"Beauty Shop" Take one part "Barbershop," one part Queen Latifah, sprinkle in a tablespoon of 'you-go-girl' attitude and stir to get the confection of "Beauty Shop." Gina (Latifah), who made her trash-talking debut in "Barbershop 2," moves to Atlanta and opens up her own salon. Gina hustles to raise her daughter, keep the shop afloat, and treat her customers to a vibe full of glam, girl-power and spunk. Brandishing curling irons and hair dryers, the ladies sling a sassed-up version of the ribald barbershop banter, gabbing about breast implants, Oprah, and the pros and cons of pubic hair. It's formulaic and the jokes are hit or miss, but Latifah's warm, toned-down performance gives "Beauty Shop" real heart. (PG-13) ** Cole Smithey
"Fever Pitch" The Farrelly brothers ("There's Something About Mary") set aside their usual inclination toward gross-out humor with a tender and earnest adaptation of a novel by Nick Hornby ("High Fidelity"). Avid sports fans will appreciate the all-engrossing passion that Ben (Jimmy Fallon) has for his local Boston Red Sox as he comes to realize that he must redirect some of that hardened loyalty to his newfound love Lindsay (Drew Barrymore). A schoolteacher by day, Ben lives for the annual baseball season when he can sit among his extended family at Fenway Park and cheer for the team that's given his life meaning since he was 11. As much as Lindsay admires Ben's youthful dedication to baseball, she wants to be more than an extra inning. Fallon and Barrymore are well matched in a crowd-pleasing romance comedy rooted in the love of the game. (PG-13) ***1/2 C.S.
"Kung Fu Hustle" The ever-shifting genre of martial arts films takes on yet another variation with writer/director/actor Stephen Chow's latest comic CGI spectacle. Set in an impoverished area of prerevolutionary China known as Pig Sty Alley, the movie follows an upstart extortionist (Chow) attempting to pass himself off as a member of a notorious mob group called the Axe Gang in order to steal money from the area's destitute residents. When the wannabe baddie bites off more than he can chew and his intended victims fight back, the real Axe Gang arrives in a zenith of cartoonish spectacle that includes a bullfrog-morphing Kung Fu master known as The Beast. This and Chow's considerable "Shaolin Soccer" show the actor-turned-director has a finely honed and highly individual idea of martial arts movies. (R)***1/2 C.S.
"Melinda and Melinda" If you like Will Ferrell as Will Ferrell, you will love him as Woody Allen. Ferrell plays Hobie, a hulking, twitchy mass of neurotic schmuckiness in this latest Allen treatise on relationships and love. Actually, it's two treatises one a comedy, one a tragedy about Melinda (Radha Mitchell), a lost Manhattan soul looking for love and purpose amid the daily dramas of her fellow bourgeois apartment dwellers. There are fine moments throughout, but the best belong to Ferrell, who wheedles and whines his way through the action as a bigger, lumpier version of Alvy Singer. The film is intended to show which version better satisfies human needs. In the end it only provides two satisfying stories, but that's no small feat these days. (PG-13) **** Wayne Melton
"The Ring Two" Naomi Watts' Rachel tiptoes around this sequel about a creepy young girl who dwells in the innards of a videotape. Hideo Nakata, who helmed the Japanese originals "Ringu" and "Ringu 2," seems to have gone buck wild with his new Hollywood-sized budget. His film explodes with visual devices and camera trickery, before imploding into a heap of symbolic nonsense and visual crud. This one's weird even for horror movie sequels, a highly stylized, glittering monument of nothing. A brief appearance by Sissy Spacek seems like the icing on a cake of empty spectacle. (R) * Wayne Melton
"Sahara" The latest adventure comedy from Paramount falls into a chasm as a shoddy derivative of the Indiana Jones and James Bond franchises. Matthew McConaughey plays generic sun-kissed treasure hunter Dirk Pitt, searching the Sahara with his quirky sidekick (Steve Zahn) for a Civil War ironclad. Penélope Cruz adds female distraction for the explorers as a doctor working for the World Health Organization to remedy a plague sweeping Africa from an epicenter in Mali. The movie is based on the popular novel by Clive Cussler ("Raise The Titanic") and is a feeble preview of the coming summer blockbuster season. (PG-13) *1/2 C.S.
"Shultze Gets the Blues" Ponder carefully the premise before entering: After hearing a Cajun zydeco riff on the radio, a girthy retired German miner and amateur accordionist (Horst Krause) trades in his polka vest, learns to cook jambalaya and eventually moves to Louisiana. Developments that would constitute the first half-hour introduction of an American movie "About Schmidt," for instance are leisurely revealed in writer and director Michael Schorr's distinctly northern European tragicomedy (in English subtitles). It must help to know the region's character to appreciate the movie's pacing, visual style and subtle juxtaposition: Shultze eating alone in silence; Shultze and buddies gulping beer in silence; Shultze waddling around Texas in silence. This is all intended to induce spasms of laughter in someone. You don't have to be German to get it, but whether you do will have a lot to do with whether you like "Shultze." (PG) **1/2 W.M.
"Sin City" High-contrast tour-de-force cinematic adaptation of Frank Miller's wickedly grotesque graphic novel pays homage to the hard-boiled shadowy style of Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane. Robert Rodriguez teams up with co-directors Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino to deliver a TKO of a movie. Constructed with state-of-the-art special effects, "Sin City" is a stylized, dark and gritty (and it must be said, quite risqué) film that weaves together three Frank Miller stories with eye-popping results that threaten to addict audiences to the movie for repeated viewing. (R) ***** C.S.
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