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Capsule reviews of films currently playing in Charlotte

Current Releases

BE KIND REWIND The premise of Be Kind Rewind is pure Michel Gondry. The end result is anything but. Here's a guy who marches to his own quirky beat (The Science of Sleep, co-writer of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and this picture's plot can be pegged as unfiltered Gondry: After a mishap causes all the videocassettes in a rental store to be erased, a shop employee and his buddy must recreate the movies previously found on those tapes. It's an idea that's pure genius, and with Jack Black and the always welcome Mos Def cast as the hapless amateur filmmakers, all the elements were in place for a no-holds-barred comedy, a hilarious satire that would take no prisoners. So what happened? Instead of dizzying comic heights, the film on view is shockingly tame and lazy, and the most dispiriting aspect about it is that the movie spoofs take a back seat to a stale storyline about, of all things, the efforts of land developers to raze the video store and erect a shiny new building in its place. The low-budget "remakes" of Ghostbusters and Driving Miss Daisy are amusing, but many other movies are dismissed with merely one line of dialogue; among the casualties are Boogie Nights and Last Tango In Paris – and just think how funny those spoofs might have been had Gondry been true to his comical cajones. Instead, the movie eventually abandons its high-concept angle altogether and spends the laborious last half-hour centered on the attempts of neighborhood residents to save the video shop. Zzzzzz ... Wake me when it's over, and when Gondry again speaks from his warped mind rather than from an overprotective studio's finance department. **

CHARLIE BARTLETT Even in the canon of high school flicks, Charlie Bartlett seems slight, but like its wide-eyed protagonist, it ultimately wins you over on the strength of its puppy-dog appeal. Charlie (Anton Yelchin) is a rich boy who's just been kicked out of his latest private school, this time for running a fake-ID operation. Everything Charlie does is simply because he wants to be well-liked by his peers, a challenge that becomes even greater once his booze-and-pill-addled mom (Hope Davis), raising him on her own, is forced to send him to a public school. As expected, Charlie's dapper outfit and shiny attaché case rub the locals the wrong way, and he soon finds himself being dunked headfirst into a toilet. But with an entrepreneurial spirit being perhaps his finest trait, Charlie soon manages to gain control of the situation. Armed with the pills being supplied by his clueless family psychiatrist, Charlie enters into a business partnership with school bully Bivens (Tyler Hilton), whereupon Charlie provides the students with medical advice and Bivens forks over all the prescription drugs – all for a price, of course. In no time, Charlie becomes the most popular kid on campus, a development that doesn't go unnoticed by the burnt-out principal (Robert Downey, Jr.). Though Charlie Bartlett clearly positions itself as a fanciful comedy, it also takes time to comment on the usual stepping stones found in youth-oriented films; there's nothing particularly trailblazing about any of its revelations, unless you include the suggestion that a bully's bad haircut might be all that prevents a pugilist from being a poet. ***

CITY OF MEN The cinematic chain of events that led to the creation of City of Men actually began in the literary world with the publication of Paulo Lins' book City of God, which focused on the lives of young boys growing up in the crime-infested streets of a Brazilian neighborhood. There's been a short film (Palace II), a feature film (City of God), a television series (City of Men), and now a big-screen spinoff of the TV show. I haven't seen the TV program, but compared to City of God, this City feels underpopulated in terms of both acute characterizations and kinetic style. Fernando Meirelles, director of the stunning City of God, has since moved on, and here he functions only as one of the co-producers. His MIA status is clearly felt, as is that of City of God screenwriter Braulio Mantovani; their replacements, writer-director Paulo Morelli and co-scripter Elena Soarez, have crafted a movie that lacks the immediacy, danger and sheer suspense of its feature-film predecessor. Here, the focus is on Ace (Douglas Silva) and Wallace (Darlan Cunha), decent kids trying to stay alive in a Brazilian slum lorded over by rival street gangs. None of the characters in this film are nearly as magnetic as the teens in God, and whereas the first picture largely succeeded by continually depicting the area as a self-contained war zone with no room for sentimentality, Men takes too many side trips into more familiar territory. This is especially evident in its soggy look at Wallace's relationship with his ex-convict dad (Rodrigo dos Santos), a plotline that ends with a twist that doubtless feels more authentic in the halls of a film school than on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. **

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