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KILL BILL VOL. 2 The inability to notice that the emperor had no clothes -- not even a bandanna -- helped turn Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1 into a critical darling and a favorite of fan-boys everywhere. But although originally conceived as one movie until the length dictated the creation of two separate flicks, the Kill Bill volumes couldn't possibly be further apart -- in style, tone or content. Volume 1 diehards will inevitably feel let down by the emphasis on talk rather than action, but Volume 2 is nevertheless the superior movie. It's better written, better acted (especially by Uma Thurman and David Carradine), and more emotionally involving, although it's still obvious that Tarantino should have taken the scissors to his project and carved out a single kick-ass movie instead of two bloated ones. 1/2
LAWS OF ATTRACTION The 1950 comedy Adam's Rib cast Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as husband-and-wife lawyers who end up on opposite sides of a major case; this clearly hopes to be its modern-day equivalent, but it's so inconsequential that it wouldn't even cut it as Adam's Hangnail. That's a shame, because the star pairing of Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore promises much more than this movie actually delivers. Brosnan is as casually charismatic as always, while Moore, taking a break from award-friendly projects, gleefully throws herself into her change-of-pace role. They're an engaging team, which makes it all the more frustrating that they're let down by a trite screenplay.
MAN ON FIRE This is a remake of a forgotten 1987 flick starring Scott Glenn; that version barely ran 90 minutes, and it's a sign of director Tony Scott's arrogance that this ugly revamping clocks in at 140 minutes. The movie starts off OK, with Denzel Washington effectively cast as a former government assassin whose constant boozing is interrupted once he agrees to serve as the bodyguard for an American girl (Dakota Fanning) living with her parents in Mexico City. Scott's meaningless stylistics immediately grate on the nerves, but the strong work by Washington and Fanning -- and the bond they create together -- cuts through all the hipster b.s. and draws us into the picture. But once the child gets kidnapped and is then believed to be dead, this turns into a tedious revenge yarn. 1/2
MEAN GIRLS Like Heathers and Clueless, here's that rare teen comedy that refuses to be pigeonholed as a teen comedy. Even more remarkably, it's also that rare Saturday Night Live-sanctioned film that's actually funny. Scripter Tina Fey elected to adapt Rosalind Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabes, along the way turning a nonfiction book into a fictional story spiced up with her own pithy, piercing observations. Lindsay Lohan stars as a naive teen who, upon making her public school debut after a lifetime of home schooling, finds herself being courted by the "bitch-goddess" crowd. Director Mark Waters and Lohan previously worked together on the Freaky Friday remake; I'm not prepared to elevate them to the level of Kurosawa-Mifune or Scorsese-De Niro, but they've clearly got a good thing going.
THE PUNISHER One of the most popular of the latter-day (read: 1970s onward) Marvel Comics heroes, this one-man killing machine first saw his exploits translated to film in a 1989 Dolph Lundgren vehicle that went straight to video. Now here comes the more polished and more expensive version (with Dreamcatcher's Thomas Jane in the lead), and perhaps the best that can be said about it is that it's more watchable than the equally sadistic Man On Fire. It's tolerable junk if viewed in the right frame of mind, if one is willing to overlook the poor dialogue, John Travolta's colorless villain, and the ludicrously overplayed death scenes.
13 GOING ON 30 Starting off in 1987, this engaging comedy centers around 13-year-old Jenna Rink, an awkward girl whose only desire is to be "thirty, flirty and thriving." She magically gets her wish granted, waking up in 2004 at the age of 30 and not remembering anything that has transpired over the course of the last 17 years. As she begins to piece together the missing years, she realizes that she doesn't like the person she's become. Jennifer Garner, the versatile star of Alias, is irresistible here -- she possesses the flair and instincts of a screwball comedienne -- and if her performance ultimately isn't quite as moving as Tom Hanks' in the thematically similar Big, that might be because the script by Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa doesn't delve as deeply into the dark side of being a child trapped in a grownup's body.