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THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS This adaptation of Jane Smiley's novella The Age of Grief isn't a documentary by any stretch of the imagination, yet try telling that to the married couples who will see this film and feel that they're experiencing cinema verite in its rawest form. Working from Craig Lucas' knowing screenplay, director Alan Rudolph has produced one of the finest works of his alarmingly erratic career, shucking aside the pretense and pomposity of his recent output to offer an honest study of a marriage on the rocks. Campbell Scott and Hope Davis play David and Dana Hurst, partners both in matrimony and at the office where they share a practice as dentists. Catching Dana in another man's embrace, David immediately suspects she's having an affair, refusing to confront her about it but instead allowing fantasy scenarios to run unchecked through his mind. All the while, both adults must also continue to deal with the daily demands of their three young daughters, a situation that becomes especially taxing once everyone in the household starts coming down with the flu. Davis (About Schmidt) projects a palpable sense of conflicted emotion as a woman who feels she needs to step away from her comfortable niche to obtain an accurate sense of herself, yet it's the beautifully nuanced performance by Scott (Roger Dodger), as a husband and father who fully believes in the sanctity of marriage and will do whatever he can to hold onto that ideal, that anchors this touching, trenchant film. 1/2


AMERICAN WEDDING Comparing this third picture in the American Pie series to the Marx Brothers canon is probably grounds for immediate dismissal, but it has to be noted that the Marx's frequent modus operandi of building a comedy sequence frame by frame so that it reaches an actual crescendo (best exemplified by the stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera) is ably carried on at key moments in this unnecessary sequel that nevertheless squeezes by on the strength of some very big laughs. Even the most elitist of critics should occasionally let their hair down and allow the inner party animal to emerge -- while many scribes have taken to the Austin Powers trilogy to fill that need, I've actually obtained more chuckles from this half-raunchy, half-sentimental series. Neither sequel manages the balancing act between sincerity and seediness as well as the 1999 original -- the follow-ups clearly tip the scale toward the bawdy end -- but both offer a fair amount of pleasure to anyone who's grown fond of these characters. In this outing, Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are set to tie the knot, but complications arise before the ceremony, not the least being the mere presence of the foul-minded Stiffler (Seann William Scott). Eugene Levy returns as Jim's dad, and in a nice bit of casting synergy, his frequent co-star in Christopher Guest's comedies, Fred Willard, appears as Michelle's dad. Director Jesse Dylan (Bob's son) and screenwriter Adam Herz may not score any points for subtlety, but they make the most of their disreputable material. 1/2

BAD BOYS II Bad Boys II is the sort of movie that would lead a reactionary critic to condemn it as a work that marks The End Of Western Civilization As We Know It. I won't go that far, but I will state that it's quite possible I have never before seen a picture that held so much contempt for everyone and everything -- for its audience, for its characters, even for the film medium itself. A sequel to a 1995 mediocrity, this re-teams Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as Miami cops Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, hot on the trail of a Cuban thug (terrible Jordi Molla) angling to become the city's number one supplier of Ecstasy. Among the first words uttered in the movie are "Stupid bitches," and the tone never gets any less mean-spirited after that -- besides women, the script also slams Latinos, gays, the poor, even the dead (while scoping out a morgue, Mike and Marcus ogle and comment on the ample breasts on a young woman's corpse; hey, what's a mainstream summer movie without a hint of necrophilia?). You also get tired jokes about anal intercourse, a loving close-up of two rats (yes, rats) copulating, and a body count that equals those in Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day and Schindler's List combined. Smith and Lawrence aren't the problem onscreen -- their incessant bickering gets tiresome, yet both have charisma to burn -- but they are the problem offscreen: If they had been conscientious enough to turn down their hefty paychecks, then we wouldn't be burdened with this debacle of wretched excess.

FREAKY FRIDAY A pleasant out-of-left-field surprise, this remake of Disney's 1977 hit (with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster) is a treat for both kids and adults, updating the basic premise (first seen in Mary Rodgers' book of the same name) while avoiding the common pitfall of tailoring the material to only appeal to the youngest (or, in the case of the grownups, dimmest) members of the audience. Here's a family film with genuine emotional pull, as workaholic psychiatrist Tess Coleman (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her alienated 15-year-old daughter Anna (The Parent Trap's Lindsay Lohan) are constantly at odds, bickering incessantly and repeatedly failing to see the other's point of view. But a pinch of Asian mysticism places them in each other's body, thereby forcing Anna to contend with her mom's impending wedding and a TV appearance to plug her new book and Tess to cope with her daughter's burgeoning relationship with a cute schoolmate (Chad Michael Murray) and an important audition for her garage band. Curtis is in top form here, yet she's matched all the way by Lohan -- their scenes together are especially potent, full of sharp comic give-and-take and capped by the sparkling dialogue by scripters Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon ("I'm old!" wails Anna in her mom's body. "I look like the Crypt Keeper!"). A buoyant soundtrack only adds to the enjoyment.

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