Amy Adams in EnchantedENCHANTED

Disney's Enchanted is a diverting, reasonably clever movie, but boy, does lead actress Amy Adams deserve a better one. Playing a relentlessly cheerful animated heroine who finds herself transported to modern-day Manhattan, Adams assumes a character that could be a one-joke conceit and delivers a stunningly vibrant and committed tour-de-force performance; you could call her a three-dimensional presence in a two-dimensional role if the actress didn't give the impression of playing far more dimensions than that. Adams is heavenly. The film itself is decidedly more earthbound.

During its first half, Enchanted is oftentimes just as magical and funny as you hope it'll be. The cartoon opener, with Adams' Giselle and her (appropriately) noxiously adorable animal friends excitedly preparing for "True Love's Kiss," is a hysterical parody of Disney clichés, and after the ingénue lands in the messy apartment of a cynical divorce attorney (Patrick Dempsey), she summons a legion of rats, roaches, and pigeons to help with the tidying, smiling and singing all the way. Enchanted's wittiest conceit is that Giselle's beaming sincerity and complete lack of irony frequently turn New York City into its own fairy-tale kingdom, and the movie's most enjoyably bizarre sequence finds a walk through Central Park transforming into a deliriously outré musical show-stopper, with dozens of passers-by forming our heroine's own Broadway chorus. The scene is a giddy, goofy lark played absolutely straight; Adams' Giselle makes both her random acquaintances and the film's audience almost uncontrollably happy.

Why can't she perform a similar feat with Dempsey? I understand that he's designed to be a skeptical mope, disbelieving of Giselle's origins, but it's not the character who's a wet blanket; it's the actor. Dempsey, with his blasé petulance and tired eyes, may be McDreamy on television, but he's sorely lacking in big-screen charisma, and when it's not musical, director Kevin Lima's work feels similarly lethargic. Scenes don't end so much as merely fritter away, and Enchanted's extended action-flick climax, with Susan Sarandon misused (and bellowing unamusing dialogue) as a vengeful sorceress, is a real botch; the movie's sporadically marvelous scenes unintentionally underscore the mediocrity of the others.

Still, there are numerous pleasures to be had. James Marsden is a splendidly fatuous Prince Charming, a CGI chipmunk named Pip - the cartoon version of which speaks, hilariously, in the expected, wisecracking-Disney-sidekick cadences of Jeff Bennett - takes part in some brilliant visual gags (Pip's near-crucifixion on a closet hanger is a brilliantly subversive touch), and while the movie itself is only half-good, it would be churlish to deny anyone the joy of Adams' portrayal. She gives something even rarer than a great performance; she gives a great star performance, owning the screen as radiantly and effortlessly as Julia Roberts did in Pretty Woman or Erin Brockovich. (And Roberts didn't sing.) She's an extraordinarily dexterous and confident comedienne here, and when Giselle makes her climactic appearance at the ball - offering an abashed smile and looking heart-meltingly beautiful in a lavender gown - that sound you hear is what results when an entire audience swoons simultaneously. For much of its length, Enchanted only pays lip service to magic. In Amy Adams, it finds the real thing.


Laurie Holden, Thomas Jane, and Nathan Gamble in The MistTHE MIST

Even though Frank Darabont's The Mist is based on one of Stephen King's most terrifying novellas, the movie shouldn't work as well as it does. The setup, which finds a group of entrapped shoppers in a New England grocery store tormented by savage monstrosities outside and a monstrous religious zealot inside, is terrific, but it's waylaid by the writer/director's rhythmic pokiness - scenes seem to last twice as long as necessary - and that distractingly portentous King dialogue that, on-screen at least, sounds as through it was engraved in stone. And Darabont's attempts to make the movie Meaningful and Relevant land with a thud every time; when the resident right-wing psychopath (a feverish Marcia Gay Harden) begins nattering away about abortions and stem-cell research, you want to hide your face.

Yet in its own tacky, B-movie terms, The Mist is sensationally effective. Though our first hint at the enshrouded horrors - an enormous series of CGI tentacles - deflates the tension a bit, the subsequent beasties are funny and scary in equal measure, and Darabont does magnificently suggestive work with the mist itself, as characters vanish into it and meet either a nightmarish end or no apparent end at all, which is even more frightening. Though their conversation is lurid, a number of topnotch actors (especially Andre Braugher and Toby Jones) provide powerful work, and the characters' increasing hostility yields cathartic audience response; when Frances Sternhagen whipped a can of peas as Harden's head, the crowd I saw the film with went nuts. As for the ending, which drastically re-writes King's finale - for the better, I think - the awe you feel gazing upon the climactic, mist-bound creature is only topped by your shock at Darabont's sickening punchline, which hits you like a sock to the gut. Despite its flaws, The Mist does what too few modern horror movies do: It haunts you long after it ends.

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