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Boxer And Briefs 

A quick look at four late-summer entries

The black hole that goes by the name of Josh Hartnett has managed to swallow up many movies, but Resurrecting the Champ is not one of them. For that, we have to thank the force of nature that goes by the name of Samuel L. Jackson.

To be fair, Hartnett isn't completely awful in the role of a sportswriter who stumbles onto a career-making -- and subsequently career-breaking -- story: His earnestness works well for this character, and when a single tear journeys down his cheek late in the movie, it's possible that it's a genuine teardrop and not a dab of H2O shot on there by a spritzer-wielding makeup assistant. But roiling emotions are clearly out of his range, and he's shown up as a lightweight in his frequent scenes with Mr. Jackson.

The latter delivers a formidable performance as a homeless man who calls himself the Champ. Raspy-voiced and not all there mentally, he reveals himself to Hartnett's Erik Kernan as Battling Bob Satterfield, a former boxing great. Erik, stuck covering stories on high school athletics, realizes this could be his ticket to the big time, so he devotes all his energy to turning Champ's life story into a must-read article. But suspicions eventually surface regarding Champ's history, and Erik soon realizes that he might have made a huge mistake in choosing his subject matter.

The picture's various themes -- the union between fathers and sons, the importance of journalistic integrity, the ease with which history can be rewritten -- are handled with care, though there's nothing particularly revelatory on view here (Shattered Glass, for instance, is a far superior film about media misconduct). But towering over the entire picture is Jackson, who takes a showy role and invests it with so much humanity that it's impossible not to feel deeply for the character every step of the way. It's a knockout performance.

THE KIDS ARE alright in Superbad; it's the adults who prove to be a drag.

Coming from some of the same talents involved with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, this can't match the impact of its predecessors, despite its best intentions to (slightly) set itself apart in the "teen sex comedy" genre. The movie begins promisingly, as longtime best friends Seth and Evan (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, both perfectly cast) hope to spend their last couple of months in high school attending cool parties and dating hot girls. With their ultra-geeky pal Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) along for the ride, the boys hope to score some alcohol to bring to a major bash. Using Fogell's fake ID (on which he's identified as a 25-year-old simply named McLovin), they set out across town on their holy quest, a mission that turns sour after a robbery spoils their plans and separates Fogell from his pals.

Potty-mouthed but true to its milieu, Superbad hums along until two cops (played by co-writer Seth Rogen and Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader) come along to spoil the fun. Tiresome characters, they steer the picture away from its mother lode of comic material, and rather than disappear after making their mark, the pair hang around for the remainder of the film.

Superbad gets back on track in the late innings, and it's here that the movie's true theme -- the fierce and touching bond that can establish itself between two boys suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous high school shenanigans -- becomes most pronounced. So whenever it centers on its teenage characters, Superbad is a likable coming-of-age comedy; whenever it focuses on the tedious antics of the cops, it turns into a bad SNL skit.

BY BORROWING FROM Jacques Tati, Jerry Lewis and silent-cinema icons like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, Rowan Atkinson managed to concoct his own singularly unique comic creation in the bumbling Mr. Bean. It's just a shame that the actor has yet to find a feature film to do his character justice.

Atkinson fared well when he incorporated elements from his Bean persona into his role as a befuddled pastor in the 2005 dark comedy Keeping Mum, and he was delightful as an inept secret agent in 2003's underrated Johnny English. But neither 1997's Bean nor this belated sequel offer comparable consistency in terms of laughs-per-minute. Mr. Bean's Holiday has some amusing moments scattered throughout (check out his introduction to a seafood platter), but they're not enough to sustain an entire picture.

That the plot is completely disposable (Bean wins a trip to the south of France but has trouble reaching his destination) shouldn't matter -- after all, the Tim Burton gem Pee-wee's Big Adventure wasn't about anything more than a guy looking for his stolen bicycle -- but for a skeletal framework to properly function, the gags need to be as complex as the story is thin (for prime examples, rent Tati's masterpieces Playtime and Mon Oncle). But inspiration runs dry long before the film reaches its Cannes-set climax, though cineastes will take pleasure in this portion's tweaking of pretentious art-house twaddle. Now whether the small kids who are taken to this G-rated confection view this segment with anything other than boredom remains to be seen.

I SUPPOSE EVERY generation deserves its own sociopolitical take on Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers, though The Invasion does neither the audience nor the source material any favors.

Depending on one's political bent, the 1956 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which emotionless "pod people" from outer space take over human beings, was either a warning about Communism or an indictment of McCarthyism. The 1978 version (same title) tapped into post-Watergate paranoia, also finding room to comment on the rampant New Age-y philosophies of the time. And 1994's Body Snatchers honed in on teen alienation while also examining the splintering of the nuclear family. So what agenda rests on The Invasion's plate?

Hard to tell, given the general muddle of the piece (much of it was refilmed after poor test screenings, and it shows). There's some talk of eradicating humankind's intrinsic need to destroy (and plenty of TV sets showing scenes from Iraq), but it's unconvincing lip service. There's a hint that this might satirize our nation's obsession with medicating its populace, but that's quickly dismissed. Without anything to chew on, we're left with a straightforward thriller -- and a fairly effective one until the film self-destructs with a wretched ending that had me slapping my forehead in staggering disbelief. That I was able to register such emotion proves that I'm still human, though I'm not sure the same can be said for the indifferent automatons who made this dud.

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