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BAD COMPANY Taking an explosive comic actor like Chris Rock and corralling his talents by sticking him in a dull action film would be like buying a ridiculously expensive sports car and solely using it to drive to the grocery store down the block. Yet that's the story that unfolds with this blob of studio-generated claptrap that's so generic, nobody could even bother to come up with a more original title (there have been approximately a dozen movies over the years with this same moniker). Anthony Hopkins, whose appearances in subpar films are so frequent that one suspects he's planning to purchase a small nation with his blood money, plays veteran CIA agent Gaylord Oakes, whose partner (Chris Rock) gets killed while they're both on a mission involving the appropriation of (what else?) a nuclear weapon. Needing a stand-in or the whole caper goes bust, Oakes recruits his late partner's twin brother, a street-smart small-timer (also Rock), to pose as his slain sibling. What could have been a savvy mix of laughs and thrills (think Beverly Hills Cop) is instead transformed by director Joel Schumacher and a quartet of writers into a strained comedy that jettisons all opportunities for Rock to make his mark by serving up the usual chaotic nonsense. Needlessly overlong at 112 minutes (there are at least two points where you think the movie's wrapping up, but nooo), this is also the sort of sloppy cinema in which a character gets shot point-blank in the back yet reappears a few scenes later with only his arm in a sling. 1/2

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING A repertory theater would have an ideal marquee match-up pairing this with the recent arthouse hit Monsoon Wedding. Yet while Greek isn't as accomplished as Monsoon, it's still a gratifying romantic comedy that gently tweaks stereotypes even as its characters wallow in them. Adapted by Nia Vardalos from her own one-woman show, this centers on the plight of Toula Portokalos (Vardalos), a 30-year-old single woman who's constantly being pressured by her family, most notably the Greek-and-proud-of-it patriarch (Michael Constantine), to get married to a nice Greek boy and start producing plenty of babies. Toula finally meets the man of her dreams, but much to the dismay of everyone around her, he most decidedly isn't Greek -- not with the name Ian Miller (smoothly played by John Corbett). The usual culture clashes come to the forefront in this disarming tale that occasionally overplays the eccentricities (Dad goes around spraying Windex on everything, believing there's nothing it can't cure) but on balance remains lovably recognizable in its presentation of the strengths required -- and struggles revealed -- in the battle for family unity and cultural preservation. As Toula, the frump who blossoms into a flower, Vardalos delivers a lovely performance.

UNDERCOVER BROTHER Can you dig it? In the words of Forrest Gump, stupid is as stupid does in this highly amusing dum-dum comedy that not only takes a swipe at that Tom Hanks blockbuster but also manages to include jabs at everything from "Ebony and Ivory" to Dennis Rodman to the continual Oscar shafting of Spike Lee (director Malcolm D. Lee is Spike's cousin, so the dig is expected -- and earned). Beating the Austin Powers films at their own game, this blaxploitation spoof downplays the raunch in favor of gags that rely on the strength of their own cleverness as opposed to the extent of their outrageousness. Granted, this hit-and-miss mode results in a lot of groaners, but when you have something as doltish as Bad Company in theaters pretending to be a comedy, this film's cheeky attitude is even more appreciated. Eddie Griffin plays the title character, described as "a Soul Train reject with a Robin Hood complex." He joins up with the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. to take on The Man, the secretive white male who's always conspiring to keep African-Americans down. At first, UB is successful in his efforts to thwart the villains, but eventually he finds himself succumbing to "the black man's Kryptonite": a Caucasian beauty known as White She Devil (Denise Richards). Even at a mere 88 minutes, this slight film tempts fate, but the big laughs are tumultuous enough to barrel right over the slow patches (usually, the scenes involving Chris Kattan as a Man servant).


ABOUT A BOY John Wayne often played cowboys, while Clint Eastwood frequently portrays detectives. So when Hugh Grant once again turns on his ample "aw, shucks" neon charms to play a suave, occasionally self-effacing bachelor whose rakish demeanor and liquid mercury eyes (they practically blink, "Please rest this adorable head in your lap") are instant turn-ons to the women surrounding him, there's no reason to jeer. When given the (rare) chance, the man has shown he can do other things, but who can blame him for returning to the field that suits him best? Especially when he's able to offer slight variations on a theme, thereby keeping his characterizations fresh and funny? That's certainly the case with this thoroughly entertaining comedy that uses Grant's own twist of acidity to prevent itself from succumbing to its own bathos. Grant's character, Will Freeman, is the ultimate in Slacker Chic: a hip, 38-year-old Londoner whose inheritance insures he'll never have to hold a job a day in his life. In other words, Will is no work and all play -- this includes spending lots of time wooing and then dumping women. But his ill-advised plan of targeting single mothers because they're more vulnerable takes an unexpected twist when it leads to his acquaintance of Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a 12-year-old boy with no friends, a lousy wardrobe and a suicidal hippie mom (Toni Collette). Will and Marcus predictably teach each other some valuable life lessons, but what isn't so predictable is the unassuming manner in which the movie goes about its business, with plenty of charm and sincerity.

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