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PRIME / SHOPGIRL It's been duly noted that we hapless humans have to work hard at relationships, but the romances that exist at the center of two new releases operate at levels so beyond infuriating that they scarcely seem worth the trouble -- for the characters or for audience members. It isn't that these love stories are rarely believable -- they aren't, but what the hey, we've all been at the center of real-life encounters that would test the credulity of anyone not privy to all the details. Rather, it's the manner in which the conflicts have been jerry-rigged in such movie-phony ways that it's difficult to care one way or the other how everything will turn out. At least Prime boasts good performances by Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman as well as a few knowing laughs to ease the pain. Streep admirably underplays the role of the kvetchy Jewish mom, a therapist who's distraught when she learns her 23-year-old son (so-so Bryan Greenberg) is dating one of her patients, a 37-year-old divorcee (Thurman). The stakes might seem greater if Greenberg's character were stepping out with a woman played by, say, 70-year-old Judi Dench, but after a shaky start that promises a rehash of Monster-In-Law (please, God, no), the movie eventually finds its rhythm not so much in the expected spats between the lovers but in the genuine bond between the conflicted therapist and the damaged flower placed in her care. Streep and Thurman invest their characters with a great deal of passion, which is more than can be said for the zombies shuffling through Shopgirl. Claire Danes, stripped of anything resembling a personality, plays a Saks glove counter flunkie who's so man-hungry she drapes herself all over an obnoxious slacker (Jason Schwartzman) whose idea of safe sex is to wrap a Ziploc baggie around his pecker before intercourse. When it appears this relationship won't go anywhere, she next succumbs to the advances of a wealthy older gentleman (Steve Martin) who can buy her lots of pretty things but can't commit emotionally. Shopgirl is based on Martin's novella of the same name, and although he wrote it a couple of years before Lost In Translation came around, it's obvious director Anand Tucker wants to capture the same air of melancholy and romantic yearning that distinguished Sofia Coppola's exemplary film. Alas, the only thing lost in translation here is the point of this aimless, airless dud. Prime: HH 1/2 / Shopgirl: H 1/2

Current Releases

CAPOTE Anyone heading into Capote expecting an exhaustive expose on the literary lion and social raconteur might be disappointed to learn that this focuses exclusively on the period when he researched and wrote his nonfiction masterpiece In Cold Blood. In a way, it is an odd choice for a film: Almost everything you need to know about this incident -- and, therefore, Capote's viewpoint -- can be found in Richard Brooks' superb 1967 screen version of In Cold Blood. But the selling point is the excellent performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman: As much as Jamie Foxx channeled Ray Charles to such a degree that it was impossible to tell where the spirits of the two men separated, likewise does Hoffman tackle the persona of Truman Capote and make it his own. Constantly punctuating the air with his whispery wit and entertaining other people as if to the (diva) manner born, Capote is as original on screen as he was in real life. HHH

DOMINO By all appearances, Domino led a fascinating life: The daughter of English actor Laurence Harvey (The Manchurian Candidate), this tomboy quickly gave up the lifestyle of the rich and famous to forge her own path as a bounty hunter. That sounds like compelling material for a kick-ass biopic -- for once, it seems that truth is stranger than fiction. But armed with a script Richard Kelly, director Tony Scott instead chooses to ignore many of the smaller details of Domino's hard-scrabble existence to fashion an ugly and oft-times impenetrable action flick about a trio of bounty hunters. It's Scott's attempt to make a crime caper as tricked up as, say, Pulp Fiction or Get Shorty, but it's an unholy mess, and it subjugates the character of Domino (played by Keira Knightley) to such a degree that she ultimately feels like a bit player in her own story. H

DOOM Stating that Doom is probably the best of the numerous flicks based on a video game ranks as the feeblest praise imaginable. It's akin to noting that benign genital herpes is the best sexually transmitted disease to acquire, or that strawberry is the best tasting Schnapps flavor. Still, in a sub-sub-genre that has subjected us to the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Resident Evil, we'll take our favors where we can get them. Doom rips off Aliens at every turn (at least its makers steal from the best), as a group of military grunts find themselves combating vicious creatures at a manned outpost in outer space. For a good while, director Andrzej Bartkowiak actually attempts to make a real movie rather than just a video game simulation, but eventually the movie runs out of creative steam and turns increasingly daffy. HH

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