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Week of March 23, 2005

Guess Who. (PG-13) On paper, it reads like a perfect disaster: the director of How Stella Got Her Groove Back and writers of I Spy and National Security remaking the solemnly hollow and glibly provocative 1967 Oscar winner Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, starring Bernie Mac in Spencer Tracy's role and Ashton Kutcher as his would-be son-in-law, played in the original by Sidney Poitier. But to say it's better than it has any right to be gives the original too much credit and the remake not enough. This take breaks no ground, but at least it doesn't bury itself beneath so much proselytizing and posing; Mac doesn't dislike Kutcher just because he's white, but because he's clearly hiding something. Within its familiar framework reside some likable characters who dislike each other not because of race, but because they simply do not trust each other. It has heart and a little soul, too; there are no villains here, no bad guys to be humiliated and sent packing, only people trying to protect their own. (Robert Wilonsky) ARN, CPP, CGX, CW10, DP, EG, EQ, GL, J14, MR, NW, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. (PG-13) Learning of this film's preview screening, a colleague sneered, "Why do you even bother with that shit?" It's also a question one could ask of Sandra Bullock, whose flaccid filmography you'd be wise to wipe off your feet before entering the house. The fact she produces these movies suggests she has little interest in altering the formula. This is, in every way, a do-over of the original; it even contains the same plot line, in which Miss United States is once more the damsel in distress Bullock's FBI agent Gracie Hart has to rescue. If the first movie played like a midseason TV pilot, its successor comes off like an extended episode of a generic sitcom. All it lacks is a laugh track -- appropriate, since it also lacks a laugh. But it does get one thing right: Its anorexic story line aside, Miss Congeniality 2 deals with how celebrity is really nothing more than being in the right place at the right time, a product of dumb luck as opposed to real talent. (Wilonsky) ARN, CPP, CGX, DP, EG, EQ, GL, J14, KEN, MR, NW, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Off the Map. (PG-13) The Groden family (Sam Elliott, Joan Allen, and Valentina de Angelis) lives out in the middle of the New Mexico desert, far from main roads. They grow, harvest, and/or kill all their own food, own their own home, and make what little money they need from crafts. They've got no phone or indoor plumbing, and they haven't paid taxes in several years. Since no one else is around, they can even walk around naked with impunity. Elliott's character is depressed, Allen's is a hippie Hopi, and de Angelis' is an insufferably precocious child. Not much actually happens, though the arrival of a naive taxman (Jim True-Frost) shakes things up a bit. The film's only other major character is George, a laconic redneck played by J.K. Simmons. A far cry from his hyperactive shtick as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies, Simmons plays it understated, conveying a sad-sack quality that's more relatable than Charley's irrational catatonia. The movie should have been about him instead. (Luke Y. Thompson) CPP, STCH

 
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