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The Baltimore Sun

Capsules by Michael Sragow. Full reviews are at baltimoresun.com/movies.

American Teen This documentary about a handful of high school seniors in Warsaw, Ind., shows how even teens who superficially fit the labels of jock and geek have inner lives and outer ambitions that break up any stereotypes. The movie has the sureness and nuance of a tiptop novel. PG-13 95 minutes A

The Dark Knight Heath Ledger gives a bravura performance as the Joker in this handsome piece of work, but it takes you from absorption to excruciation within 20 minutes, and then goes on for two hours more. It's scaled to be an urban epic about the deterioration of hope and possibility in Batman's (Christian Bale) hometown, Gotham City, but there isn't a single inspired moment in it. Yes, Ledger detonates a savage sick joke or two. But it's a Pyrrhic acting victory. The whole movie is set up for him to be the jiving put-on artist of destruction outwitting the squares. Director Christopher Nolan's use of incessant tension music and gun-to-the-head jeopardy cheapens even the classiest bits. PG-13 150 minutes. C

Edge of HeavenMothers and daughters, a father and a son work out their interlocked destinies amid contemporary turmoil in Turkey and Germany. All the characters are unique, vibrant and splendid; the narrative is a virtuoso feat; and the images are packed to bursting with unruly life. Unrated 122 minutes A+

HancockWill Smith stars as a surly, feckless Los Angeles superhero who makes nice with humanity under the guidance of a big-hearted public relations man (Jason Bateman). Once their story line runs its course, the filmmakers resort to a twist that fills the movie with unearned sentiment and cheap suspense. PG-13 90 minutes. B-

Hellboy II: The Golden ArmyGuillermo del Toro designs this follow-up to his 2004 Hellboy as a battle between the magical and fearsome creatures who roamed J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth and C.S. Lewis' Narnia and a handful of agents from the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, including the burly red demon Hellboy (Ron Perlman). Del Toro stuffs the film with wit and wonderments. Yet, it often plays like a lovingly crafted synthesis of the superhero and fantasy sagas we've been seeing all decade, and especially this summer. PG-13 120 minutes B

Hell RideTwo aging biker gangs fall out over a decades-old killing and a hidden treasure. Writer-director-star Larry Bishop piles on the would-be clever word-play, lubricious nudity and over-the-top carnage the way the sad sitcom minds behind Wild Hogs did the gay jokes and pratfalls. R 83 minutes C-

Mamma MiaIn this clunky version of the international stage smash showcasing ABBA's greatest hits, Meryl Streep plays a former pop-rock star who runs a decaying Greek tourist hotel, and Amanda Seyfried plays her daughter, who wants to know which of her mom's ex-lovers is her father. It's like a party where everyone is so desperate to have a good time that it makes you miserable. PG-13 108 minutes. C-

Man on WireThis documentary pays tribute to the high-wire walker Philippe Petit, who in 1974 plotted and executed a plan to walk between the tops of the World Trade Center's twin towers. Thanks to the suspenseful, sensuous direction of James Marsh, Petit's accomplishment registers, in its own balletic way, as potently as King Kong climbing to the top of the Empire State Building. PG-13 90 minutes A

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) becomes embroiled in a despicable warlord's efforts to bring the entombed Dragon Emperor (Jet Li) back to life. Three yetis, a yak and a couple of yuks. That's all you get in the way of original entertainment in this extravagant and frenetic third entry. PG-13 112 minutes C-

Pineapple ExpressA stoner (Seth Rogen) and a dealer (James Franco) are on the run from a loathsome drug kingpin (Gary Cole) and a crooked cop (Rosie Perez). The plot is merely an excuse for the audience to get a giddy hit off some heady secondhand smoke while laughing and cheering at cartoon sadism that attempts (and fails) to put the slap back in slapstick. R 111 minutes C-

Step Brothers Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly star as 40-year-old men who act like 12-year-olds; when their single parents marry, they go through a ticklish parody of buddy-movie emotions. The film is wildly erratic and outrageous enough to acquire a cult. It's a slacker farce done as performance art: a midnight movie you can catch at a matinee. R 95 minutes B-

Swing Vote Kevin Costner plays a politically apathetic single father and sometime egg-factory worker who finds he controls the deciding vote in a presidential election. Costner plays a middle-aged slacker so unsentimentally, and with such ease and conviction, that he supplies the movie with a comic engine that keeps running when the script splutters. PG-13 118 minutes B-

Tropic ThunderA failing action star (Ben Stiller), a drug-addicted comic (Jack Black) and a celebrated Australian actor (Robert Downey Jr.) go on location to make the ultimate Vietnam War film and stumble onto real guerrillas working for a drug lord in the Golden Triangle. Downey is daringly funny as a white man from Down Under playing an African-American soldier; so is Tom Cruise as a feral studio chief. At its best, this movie wrings divine madness from wretched excess. R 107 minutes B

The Wackness It's a funny, touching mood piece about a New York City high-school grad and marijuana dealer named Luke (Josh Peck) who spends three months before college trading dope for therapy with his shrink (Ben Kingsley) and falling in love with the shrink's stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby). It's set in the summer of '94, and underneath its jiving, wise-cracking surface, it's a male fantasy of losing virginity to a beautiful and understanding woman. It's clear-eyed about the young man's illusions; the whole movie has a distinctive, gritty-lyric sensibility. R 110 minutes B+

WALL-Eis the first dystopian parable that's actually ecstatic fun. The hero is a beeping, whirring Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth class, or WALL-E. He's the sole survivor of a mammoth cleanup operation, and he's lonely - until a sleek female robot named EVE comes looking for signs of organic life. G 90 minutes A

Wantedgoes postal with wireless speed. It's a tall tale of skyscraper proportions: the gory story of a put-upon accountant (James McAvoy) who discovers that he's the son of a top assassin in a secret world of super-assassins. The film pulls you by the scruff of the neck and makes you thankful for it. R 110 minutes B+

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