Quick Flicks 

Capsule reviews of current movies.

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"Barnyard" — Criminal acts and scenes of brutal violence spoil the nature of "Barnyard" as an animated movie for tots. A mythical one-man-operated farm is the setting for a cavalcade of animals to party like it's 1999 whenever the farmer isn't looking. Writer/director/producer Steve Oedekerk (screenwriter of "Bruce Almighty") smuggles a pro-military subtext into the script that scuttles the already drooping narrative with a sandbag of burden. It's impossible to enjoy the celebrity vocal performances and weird computer-generated animation because the movie is so heavy with authoritarianism and fear. (PG) 95 min. ** — Cole Smithey

"Clerks II"— The charm of Kevin Smith's first movie, "Clerks," was in its observational approach, like a magic security camera that allowed us to see one small corner of New Jersey from the perspective of two convenience-store clerks. Here were the raw, irreverent musings of real minimum-wage types. "Clerks II" is more mobile and more interested in making a broad comedy out of life at the bottom than it is in showcasing it. In the new movie, clerks Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) must move on from the Quick Stop convenience store to the McDonald's-like Mooby's. It's a fitting location. This is fast-food entertainment. I laughed one or two times, but felt sick afterward. (R) 98 min. * — Wayne Melton

"Cars" — Owen Wilson's infectious, good-natured energy permeates Pixar's lighthearted animated movie about Lightning McQueen (Wilson), a rookie competition race car that discovers there's more to life than winning races. When Lightning finds himself waylaid in the dusty town of Radiator Springs on the famous Route 66, he gets a lesson in ethics and personal accountability from the town's locals, voiced by Paul Newman and Bonnie Hunt. While the movie is 20 minutes too long for tykes, it nonetheless endears its colorful car characters to the audience. George Carlin, Michael Keaton and Cheech Marin add their vocal talents to this enjoyable animated automotive spree. (G) 116 min. *** — C.S.

"The Devil Wears Prada" — A breathless gallop at haute couture fashion culture, "The Devil Wears Prada" is a fish-out-of-water comedy that digresses so often into prolonged music video sequences that you feel like you're watching a movie with commercials included. That materialism experience is unfortunately much of the point of this loose adaptation of Lauren Weisberger's best-selling novel in which a journalist (Anne Hathaway) wins a coveted job as second assistant to the world's most notoriously exacting fashion magazine editor (Meryl Streep). The magazine is patterned after Vogue, whose influential editor Anna Wintour serves as the template for Streep's icy character. Streep carries the film with a disconnected tone for her character that is at once beguiling and disconcerting. (PG-13) 109 min. *** — C.S.

"The Lady in the Water" — Apologists for the categorically inadequate M. Night Shyamalan have their work cut out for them defending yet another cinematic killjoy from this supposed master of suspense. Inflated from an impromptu "bedtime story" that Shyamalan invented for his children, "Lady in the Water" is a hackneyed enterprise about a water nymph inappropriately named "Story" (Bryce Dallas Howard) who resides at the bottom of an apartment complex swimming pool. Paul Giamatti is Cleveland Heep, a stuttering superintendent who discovers the sprite, or "narf" as she's called, and protects her until he can wrench enough exposition from his underemployed neighbors to send Story back to her "Blue World" home via an eagle. Standing in their way is a red-eyed hyena creature called a "scrunt" that roams the compound attempting to kill Story. The metaphor buried at the bottom of this is all wet. (PG-13) 110 min. * — C.S.

"Miami Vice" — Michael Mann attempts to inflate an episode of his '80s TV show into a feature-length ballad of undercover ennui, lust and bloody intimidation. Dade County detectives Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) try to break up a massive international drug operation by passing themselves off to a Colombian drug lord as "fast-boat" drug traffickers. Spiffy clothes, fancy boats and exotic locations add nothing to Mann's banal exercise in style over content. Farrell mumbles in different accents and Foxx poses like he's on an extended photo shoot for GQ magazine. (R) 135 min. * — C.S.

"My Super Ex-Girlfriend" — Super romance blooms with Uma Thurman as a part-time Manhattan superhero in this scattershot romantic comedy from Ivan Reitman. Architect Luke Wilson is initially thrilled to discover he's dating a superhero before realizing that his affections point more toward his coworker Anna Faris. Hell hath no wrath like a superwoman scorned, and the film swings wildly between reckless, bawdy humor, flat jokes and some surprising sight gag action sequences. But this half-hearted attempt at comedy with unlikable characters never gels. (PG-13) 95 min. **— C.S.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" — For Disney, the good news about this movie is that it enjoyed a record-breaking first weekend box-office gross. For the rest of us, the good news is that the last half-hour or so of this second installment in the "Pirates" franchise is fast-paced, mindless fun, and even displays a dash or two of wit. Alas, the price for this payoff is nearly two hours of glum and mostly needless exposition, punctuated here and there with action sequences that should have made up the whole of this elaborate confection. Those seeking a self-contained movie experience should be warned that "Dead Man's Chest" was filmed in tandem with the next "Pirates" installment, and this year's episode does not even attempt to tie up the plot it so ponderously introduces. (PG-13) 150 min. ***— Thomas Peyser

"Superman Returns" — If this new comic-book movie does well, it will validate Warner Bros.' belief that there is but one permanent, invincible Man of Steel: the one that has already made them millions; the one concocted by producer Alexander Salkind and director Richard Donner in 1978. This new version is a mere extension, with a new actor (Brandon Routh) who looks and sounds like Christopher Reeve's version, old footage of Marlon Brandon as father Jor-El, and even the same theme music (not to mention arch villain, introductory credits and squiggle of hair on Kal-El's forehead). As pure action, "Superman Returns" is competent and entertaining if a little corny. But it is also perfunctory and uneventful, and in many cases, unimaginative. Director Bryan Singer and his team are hired guns, brought in to return Superman to its rightful place among action movies. If they succeed, it will be by doing next to nothing. (PG-13) 153 min. *** — W.M.

"You, Me and Dupree" — As the title character Dupree in this situational comedy, Owen Wilson plays the best friend to newly married Carl (Matt Dillon). Carl and Molly (Kate Hudson) live under the shadow of her overbearing father (Michael Douglas), who happens to be Carl's real-estate tycoon boss. However, ne'er-do-well Dupree casts the longest shadow over the couple's lives when they put him up for a few days while he hunts for a job and a place to stay. A hilarious dinner-table scene with the four main characters spikes the humor level beyond its otherwise predictable limits. Dupree may be a bad guest, but it's Wilson's boyish vibe of innocence that really overstays its welcome. (PG-13) 108 min. **— C.S. S

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