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Bobby, Casino Royale, Deck the Halls, others.

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BOBBY If the late Robert Altman had been dropped on his head as a toddler, Bobby is the sort of movie he might have ended up making. Writer-director Emilio Estevez has clearly adopted Altman's MO for this ambitious effort that's only tangentially about Robert F. Kennedy -- we get the all-star cast, the overlapping dialogue, the furtive glances at the ever-changing American landscape -- but despite a few scattered scenes worth preserving, the overall picture is shallow, tedious and ultimately insignificant. Set in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel in the hours leading up to Kennedy's assassination, Bobby is inspired by the sort of multistory TV shows Estevez grew up with (Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, etc.). So while Democratic staffers are busy prepping for Kennedy's visit, soggy melodramas involving employees and guests are being played out in the site's corridors and rooms (Anthony Hopkins, William H. Macy and Laurence Fishburne are among the wasted thespians). Bobby is as much about Robert Kennedy as Oliver Stone's World Trade Center was about 9/11 -- it uses a national tragedy as a springboard for a more generic Hollywood product. **

CASINO ROYALE In most respects, Casino Royale ranks among the best Bond films produced over the past 44 years, just a shade below the likes of Goldfinger, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and the criminally underrated For Your Eyes Only. Basically, it wipes away the previous 20 installments by going back to when James Bond was first promoted to the level of a double-oh agent with a license to kill. As intensely played by Daniel Craig, this James Bond isn't a suave playboy quick with the quip and bathed in an air of immortality but rather a sometimes rough-hewn bruiser who makes mistakes, usually keeps his sense of humor in check, and, because he's just starting out, possesses more flashes of empathy than we're used to seeing in our cold-as-ice hero. With memorable characters and exciting action scenes, Casino Royale is so successful in its determination to jump-start the series by any means necessary that it tampers with winning formulas left and right. When a bartender asks Bond if he prefers his martini shaken or stirred, the surly agent snaps back, "Do I look like I give a damn?" Blasphemy? Perhaps. But also bloody invigorating. ***1/2

DECK THE HALLS Christmas may bring out the best in most people, but what is it about the holiday that brings out the worst in Hollywood filmmakers? Joining the likes of Christmas With the Kranks and Jingle All the Way is Deck the Halls, yet another holiday hack job that champions cynicism and mean-spiritedness before tacking on a phony redemptive ending meant to fool us into believing that we actually sat through something of value. This seems to have been conceived on the back of a snot-soaked tissue by a none-too-bright second grader: Its gags are all on the order of having obnoxious car salesman Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito) climbing buck-naked into a sleeping bag with frostbitten neighbor Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick) in an effort to warm him up (after all, nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a smattering of gay panic, right?), or the two men leering and hooting at teenage girls who turn out to be their own daughters (after all, nothing says "Merry Christmas" like allusions to incest, right?). As if it mattered, the imbecilic plot concerns Steve's disgust at Buddy's desire to put enough Christmas lights on his house so it can be seen from outer space. Holy Mother, the nonsense that gets the green light in today's Hollywood! *

DÉJÀ VU The latest from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott is movie porn for the electronic media set, a techno-thriller deeply in love with its own hardware. It's also a disappointment, a high-gloss action film that grows increasingly silly as it introduces each new wrinkle in its spiraling plot. Although the decision to stage a massive disaster (the bombing of a ferry) in the heart of Katrina Country will strike many as an unfortunate lapse in judgment, it's the early scenes that prove to be the most compelling, as ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) uses his wits to stockpile various clues that will lead him in the right direction. The film is so accomplished as a straightforward thriller, in fact, that it feels obtrusive when it starts focusing on satellite spyware and even time travel. By the time Carlin climbs into a time machine, you realize that a Marty McFly cameo might be the only way to salvage this dreary plunge into preposterousness. No such luck. **

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION The latest from Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, Best In Show, A Mighty Wind) is a swipe at all the hoopla surrounding Oscar season, with Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer and Christopher Moynihan cast as actors whose latest film, an indie project called Home For Purim, is being touted as a possible Academy Award nominee. As Marilyn Hack, the cast member deemed most likely to earn an Oscar nod, O'Hara delivers a tour de force performance, channeling all the hopefulness, rage and despair that will doubtless strike a chord with aging, frequently unemployed and quickly forgotten thespians all across Los Angeles (Posey also benefits from landing one of her best screen roles to date). The knowing screenplay by Guest and Eugene Levy yields plenty of laughs until the last act, at which point the resolution of the Oscar nom race becomes obvious to predict and the subsequent grilling of the non-nominees comes across as both cruel and unlikely. Clearly, out of these four Guest titles, For Your Consideration will have to settle for fourth place. But when one looks at the stellar competition, that's hardly meant as a dig. ***

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