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• Doogal - A saccharine, cheap-looking CGI import from Britain about a lazy, cowardly, sugar-addicted pooch (with a mullet cut) who must find a way to save the world from an icy death is not the follow-up to Hoodwinked that Disney escapees Bob and Harvey Weinstein hoped for...or we asked for. At least they've got the swell Over The Hedge in theaters this week. Formerly titled The Magic Roundabout and re-dubbed (Doogal, that is. Not Over The Hedge.)
• Duma - With most arthouse films rated "R", it is always a pleasure when one comes along that culture mavens can take their kids to, and The Black Stallion director Carroll Ballard's latest nature trek -- a visually lovely adventure -- certainly does fit that bill. It is about a 12-year-old South African boy (Alexander Michaletos) who must return his pet cheetah to the wild, encountering and overcoming a number of obstacles along the way, the biggest one being our initial reluctance to accept its premise.
• Hatley High - Man, I wish I could get my government to produce my lame idea for a movie. The idea for this tepid, boilerplate American Pie wannabe, about a high school chess team, is as weak as that zany Canuck curling comedy, Men With Brooms (which at least had Molly Parker in it). Check out Degrassi Junior High instead. See also the just-released Canadian Singles pretender, Summer -- or better yet, don't, because it blows, too.
• The Producers - The movie adaptation of Mel Brooks' 2001 Tony winner -- a musical version of his Oscar-winning 1968 film -- is a bit like buying a grainy, third generation bootleg video from a street vendor, in that it is similarly diluted. Reprising their roles from the play are Nathan Lane as has-been Broadway producer Max Bialystock and Matthew Broderick as his partner-in-crime, accountant Leo Bloom. The fraud they perpetuate is raising $2 million to produce what they hope will be the worst play ever staged: Springtime For Hitler. Their plan goes to scheisse when flamboyant director Roger DeBris (fellow returnee Gary Beach) defies Murphy's Law and flips the would-be flop.
Show director Susan Stroman (who also choreographed) has a tough time here, depending on wide shots for too much (like the neurotic Leo needs his blue blankie). The oversaturated color, which makes the whole production look like a 1950's MGM musical, is a nice touch, and the stunt casting of Will Ferrell as Franz Liebkind, the (not a) Nazi writer of Max's and Leo's Teutonic tanker, and Uma Thurman as Ulla, their giant Swedish secretary, was smart. However, in the same way that Chris Columbus stumbled with his movie version of Rent, Stroman does not venture much past her few sets.
Still, the set and the choreography for the opening number from Springtime For Hitler are suitably grand. The songs range from dull (like the Leo/Ulla ballad That Face) to sassy (Roger's Keep It Gay) to brilliant (Opening Night). Broderick's voice is pretty weak, but Lane's ham-tastic bravado almost makes us forget that Zero Mostel played the role better without mugging and singing like Jolson. Beach is spot-on, especially when he dons the brownshirt and jackboots as Der Führer. Roger Bart, who up until this season played psycho pharmacist George Williams on Desperate Housewives, is a hoot as DeBris's catty Guy Friday, Carmen Ghia.
The whole thing runs a couple numbers too long, and Brooks and co-writer Thomas Meehan could have punched up the gags more, but for a copy of a copy, an $100 show vs. a $15 DVD (and cheaper for the original) is still a good deal.
• The Ringer - The premise of The Farrelly Brothers' latest envelope-pushing comedy almost automatically prompts cries of bad taste: "Johnny Knoxville plays a guy who pretends to be mentally challenged so that he can compete in and fix the Special Olympics." However, The Farrellys, longtime champions of the short-shrifted in movies like There's Something About Mary and Shallow Hal, again maintain that the ones with the handicap are the people who would so quickly and callously dismiss someone based on a mathematical misfortune. Officially, audiences have permission to laugh while exploring their prejudices, as the Special Olympics was involved during most of the movie's production. It is for this reason, though, that some of the movie's bite is dulled a bit. It is still comfortable, respectful and sweet, and considering that the movie had the potential to be an all-out affront akin to a Wayans Brothers travesty -- and considering the bonus points it earns for being original in a world of adaptations, sequels and remakes -- it will do.
• Side Effects - Grey's Anatomy sweetie Katherine Heigl produced this thinly-veiled rant against the pharmaceutical industry, about a legal pill-pusher who develops a conscience and contemplates leaving the lucrative business. While it is occasionally sloppy, it is nice to see the bubbly darling at least attempting to pull off a starring role (and fetishists will thrill to see the former Roswell cutie in her underpants). If it's sharp, anti-corporate missives you want, rent the Kids In The Hall movie, Brain Candy.
• Something New - It may not be as timely as Guess Who's Coming To Dinner or as potent as Jungle Fever or Mississippi Masala, but first-timer Sanaa Hamri makes a go out of an interracial romance between a way-sensible accountant (Sanaa Lathan) and her landscape architect (Simon Baker). Their conflicts and struggles are well-played and well-acted, with tenacious Desperate Housewives neighbor Alfre Woodard playing it much lighter here as Lathan's flighty mother. Hamri layers the drama cleverly, too, skillfully tackling themes of race, class and gender without preaching about any.
• These Girls - I'm sure that Bones and Angel star David Boreanaz becoming the sex slave of a parade of nubile young girls is the subject of countless fanfic stories, but now, fans can enjoy something more akin to the real thing with this cheeky Canadian sex farce. Boreanaz plays a pot dealer whose affair with his baby's sitter lands him her two friends (and the basis for a letter to Penthouse like no other). It's likeable enough -- think Big Love meets My Tutor by way of Sixteen Candles -- with some sweet performances and decent tunes, which for some, won't be enough to whitewash the whole statutory rape thing.
• When A Stranger Calls - While director Simon West does a pretty good job creating a creepy foreboding atmosphere in this remake of the 1979 Halloween pretender, there is not much else to it. It is good to see teenagers actually playing teenagers, though it would be even better to see them as more than just puppets that scream and run from a faceless killer in a plotless movie.