Shanghai Knights, Deliver Us From Eva, Chicago, About Schmidt, The Hours

Fans of the first "Shanghai" comedy won't be disappointed. "Knights" serves up tastier martial-arts fights, nonsensical plotting and anachronistic use of slang. Although "Shanghai Knights" sags a bit in the middle and the bad guys aren't very menacing, it's worth hanging on for the spectacular climax. In an incredible display of athleticism, style, humor, camera trickery and martial arts prowess, Chan pays homage to two famous silent-movie stunt sequences — Harold Lloyd's "Safety Last" and Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s "The Black Pirate." ***

"Deliver Us From Eva" — In this hip-hop version of "The Taming of the Shrew," the ultramean Eva, played by Gabrielle Union, is perfect to her three sisters (Essence Atkins, Robinne Lee and Meagan Good), but a haughty, sarcastic and meddlesome pain to her sisters' men (Mel Jackson, Dartanyan Edmonds and Duane Martin). So they decide to pay their superplayer friend Ray (LL Cool J) to seduce Miss horse-riding, choir-singing, man-killing perfectionist Thang and then dump her. But their plan goes predictably awry when Ray and Eva fall for each other, big-time. Now Eva's sisters want the same perfect, romantic, gooey kinda love. Writer-director Gary ("The Brothers") Hardwick clearly set out to make more than another hip-hop comedy, but his plans fall victim to his own loopy plotting, one-dimensional character types, excessive predictability and minimal comedy. *

"Chicago" — Not since "Cabaret" has there been a big-screen musical as whip-smart and exciting as this one. The choreography, by director Rob Marshall and Cynthia Onrubia, is nothing short of inspired. And kudos to screenwriter Bill Condon who has cleverly re-imagined the musical as a dreamy film noir playing out in the mind of wannabe star Roxie Hart. While Renee Zellweger's terrific as the determined Roxie, Catherine Zeta-Jones is coolly assured and sexy as Velma Kelly, Roxie's rival performer. Richard Gere rounds out this deadly trio as the slick shyster Billy Flynn. Full of love, lust, intrigue and sultry song-and-dance numbers, "Chicago" is a sensual sensory feast. ****

"About Schmidt" — Jack Nicholson gives a master's class in the fine art of understatement in this character-driven tale of one man's reawakening, rekindling and reassessment of his life. Nicholson is Warren Schmidt, a newly retired insurance executive who embarks upon a cross-country trip. His destination is Denver, where his estranged daughter (Hope Davis) is about to marry a waterbed salesman (Dermot Mulroney, sporting a hilarious "mullet") who aspires to mediocrity. Although the movie (by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor) moves as slowly and plainly as its Midwestern setting, there are powerful emotions roiling and boiling just below the surface. And Nicholson delivers one of the most powerful — yet subtle — performances of his career. *****

"The Hours" — The death of the brilliant British author Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) triggered a fatalistic ripple that spreads to two other women (Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep) in two different eras. Decades later, the two women feel the anxious and somber rhythms of Woolf's life and death. The movie, based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is deeply moving. But not merely because the stories of the three women resonate with agony, bravery and inspiration. Deftly intercutting of both place and time, the film creates a powerful mingling of mysticism and fate. Add to the mix the truly stellar performances from the entire cast and the result is haunting, disturbing, and unforgettable.

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