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Together, the two undertake acts of great bravery to help the British. Unlike past adaptations, director Shekhar Kapur and screenwriters Michael Schiffer and Hossein Amini pointedly mix the swashbuckling romance with an unblinking look at the brutalities of colonial rule and racism. But they also refuse to sacrifice or ridicule Mason's central message about the British sense of duty. ****



"Barbershop" — Despite the ongoing debate over censorship, the sanctity of African-American icons and the nature of satire, this ensemble comedy is a clever, thoroughly modern mix of "It's A Wonderful Life" meets "Car Wash." Actor-rapper Ice Cube stars as Calvin, the "hair-apparent" of his late father's barbershop, who's struggling to keep his dad's legacy thriving in the face of mounting financial woes. The film is chock-full of oddball cutters and customers, including Cedric the Entertainer as an elder barber with endless barbs, Sean Patrick Thomas as an ambitious but self-righteous college student and rapper Eve as the shop's only female barber. Besides Cedric's scene-stealing turn, the movie's other funny moments come from a terrific riff on Laurel & Hardy's Oscar-winning short "The Music Box" — except here, the piano is now an ATM machine boosted by the bumbling duo of Anthony Anderson and Lahmard Tate. While it falls short of being truly lovable, "Barbershop" is still a cut above other recent inner-city comedies. ****



"The Banger Sisters" — The movie gets an OK, but only depending on one's gender as well as where one stands on the proposition that even aging rock groupies deserve a forum in which to indulge in a midlife crisis. Moviegoers of the female persuasion will more readily embrace the bawdy, libidinous natures of Suzette (Goldie Hawn) and Lavinia (Susan Sarandon). And yes, the odd title of the movie does indeed refer to the No. 1 pastime our now aging bad girls were known for "back-in-the-day." If one buys into these gal-pals reuniting and championing their part in the so-called Sexual Revolution, "The Banger Sisters" will be passingly enjoyable. But if one doesn't — yikes!— nothing will ring true: Not Hawn's trashy unrepentant child-of-the-'60s, nor Sarandon's uptight, hippie-turned-suburban-mom who learns to reconnect with and revel in her promiscuous past thanks to a trip down memory lane. "The Banger Sisters" has its moments, mostly thanks to Hawn, and to Geoffrey Rush as Suzette's love interest. And the sexual frankness is refreshing, coming as it does from characters who normally would be depicted as prudishly trying to push abstinence on the younger set. ***



"Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" — Other than offering a mind-numbing dozen explosions a minute, there's not much worthy of discussion about this poor excuse for computer-generated excess. Except, of course, the bad acting, the bad dialogue and yes, even the bad movie music. But the baddest thing about "Ballistic: yada-yada-yada" is that it's not bad enough to be smirky fun. Antonio Banderas is Ecks and Lucy Liu is Sever. He's a former FBI agent who quit the agency when he thought his wife was killed by a really bad guy called Gant (Gregg Henry). Abysmally directed by newcomer Wych Kaosayananda, "Ballistic" serves only one possible purpose: as a painful lesson in how not to direct a movie. *





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