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Kit Kittredge: An American Girl among new releases

New Releases

KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL For its first two-thirds, this motion picture, based on the both the popular doll line and the equally successful book series, emerges as one of the season's most unexpected delights, precisely because what could have been a rehash of last summer's painful Nancy Drew adaptation instead registers as a mature and intelligent drama – in this case, the G rating stands for Grown-ups as much as it stands for General Audiences. It's just a shame that the movie loses its bearings and turns into a Home Alone clone during the final stretch, though even here, I suppose the filmmakers can be partly excused for finally remembering to add some slapstick elements that serve as catnip to the kids. The film is set in Cincinnati during the height of the Great Depression, and preteen Kit (Abigail Breslin) watches as her father (Chris O'Donnell) has to move away to Chicago to look for work and her mother (Julia Ormond) is forced to rent out rooms to boarders. Still, kids will be kids, and although she has to take on more than her share of adult responsibilities, Kit also finds time to dream about becoming a published writer and manages to make some new friends, including a pair of young hobos (Max Thierot and Willow Smith) who help out around the place. The various plights of the Kittredges, their struggling neighbors, and members of the hobo community add a bracing topicality to the piece: As wealthy conservatives untouched by the Depression rail against (and refuse to help) everyone who's been financially decimated, it's hard not to view this community as a microcosm of today's United States of America, a place where the haves work feverishly to further separate themselves from the have-nots. The weighty themes remain throughout the picture, though they decidedly end up taking a back seat to the buffoonish antics of Joan Cusack (as a clumsy librarian) and a tepid subplot involving a string of burglaries. ***

Current Releases

GET SMART Get Smart, the TV sitcom that aired from 1965 to 1970, was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and these legendary funnymen are listed in the credits of this spin-off as "creative consultants." The word is that neither actually had any real input in this movie, which probably explains why major facets differ from what fans fondly recall about the show. But in at least one respect, there's a striking similarity: Both have no problem providing the laughs. In the hit series, Don Adams starred as bumbling agent Maxwell Smart while Barbara Feldon played his more competent partner, Agent 99. Working for a government unit known as C.O.N.T.R.O.L., the secret agents had their hands full protecting the world from the rival outfit K.A.O.S. In this update, which seems as much a James Bond spoof as a Get Smart homage, the plot similarly finds Steve Carell's Maxwell Smart and Anne Hathaway's Agent 99 out to stop K.A.O.S. head Siegfried (Terence Stamp). All of the performers (including Alan Arkin and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) are given a scene or two in which to shine, although most of the best set pieces belong to the leads. There's a ballroom sequence involving Maxwell and a hefty dance partner that's surprisingly sweet-natured – for once, a film honors an overweight person rather than simply making fun – while Agent 99 gets off a monologue that culminates in a sentimental mention of her mom. And therein lies much of the appeal of this big-screen Get Smart: In between the gags and the action scenes, there's an identifiable human element at work, and this empathy prevents this from being just another big, dumb summer comedy. ***

HANCOCK The idea behind Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" can be applied to this sci-fi outing that, somewhat surprisingly, ends up taking the path "less traveled by." Yet equally surprising is the fact that this enjoyable film would have been even better had it played out as expected. The premise is irresistible: Hancock (Will Smith) is an alcoholic, antisocial superhero whose crimefighting exploits usually end up causing millions of dollars in damage to the city of Los Angeles. The residents have had enough of him, and the police even have a warrant out for his arrest. Hancock couldn't care less until PR guy Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), despite protests from his wife (Charlize Theron), decides he's going to help Hancock overhaul his public image by transforming him from a menace to society into a hero worthy of respect. The first half sprints with this plotline, resulting in a movie that's consistently funny and inventive – even the typically heavy-handed direction by Peter Berg (The Kingdom) can't dilute the fun. But without warning, scripters Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan orchestrate a major plot pirouette, one that dramatically changes the relationships between the characters and allows a sharp satire to mutate into (in no order) a melodrama, a romance, a tragedy, and a myth-building muddle. No movie should survive such a clumsy shift, and yet this manages to get back on its feet, thanks in no small part to the conviction that Smith and Theron bring to their roles. Audience members willing to hop aboard this emotional roller coaster ride will respond to the resultant pathos far better than viewers wondering why the laughs suddenly went MIA. **1/2

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