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But then something happens: The plane crashes--subtly, minimally, effectively. The rest of the film, which finds the school rebuilding the program with wacky new coach Matthew McConaughey, isn't as memorably understated. But it's closer than you'd expect. Often McG is presented with a chance to go for the jugular, and seven times out of 10 he doesn't take it.

In fact, most of what McG does is cast a string of fine actors--along with McConaughey, there's David Strathairn, Ian McShane and Anthony Mackie--and not push them too hard. Yes, that's right: McG has all but removed himself from the equation. You might have to see it to believe it. Emphasis on might.

Not Reviewed

Black Christmas
Sorority sisters are knocked off one by one over winter break in this remake of the 1974 horror flick of the same name. Starring no one in particular. (Opens Mon., Dec. 25.)

A documentary account of six blind teenagers who set out to climb Mt. Everest. (Opens Wed., Dec. 20.)

Night at the Museum
Ben Stiller plays a night-watchman who unleashes an ancient curse, causing an array of museum exhibits to chaotically spring to life. Also starring Robin Williams as a wax Teddy Roosevelt statue and Owen Wilson. (Opens Fri., Dec. 22.)


A work of searing, go-for-broke intensity, Mel Gibson's blood-drenched Apocalypto feels like the nightmares of a diseased, tormented imagination. Set amid the collapse of Mayan civilization, this ruthlessly efficient chase picture is grandiose, absurd, almost comically ultra-violent and also mesmerizing. Newcomer Rudy Youngblood stars as Jaguar Paw, a gentle soul living in a small village on the outskirts of the Yucatan peninsula, who finds his simple life shattered when beset upon by the bloodthirsty minions of a corrupt institutionalized power base that's rotting from the inside. Despite the cast of unknowns in loincloths speaking Yucatec, this is hardly your run-of-the-mill anthropology lesson. B (S.B.)

Through director Alejandro Gonz�lez I��rritu's signature method of interwoven storytelling, Babel examines the blend of connectedness and misunderstanding that characterizes life in the 21st century. It's an ambitious topic. But the film's four storylines, transpiring across Mexico, Japan and Morocco, are told with just the right balance of cultural specificity and universality so their sum comes off feeling like a painfully accurate snapshot of humanity's modern woes. Few films are able to so beautifully and disturbingly capture cultural estrangement while also highlighting a fundamental human trait--that the hope of understanding endures, even in times of darkness. B+ (Cassidy Hartmann)

Blood Diamond
Blood Diamond has all the makings of a lean, cut-to-the-chase awesome B-movie about the conflicted diamond trade that kept Sierra Leone spattered with constant gunfire and bloodstains back in the 1990s. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Danny Archer, a shitheel, good-for-nothing smuggler who ends up sharing a prison cell with Djimon Hounsou's noble mine slave. Hounsou knows the whereabouts of a golf-ball-sized pink diamond, and DiCaprio is determined to sleaze the information out of him. The bare bones of the story call to mind The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but director Edward Zwick has too much of an annoying, preachy social conscience to let anything devolve into that much fun. C- (S.B.)

Bobby, curiously enough, has almost nothing whatsoever to do with its title character, aiming instead for a sort of Grand Hotel set at L.A.'s Ambassador on June 4, 1968. Bobby Kennedy is spoken of quite often in glowing, reverential terms, and occasionally the film stops dead in its tracks to play one of his speeches in its entirety. I'm not sure what else director Emilio Estevez has to say beyond the fact that Kennedy was indeed one heckuva guy, and the rest of the time we have to content ourselves with a stunningly banal soap opera. It's an entire flick full of one-dimensional celebrity cameos having marital spats and staggeringly uninteresting arguments while we wait for the presidential candidate to show up and get shot. D (S.B.)

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
The most appalling and original comedy in years--if not decades--Borat is a fall-on-your-face, pee-in-your-pants screaming riot of wild racism, leering sexism and all-around grotesque intolerance. As Kazakhstan's sixth-most popular journalist, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen makes a farce out of things we're not supposed to joke about, cutting ugly hatred off at the knees and robbing it of its power by offering it up for ridicule. Borat is a genuinely politically charged, truly transgressive comedy that hits all the harder because it comes from the gutter, not the library. A (S.B.)

Casino Royale
Everything old is new again in Casino Royale, an extremely satisfying back-to-basics reboot for the ailing James Bond franchise. Right away, everything about this 007 feels a lot leaner and a good deal meaner than we've come to expect from the series in recent decades. The violence is messy and unpleasant--lots of grappling close-quarter pummelings during which the sound design amplifies every crunching bone. The controversial casting of Daniel Craig as Bond is a bold choice that pays off handsomely. We witness that famous Bond persona in the process of its creation, and as the film wears on we see Craig refining his performance into something increasingly colder and more elegant, never quite assuming full Bond-age until the film's final, deliciously crowd-pleasing line. B+ (S.B.)

Charlotte's Web
Some pig. (Not reviewed.)

Copying Beethoven
Director Agnieszka Holland brings us this uneven feminist fantasy about Beethoven employing an eager young copyist in the days before his last symphony, the Ninth, is premiered. When the bewigged Beethoven (Ed Harris) appears, looking like a prop comic with two giant brass horns dangling from his ears, you're relieved this Sidney Kimmel-produced film won't be deadly serious. The film is a goofy and a boorish misfire, yes, but thankfully it's never boring. B- (Dan Buskirk)

D�j� Vu
Denzel Washington stars as a whip-smart ATF agent investigating a horrific New Orleans ferryboat bombing. While sniffing out clues Washington is recruited by the startlingly chunky Val Kilmer to join a top-secret government investigation squad. Turns out the feds accidentally invented a machine that allows technicians to look backward in time and essentially TiVo everything that happened exactly four days ago. There are, of course, enormous loopholes and plot-required restrictions that are both too complicated and too arbitrary to even bother getting into. But if you're willing to look beyond all the psuedo-scientific gobbledygook, you'll find a few nifty payoffs. C+ (S.B.)

The Departed
Adapted by screenwriter William Monahan from Andy Lau and Alan Mak's 2002 Hong Kong smash Infernal Affairs, The Departed stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a fresh-faced undercover cop dispatched to infiltrate the ranks of Boston crime boss Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson in a performance of baroque, mesmerizing insanity. A white-knuckle potboiler with a surrealistic edge of mania, this propulsive, astoundingly vulgar pop entertainment finds reenergized director Martin Scorsese back on the mean streets he understands better than any other filmmaker. It's a lewd, reckless piece of work, full of black-hearted gallows humor, sickening violence and enough elaborately profane arias to make a sailor cry for his mommy. A (S.B.)

After finding a dragon egg, a farm boy fights to save his homeland from an evil king. Based on the best-selling fantasy-adventure trilogy by Christopher Paolini. (Not reviewed.)

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