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HARD CANDY Moviegoers will exhaust themselves trying to determine whether this is an exploitation flick, a feminist empowerment drama or a particularly feisty coming-of-age yarn with a diabolical twist. It immediately puts the audience at unease by exploring the burgeoning relationship between 32-year-old Jeff (Patrick Wilson) and 14-year-old Hayley (Ellen Page). But just as we fear that Hayley will become another victim of an Internet predator, the tables are turned in dramatic fashion, with Jeff's luscious Lolita morphing into an avenging angel. Wilson is excellent, yet the real discovery is Page, who never shies away from the implication that Hayley might be deeply disturbed by her own set of demons. Eventually, we realize that Hard Candy isn't necessarily a movie about lost innocence. In a modern world ruled by technology that allows 14-year-old girls and 32-year-old men to easily hook up, it's possible that this innocence never had a chance to flourish in the first place. ***

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. **

RV One would have to travel deep into the 1990s to locate a comedic Robin Williams performance that was more than simply incessant shtick. Thankfully, RV finds Williams again merging his patented humor with a recognizably human character -- it's just a shame that the vehicle that carries this engaging performance doesn't offer a smoother ride. The tug-of-war between career and home is too omniscient to ever be ignored by filmmakers looking for an easy angle, and for a while, RV, in which a workaholic takes his family on vacation in the title monstrosity, looks as if it's going to be an effective take on the matter. Instead, the movie reveals an obsession with labored slapstick and potty humor, meaning we get tiresome scenes in which Williams' character falls down hills or finds himself covered head-to-toe in fecal matter. By the end, the crudity is so excessive, it makes National Lampoon's Vacation look as sophisticated as The Accidental Tourist by comparison. **

THE SENTINEL Michael Douglas plays Harrison Ford and Kiefer Sutherland costars as Tommy Lee Jones in The Sentinel, the latest thriller that tries to put one over on the audience but ends up only fooling itself. Yet while it's clearly no match for The Fugitive, this "innocent man on the lam" yarn gets some mileage (well, yardage) out of a fairly taut first act and an appropriately constipated Michael Douglas performance. Douglas is cast as Pete Garrison, a career Secret Service agent ballsy enough to carry on an affair with the first lady (Kim Basinger). But evidence soon surfaces that an inside man is helping a foreign outfit plot to assassinate the President (David Rasche), and agent David Breckinridge (Sutherland) becomes convinced that Garrison, his former mentor, is the traitors. Director Clark Johnson doubtless planned to deliver a hand-wringing thriller filled with unexpected twists and turns, but when the results are this obvious, even good intentions can find themselves caught in the line of fire. **

THANK YOU FOR SMOKING The so-called "culture of spin" gets taken for its own spin in this lacerating adaptation of Christopher Buckley's 1994 novel. Even with a too-brief running time of 92 minutes, the movie manages to pack in all manner of material both saucy and dicey, yet when the smoke clears, what's most visible is the emergence of Aaron Eckhart as a major talent. He's terrific as Nick Naylor, who excels as chief spokesman for the tobacco industry even though he realizes he's despised by a significant part of the population. Nick earns the admiration of Big Tobacco's Big Daddy (Robert Duvall), but he has his hands full bonding with his own son (Cameron Bright), who adores his dad but often asks tough questions about his profession. Writer-director Jason Reitman keeps the laughs flying during the first half, then slows down enough to lay the groundwork for a satisfying conclusion. ***1/2

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