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BROKEN LIZARD'S CLUB DREAD Broken Lizard, the outfit behind the low-budget satire Super Troopers, is back with Club Dread, a comedy in which the vacation resort Pleasure Island becomes a stomping ground for a masked maniac with a very large machete. Yet here's the kicker: Club Dread doesn't exactly feel like a comedy. The genuine laughs are few (unless you're prone to Shakespearean quips like "He's gonna be picking his teeth out of my dump!"), the gore quotient is high, and the youthful characters are no more sophisticated than the dolts who populate Jason and Freddy movies. The result, then, is basically just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill slasher flick, with the usual amount of fleeting T&A tossed in to mollify the Playboy perusers in the audience. And while its makers thankfully don't display the same level of sadistic glee that Wes Craven brought to his Scream pictures, neither do they demonstrate any inkling of the sort of referential pop culture digs that made the first Scary Movie such a guilty pleasure. The five guys who make up Broken Lizard are a likable bunch, which may be part of the problem: How cutting-edge can a comedy be when its creators all remind you of Beaver Cleaver? 1/2

HIDALGO A sprawling mess of a movie, Hidalgo is also the sort of old-fashioned popcorn entertainment that has become increasingly rare on the current movie scene -- and in this case, the pro far outweighs the con. Disney is pushing the film as being based on fact, while historians have thoroughly debunked its sources. But that's neither here nor there as far as audiences are concerned: They can instead lose themselves in the movie's riptide rush of thrills without worrying about its veracity. In his first post-Lord of the Rings stint, Viggo Mortensen is adequate as a sensitive soul who, shaken up by the mass genocide of Native Americans, turns to the bottle and performs in a Wild West show before accepting an offer to journey to a foreign land (yes, this movie kicks off exactly like The Last Samurai). In this case, the character and his trusty horse Hidalgo are invited to take part in a grueling 3,000 mile race across the Arabian Desert, a contest in which most participants perish under the merciless sun and the few survivors must contend with duplicity and double-crosses at every turn. What follows is a rousing adventure yarn that includes breathtaking vistas, worthy comic relief, occasionally terrible CGI effects, a supporting role for Omar Sharif (as the Sheik overseeing the race), and plenty of exciting derring-do in the grand tradition of Indiana Jones.

TWISTED The thriller Twisted stars Ashley Judd as a kidnap victim who teams up with a detective to stop a madman. Oh, wait, that's Kiss the Girls. OK, the thriller Twisted stars Ashley Judd as a lawyer who defends her husband against charges of wartime atrocities. No, that's High Crimes. Well then, the thriller Twisted stars Ashley Judd as a jailbird who learns that the husband she presumably murdered is in fact alive. Actually, that's Double Jeopardy. One last shot: The thriller Twisted stars Ashley Judd as a detective who becomes a leading suspect in her own investigation when the victims all turn out to be her former lovers. Yeah, that's it! But given all these disposable titles and plotlines, how can I be sure? Because this one stands out through the sheer fact that it's the worst one yet, a preposterous yarn in which not only is it easy to deduce the identity of the killer (with at least an hour to go) but also to figure out how the climactic scene will go down. But this is only scratching the surface of this turkey, which features a protagonist so doltish that, even though she knows one shot from her wine bottle will knock her unconscious (thus allowing the killer to strike while she's unable to account for her whereabouts), she continues to take a swig night after night! Accounting for the risible dialogue and the gaping plotholes isn't too difficult -- after all, this is scripter Sarah Thorp's first produced credit -- but it's almost inconceivable that the director of this total misfire is Philip Kaufman, the immense talent behind The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Henry & June.


AGAINST THE ROPES The real-life story of Jackie Kallen, the first female manager in the history of boxing, is a captivating one, and someday I'd like to see a movie about it. In the meantime, there's Against the Ropes, which is "inspired" by Kallen's life but ultimately has as much to do with her story as Schindler's List did with the War of 1812. Of course, Hollywood frequently bastardizes history for the sake of producing an interesting yarn, but when what's put on the screen is far less compelling than the actual events, it's like shooting yourself in the foot but having the bullet pass through the kneecap as well. Ropes clearly fancies itself a companion piece to Erin Brockovich, but really, it's just a third-rate Working Girl, with Meg Ryan working overtime as the plucky working-class heroine. 1/2

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