Richard Gere and Julie Delpy in The HoaxTHE HOAX

Offhand, I can think of no performer less well-suited to play a desperate, talkative, Jewish novelist than Richard Gere. Yet in Lasse Hallström's The Hoax, Gere is asked to portray exactly that - real-life author Clifford Irving, who, in 1971, received a $1-million advance for concocting a fictional autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes - and the perceived miscasting turns out to be the movie's subtlest masterstroke.

No character in the film - not Irving's editors, not his publishers, not the understandably edgy politicians - should buy Irving's literary ruse, just as no one in the audience should buy Gere (bewigged with a permed mop of auburn curls) as a scrappy, put-upon nebbish. Yet they do, and, thanks to the actor's quick-witted and wholly believable performance, we do, too. Before Irving's fraud was finally uncovered, his fooling of so many high-powered individuals was something of a miracle, but it's no more miraculous than the revitalization of Richard Gere's career over the past few years; with very little fanfare, this longtime leading man has emerged as one of Hollywood's most inspired character actors.

The Hoax is like a tony version of Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, but a lot more fun. Hallström directs the escalating complications with a deft comic touch and structural invention - through flashbacks, we see how Irving's fabrications are pieced together with individual moments of truth - and his pacing could hardly be bettered; until the mood inevitably darkens in the final reels, the movie's action is often as breathless as its hero. Alfred Molina provides a marvelously nuanced portrayal of Irving's initially unwilling accomplice Dick Suskind, and enjoyable turns are delivered by Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci, and Julie Delpy. (Even when playing an untrustworthy tramp, Delpy is luminous.)

But in the end, The Hoax belongs to Gere. Irving's only slightly guilty delight at getting away with literary murder is indistinguishable from the actor's performance delight - he digs deeply into Irving's insecurities and, in doing so, emerges as an exceedingly likable presence. Once upon a time, when Gere was hired for little more than his looks, all you saw was the actor's effort; he wasn't convincing as much more than a pretty face. But in Chicago, Unfaithful, The Mothman Prophecies, and even trifles such as Shall We Dance?, this previously stiff, self-regarding performer - relaxing into middle age with grace and great humor - has become a true charmer. And while this, too, might just be a hoax, it's one that I'm happily falling for.


Sarah Roemer and Shia LaBeouf in DisturbiaDISTURBIA

As D.J. Caruso's Disturbia is a dopey teen variant on Rear Window, I wasn't surprised that the movie possessed absolutely no psychological thrills or insight. But I was heartened to see that it was oftentimes just as funny as Hitchcock's classic.

I laughed during the film's prelude, when our hero (Shia LaBeouf) engaged in such an impossibly idyllic fly-fishing session with his dad that it seemed as though we had walked into a screening of Disney's Disturbia by mistake. I laughed when LaBeouf, under house arrest, began spying on the vivacious babe next door (Sarah Roemer) with a pair of binoculars, and instead of doing what a horny teenage kid would do in this situation, he pulled up a chair and enjoyed a big bowl of popcorn. (Ah, the pleasures of the PG-13 rating.)

I laughed when Roemer, after discovering LaBeouf's voyeuristic hobby, confronted him, and - despite Disturbia's camera being permanently fixed on her ass - he won her heart by being moved at how she read "substantial books." (As Roemer's character describes being "forcefully relocated" to the suburbs as opposed to "forcibly" relocated, one of those substantial books was obviously not a dictionary.) I laughed when the movie's deranged killer turned out to be David Morse, because ... well, because he's David Morse. (No one has ever made a more lucrative career out of playing pasty, shifty-eyed creeps.) And above all, I laughed at Disturbia's suggestion that a police-summoning ankle bracelet is actually romantic, and a terrifically entertaining way for a troubled kid to spend his free time. Summer's coming soon, folks, so beware: One can only imagine what the teen next door might be willing to do to be just like Shia LaBeouf.


Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for TheatersAQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE COLON MOVIE FILM FOR THEATERS

I'm trying to imagine a more perverse cinematic idea than Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, and I just can't. There are a few amusing one-liners, and those slow-moving Space Invaders guys are pretty damned funny, but 80 minutes of Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad without access to your bong? Freakin' pointless.




John C. McGinley and Ice Cube in Are We Done Yet?ARE WE DONE YET?

There are almost too many gags to be made about Are We Done Yet?, beginning with the movie's title, which I repeated like a mantra throughout its entire 90-minute running length. Similarly, numerous paragraphs could be devoted to the staggering ineptitude of this family comedy - a sequel to 2005's Are We There Yet? - and its anemic presentation, its saccharine predictability, and its waste of star Ice Cube's easygoing appeal. (Generally speaking, a family comedy is like a regular comedy, only the jokes aren't funny.) So instead, let's focus on just one element of Steve Carr's asinine follow-up that made me want to kill myself.

In the film - which is like The Money Pit with (if you can imagine) even fewer brains - Mr. Cube purchases for his wife (Nia Long) and two stepkids a big, rural house from an eccentric, untrustworthy realtor played by John C. McGinley. Immediately after signing the papers, the edifice begins to fall apart. Cube calls upon the services of an electrician. This being a small community, McGinley is the town electrician, and charges the new homeowner an arm and a leg for repairs. Cube then hires a contractor, who - surprise! - is also McGinley, and whose astronomical fees cover the employ of a (literally) blind construction team. The house is in shambles, the bills are enormous, the annoyance factor is sky high ... and then McGinley, in his motor home, moves into the family driveway.

Any sane human being would be right to call the cops on this schizoid charlatan. But for some inconceivable reason, Cube's family finds him adorable, chastising Cube for not appreciating McGinley and his helpfulness, and you wait (and wait) for the moment when they'll wake the hell up and discover just how destructive this nutcase actually is. Yet, astonishingly, the movie turns out to be on the family's side; McGinley's character is given a dead wife for whom he still mourns, sappy violin music wafts onto the soundtrack, and Cube is forced to recognize that he's just been misunderstanding this freak show: He's not only a great worker, but a great friend.

About 40 minutes into the film, a troublesome raccoon who's been wreaking havoc on the family roof titters at Ice Cube and says (yes, says), "Sucker!" By the end of Are We Done Yet?, I was utterly convinced that the raccoon had been speaking to me personally.

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