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THE BREAK-UP There's a fine movie trapped inside The Break-Up, and it's a shame that it couldn't break free. As it stands, this picture about a rocky relationship is never able to compensate for the staggering miscalculation that cripples it. From the start, Gary (Vince Vaughn) is painted as a self-centered, insensitive man-child, while Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) is intelligent, classy, mature and patient. He's a prick; she's a saint. Um, why exactly would we have a vested interest in whether these two remain together? Simple answer: We don't. Vaughn is a guy's-guy kind of actor -- his characters are more comfortable shooting pool or knocking back beers than getting romantic -- so it's no surprise that the chemistry he generates is with Jon Favreau (as his best friend) rather than Aniston (this fraternal rapport is also why he and Owen Wilson clicked in Wedding Crashers). But Vaughn and Aniston do a nice job of creating genuine tension whenever their characters find themselves immersed in yet another nasty argument, although what this says about the pair's future as a real-life couple, I'll leave for the tabloids to dissect. **

CARS Ever since Pixar Animation Studios began its incredible run with Toy Story back in 1995, haven't most observers been wondering when the company would hit a critical and/or commercial roadblock and watch its latest effort crash and burn? Newsflash: It hasn't happened yet, and it ain't happening with Cars. The storyline seems a little hoary: A big-city slicker learns to slow down and smell the flowers -- or, in this case, the diesel -- in a small town in the middle of nowhere. But the picture's six scripters expand the parameters of this plot description to make an entertaining and even poignant tale about the lure of the open road and the passing of a quaint chapter in modern American history. That race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) will find redemption in the small town of Radiator Springs (populated by vehicles played by, among others, Paul Newman and Bonnie Hunt) is never in doubt, but like the best storytellers, John Lasseter and his co-writers make the journey to self-discovery as interesting as possible. So for all its high-gloss NASCAR trappings, Cars is ultimately a paean to Route 66. ***1/2

CLICK Venturing into the "Beyond" section of Bed, Bath & Beyond, harried Michael Newman (Adam Sandler) stumbles upon an eccentric employee (Christopher Walken) who gives him a universal remote with the power to control his life: He can mute the dog's barking, fast-forward through foreplay and even listen to audio commentary (provided by James Earl Jones) on past events in his life. For the first hour, this clever concept leads to some genuine laughs but more often gets buried under the sort of adolescent humor that long ago became the actor's calling card (how many times do we have to watch the family dog hump a stuffed animal?). Then the movie morphs into an update of It's a Wonderful Life, with Michael learning valuable lessons as his life turns tragic. The comedy isn't as pointed as desired and the drama isn't as maudlin as expected, yielding decidedly mixed results. Still, it will make an acceptable DVD rental in about six months; if they can get James Earl Jones for the audio commentary, so much the better. **1/2

THE DA VINCI CODE Forget the comparisons to Dan Brown's monumental bestseller: On its own cinematic terms, Ron Howard's adaptation is a moderately entertaining ride, sort of like the Nicolas Cage hit National Treasure only done with more style and more food for thought. Yet however this might have all played out on the page, up on the screen it simply comes off as one more familiar Hollywood thriller that's heavily dependant on predictable directions taken by the storyline and character revelations that are painfully obvious to astute audience members. Tom Hanks stars in the central role of Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbologist who, while being chased for a murder he did not commit, attempts to solve an ancient mystery that, if revealed, could potentially spell the end of Christianity as we know it. Amelie's Audrey Tautou (as Langdon's sidekick), Paul Bettany (as a homicidal monk) and French national treasure Jean Reno (as a persistent cop) lend Hanks support, though it's animated Ian McKellen, as a British scholar, who earns MVP honors. **1/2

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH The cacophonous naysaying has already begun (largely by those who haven't seen the movie, natch), but this absorbing documentary about global warming gently pushes a message that all Americans of sound mind and good conscience can embrace: Let's work together to make the world a better place. It's a tall order, but the beauty of the film is that it inspires audience members to actually believe they can be a part of something important -- as Gore notes, all the resources are already available for combating global warming, and the only thing that's missing is "political will." Personal anecdotes, charts, slide shows and even cartoons are employed to allow the information to be easily digested by almost anyone. As for Gore, he's far more personable and animated than he ever was on the campaign trail -- what remains unchanged is his blazing intelligence, a far cry from the monosyllabic chimp presently sitting in the White House. As has been the case with Jimmy Carter, getting ousted from office might end up being the best way for Gore to serve his country. ***1/2

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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