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Week of November 12, 2003

Looney Tunes: Back in Action (PG) Joe Dante. They may never have gone away, but never mind: The Looney Tunes are "back" in a feature film that crams them into a live-action world otherwise populated by humans. The joke is that the Tunes are movie stars, with all of the attendant egotism and paranoia. Daffy Duck wants to shed his role as Bugs Bunny's whipping boy; instead, he's fired, along with the security guard (Brendan Fraser) hired to remove him from the studio lot. No matter: The two drop into another plot, to rescue the guard's movie-star father from the clutches of Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin, doing Urkel), the evil head of the Acme Corporation. Unfortunately, the creators didn't bother to invest the humans with half as much depth as their two-dimensional counterparts. As a result, Looney Tunes: Back in Action is a mind-numbing, achingly post-modern advertisement for itself, which attempts to distract us from its highly merchandised nature by constantly referring to it. In other words, it's morally corrupt, but your kids will love it. Opens Friday, November 14, at multiple locations. (Melissa Levine)

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (PG-13) Peter Weir. This is Peter Weir's finest film since the brilliant The Mosquito Coast, with which it shares themes of wounded nationalism, prey becoming predator and the leader who may be going mad. Just as he summoned Harrison Ford's finest work in 1986, Weir here works wonders with Russell Crowe, who plays a nineteenth-century British captain battling a superior French vessel off the coast of South America. The late Patrick O'Brian's "Aubrey/Maturin" novels receive a lavish, thrilling adaptation, and Paul Bettany as the ship's studious doctor deserves top billing with Crowe, whose swaggering effort is barred from greatness by a complete lack of vulnerability. Nonetheless, it's a classic. Here amid the salt spray, tropical sweat and puddles of blood, relatable characters skirt the shoals of melodrama to drive headlong into unpredictable squalls and maddening torpor. This movie is alive. Weir has unleashed a rollicking adventure film dedicated not to escapism but to restoring some sense of humanity to its digitally delirious audience. Opens Friday, November 14, at multiple locations. (Gregory Weinkauf)

 
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