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Burn After Reading

** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS)

$19.1

million

$19.1 million

1 week

Rated: R

Running time: 96 minutes

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.

Our take: You can't fault the ensemble, which includes Brad Pitt (above), but the movie lacks internal combustion. It's more like a lava lamp than lava.

The Family That Preys

* ( 1 STAR)

$17.4

million

$17.4 million

1 week

Rated: PG-13

Running time: 111 minutes

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.

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

Righteous Kill

* 1/2 ( 1 1/2)

$16.3

million

$16.3 million

1 week

Rated: R

Running time: 101 minutes

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 sending pimps and rapists to their deaths.

Our take: What we get is plain bad direction and writing - and, sadly, mediocre acting.

The Women

* 1/2 ( 1 1/2 STARS)

$10.1

million

$10.1 million

1 week

Rated: PG-13

Running time: 114 minutes

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

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

Tropic Thunder

*** ( 3 STARS)

$4.2

million

$103 million

5 weeks

Rated: R

Running time: 107 minutes

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

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

The House Bunny

** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS)

$4.2

million

$42 million

4 weeks

Rated: PG-13

Running time: 97 minutes

What it's about: The members of a struggling sorority have a thing or two to learn from a banished Playboy bunny (Anna Faris, above), and vice versa.

Our take: The underdog plot isn't anything new. Faris, as the ditzy but good-hearted ex-bunny, delivers a flat-out hilarious performance.

The Dark Knight

** ( 2 STARS)

$4.1

million

$517.8 million

9 weeks

Rated: PG-13

Running time: 152 minutes

What it's about: Citizens, lawmen and criminals - and an anarchistic freak called the Joker - respond to the emergence of the Caped Crusader.

Our take: As the Joker, Heath Ledger (above) detonates a savage sick joke or two, but the whole movie is set up for him to be the jiving put-on artist of destruction, outwitting the squares.

Bangkok Dangerous

* ( 1 STAR)

$2.6

million

$12.7 million

2 weeks

Rated: R

Running time: 99 minutes

What it's about: Nicolas Cage (above) plays a stoic assassin who could use some Zoloft but instead sullenly drifts from murder to murder.

Our take: It's a watered-down remake. What's left is a standard tired-warrior-finds-meaning-of-life, wants-out-of-the-killing-biz yarn.

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