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New Releases

SLITHER At last, a refreshing break from the current trend of nihilistic horror flicks whose sole purpose is to devise groovy new ways for psychopaths to torture and murder innocent people. Make no mistake: Slither offers gore by the bucketful, but the movie's in the spirit of those enjoyable, us-against-them monster yarns that ran rampant from the 1950s straight through to the mid-1980s. Starting out as an "invader from outer space" opus (think The Blob) before switching gears to become a quasi-zombie flick (think Night of the Living Dead), the film involves a gelatinous E.T. that turns hicksville businessman Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) into its agent of evil on earth. The master plan eventually involves a mass assault by hundreds of slugs that take over humans' bodies by entering through the mouths; naturally, the entire planet is doomed unless double-Grant's wife (Elizabeth Banks) and an amiable sheriff (Nathan Fillion) can figure out a way to shut the otherworldly operation down. Slither takes its time getting started, but once it does, it never lets up, throwing the blood, slime and one-liners (some woeful, most of them witty) at the screen with feverish abandon. Banks, recently seen as the bookstore nymph in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, is actually touching as the wife who doesn't comprehend why her husband has morphed into a human squid. And between his starring roles here and in last year's sci-fi tale Serenity, Fillion might end up becoming a new generation's Bruce Campbell. The worst part of the picture is the unnecessary coda tacked on after the closing credits have run their course; luckily, the auditorium will be empty at that point anyway. ***

Current Releases

BASIC INSTINCT 2 While many reviewers (to say nothing of Razzie Award voters) consider Sharon Stone a miserable actress, I can honestly say I would require all four fingers and the thumb of one hand to count her memorable performances. That number includes her fine work in last summer's Broken Flowers, as well as her star-making performance as the ice pick-wielding author Catherine Tramell in the 1992 smash hit Basic Instinct. But what Hollywood giveth, Hollywood taketh away, meaning that the role that made her an A-lister might now be the same role that effectively kills her struggling career. In BI2, Stone is simply awful, replacing the sexy insouciance from the first film with a beady stare that would seem more appropriate coming from a dead codfish than a calculating nympho adept at playing twisted mind games. This needless sequel is badly photographed, flatly directed, indifferently acted and wretchedly scripted -- a train wreck all the way around. *

CSA: CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA Ingeniously presented as a Ken Burns-style TV documentary produced by the BBC, CSA offers a what-if scenario by imagining the parallel course of history had the South won the Civil War. Talking heads, historical reenactments and clips from faux-movies like D.W. Griffith's The Hunt for Dishonest Abe help paint a picture of an America that not only still allows slavery but also supported Hitler's desire for Aryan supremacy during World War II, went on to conquer Latin America, and initiated a Cold War with Canada (home for abolitionists, suffragettes and rock & rollers). Writer-director Kevin Willmott methodically lays out the requisite groundwork so that none of the developments in the movie seem unbelievable or out of place -- it makes for a razor-sharp satire that only flags at the end. Yet for all its wit, the overwhelming feeling is one of sadness, as the CS history and our actual US history really aren't that far removed. ***1/2

FAILURE TO LAUNCH In this sputtering romantic comedy, Matthew McConaughey plays Tripp, a 35-year-old who still lives at home with his parents (Terry Bradshaw and Kathy Bates). Anxious to get their grown boy out of the house, the folks hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), a professional consultant who -- get this -- makes a career out of building up the self-esteem of adult males still living at home by romancing them and then dumping them once they feel independent enough to move out on their own. McConaughey and Parker try, but they can't save a premise as insipid as this one. Instead, the fun can be found in the margins: Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha have their moments as Tripp's friends, Zooey Deschanel adds some much-needed edge as Paula's droll roommate, and Bates and Bradshaw invest their characters' relationship with the humor and empathy that's sorely missing from the top-billed stars' dalliances. **

FIND ME GUILTY In telling the true story of a low-level member of a New Jersey mob family, director Sidney Lumet clearly sides with his protagonist: Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel), the maverick defendant in a gargantuan case which finds prosecutor Sean Kierney (Linus Roache) seeking charges against dozens of members of the Calabrese crime syndicate. While the other mobsters are represented by lawyers, Jackie elects to defend himself, a questionable move that threatens to change the outcome of the trial. Diesel and the supporting cast are impressive, yet Lumet's sympathies repeatedly tug against the natural grain of the story: The criminals belong behind bars, and there's no indication that Kierney's anything but a decent man trying to make our society a better place. The best way to enjoy this, then, is to view it as an indictment of the jury system, as a smackdown of a procedure that allows 12 ill-informed people to form their opinions of a person's guilt or innocence by his ability to tell a joke. **1/2

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