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Capsule reviews for films playing the week of July 29 

Current Releases

ANGELS & DEMONS Angels & Demons, the follow-up to the international smash The Da Vinci Code, feels like nothing more than a cross between a Frommer's travel guide and a scavenger hunt, as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon hits all of Rome's holy hot spots gathering up clues as if they were empty Dr. Pepper bottles or grimy 1992 pennies. The events in author Dan Brown's Angels & Demons actually take place before those in Da Vinci, but for the sake of movie audiences, the pictures follow a chronological trail, so that the new film finds the Catholic Church putting aside its dislike of Langdon (Tom Hanks) based on his Da Vinci discoveries so that he may help the organization with its latest crisis. It appears that the ancient group the Illuminati, the Catholic Church's sworn enemy from way back (the film posits the warring factions as if they were the Hatfields and the McCoys), has been resurrected, and its new kids on the block have not only taken to assassinating the candidates for the post of Pope (couldn't they have gone after Miss USA contestants while they were at it?) but also planting a time bomb deep within the bowels of the Vatican. Naturally, it's up to Langdon and his beauteous Italian sidekick (Ayelet Zurer, as bland a companion as Audrey Tautou proved to be in Da Vinci) to save the Cardinals, the Vatican and Rome all in a single bound. Ron Howard's direction is about all this film has going for it, as his need for speed distracts audiences (to a point) from the fact that the script is a shambles, relying too heavily on absurd developments and lengthy explanations to move the action from Point A to Point B (or, more accurately, from one Italian landmark to another). And watching Hanks embody such a vanilla role as Robert Langdon is akin to watching a Nobel Laureate reduced to washing diner dishes for a living. **

AWAY WE GO One of the best films of 2008, director Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road offered a powerful and penetrating study of a bickering couple trapped by the conformity they felt defined – and controlled – their lives. Mendes' latest picture takes a different tack, examining a loving pair who forge their own path in an attempt to find their place in the world. It's a nice about-face for the director, even if the results prove to be wildly uneven. Working from a script by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, Mendes focuses on Burt (John Krasinski) and his pregnant girlfriend Verona (Maya Rudolph), who travel far and wide in an attempt to figure out the best place to raise their child. Initially, they're mainly forced to contend with folks who behave outrageously – Burt's parents (Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels) and Maya's former boss (Allison Janney) among them – but calmer visits to old college chums (Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey) and Burt's brother (Paul Schneider) allow them to take stock of their situation in a more clearheaded manner. Away We Go is an introspective piece about young people wrestling with the notion of what truly constitutes the cherished notions of "home" and "family," yet even indelible comic turns by Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal (as a New Age weirdo who believes it's important for children to watch their parents having sex) can't completely subjugate the smugness and self-importance that alternately raise their heads through the first half of the film. The second part is more affecting, though it similarly suffers from an episodic structure that curtails some segments before they reach their full potential. **1/2

BRUNO To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen's smackdown of Dan Quayle during the 1988 Vice Presidential Debate: "Bruno, I screened Borat; I knew Borat; Borat was a review of mine. Bruno, you're no Borat." Perhaps not, but there's still plenty of laughs to be found in Bruno, which finds creator Sacha Baron Cohen employing the same guerilla tactics and faux-documentary style that made Borat such an unlikely box office winner back in 2006. This time, the uncompromising comedian adopts the personage of Bruno, a gay Austrian model determined to become an A-list Hollywood celebrity. That's easier said than done, as Bruno's flamboyance repels practically everyone he meets. It's rather disingenuous the manner in which Cohen has suggested that Bruno is an attack on homophobia, since the end result strongly suggests that the filmmaker is having his cake (or cock, as Bruno would doubtless mispronounce the word) and eating it, too. The first half of the picture provides some hysterical material, but what's the target being punctured? Cohen is at his best when nailing specific people, but he's less successful when trying to shock viewers with naughty gay routines that encourage the audience to laugh at him rather than with him. Fortunately, the picture hits its stride in the second half, when Cohen exclusively sets his sights on various bigots, including monosyllabic Alabama hunters, extreme-sports-loving rednecks, and, most reprehensible of all, two vile Christian counselors who bill themselves as "gay converters." These scenes provide the film with the clarity of mission lacking in the earlier segments, as Cohen expertly alternates between subtly mocking his subjects and outright infuriating them. **1/2

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