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

NEW RELEASES

DARK BLUE James Ellroy wrote the novel L.A. Confidential while David Ayers penned the screenplay for Training Day; small wonder, then, that this collaborative effort between the pair gleefully snatches elements from both earlier works, placing a charismatic yet corrupt cop at the center of a drama in which the city of Los Angeles is set to explode. Using the LA riots of 1992 as the factual backdrop (a sound decision), the movie then proceeds to bog down in every by-the-book cop cliche known to man, resulting in a police procedural even more tired than the recent Narc. This one's primary selling point is Kurt Russell, whose multi-faceted performance as a tainted cop at least keeps the film watchable. The rest of the line-up -- Ving Rhames as an incorruptible officer, Lolita Davidovich as Russell's unhappy wife, Scott Speedman as his wet-behind-the-ears partner -- don't fare as well with their stock characters, although director Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) tries to keep matters moving swiftly enough so we don't have to dwell on the thudding dialogue.

EVELYN With each passing film, it's becoming more and more apparent that Pierce Brosnan isn't the mannequin-model many of us had pegged him for but rather a capable actor who can more than hold his own on the big screen. Belying looks that would make him a natural in a shaving cream commercial, Brosnan has delivered perfectly tuned portrayals in films like The Thomas Crown Affair and The Tailor of Panama (not to mention finally settling down in the franchise role of James Bond). He's just as impressive in Evelyn, a "based on true events" yarn that relates an inspiring story without being particularly inspired itself. Set in 1953 Ireland, the picture finds Brosnan playing Desmond Doyle, a loving father whose children are taken from him after his wife abandons the entire family. His abilities as a parent aren't what's in question -- the law simply states that these children must be placed in orphanages -- but rather than accept this state-mandated decree, Doyle takes his case all the way to the Irish Supreme Court, with a trio of savvy lawyers (Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea and Alan Bates) by his side. Adults might find the movie on the slight side, though it's a good choice for family night viewing. Incidentally, the title refers to one of Doyle's three children -- she's winningly played by 9-year-old Sophie Vavasseur. 1/2

CURRENT RELEASES

DAREDEVIL In the introduction to the 1975 compendium Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee admitted that of all the superheroes he ever created (including Spider-Man and the X-Men), his favorite was the blind crimefighter who practiced law by day as attorney Matt Murdock and donned the red tights by night as Daredevil. Yet even though Lee himself makes a cameo appearance, I'd be hard-pressed to believe that Daredevil will emerge as his favorite Marvel movie. Like Green Lantern over at DC Comics, Daredevil has always been more a favorite of the cultists than the general population, and it's a shame that this film version doesn't honor that distinction by serving up something truly unique. Instead, this live-action epic, directed by Grumpy Old Men scripter Mark Steven Johnson, is all over the map -- it's by turns affecting, exciting, contemplative, heavy-handed, cheesy, and downright ludicrous. Ben Affleck, hardly the Matt Murdock of the printed page, fares better than expected, and he establishes a nice rapport with Alias star Jennifer Garner, cast as feisty love interest Elektra. And while Michael Clarke Duncan is merely serviceable as the imposing Kingpin, Colin Farrell (The Recruit) adopts the right manic tone to play the egocentric assassin Bullseye and runs away with the film. But although there's plenty to like in Daredevil, there's almost as much to dismiss, including a heavy dependence on subpar CGI effects, reams of lead-footed dialogue, and a climactic showdown that's about as exciting as a documentary on aglet production. 1/2

DELIVER US FROM EVA When constructing a romantic comedy, it's not a good idea to make your central character so odious that audience members won't care whether he or she finds romance or not. Yet that's the case with Deliver Us From Eva, a clumsy effort in which an intelligent, beautiful woman named Eva (Gabrielle Union) rules over her three younger sisters with an iron fist, much to the consternation of the siblings' male companions. In an effort to get Eva's nose out of their daily affairs, the three guys decide to hire a smooth-talking ladies' man (LL Cool J) to woo her, but matters become complicated once the player falls in love with his mark. We're meant to thaw toward Eva as she thaws toward the idea of romance, but as harshly written by writer-director Gary Hardwick and his co-scripters -- and as broadly played by Union -- the character doesn't smack of The Taming of the Shrew's Katherine (the obvious inspiration) as much as such unrepentant characters as Alice In Wonderland's wicked Queen or one of Bette Davis' ice queens. Not that any of the other characters present humanity at its finest: The sisters can't think for themselves, their men are ineffectual weaklings, and the women's local hangout, a beauty salon, is run by a foul-mouthed, sex-crazed manhunter ("I can't keep my legs together!" she declares after ogling a hunk). Only LL Cool J's considerable charisma keeps this from completely sinking. 1/2

HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS Julia Roberts had her Pretty Woman, Sandra Bullock had her While You Were Sleeping, and, if it becomes a box office hit, Kate Hudson will have her How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days to turn her into America's latest A-list sweetheart. Yes, she received an Oscar nomination for Almost Famous, but there's always been something a little unformed about Hudson, who has failed to locate the same sort of sparkle that propelled mom Goldie Hawn to stardom back in the late 60s. But this one marks the first time that Hudson has been able to command the screen: She's utterly winning as a women's magazine columnist who, for the sake of a story on what females shouldn't do when dating, hooks up with a guy with the intent of driving him away within... well, check the film's title. She settles on a slick ad man (Matthew McConaughey, easier to take than usual), unaware that he's made a bet that he can get any woman to fall in love with him within the same time period. For a film that wallows in the usual male-female stereotypes, this one's surprisingly light on its feet, thanks in no small part to its well-matched leads. Alas, the third act follows the exact pattern as almost every other romantic comedy made today (most recently Two Weeks Notice and Maid In Manhattan): The deceptions become unearthed, the pair breaks up, some soul searching takes place, and bliss arrives after a madcap chase. Leave before this excruciating finale and you should have an OK time. 1/2

THE QUIET AMERICAN With apologies to Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis, it's fellow Oscar nominee Michael Caine who deserves the Best Actor trophy for delivering not only the finest male performance of 2002 but also one of the best of his entire career. In this adaptation of a Graham Greene novel whose ideas seem perpetually topical, Caine stars as Thomas Fowler, a London Times journalist stationed in Saigon in the 1950s. His strong relationship with a gorgeous Vietnamese woman (Do Thi Hai Yen) encounters some unexpected turbulence with the arrival of Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), an idealistic American who makes no bones about the fact that he's fallen in love with Fowler's woman. Director Phillip Noyce has crafted a smart piece of entertainment that works equally well on both the personal and political fronts, placing a complex love triangle at the center of a sobering dissertation that boldly questions the US's continuous policy of meddling in foreign affairs. Fraser provides his character with a superficial sheen that pays off as the movie progresses, yet it's Caine's towering work, as a man who might not be as cynical as he thinks, that gives this movie its booming voice.

THE RECRUIT As far as Next Big Things go, Colin Farrell isn't someone I would bet against. This Irish actor is reasonably talented, impossibly handsome and clearly photogenic -- about as close to a winning hand as can be achieved by someone hoping to become a bona fide movie star. Therefore, one of the pleasures of The Recruit is watching this young upstart hold his own against Al Pacino, an actor who became a superstar so fast that he didn't have time to marinate as a Next Big Thing. The recurring thrust of the film is "Nothing Is What It Seems" -- we're in the land of double-crosses, triple-crosses, plot twists and instantaneous reversals of fortune, and equally as obvious, the film has its work cut out for it, since most modern puzzlers are about as complicated to navigate as a fifth grader's multiplication quiz. At first, this looks like it might be one of the elite -- a thriller that keeps us guessing right to the end. The first half, which finds young hotshot James Clayton (Farrell) and fellow recruit Layla (Bridget Moynahan) training to become CIA agents under the tutelage of agency player Walter Burke (Pacino), smacks of David Mamet at his trickiest. But once the couple are set loose in the world and begin to suspect each other of being an enemy agent, the fun dissipates: Having acclimated ourselves to the movie's internal logic, it becomes clear where this is heading, and the lack of surprises provides plenty of time to dwell on the plotholes. 1/2

SHANGHAI KNIGHTS If you're gonna insist on making a formulaic sequel to a formulaic comedy, then this might be the way to go, by overstuffing it with so much nonsensical material that some of it is bound to charm through sheer willpower. Its 2000 predecessor, Shanghai Noon, ranked as one of the weaker "odd couple" comedies of late, with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson going through the paces in a dull action romp set in the Old West. Knights is an improvement, with Chan and Wilson heading to London to solve the murder of Chan's character's father. The villains are uninteresting and the central plot thread is dopey, but it's what's around the edges that makes this painless entertainment. Writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar find clever ways to incorporate historical figures into their storyline (best of all is the use of Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, winningly played here by Thomas Fisher), and they also pay tribute to practically every notable screen comedian this side of Cheech and Chong (Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and the Hope-Crosby team are among those honored). The anachronisms make Oliver Stone's dramas seem like cinema verite documentaries by comparison, yet it's a perverse pleasure to hear The Who's "My Generation" and "Magic Bus" in a film that's set in 1887. 1/2

TALK TO HER Writer-director Pedro Almodovar's latest effort may not provide the level of satisfaction obtained through his Oscar-winning All About My Mother, but it's still a memorable experience that, like many of his works, presents weighty issues colorfully wrapped up in his own idiosyncratic strain of kitschy goodwill. It almost sounds like the start of a tasteless joke: Did you hear the one about the two women in comas? Yet with this angle, Almodovar fashions a meditative piece in which two men -- a nurse (Javier Camara) and a journalist (Dario Grandinetti) -- come to know each other as they lovingly tend to the two stricken women in their lives: a ballet dancer (Leonor Watling) and a bullfighter (Rosario Flores). As always, Almodovar's plate is full: Communication between the sexes, the melding of masculine and feminine traits, and the fine line between devotion and obsession are just some of the issues tackled here. Yet if the end result on occasion feels more calculated than expected, there's still great tenderness and compassion on view here, as well as the filmmaker's usual outrageous touches.

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