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Tropic Thunder, Hancock among DVD reviews

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CASABLANCA (1942). Bogart. Bergman. "As Time Goes By." "Here's looking at you, kid." You know the rest. So round up the usual accolades for one of the all-time greats, which premiered on DVD in 2002 in an OK package, was given the two-disc Special Edition treatment in 2003, and is back again in an Ultimate Collector's Edition. Actually, like the recent reissue of A Christmas Story, this basically retains all the DVD bonus material from the Special Edition but adds some physical goodies to the mix; in this case, that translates to a 48-page picture book, 10 poster and lobby card reproductions, a passport holder and luggage tag both emblazoned with the film's title, and, amusingly, a copy of Victor Laszlo's letter of transit used as a prop in the movie. There's also a bonus disc that includes the 1993, 98-minute documentary Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul.

As for the extras carried over from the previous discs, they include audio commentary by Roger Ebert; separate audio commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer; two deleted scenes; a 35-minute retrospective documentary; the premiere episode of the 1955 Casablanca TV series (mostly a yawner, though it's enjoyable to watch the General Electric infomercial plugging the wonders of the electric iron); and the cartoon Carrotblanca, starring Bugs Bunny (as Rick), Donald Duck (as Sam) and an all-star Looney Tunes cast.

Movie: ****

Extras: ***1/2

HANCOCK (2008). The idea behind Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" can be applied to this sci-fi outing that, somewhat surprisingly, ends up taking the path "less traveled by." Yet equally surprising is the fact that this enjoyable film would have been even better had it played out as expected. The premise is irresistible: Hancock (Will Smith) is an alcoholic, antisocial superhero whose crimefighting exploits usually end up causing millions of dollars in damage to the city of L.A. The residents have had enough of him, and the police even have a warrant out for his arrest. Hancock couldn't care less until PR guy Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), despite protests from his wife (Charlize Theron), decides he's going to help Hancock overhaul his public image by transforming him from a menace to society into a hero worthy of respect. The first half sprints with this plotline, resulting in a movie that's consistently funny and inventive – even the typically heavy-handed direction by Peter Berg (The Kingdom) can't dilute the fun. But without warning, scripters Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan orchestrate a major plot pirouette, one that dramatically changes the relationships between the characters and allows a sharp satire to mutate into (in no order) a melodrama, a romance, a tragedy, and a myth-building muddle. No movie should be able to survive such a clumsy shift, yet this manages to get back on its feet, thanks in no small part to the conviction that Smith and Theron bring to their roles. Couch potatoes willing to hop aboard this emotional roller coaster ride will respond to the resultant pathos far better than viewers wondering why the laughs suddenly went MIA.

Extras on the two-disc special edition include an unrated cut of the film (which runs 10 minutes longer than the theatrical version); a making-of featurette; and short pieces on the effects, stuntwork and costumes.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: **

THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2 (2008). The 2005 screen version of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was based on the first novel in Ann Brashares' best-selling series, but this sequel reportedly combines the events from the remaining three books in the franchise. One reason is probably because the studio felt that audience interest wouldn't extend past a second installment, while another might be that the four ascending stars are now keeping busy with other projects. Besides, who wants to eventually see 30-something actresses still playing college-age kids? (It brings to mind the final film in the Porky's series, wherein high school boys were suddenly having to contend with receding hairlines.) Yet by ending it at number two, the filmmakers have insured that this series won't be subject to the laws of most franchises and grow shoddier as it creaks along. A solid follow-up to the solid original, this might feel a bit more scattershot than its predecessor, but its engaging characters, entertaining situations and emotional reach help keep it afloat. Set three summers later, it finds brainy Carmen (America Ferrera) heading to Vermont to work in theater (check out a funny Kyle MacLachlan as the pompous director), introspective Bridget (Blake Lively) traveling to Turkey for an archaeological dig, rebellious Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) remaining in New York to work on her film, and shy Lena (Alexis Bledel) finding romance at the Rhode Island School of Design. Problems are worked out in an orderly manner, tears are shed in sincere fashion, and everyone is reunited in sunny Greece, with nary a single ABBA-mangling peasant in sight.

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