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AMERICAN PIE 2 The first piece of Pie worked so well largely because of its appealing actors, and this sequel's trump card is that it brings back the original cast in its entirety. Their presence helps offset the film's randy gag quotient, which is more aggressive than necessary (though the sheer chutzpah of a couple scenes admittedly left me grinning against my better judgment...). 1/2

THE DEEP END With Tilda Swinton (Orlando) as the embodiment of the maternal urge, this thriller does a masterful job conveying the desperation beneath the domesticity, as Swinton's Lake Tahoe housewife is faced with an unfamiliar world once she's forced to cover up the accidental death of her son's sleazy lover. This is a crafty, absorbing drama, though it does falter during the home stretch.

JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK This ode to America's favorite slackers is a scattershot comedy that's endearing in its own oafish way, as Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (writer-director Kevin Smith) head to Hollywood to stop production of a film based on their comic book alter-egos, Bluntman and Chronic. Smith's good-natured self-effacement makes the movie seem sweet in spite of its potty mouth.

THE OTHERS A British woman (Nicole Kidman) suspects her house might be haunted in this exceptional thriller from writer-director Alejandro Amenabar. This is the sort of muted terror tale that rarely gets made anymore: Creepy rather than scary, it builds upon an overriding sense of hopelessness and dread that's made tangible through the shadowy cinematography, a wonderful music score (by Amenabar himself), and a strong performance by Kidman. 1/2

RAT RACE Following in the tenuous comic tradition of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, The Cannonball Run and Million Dollar Mystery, this frequently terrible picture finds various strangers taking to the highway in a race to see who can reach a two million dollar cash prize first. Out of the all-struggling-star cast, Jon Lovitz and Rowan Atkinson fare best.1/2

RUSH HOUR 2 In 1998's enjoyable Rush Hour, Chris Tucker's frenzy contrasted nicely with Jackie Chan's serenity, and the script smartly built up their characters' relationship in a satisfactory manner. This sloppy sequel isn't nearly as patient: It immediately plops the two cops in the middle of a tired plot involving counterfeiters, and then spends an embarrassing part of the next 90 minutes ripping off scenes from the first film. 1/2

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