"Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid" Director Dwight H. Little ("Murder At 1600") artfully hits the horror genre's obligatory notes of suspense, action, and pathos with a cast of unknowns in this proficient sequel to 1997's "Anaconda." There's a vitality to the action that entices audiences to share in the swampy joy of watching potential victims work their way through a dense jungle filled with predators. A group of horticulturists and their two guides search for a rare flower amid raging waterfalls and gigantic anacondas that have already tapped into the orchid's life-prolonging potential. It's a perfect matinee treat with plenty of genre jokes and shocks to keep you squirming in your seat. The snakes here are also bigger than they were in the first movie, and that means a lot in the realm of horror-movie sequels. *** Cole Smithey
"The Bourne Supremacy" Matt Damon returns as super-spy Jason Bourne in the hair-raising sequel to "The Bourne Identity." This time around, our preoccupied assassin is shaken out of seclusion in India by CIA bad guy Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), who falsely blames Bourne for a recent assassination that has caused a rift between the U.S. and China. Bourne turns the tables on his CIA aggressors with every bit of steel-nerved ability he can muster. Director Paul Greengrass ("Bloody Sunday") delivers an elegant if overedited response to Doug Liman's initial effort. Action-packed fistfights and car chases punctuate the fast-paced espionage as CIA agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen from "The Contender") leads the effort to bring Jason Bourne in alive. While not as engaging as "The Bourne Identity," the movie fills a void in the lacking spy-movie genre. ***1/2 C.S.
"Collateral" Michael Mann sends his camera roving through the streets of Los Angeles to create a sinister love letter to that city's labyrinthine highways and pulsing multicultural energies. But he's also got a story to tell, and a dumber, more leaden tale of mayhem would be hard to find. Jamie Foxx plays a crisply professional cabby whose lonely night is interrupted by Tom Cruise's hit man, who enlists Max as an unwilling accomplice in a series of hits. If Mann had been willing to use this unlikely premise as a platform for unadulterated action, he might have produced a pleasant summer diversion. Sadly, action takes a back seat to character study, in which Cruise's Vincent sees himself alternately as a rebel against stifling conformity and an agent of fate, borrowing from Darwinian theory and the "I Ching." We're supposed to be fascinated by what makes Vincent tick, but he turns out to be just a heavily armed gasbag. ** Thomas Peyser
"Exorcist: The Beginning" - This accursed prequel to the groundbreaking 1973 horror film is a quagmire of gore in a poorly plotted story with no emotional compass for its characters to follow. The narrative finds Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard, taking the Max von Sydow role) in 1949, after he has given up the priesthood due to waning faith. He grudgingly accepts a large sum of money from an antique dealer to visit the archeological dig of an ancient church in Kenya, where he's to obtain a particular artifact. But the dig site was once used for human sacrifice, and the evil there puts Merrin in contact with the demon who would eventually inhabit the body of the12-year-old Georgetown girl. Wretched CGI hyenas, undeveloped secondary characters and an incoherent story make "Exorcist: The Beginning" a woeful exercise in shock cinema. *1/2 C.S.
"Garden State" Cute is a generous description for much of this character study of a young, chemically subdued Los Angeles transplant who returns to his New Jersey boyhood home to bury his dead mother. There he embarks on a pop-music-filled journey of self-discovery, reviving old friendships and making new ones. Writer, director and star Zach Braff obviously admires the style of Wes Anderson films tone and staging make numerous bows to "Rushmore" and like fare. Braff shows an honest desire to capture life's eccentric characters and exasperating, surreal moments. But most of his jokes are too broad, and 90 percent of his costars function only as one-dimensional caricatures whose quirks can't overcome a lack of narrative drive. Natalie Portman bubbles up to the top of the cast as an agitated love interest, but her vibrant presence only amplifies others' shortcomings. Bottom line: Not as good a movie as you'd like it to be. **1/2 Wayne Melton
"Hero" Director Zhang Yimou (pronounced zong yee moo) makes an adept and awe-inspiring leap into the brand of sophisticated martial arts storytelling that made "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" an instant classic. Set in ancient China, the smart narrative approaches the story of a sheriff called Nameless (Jet Li) who attempts to assassinate the King of Qin by taking credit for killing the King's would-be assassins. Nameless is allowed an audience with the King to describe his combat triumphs over the King's foes, which play out in resplendent flashback sequences conceived as visual ballads of color and composition. Although bootleg video and DVD copies of "Hero" have introduced thousands to the film, it's a movie that must be seen on the big screen to be appreciated. Zhang Yimou's astonishing follow-up "The House Of Flying Daggers" is due to open nationwide this fall. **** C.S.
"The Manchurian Candidate" Jonathan Demme's remake of John Frankenheimer's Cold War classic, "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962), is a slick and competent entry in Hollywood's summer blockbuster sweepstakes even if it doesn't come close to the original's wit, suspense or offbeat incisiveness. The candidate in question is Gulf War vet and vice-presidential candidate Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), haunted by his old platoon leader, Major Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) himself plagued by nightmares of the war. Frankenheimer's masterpiece relied on American commie paranoia. Unfortunately for Demme, that powerful spook is no longer available, so he and screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris came up with the multinational corporation Manchurian Global. Without the Cold War to lend structure to the action, it's not exactly clear what the ultimate aims of anyone in the picture are. The original had a vision, but the update just has a market niche. *** T.P.
"Paparazzi" Tacky revenge thriller draws on the same antagonistic relationship between paparazzi photographers and celebrities that caused the untimely death of Princess Diana. Cole Hauser plays a rising Hollywood action star who goes on the warpath against four tabloid-crazed paparazzi responsible for causing a car accident that nearly kills his wife and their 8-year-old son. Dennis Farina plays an investigator following the trail of paparazzi victims Hauser leaves in his wake, while the formula detective story turns up doltish cameos by Vince Vaughn, Mel Gibson and Chris Rock. * C.S.
"Suspect Zero" The exhaustion of this kind of film is signaled by the labored premise: the possibility that a serial killer is out there on the prowl for serial killers. This is a film in which characters angrily bark things like "Ya ever hear of evidentiary procedure?" and show up drenched with rain in the middle of the night at their beloved's door. When he's not carving abstract art on the bodies of his victims, Ben Kingsley's former FBI agent Benjamin O'Ryan sits rapt in the throes of extrasensory terrors, compelled to produce artful, pencilled renderings of one grisly crime scene after another. At one point, relating the horrors he's experienced as the hardest-working remote viewer in the business, he pants, "We saw things men shouldn't see." It's a sentiment that people leaving this movie are likely to share. * T.P.
"Wicker Park" Abysmal attempt at creating a romantic thriller puts the audience to sleep with sluggish execution and ill attention to gaping plot holes. The movie tracks a heartbroken Chicago investment banker (Josh Hartnett) as he desperately attempts to reunite with his ex-girlfriend while dodging his current squeeze. The overworked plot continually loops back on itself as Matt becomes romantically sidetracked by his ex's mentally unstable former neighbor/friend. Characters are unlikable for their asinine behavior and inarticulate attempts at communication. "Wicker Park" is an infuriating movie that is best avoided. * C.S.
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