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Back together with an "X"
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"The X-Files: I Want to Believe" **1/2 (out of four): Fans of the TV show may enjoy seeing Mulder and Scully back in action, but there's little in this run-of-the-mill mystery to attract the uninitiated.

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Six years after "The X-Files" went off the air, and a full ten years since it was first brought to the big screen (in 1998's stubbornly impenetrable "The X-Files"), series creator Chris Carter brings paranormal investigators Fox Mulder and Dana Scully back to the multiplexes with "The X-Files: I Want to Believe". Of course, six years is a long time. Whether audiences (fans of the show or otherwise) will remember Mulder and Scully, let alone where the series left off, remains to be seen. I, for one, was ready to (as the posters say) believe again. My faith was, as is often the case, only mildly rewarded.

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Sibling Ribaldry
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"Step Brothers" **1/2 (out of four): Will Ferrell reunites with John C. Reilly in this R-rated sausage fest of crude humor, profanity and prosthetic genitalia.

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From producer Judd Apatow comes yet another male coming-of-age tale. Following in the wake of "The 40 Year Old Virgin", "Knocked Up" and "Superbad", "Step Brothers" is the story of two middle-aged man-boys who stand at the door to adulthood, yet can't seem to find the handle. Written by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (who also directs), "Step Brothers" reunites Ferrell with his "Talladega Nights" second banana, John C. Reilly in this R-rated sausage fest of crude humor, profanity and -- yes, it's true -- prosthetic genitalia.

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Tracks in the Ice
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"Transsiberian" **1/2 (out of four): Modest thriller set aboard the titular train plays like low-suspense Hitchcock until sadly, in the last act, it derails.

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Ah, train travel. Nothing sparks suspense like being trapped with perfect strangers in a claustrophobic tube hurtling through anonymous and unfamiliar terrain. From Hitchcock ("The Lady Vanishes", "Strangers on a Train") to Bond ("From Russia with Love", "The Spy who Loved Me"), from Agatha Christie ("Murder on the Orient Express") to Gene Wilder ("Silver Streak"), filmmakers and authors alike have set their sinister plots on rails, with varying degrees of success (lest we forget "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory"), since man first laid down tracks. And now "Transsiberian", a modest thriller from director Brad Anderson, puts the formula to good use by setting the action aboard the titular Russian-Chinese train line and populating it with some wildly surly locals (the Transsiberian tourism bureau is not likely to be happy about this one).

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ABBA-cadabra
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"Mamma Mia!" *** (out of four): The innocent exuberance of ABBA's music carries the cast and the audience away, like a night of drunken karaoke. It's all in good fun -- embarrassing, silly, joyous, unrestrained fun.

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At some point in "Mamma Mia!", one has to decide either to just "go along with it" or to run screaming for the exit. That point is most likely when Pierce Brosnan begins to sing the ABBA hit "S.O.S.".

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Big "Knight"
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"The Dark Knight" ***1/2 (out of four): Freed from the confines of an origin story, director Christopher Nolan lets loose with an intense, challenging, flawed and, yes, dark vision of Gotham under siege, featuring an unforgettable final performance by Heath Ledger as the clown prince of crime.

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I don't want to say that "The Dark Knight" - director Christopher Nolan's eagerly anticipated follow-up to 2005's franchise-saving "Batman Begins" - has a lot to live up to, but as one of my friends put it: "I just want it to be the best movie I've ever seen." No pressure, Chris. Warner Brothers, the film's distributor, can rest easy in the knowledge that they've put the Bat-series in the hands of a crafty, intelligent and uncompromising director. Summer movie audiences may not get the whiz-bang blockbuster they're expecting (for that, they've always got "Iron Man"). But those ready for Mr. Nolan's intense, challenging, flawed and, yes, dark vision will not be disappointed.

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3D Dinos, 1D Humans
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"Journey to the Center of the Earth" **1/2 (out of four): Like cotton candy, it's an airy, sweet treat that evaporates as soon as it's consumed.

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"Journey to the Center of the Earth" is a twist on the Jules Verne sci-fi classic. Starring summer blockbuster stalwart Brendan Fraser and directed by visual effects wizard Eric Brevig, it's the first live-action, narrative feature shot in digital 3D ("RealD").

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"Hell" and Back
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"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" *** (out of four): Visually stunning comic book sequel from the endlessly inventive Guillermo del Toro amounts to little more than a noisy mess. But it sure looks pretty along the way.

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There's a moment midway through "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" - director Guillermo del Toro's visually stunning sequel to his 2004 comic adaptation - in which the titular demon-hero (played again by the frightfully perfect-for-the-role Ron Perlman) squares off against a ten-story tall "forest elemental" at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. During the ensuing battle, the effects are, naturally, seamless; the forest creature throws cars and breaks through concrete with ease. But there's a real beauty at work here - not just in the creature's visual design (which is typically fantastic) but in our hero's dilemma. If he kills the creature, he's killing the last of its kind (Hellboy himself is similarly unique). But if the creature lives, it will grow further out of control, endangering the lives of millions. More than any other moment in the film - and this is really saying something - this sequence exemplifies everything that's great about "Hellboy II". As Mr. del Toro has proven before ("The Devil's Backbone", "Pan's Labyrinth"), he can orchestrate effects (both practical and CG) with the grace of a conductor. It's just this time, instead of using a baton he wields a sledgehammer.

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"Han'" So-so
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"Hancock" **1/2 (out of four): Even Will Smith's jerky superhero (and another winning supporting turn from Jason Bateman) can't save the latter half of this film's messy script.

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In "Hancock", Will Smith plays a superhero - the kind that can fly, has super-strength and is impervious to bullets. So, y'know, Superman. But the difference between Mr. Smith's character and the Man of Steel is: Hancock's kind of a jerk. In fact for much of the script, by Vincent Ngo ("Hostage") & Vince Gilligan (of "The X-Files"), the cast has a lot of fun labeling Hancock an a--hole. On the surface, this conceit is a pretty fair premise for a superhero parody: what if Superman were a real jackass. But as "Hancock" progresses, and the plot starts to unravel when it should be coming together, not even Will Smith - Mr. Fourth of July himself - can save it.

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"WALL-E" Pops
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"WALL-E" ***1/2 (out of four): "WALL-E" is truly a masterpiece of animation. If only live-action films were as thoughtfully and beautifully executed.

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Pixar continues to define the gold standard of animated feature films with "WALL-E", the story of a little robot with a big heart. Surprisingly mature, thoughtful and subtle, "WALL-E" proves the mastery and bravery of Pixar's filmmakers as they push the envelope of animated storytelling.

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Character Assassins
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"Wanted" ** (out of four): Without characters to care about, this kinetic, violent shoot-em-up is merely a showcase for Russian director Timur Bekmambetov. But the violence on screen is nothing compared to the kind of bludgeoning given to your suspension of disbelief.

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Most American moviegoers are not yet familiar with Timur Bekmambetov, the Russian director known for helming 2004's "Night Watch (Nochnoy dozor)" series (a soon-to-be trilogy once "Dusk Watch" joins 2006's "Day Watch"). Widely thought to be the Russian "Matrix", those films stylistically spun a tale of warring vampire factions in the seedy underbelly of Moscow. The "Watch" films received a limited release stateside, so Mr. Bekmambetov's official introduction to American audiences will be "Wanted", another kinetic, violent shoot-em-up. The Russian director has again cribbed much from the "Matrix" - an office worker discovers he's The Chosen One; much gunplay ensues - but the violence on screen is nothing compared to the kind of bludgeoning credulity takes during the film's running time.

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The Spies Have It
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"Get Smart" *** (out of four): It may not be "Smart", but it's still silly, pleasant fun.

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There have been dozens of TV-to-film adaptations over the last several years ("Bewitched" comes to mind as the most ill-advised), but "Get Smart" is one of the few cases in which a jump to the big screen actually makes sense. Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, the original television show was a spoof of James Bond films and shows like "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." and "Mission: Impossible". While satirizing the spy genre, it also served to ease Cold War tensions by poking fun at both sides. KAOS (the bad guys) were evil, but they were bungling and incompetent. CONTROL's top agent, Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) was also inept, but just lucky enough to thwart their plans for world domination.

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A Pain in the Ashram
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"The Love Guru" *1/2 (out of four): This half-baked attempt to create a feature film around a riff on Deepak Chopra finds Mike Myers lost in Powers.

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When an actor lands the role he (or she) was born to play, it's magic. No one does Inspector Clouseau like Peter Sellers (sorry, Steve Martin); No one but Ahnuld could have been "The Terminator" (sorry, "Sarah Connor Chronicles"); and let's face it, Keanu had been building up to Neo his whole life. It seems, judging by "The Love Guru", Mike Myers found his role as well. It's Austin Powers.

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It's Not Easy Being Green
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"The Incredible Hulk" *** (out of four): Edward Norton and Marvel bring Hulk down to human-size.

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Putting Ang Lee's 2003 "Hulk" film behind them, Marvel gets a do-over with "The Incredible Hulk" -- a new interpretation (not a "Hulk" sequel) of the beloved Stan Lee-created character. It's also the second film (after "Iron Man") in which Marvel has taken creative control of their own property. It's a distinction that shows. As in "Iron Man", character and story take precedence over action sequences in "The Incredible Hulk". The casting of acting heavyweight Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk also shows Marvel's commitment to bringing character development front and center. It's certainly a bold move -- but does it pay off?

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Global Warning
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"The Happening" ** (out of four): Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's eco-thriller starts with a clever premise and degenerates into spooky atmospherics, portentous pacing and stiff dialogue.

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It all starts in Central Park. People begin speaking gibberish, repeating themselves. Then they stop in their tracks and slowly walk backward. After that, it gets ugly - the less said about that the better. This sequence of events, which concludes with an uncomfortably familiar scene at a construction site, provides the chilling opening to "The Happening", the latest puzzling and puzzle-y thriller from famously secretive writer-director M. Night Shyamalan. As the posters proclaim, this film marks the twist-meister's first foray into R-rated territory, and it's clear from these disturbing opening images that he means to take advantage of that freedom. So then, why does what's happening in "The Happening" feel so goofy?

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Shag and a Haircut, Two Bits
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"You Don't Mess with the Zohan" ** (out of four): Fans of genital-related humor will be sure to appreciate "Zohan". But for the rest of us, "Mess" sums it up pretty well.

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There was a time when every Adam Sandler role was characterized by little more than a funny voice and some serious developmental issues. Then came the "important" projects -- "Punch Drunk Love", "Spanglish", "Reign Over Me" -- where he simply dropped the funny voice. In "You Don't Mess with the Zohan", Sandler returns to the funny voice and adds hair and wardrobe to match.

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