To discuss the numerous, simple joys of Chicken Run is to risk ruining what's great about the film; how beautifully it's underplayed, and how sly and gentle its considerable streak of humor is. Using Nick Park's miraculous Claymation, the film tells the story of a group of miserable, caged English chickens who are trying, in vain, to escape from their evil human captor (voiced by Miranda Richardson). Their days appear numbered until the arrival of Rocky (Mel Gibson), an American circus-escapee known for his "Flying Rooster" act. The chickens' hope is that he'll teach them to fly away to safety; Rocky's hope is that they won't discover he's a fraud.

Plot-wise, not much new here. What is new is both the technique - the Claymation helps us rediscover the giddy thrill of animation (which has been lost in the recent, been there/done that films of Disney and Dreamworks) - and in the brilliance of the wordplay. The film is unapologetically British, and in Chicken Run, you might get some of the delight you do in BBC productions like Fawlty Towers or The Black Adder; the cleverness comes from the characters, and not from wacky situations alone. Which is not to say that the film is merely a visual feast; a scene with Rocky and his potential flame, Ginger (Julia Sawalha), trying to escape the machinations of a chicken-pie-creating device has all the excitement of the Toy Story chases and is a visual show-stopper as well.

Kids will eat the film up, but - also like the Toy Story films - grown-ups might even have a better time at it; only adults will get the introduction of Mel Gibson's character with his Braveheart cry, "Freedom!!!" and giggle at a chicken's comment of him: "I don't think he's even American." Gibson, by the way, does some splendid vocal work, as does a top-tier group of British thesps, none better than Jane Horrocks as the daffy, constantly-knitting Babs. Without a doubt the best film currently in first-run release, Chicken Run is sensationally entertaining for all ages, a little film with great big pleasures.


Jim Carrey in Me, Myself & IreneME, MYSELF & IRENE

Jim Carrey pulls off some amazing physical comedy in Me, Myself & Irene, the story of a well-meaning cop who does battle with his insanely crude split personality, and the latest from writer-directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Near the end of the film, Carrey has a spasmodic fight scene with himself that's about as astonishing as anything he has yet done, and he gives great line readings and pulls off brilliant bits of business throughout the film. He's working overtime, and that's a relief for the audience because the Farrellys don't seem to be working hard at all.

This is the Farrellys' fourth feature film as directors, and it's becoming more and more clear that no matter how many incidental laughs there are in their movies, not one of them works as a whole. Yeah, their films are visually uninspired and go on way too long, but the biggest problems is that the Farrellys don't write funny characters or plots; they write funny moments, and there are never enough of them to sustain an entire film. The plotting in Me, Myself & Irene is so lazy that we're never sure what's going on (aside from the high-concept idea - Jim Carrey Has a Split Personality), and in an unforgivable sequence, the film's bad guys are caught off-camera, with the film's narrator (more laziness) telling us what happened. Are you kidding? The Farrellys also seem blind to true inspiration. At one point, the bad Carrey impersonates the good Carrey and gets away with murder. Where does this intriguing twist lead? Absolutely nowhere.

However, as with Dumb & Dumber and There's Something About Mary, the film's crap quotient probably won't bother too many people because of Carrey's skills, and because of The Moments. And, admittedly, I fell for a bunch of 'em, too. I loved the scene with the near-dead cow (which also leads to the movie's best one-liner, courtesy of co-star Richard Jenkins), and Carrey's urination attempt after a night with Irene (Renee Zellweger, plucky as ever, but stranded with nothing to play), and the scenes with the scholastically gifted sons with gutter mouths, and several others. Seen strictly as a time-waster with some big laughs, Me, Myself & Irene might fit the bill. But I can't feeling disappointed that the Farrellys seem incapable of creating a completely coherent comedy, one that works from beginning to end. They might someday, but for now, we're still stuck with mere Moments.


Claire Forlani and Freddie Prinze Jr. in Boys & GirlsBOYS & GIRLS

Normally, I wouldn't have bothered seeing Boys & Girls, because it's yet another "young adult" romantic comedy starring the terminally twerpy Freddie Prinze Jr., and it has that dreadfully generic title to boot; life's just too short. But I noticed that it co-starred Alyson Hannigan (of Buffy fame and the classic "this-one-time-at-band-camp" scenes in American Pie 2) and Heather Donahue (last seen lost in the Maryland woods in The Blair Witch Project), and my interest was piqued. Well, your first clue that the filmmakers have no idea what they're doing is when you realize that Hannigan will be on hand for all of a scene and a half, without having a single funny thing to say. About an hour later, you'll know they have no idea when Donahue shows up, giving terrific comic zing to her role as a type-A romantic distraction, and the filmmakers all but drop her from the movie. Director Robert Iscove and the screenwriters (Andrew Lowery and Andrew Miller, listed in the credits as "The Drews") wouldn't know an original performer, character, or idea if one sat on their laps and licked their faces.

The movie is wretched. An amalgam of When Harry Met Sally..., Say Anything..., and hundreds of others that don't have an ellipsis in their titles, Boys & Girls is so stupidly plotted and horrifically written that the audience actually grows a little hostile; groans of derision were audible at the screening I attended. It's not worth discussing, but let it be said that Prinze is his usual Rob Lowe-lite self, Claire Forlani, who might have a bit of luck in smarter comedies (she has an unusual, delicate way with a line), should erase this from her resumé now, and co-star Jason Biggs (also of American Pie notoriety) should move on from his well-meaning, unfunny goofus characters as soon as possible; after Pie, Boys & Girls, and the forthcoming Loser (with its omnipresent previews), I'm sick of his shtick already.

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