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REPORT CARD STAFF CRITICS' TAKES ON THE TOP MOVIES

The Baltimore Sun

Babylon A.D.

What it's about : Vin Diesel (above) stars as a sullen bruiser who must reluctantly escort a mysterious, angelic young person (Melanie Thierry) to a far-off destination - the promised land of New York.

Rated: R

The scoop : This is not a terrible movie, but it quickly degenerates into chases and gunfights and not much else.

Grade : * 1/2

Burn After Reading

What it's about: Espionage gets mixed up with a gym worker's desire to get a Hollywood body, a CIA wife's move to get a divorce, and a U.S. Treasury agent's propensity to get some thrills whenever his flame flicks him the wrong way.

Rated: R

The scoop : You can't fault the ensemble (George Clooney and Frances McDormand are especially spirited), but the movie lacks internal combustion. It's more willfully silly than peppy and more like a lava lamp than lava.

Grade : ** 1/2

Frozen River

What it's about: A hard-bitten wife and mother (Melissa Leo, above), living in a small town outside the Mohawk Reservation on the border with Quebec, partners with a cryptic Mohawk (Misty Upham) to smuggle illegal immigrants across the border.

Rated: R

The scoop: It's Leo's movie; her character can be racist, crude and reckless, yet without pleading, Leo takes you so far into her soul you never reduce her to a sociological label.

Grade: ***

The Family That Preys

What it's about: Alfre Woodard (above) and Kathy Bates star as Atlanta matriarchs and longtime friends who are caught up in the woes of their spoiled children.

Rated: PG-13

The scoop: This film, an overwrought melodrama of sibling rivalry, infidelity, family business power plays and terminal illness, is Tyler Perry's soapiest yet.

Grade: *

Righteous Kill

What it's about: When a vigilante starts killing bad guys, two pairs of detectives - Al Pacino and Robert De Niro (above), and John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg - begin to suspect a cop might be the one sending pimps and rapists to their deaths.

Rated : PG-13

The scoop: What we get is plain bad direction and writing - and, sadly, mediocre acting from Pacino and De Niro.

Grade : * 1/2

Tropic Thunder

What it's about: A failing action star (Ben Stiller, above), a drug-addicted comic (Jack Black) and a celebrated Australian actor (Robert Downey Jr.) stumble onto real guerrillas while making a war film.

Rated: R

The scoop: Downey is daringly funny as a white man from Down Under playing an African-American soldier. At its best, this movie wrings divine madness from wretched excess.

Grade: ***

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

What it's about: In Barcelona, Spain, romantic complications swirl around an artist (Scarlett Johansson, above), a grad student (Rebecca Hall), a painter (Javier Bardem) and the painter's ex-wife (Penelope Cruz).

Rated: PG-13

The scoop: Woody Allen's affectionate, enlightening and, best of all, blissfully entertaining movie shows how much residue sexual desire or experience leaves in the brain and gut and heart.

Grade: ****

The Women

What it's about: It's a bogus new version of the popular 1936 Broadway play and 1939 hit movie. This time Meg Ryan stars as the virtuous housewife and Eva Mendes (above) as the vamp who steals her husband away.

Rated: PG-13

The scoop: Writer-director Diane English wrongheadedly updates the film by replacing catty negative stereotypes with equally shallow and less-funny positive stereotypes.

Grade: * 1/2

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