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JUST MY LUCK With such titles as Freaky Friday, Mean Girls and A Prairie Home Companion on her resume, Lindsay Lohan has made smarter choices than other performers her age, most of whom have a tendency to end up in inane teen-bait comedies or disposable Disney Channel movies. Just My Luck marks a major career stumble, as Lohan suddenly finds herself in the sort of drivel usually snatched up by arch-rival Hilary Duff. To add insult to injury, Lohan is too young to be playing the character at the center of this new film. Ashley Albright is a rapidly rising account executive at a swanky New York PR firm, but wouldn't you assume that a college degree would be required for such a position? So how can we accept 19-year-old Lohan in a role better suited for an actress in her mid-20s? It's only a minor annoyance, but then again, Just My Luck is a movie entirely comprised of minor annoyances, pelting us throughout with a steady stream of idiotic moments. The fantasy-tinged plotline posits that Ashley is the luckiest woman in the world while the bumbling, stumbling Jake (Chris Paine), a bowling alley custodian who dreams of success as a band manager, is her exact opposite, a guy so plagued by rotten luck that he's constantly being placed in compromising or injurious positions. But after these two strangers meet and kiss at a masquerade ball, Ashley suddenly finds herself the unluckiest woman in the world while Jake -- well, you can figure out the rest. That the key to Ashley's happiness (at least until the unconvincing third act denouement) is directly related to her wealth and status seems lost even to screenwriters Marlene King and Amy B. Harris, who apparently thought they were penning a romantic comedy when they were actually writing an ode to materialism. Worse, the pair can't even adhere to the guidelines they themselves established. When Ashley drops a contact lens into a cat's soiled litter box and then scoops it out and puts it in her eye without even rinsing it, this isn't an example of Ashley experiencing bad luck; this is an example of Ashley being a moron. *1/2

Current Releases

AKEELAH AND THE BEE The pattern holds that every decade's midway stretch gives us an underdog worth supporting. In the 1970s, it was Rocky, in the 1980s, it was the Karate Kid, and in the 1990s, it was Babe. And now here comes 11-year-old Akeelah to carry the torch for the little people. Akeelah and the Bee centers on Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer), a south LA girl who, with the help of her mentor (Laurence Fishburne), works her way through the national spelling bee circuit. What sets the film apart is the manner in which it details how Akeelah's triumphs end up lifting the entire community: Her success is their success, and it's truly inspiring to watch neighbors from all walks of life throw their support behind her. ***

AMERICAN DREAMZ The decline of the American empire -- or at least the dumbing down of its populace -- began in earnest some time ago, but it has clearly reached its zenith with the twin threat of the Bush presidency and reality TV. Both, of course, are obvious targets for satire, but it's hard to mock something that in itself is already a mockery of sorts. Writer-director Paul Weitz nevertheless takes a stab with this comedy that ties together a moronic talent show hosted by a callow Brit (Hugh Grant) and a clueless US prez (Dennis Quaid) unable to think for himself. American Dreamz is a crushing disappointment, a weak-willed, ill-conceived film with a scarcity of laughs and a maddening tendency to let its subjects off with a slap on the wrist rather than go for the jugular. Lacking the lockjaw clench of a Dr. Strangelove or a Network, it's content to offer toothless stereotypes and defanged targets. This isn't a black comedy -- it's more like a whiter shade of pale. **

ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL The latest from the Ghost World team of director Terry Zwigoff and writer Daniel Clowes starts out as a great movie that devolves into a pretty good one, as a stinging expose of campus life gives way to the more rigid narrative demands of a police procedural. The film follows college freshman Jerome Platz (Max Minghella) as he discovers that it's difficult to become a great artist when his teachers turn out to be hypocrites and his fellow students produce amateurish works that are instantly hailed as cutting-edge. Burdened with so much disillusionment, it's no wonder he's barely aware that a serial killer is trolling the campus grounds. This works best when it taps into the uncertainties of an adolescent existence suddenly liberated from the confines of home and family, or when it deconstructs the notion of what truly constitutes being a success in one's chosen field. It's at its weakest when it clumsily tries to tie together its points by employing a sensationalistic device that detracts from its astute observations. ***

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