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Serving Sara, Simone, Undisputed, The Good Girl

"Simone" — In this smug, but so-so Hollywood satire, Al Pacino delivers an enjoyably manic performance as a quirky director trying for a comeback. When his temperamental star (Winona Ryder) walks off the job because her trailer is too small, Pacino hits upon the idea of a computer-generated, "virtual" star. When everyone starts clamoring for his synthetic star, Simone, he claims she's more reclusive — and therefore exclusive — than Garbo. But when her fame starts to eclipse his, he decides he's got to get rid of her. Which, of course, is easier said than done. Although cleverly conceived by writer-director Andrew Niccol, and featuring a star turn by Pacino, the movie's satiric skewers seem oddly blunted and its gags predictable. ***

"Undisputed" — Vastly unoriginal, this macho prison movie with a boxing theme wastes the talents of both Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames. Though not horrible, it's still nothing more than an age-old movie cliché given some extra punch by veteran director Walter Hill. Snipes plays Monroe Hutchens, a peaceable, introspective convict serving a life sentence. Before prison he was a heavyweight contender; behind bars, he's the "undisputed" champ of the prison boxing program. But that title is in jeopardy when the current heavyweight champ, "Iceman" Chambers (Ving Rhames giving an angry Mike Tyson-esque delivery), checks in on a rape conviction. Because Chambers is a thug ready for a fall, the outcome of their high-profile match is never in doubt. Though slickly made and well acted, "Undisputed" earns no more than a split decision. **

"The Good Girl" — Jennifer Aniston shines in this beautifully observed, edgy comedy/drama about a depressed 30-something clerk in a West Texas discount store. Bored beyond belief with her stoner painter husband (the equally marvelous John C. Reilly), she begins an affair with a much younger colleague (Jake Gyllenhaal). But wouldn't you know it, she soon finds out that he's more trouble than the sweetly clueless lout she's got at home. Despite the hackneyed and predictable plot, the movie's bright spot is its actors. Besides Aniston and Reilly, Zooey Deschanel ("Almost Famous") works wonders, deftly crafting a memorable character from her few lines and fewer scenes. As one of Aniston's co-workers who's hit upon a unique way to enjoy her mind-numbing work at the Retail Rodeo, she steals the show. ***

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