"Friday Night Lights" Gritty and unconventional high-school football movie that is the triumphant result of director Peter Berg's uncompromising adaptation of the 1990 nonfiction bestseller. Although writer David Aaron Cohen's ("The Devil's Own") screenplay falters briefly in a couple of scenes, "Friday Night Lights" flourishes due to its potent naturalistic acting from an ensemble of gifted actors led by Billy Bob Thornton as the put-upon coach of a West Texas small-town football team. The film exactingly personifies American values of pride and ego in their lowest and highest manifestations. Thornton's magnificently understated performance as Coach Gary Gaines rivals Kurt Russell's similarly tempered role in this year's Olympic hockey film "Miracle." **** Cole Smithey
"Intimate Strangers" French director Patrice Leconte ("Widow of St. Pierre") crafts a sinewy comedy of manners in which a sex-starved wife mistakenly becomes a patient of a shy, divorced tax attorney who must pretend to be her shrink. The intimate sessions continue even after she discovers that he is not the analyst she believed him to be, and a unique relationship is forged. The film's potentially claustrophobic stage setting is resolved beautifully by director of photography Eduardo Serra as he reveals a multitude of emotional layers within the constant parameters that Leconte's gifted actors effectively employ. ***1/2 C.S.
"Raise Your Voice" There may be no escaping the ever-pubescent Hilary Duff. Here she plays an aspiring singer from a small town whose supportive big brother tragically dies in a car accident. Not one to let adversity stop her, she disobeys her father's wishes and enrolls in a summer musical program at a notable performing arts school in Los Angeles. Sugary songs are sung, and Duff finds true puppy love as she co-writes the song that she hopes to perform at the school's scholarship competition. "Raise Your Voice" is aimed strictly at 12- to 15-year-old girls, and no one else. Enter at your own risk. ** C.S.
"Shall We Dance?" Breezy remake of box-office busting 1995 Japanese film is yet another exploration of one man's attempt to shake off middle-age. As that man, Richard Gere stands in for any of us who know we've never had it so good, but still itch for that certain something to propel us from happiness to ecstasy. Lured into the dance studio by Jennifer Lopez's siren stare, he discovers that dancing itself gives him the lift he thought only adultery would provide. Director Peter Chelsom would seem to be the right man to tell this story, but the charming daftness of his exuberant "Hear My Song" (1991) is evident only on the margins of this almost oppressively well-intentioned romp. ** Thomas Peyser
"Shark Tale" Terrific voice characterizations by Jack Black, Renee Zellweger, Martin Scorsese and Will Smith can't elevate "Shark Tale" anywhere near the greatness of last year's animated instant classic "Finding Nemo." Relentless commercial retail references, a shoddy pop music soundtrack, and an ill-conceived story about Lenny (Jack Black), a vegetarian mobster shark unwilling to do his family's violent bidding, immerse "Shark Tale" in a murky narrative pool. However, the film's lush animation and brilliant colors are exemplary. Oscar (Smith) is an ambitious little fish who takes undeserved credit for the accidental death of Lenny's shark big brother Frankie (Michael Imperioli). Oscar enjoys a short-lived run of enriching public adulation that promptly endangers Angie (Zellweger) the one fish that really loves him for who he is. Predictable fart jokes and endless puns attend the humor. **1/2 C.S.
"Shaun Of The Dead" Ingenious blend of romance, comedy and horror effortlessly swells in this gloriously off-kilter zombie movie. Shaun is a 29-year-old North London slacker dealing with odd-couple roommates when a creeping zombie invasion elicits his latent leadership abilities. The group of comedians responsible for the UK cult television show "Spaced" team up to add layers of zesty humor as Shaun and his small group of family and friends seek refuge from the invading horde. "Shaun Of The Dead" is a well-written foreign independent movie that will satisfy audiences looking for clever surprises. **** C.S.
"Taxi" Regrettable makeover of French 1998 action flick of the same title lies on the screen like three-day-old road kill. Queen Latifah plays a bicycle messenger who fulfills her dream of buying a Manhattan taxicab medallion so she can break city speed limits in her personally pimped-out cab. But Belle's daydream lifestyle is imperiled when young dumb police officer (Jimmy Fallon) involves her in capturing a crew of Brazilian female bank robbers. Jennifer Esposito's drab performance as Fallon's police chief boss is a thing of misery beyond even the depths of Queen Latifah's poor showing. * C.S.
"Team America: World Police" Geniuses of satire Matt Stone and Trey Parker bring more laughs to the big screen after their wildly funny 1999 movie "South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut." A cast of squared-jawed marionettes fights terror by way of North Korea's Kim Jong-il in a relevantly childish reading of "freedom." Inspired by the '60s British television series "Thunderbirds," Stone and Parker use Jerry Bruckheimer's action-movie plot template to parody America's bullying military with puppets that give new meaning to "wooden acting." The ridicule hits a fever pitch any time the comic duo's brilliantly phrased songs modify the puppet action sequences (you'll be chanting "Team America, F**k Yeah" for days). This all-out adult satire pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. ****1/2 C.S.
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