movie floats like a rhinoceros, but it had problems even before it cleared scripter Cheryl Edwards' hard drive. As written, Kallen just isn't a terribly interesting character, while the actions of Epps' drug-dealer-turned-pugilist aren't even consistent from one scene to the next. As for the cardboard villain, a short-fused promoter played by Tony Shalhoub, he's so ludicrously over the top that I'm surprised he never gets around to tying Kallen down on some railroad tracks. 1/2

THE DREAMERS Yes, Bernardo Bertolucci's adaptation of Gilbert Adair's novel has been awarded the NC-17 rating. And yes, there are copious amounts of full-frontal nudity (both male and female). But the puritans who will lambaste this film for being about nothing more than sex will largely miss the point. Sure, there's sex, but there's also politics, cinema, psychology, and the sort of ruddy-faced idealism that once upon a time fueled numerous motion pictures made by filmmakers with international aspirations. But even though the film is more ambitious than it initially appears, its overall success can't quite rival its heady intentions. Set in Paris in the explosive, culture-shifting year of 1968, the picture follows an American student named Matthew (Michael Pitt) as he hooks up with a pair of French siblings, Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel). Holed up in their apartment, the trio chew the fat over such topics as Chaplin versus Keaton and the US involvement in Vietnam, although most of their time is spent engaging in emotional and sexual mind games -- often of a controversial nature. Neither the turbulent backdrop nor the kids' personalities are brought enough to life to make the overall movie much more than a passing curio. Still, this works most effectively as an ode to the way cinema infuses the lives of its fans, largely by allowing them to shut themselves off from reality, open their eyes to the world around them, or, as practiced by these characters, alternate between the two options. 1/2

50 FIRST DATES Even folks who don't like Adam Sandler (and they are legion) concede that The Wedding Singer is fairly decent, with cinema's top-earning frat boy subverting his obnoxiousness in pursuit of a sweet romance with Drew Barrymore. This new film features an even more intense love story between the pair, yet this winning hand is repeatedly set down in order to make more room for the sort of juvenile antics that will remind Sandler bashers why they hate him in the first place. Meshing Groundhog Day with Memento, this Hawaii-set comedy casts Sandler as Henry Roth, an aquarium vet whose habit of dating only tourists comes to a halt when he meets local teacher Lucy Whitmore (Barrymore). But Henry soon learns that a car accident has left Lucy with short-term memory loss, meaning that, since she can't remember him day-to-day, he has to start wooing her from scratch every time he sees her. Barrymore and Sandler again strike sparks together, and their chemistry is enough to turn this into an agreeable love story further enhanced by an unexpected ending. But perhaps mindful that the gushy stuff doesn't exactly appeal to the mallrats who make up Sandler's fan base, director Peter Segal and writer George Wing cater to the lowbrow by contributing gags about enormous walrus dicks, a perpetually horny character who may or may not be a woman (nobody can tell for sure), and waaay too much screen time for Rob Schneider as Sandler's vulgar best bud (though we do get to see him savagely beaten with a baseball bat, a small consolation). The picture still charms, but it has to work overtime to do so. 1/2

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