"Three Kings," "Mystery, Alaska" and "Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland" 

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"Three Kings""Mystery, Alaska""Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland"

"Three Kings" This raucous, rowdy thrill-ride overflows with dark humor, startling action and pointed political commentary. While it begins in World War II "Kelly's Heroes" style — telling a tale about soldiers trying to heist enemy loot — the Gulf War-based "Three Kings" quickly becomes its own raw mix of impudence and heart. George Clooney stars as a Special Forces captain who's two weeks shy of retirement. But he ditches his assignment to escort arrogant TV journalist Nora Dunn when he learns three GIs have a map to some of Saddam's ill-gotten gold. For Clooney's character, "necessity" is the driving force behind any of his actions. He discovers, however, that the three GIs — Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze — are not quite as morally bankrupt as he. But it doesn't take Clooney long to get the young men over their initial worries about stealing. On the surface, the movie looks like a testosterone-filled funfest. But just beneath all the bad-boy antics and glib humor, first-time writer/director David O. Russell has something more thought-provoking in mind. Wrapped in all that macho humor are serious questions — and visual statements — about the ambiguous and often financially expedient nature of war, alliances and borders. "Mystery, Alaska" "The Mighty Ducks" for grown-ups, this so-so effort from TV hothand David E. Kelly and Team Disney takes forever to get going. And when it finally does, very few in the audience will care. Although it's directed by "Austin Powers"-helmer Jay Roach, none of his knack for irreverence shows up here. But rest-assured all the usual sports clichés do. Even Burt Reynolds appears to be less than thrilled to be in the movie. At least the premise sounded fun. A small town's recreational ice hockey team has become a sports myth in the "real" world and some savvy sports entrepreneur sees dollar signs if he can get the little team to play the New York Rangers. Wow! An arctic "Rocky." "Cinderella" on ice. Die-hard hockey fans will enjoy the show-down; the rest will be left out in the cold. "Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland" OK, I have judged another unfairly. You see, I knew little of Elmo other than his obnoxious appearance several holidays ago when he was the most sought after toy. Now he's got his own movie. I was not heading to the megaplex happily. Well, as is often the case with movie critics, "Boy was I surprised." Elmo is a sweetheart, a gentle soul who's sensitive to others feelings. He's also polite. And he was a joy to watch on the big screen outwitting a handful of Grouches, Mandy Patinkin's villainous Huxley and Vanessa Williams' "Trash Queen." My new favorite, little, red monster has to outwit these folks as he tries to get his blanket back from Huxley. Although I enjoyed this "Muppet-Sesame Street" joint production, it's really intended for the 7-and-under set, a group routinely ignored by the major studios when it comes to anything other than videos. The little ones around me were eating it up — counting with Ernie, making rude noises to help out and encouraging Elmo.

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