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CL's capsule reviews are rated on a four-star rating system.

NEW RELEASES

CHARLOTTE FILM SOCIETY Movies begin this Friday at the Manor and continue the following Friday at Movies at Birkdale. Call 704-414-2355 for details.

* LAGAAN: ONCE UPON A TIME IN INDIA We consider it a quintessentially American movie plot -- the underdog who rises up to vanquish his oppressors -- but proving yet again that cinema is a universal language, here comes Lagaan, a vastly entertaining, 225-minute epic that copped a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination earlier this year. Built like an Indian Gone With the Wind but owing its spirit to titles like The Longest Yard and The Bad News Bears, this global hit, set in Victorian times, finds the members of an impoverished village in India agreeing to an unusual bet offered by the local British rulers. If they can beat their oppressors in a cricket match, they will be spared from paying "lagaan" (tax) for three years; lose, however, and they must pay triple the tax. Combining boisterous comedy and social drama with musical numbers that come out of nowhere, Lagaan is a joyous celebration of moviemaking that receives an additional boost from Indian superstar Aamir Khan, who's unbelievably magnetic in the leading role of the villager who rallies his countrymen in a strong showing of solidarity. Don't worry about the film's running time -- this baby moves like lightning through butter. 1/2

* Also: BEHIND THE SUN () may not pack the wallop of director Walter Salles' previous picture, Central Station, but this Brazilian import holds our attention with its strong narrative about two warring farm families whose bloody battle of one-upmanship inexorably leads to tragedy; Norway's ELLING (Unscreened), one of Lagaan's competitors for the Foreign Film Oscar (both lost to No Man's Land), is a comedy about the struggles of two men to make it in the real world after they're discharged from a mental institute.

CURRENT RELEASES

THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH This Eddie Murphy comedy has been sitting on a studio shelf since circa the time the wheel was first invented; it cost $100 million to make; it wasn't screened in advance for critics; and it grossed a paltry $2 million on its opening weekend. A review at this point might seem rather anti-climactic, but in the mere chance that there's somebody out there still intrigued at the prospect of seeing the diverse likes of John Cleese, Pam Grier and Burt Young all gracing the same film, I'm here to say it ain't worth the time, cost or deterioration of brain cells. The sad thing about this abysmal effort, set on the moon in the year 2087, isn't that it's terrible; it's that it's terrible without even being enjoyable in a bad-movie sorta way. Even the gang from the late, lamented Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have trouble finding much to riff off in this turkey, which is unremittingly dull more than anything else. Murphy plays the title character, an entrepreneur whose wildly successful moon-based nightclub becomes the focus for a shady gangster interested in muscling his way into the business. After his club gets destroyed, Nash takes it on the lam, dragging an aspiring singer (Rosario Dawson) and a horny robot (Randy Quaid, annoying but trying hard, bless his heart) along with him. Imagine if the Total Recall sets had been placed in a fire sale, and you'll get an idea of the film's drab visual scheme. As for the comedy quotient, I counted exactly two laughs, which breaks down to $50 million per chuckle -- definitely not a sound return on investment.

BLOOD WORK Viewing the latest Clint Eastwood picture is akin to watching a jogger who makes the mistake of sprinting out in front at the start of a marathon, only to run out of steam somewhere along the way and limp across the finish line. For a good while, Blood Work looks as if it might be Eastwood's best picture in years, with the star-director-producer playing an FBI agent who suffers a heart attack while pursuing a serial killer known as "The Code Killer." Settling into retirement, he ends up with someone else's heart inside him, and is thus forced back into action when he learns that his new heart belongs to someone who was murdered. Watching an undying screen icon like Eastwood acknowledge his own frailty and mortality adds a special resonance to this picture ("Are you taking your pills daily?" asks his doctor, played by Anjelica Huston. "Yeah," he growls back, "all 36 of them."), and Eastwood's own engaging performance makes the most of the sharp dialogue to be |found in Brian Helgeland's script (based on Michael Connelly's novel). But heading into the final turn, the movie turns preposterous, wasting not only a solid supporting turn by Jeff Daniels (as Eastwood's boozy neighbor) but also serving up a routine climax that goes on forever. 1/2

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