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The Baltimore Sun

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

Babel, -- in which director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu suggests that the world's peoples do a lousy job of talking to one another, doesn't devolve into babble, but it comes perilously close. Inarritu employs multiple story threads that unfold with little regard to chronology, but the device seems arbitrary and unnecessary. The film comes across as more clever than profound. (C.K.) R 142 minutes B-

Bobby -- a star-studded fictional account of what 22 disparate people were doing at the Ambassador Hotel the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated, is a lament of what might have been. With sincerity and untempered hero worship, it offers Kennedy as a paradigm of what a leader should be - a unifying force, whose appeal transcends age and race and class. For those who believed in RFK, Bobby will pack an emotional wallop. (C.K.) 112 minutes B+

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan -- features a terrific, risky comic creation: a village idiot for the global village. A TV reporter from Kazakhstan comes to the United States and discovers everything you always wanted to know about America but were afraid to ask. British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles give Borat the high-low genius of an aces episode of South Park. (M.S.) R 85 minutes A

Casino Royale -- showcases that terrific actor Daniel Craig as he and the whole creative team go back to novelist Ian Fleming's original conception of the super-agent as a somber, driven operative on Her Majesty's Secret Service. It's a shrewd and often exciting relaunching of a franchise, but the filmmakers show too much of their sweat. (M.S.) PG-13 144 minutes B

Deck the Halls -- stars Danny DeVito as a car salesman with a dream: erecting a holiday-light display so huge it can be seen from space. In the process he alienates his across-the-street neighbor, optometrist Matthew Broderick, heretofore the local "Mr. Christmas." There isn't an earned moment of uplift or laughter in the movie. (M.S.) PG 95 minutes F

Deja vu -- follows a cutting-edge FBI unit as it enlists ATF agent Denzel Washington to solve the horrible bombing of a jammed New Orleans ferry. It's tense and engrossing, but it lacks exactly what the title advertises: the sense of inexplicable familiarity that should haunt you as the story unfolds and leave you all a-tingle when it ends. (M.S.) PG-13 126 minutes B-

The Departed -- illuminates, with a blowtorch, the tangled roots of urban corruption when a Boston Irish kingpin (Jack Nicholson) puts a mole (Matt Damon) in the State Police and the police put a mole (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the mob. The direction (Martin Scorsese) and the writing (William Monahan) burst with exposed-wire energy; so does the ensemble, including the scene-stealing Mark Wahlberg as a police sergeant. (M.S.) R 149 minutes A

Fast Food Nation -- shouldn't cause audiences to lose their lunch, but it may make them wonder where it has been. Using as his springboard author Eric Schlosser's 2001 examination of the fast-food business, writer-director Richard Linklater employs a series of interconnected story lines to pound home multiple messages about America's determination to eat fast and cheap. The result is a cautionary tale about taking the easy way out. (C.K.) 116 minutes B+

This Filthy World -- is John Waters' one-man-show turned into a one-man-movie. Hoping to serve as the "filth elder" for new generations of mischief-makers and iconoclasts, Waters fashions one of the funniest and raunchiest self-examinations since Portnoy's Complaint. (M.S.) Unrated 86 minutes A

Flushed Away -- an animated tale of pampered versus plucky rats (voiced by Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen and others) spends a good bit of its time spinning its wheels. But the filmmakers have a secret weapon: a Greek chorus of singing slugs. Their appearances never fail to delight, and the gleeful sense of whimsy they nurture helps Flushed Away rise above its tendencies to opt for the lazy laughs. (C.K.) PG 84 minutes B

For Your Consideration -- chronicles the escalating hopes and delusions in the ensemble of an odd little independent movie, when its star, played by the magnificent Catherine O'Hara, earns a mention on an Internet site as a possible best actress nominee. Director Christopher Guest and his stock company, who last gave us A Mighty Wind, are such deft, humane comedians they put you in a happy daze even when they shred their characters' dreams. (M.S.) PG-13 86 minutes A-

The Fountain -- labors awfully hard to get across a pretty simple message. Hugh Jackman stars, in succession, as a Spanish New World explorer looking for the Fountain of Youth, a modern doctor trying to discover a cure for brain cancer and a 26th-century astronaut meditating on the transience of life. Darren Aronofsky focuses not on the characters, but on the search itself, on how obsessed the men become, and how they are doomed to failure. Let's not spoil the revelation, other than to say it's delightfully simple and wondrous. (C.K.) PG-13 96 minutes B

A Good Year -- features Russell Crowe as a ruthless London bond trader who inherits a chateau and vineyard in Provence, France, from his uncle (Albert Finney) and rediscovers his soul. But this overproduced frolic seems like proof that money can't buy happiness. (M.S.) PG-13 120 minutes B-

Happy Feet -- wants to be March of the Penguins: The Musical. But a singing version of last year's surprise documentary hit would need to be far better than this animated effort, a wan, tedious affair that spends too much time in the mistaken belief that people can never get enough of singing penguins. (C.K.) PG 96 minutes C

The Last King of Scotland -- is Idi Amin, the Scot-loving Ugandan dictator who staged a coup in 1971. Forest Whitaker gives a performance huge in size and spirit and terrifying in its downward-spiraling momentum as Amin. James McAvoy has a giddy self-awareness as the co-antihero, a reckless Scottish doctor who becomes Amin's personal physician. (M.S.) R 121 minutes A-

Let's Go to Prison -- Dax Shepard stars as a vengeful ex-con who gets the annoying yuppie son of his tormentor sent to the pen. Will Arnett of Arrested Development is his hapless victim. It's the laugh riot you always thought Shawshank Redemption could be. Minus the nonstop hilarity. (Los Angeles Times) R 84 minutes F

The Prestige -- stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rival turn-of-the-century magicians whose determination to outdo one another leads to tragedy. Director Christopher Nolan concentrates on revealing his tricks bit by bit, letting viewers see only enough to whet their appetite for more. (C.K.) PG-13 122 minutes B+

The Queen -- is Helen Mirren: As Queen Elizabeth II she does an exhilarating, death-defying tightrope walk in sensible shoes, and Michael Sheen, as her new Labor prime minister, Tony Blair, spots her brilliantly. (M.S.) PG-13 97 minutes A

The Return -- Sarah Michelle Gellar is game but glum as an itinerant sales rep beset with disturbing visions when she visits a small Texas town. The film fails to establish any sense of reality and often lurches forward as if pages had been torn from its script at random. (L.A. Times) PG-13 85 minutes C

Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause -- This full-service holiday movie makes the North Pole look like a shopping mall with a never-ending school pageant. Tim Allen carries the franchise on his padded tummy. This time, Martin Short jazzes up the proceedings as Jack Frost, the sprite who conspires to take over Santa's gig. (L.A. Times) G 98 minutes B

Saw III -- finds a dying Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) carving out the magnum opus of his special brand of tough love on those he believes do not sufficiently appreciate life. Unfortunately, more gore is all III has to offer. (L.A. Times) R 107 minutes D

Stranger than Fiction -- is a charming, quirky comedy-drama starring Will Ferrell as a nondescript IRS auditor who finds out that he's actually the hero in a novel when he begins to hear the writer's voice in his head. With marvelous turns not just by Ferrell, but by Emma Thompson and Maggie Gyllenhaal, it is not just the thinking man's Truman Show: It's the feeling man's Truman Show, too. (M.S.) PG-13 113 minutes A-

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny -- naturally features Kyle Gass and Jack Black, the power-guitar duo that make up Tenacious D, as they journey to find the guitarists' Pick of Destiny - a chip off Satan's tooth. The movie rises or falls on how funny it is for one hairy, chunky guy and one bald, tubby guy to delude themselves into thinking that they're epochal rock stars. Their act grows less funny as the movie goes along. (M.S.) R 93 minutes C

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