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THE WILD While it'd be easy to dismiss The Wild as a rip-off of Madagascar, it would also be inaccurate: Taking production schedules and release dates into account, both films were obviously being produced at roughly the same time, leading one to suspect that both might have had their genesis in the same dog-eared screenplay (expect lawsuits to emerge any day now). But comparisons to the fine Madagascar aren't necessary to point out the myriad shortcomings of The Wild, which manages to be abysmal on its own terms. Considering that at least 80 percent of today's animated features condescend toward children by assuming they're all too retarded to digest anything of substance, it's no surprise that this movie comes along to serve as the exclamation point on this sorry development. Fast-paced is one thing -- Bugs Bunny and crew all but turned it into an art form -- but this ADD-affected movie seems to have been made by mentally stunted adults after they'd popped a dozen uppers and downed two dozen cups of coffee. The CGI animation is impressively lifelike -- it recalls the Tyrell Corporation's slogan in Blade Runner, "More human than human" (or in this case, more animal than animal) -- though it begs the recurring question as to why we would want our animated movies to not look like animated movies. Everything else about this toxic toon is intolerable, especially the sidekicks who accompany Samson the lion (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) as he leaves the comforts of the New York zoo to search for his wayward son in a faraway jungle. Nigel the koala (Eddie Izzard) rates a special mention, emerging as the most loathsome animated character since Martin Short's insufferable robot B.E.N. in Treasure Planet. *

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. *

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. **

INSIDE MAN Inside Man is A Spike Lee Joint, sho nuff, which may explain why it isn't your typical heist flick in either structure or spirit. Bank robber Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and his crew take over Manhattan Trust, bully the hostages and make the usual demands from an NYPD repped by Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) -- so far, so Dog Day Afternoon. But the addition of a mysterious power player (Jodie Foster) to the equation takes the story in a different direction, and it eventually becomes clear that Lee and writer Russell Gewirtz aren't as interested in the thriller components as in making astute observations about contemporary society, especially as it relates to a post-9/11 mindset. For better or worse, Lee downplays his usual technical flourishes, though one defining Spike Lee signature move is certain to draw cheers from the faithful. ***

LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN The latest hollow exercise in hipster chic is the sort of convoluted, twist-packed yarn that strains to be unpredictable but is actually even easier to figure out than those Jumble puzzles that appear in the dailies. Josh Hartnett, cinema's favorite lightweight, plays Slevin, a seemingly guileless guy who finds himself caught in a power struggle between two rival crime lords (Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley). Bruce Willis is on hand as, natch, the taciturn hitman who turns out to be more involved than he initially appears. Hartnett would seem hard-pressed to carry a basket of laundry, let alone carry a motion picture, while the three reliable vets seem almost bored trying to keep up with the plot's changes of direction. The movie's saving grace is Lucy Liu: Cast as a chatty neighbor who helps Slevin piece together the mystery, she's a breath of fresh air in a genre that too often suffocates on its own fumes of pungent testosterone. **

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