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THE BALTIMORE SUN

Capsules by Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach, except where noted. Full reviews at baltimoresun.com/movies.

American Dreamz -- wants to be a wild satire of politics and pop culture. But it's really just a cornpone comedy for the age of big media, with the president (Dennis Quaid) as the global village idiot, a Simon Cowell-like reality show host (Hugh Grant) as the evil Lothario and the international TV audience as the denatured salt of the earth, able to get caught up in the spectacle of their fellow men and women aspiring to be stars. (M.S.) PG-13 103 minutes C

Basic Instinct 2 -- retains much of what made the earlier film scurrilous but little of what made it interesting. Sharon Stone's Catherine Tramell races her sports car through the streets of London, engaged in sex with a soccer player. Tramell loses control of both herself and the car, sending it to the bottom of the Thames with soccer guy still inside. Scotland Yard enlists a psychiatrist, Michael Glass (David Morrissey), to paint her as the psychopath she is. But the judge lets her off anyway. Now it seems poor Glass might be next. If this film does nothing more than wash Catherine Tramell out of Stone's system, all will not be lost. (C.K.) R 114 minutes C-

The Benchwarmers -- severely tests the maxim that "There's no such thing as a bad movie about baseball." David Spade and Jon Heder are nerds whose lifetime of getting picked on is avenged when they join pal Gus (Rob Schneider), for a three-on-nine baseball scrimmage against some Little League bullies, and Gus single-handedly crushes them. Billionaire former nerd Mel (Jon Lovitz) sponsors a "Build a ballpark" tourney featuring the "benchwarmers" against the best adolescent teams in the region. (Orlando Sentinel) PG-13 80 minutes D+

Failure to Launch -- offers Matthew McConaughey as Tripp, a 35-year-old yacht broker who still lives at home. Though they don't really mind having Tripp around, Mom and Dad (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw) eventually hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), who makes a living out of luring overgrown boys out of parents' houses. But Tripp's a tough case, especially after she falls for him. (C.K.) PG-13 95 minutes B

Friends With Money -- has Jennifer Aniston as an unhappy single woman with, as the title suggests, not much money. Her friends (Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack) have money and husbands, but are also not happy people. Aniston's Olivia is a woman with so little self-respect that she essentially pays a dim-bulb personal trainer (Scott Caan) to go with her to the houses she cleans and have sex. A story that centered more on her and less on the standard-issue emotionally crippled people surrounding her would have been an insightful movie. (C.K.) R 88 minutes C+

Ice Age: The Meltdown -- offers some good news: The nut-nutty squirrel of the first Ice Age is back. Otherwise, the movie has exactly the same flaws as its predecessor. It's a glacier-paced mastodon quest, just critters on the run from extinction. The ice is melting. Manny the mammoth tries to hurry everybody along to safety before the ice walls break. It's all very Land Before Time, or the first Ice Age, without the kids-lose-their-parents pathos. (Orlando Sentinel) PG 85 minutes C-

Inside Man -- is a slick, briskly paced tale of bank robbers who think they're at least twice as smart as everybody else, and maybe are. Clive Owen is the robber determined that everyone play his game, Denzel Washington the detective assigned to the case and Jodie Foster a mysterious operative working desperately to keep something inside one of the bank's safe-deposit boxes from coming out. (C.K.) R 129 minutes B+

Lucky Number Slevin -- features lots of cool dialogue but doesn't provide much of a movie in which to showcase it. Josh Hartnett is the mysterious Slevin, who visits New York and is mistaken for his friend Nick, who owes rival crime bosses (Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley) big money. The movie wants to be another Pulp Fiction, but when the characters in Pulp Fiction talked, it felt real - and more important, it felt new. By comparison, Slevin feels like a contrivance, and a retread contrivance at that. (C.K.) R 110 minutes C+

Phat Girlz -- isn't a bad movie, but it's a badly made one. Comic Mo'Nique plays the full-figured Jazmin, who wants to design clothes for women her size. Problem is, she can't seem to make up her mind. On the one hand, she champions the plump woman, but on the other, she's constantly dieting in hopes of finally wearing that size 5 dress in her closet. She and her pals escape to a resort where a group of Nigerian doctors eyes the big girls with love and lust. Tunde (Jimmy Jean-Louis) particularly admires Jazmin, but as their relationship grows, so do her insecurities. (Zap2it.com) PG-13 99 minutes C-

The Sentinel -- offers great fun in the form of Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland chewing up the scenery as Secret Service agents struggling to unravel a plot to assassinate the president. It doesn't offer much more. Douglas is Pete Garrison, a legend for having taken a bullet during the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt. He's been zealously guarding our chief executives ever since, including the latest, President Ballantine (David Rasche). Then one of Garrison's informants says there's an assassination plot afoot. Unfortunately, Garrison has been framed as the traitor. (C.K.) PG-13 108 minutes C+

Take the Lead -- is To Sir, With Love - just add tango. It's the story of a dedicated teacher struggling to get through to New York kids that gets by mainly on the charisma of star Antonio Banderas. It's based very loosely on the story of Pierre Dulaine, profiled in the 2005 documentary Mad Hot Ballroom. Take the Lead simplifies things, pours on the cliches and hopes audiences will be too busy tapping their toes to notice. And yet, Banderas almost makes it work. He's so handsome, so smooth, so effortlessly cool, that it's not hard to see his Dulaine reaching these kids. But Take the Lead makes it all appear way too simple. It rarely comes across as anything but staged, offering a story we've seen too many times before. (C.K.) PG-13 108 minutes. C

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