But one afternoon, after said actress hangs up, the phone rings. On the other end is a moralistic sniper (Kiefer Sutherland), who's been catching Stu's act and deems him unfit to live. If Stu hangs up, he's dead. To prove he means business, he kills an innocent bystander. The police arrive (led by Forest Whitaker) and mistake Stu for the killer. Like always, Stu tries to fast-talk his way out, but the sniper is adamant only soul-baring honesty and quick thinking will save him. ****
"A Man Apart" (R) Vin Diesel plays Sean Vetter, a DEA agent who jettisons the rule book after a Mexican drug lord puts out a hit on him but kills his wife instead. With childhood bud and fellow DEA man Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate) for backup, the grieving Vetter sets out to get revenge. Low expectations will ensure getting the most from this boilerplate action/revenge tale featuring the requisite amounts of suspense, emotion, humor, plot twists and Vin's bulging biceps. Director F. Gary Gray uses moody lighting, angled close-ups and fast edits to maximum effect, not the least of which is masking Vin's attempts to stretch his limited range. **
"Basic" (R) As with so many movies lately, it's the lead performance and not the plot that make the picture worth the price of a matinee admission. With this so-so, quasi-military thriller, it's John Travolta's tough-talking, swaggering portrayal of a bad-boy DEA agent that keeps our interest through the numerous unfocused stretches of the purposely murky plot. Travolta plays Tom Hardy, a former Army ranger turned federal agent who's called in to help a less-experienced investigator (Connie Nielsen) figure out why a despised drill sergeant (Samuel L. Jackson) wound up dead after a jungle-training exercise. Director John ("Die Hard") McTiernan presents the puzzle to us "Rashomon"-style, offering stylized recreations of the murder from various point of view. And it's fun watching Travolta's cagey Hardy zero in on the truth. However, for moviegoers who require more than a single interesting performance to pull them into the theater, "Basic" will be a frustrating experience. ***
"The Core" (PG-13) Despite its underwhelming special effects, this sci-fi movie offers viewers distinct characters, terrific dialogue and crisp direction by Jon Amiel. Aaron Eckhart plays a brilliant professor who discovers that the Earth's core has stopped rotating, causing the planet's electromagnetic field to go haywire and threatening its complete destruction in less than a year. Teaming up with shuttle pilot (Hilary Swank), a weapons specialist (Tcheky Karyo), a vain scientist (Stanley Tucci) and nutty inventor (Delroy Lindo), Eckhart takes his not-so-merry crew of "terranauts" on a last-ditch secret mission to the center of the Earth. Once there, they attempt to jump-start the core by nuking it. Even with its cheesy computer-generated effects, "The Core" is a total trip. ****
"Dreamcatcher" (R) Although this film is overflowing with gore and grossness, as well as inconsistency and illogic, director Lawrence Kasdan and screenwriter William Goldman's adaptation of the Stephen King novel has a kind of train-wreck fascination to it: No matter how twisted or convoluted it gets, you can't look away. It starts off well enough as a story about four childhood friends (Jason Lee, Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant) who share the ability to read minds. But then the plot quickly morphs into a large-scale invasion of slimy, flesh-eating slugs. Whether intentional or not, the movie also has a high "camp" factor, not the least of which is Morgan Freeman as a paramilitary-type guy obsessed with killing the squishy creatures and any poor soul whose body they've possessed.
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