Leslie Mann and Zac Efron in 17 Again

17 AGAIN

If there were any lingering doubts as to whether the body-switching comedy 17 Again was tailored specifically for heartthrob Zac Efron, you should know that in the movie's very first scene, Efron's character, Mike O'Donnell, not only appears as the star player of a high school basketball team, but quickly breaks into a spontaneous, energetic dance routine with the cheerleaders. That's right, folks! It's High School Musical: Big-ger and Better!

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in Duplicity

DUPLICITY

Starting with the film's enticing prelude, which finds Julia Roberts and Clive Owen engaging in the first of several argumentative flirtations in exotic locales, I felt that Duplicity was an intensely sharp, clever, enjoyable movie. It wasn't until its very last shot, though, that I felt it was also a great one.

Nicolas Cage and Rose Byrne in Knowing

KNOWING

Knowing, director Alex Proyas' new portents-of-doom thriller starring Nicolas Cage, has an intriguing premise and some enjoyably nightmarish effects. Yet it's still such a shallow and deeply silly piece of work that, even though the movie explores numerology, determinism, and the eternal mysteries of the universe, somehow you just know it's all going to climax with Cage pointing a gun at someone and screaming, "I want my son! Now!!!" The film isn't really a disappointment - lord knows its previews made Knowing look much worse than it is - but its disconcerting blend of high drama and low camp tends to get you giggling at the exact moments you should be taking it the most seriously.

Isla Fisher in Confessions of a ShopaholicCONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC

Since I'm not their target demographic, I guess it shouldn't bother me that so many perky, theoretically harmless chick flicks these days are so breathtakingly shrill and stupid. But why doesn't it bother their target demographic? January gave us the offensively unfunny Bride Wars, and now, hot on that film's stiletto heels, comes Confessions of a Shopaholic, which trashes its promising setup and excellent performers in a candy-colored morass of clichés, contrivances, and incessant brainlessness. The film is like a rom-com take on Speed Racer - it even has John Goodman as a loveably ineffectual dad - and it doesn't feature one moment of recognizable human behavior. And audience members still applauded at the end.

Michael Sheen and Frank Langella in Frost/NixonFROST/NIXON

Ron Howard's adaptation of playwright Peter Morgan's Frost/Nixon has been nominated for five Academy Awards, and in Variety magazine, Morgan reacted to its success by saying, "The film is political but entertaining, and the credit goes to Ron. He takes the experience the audience has at the cinema very seriously." That's why I love Howard, and also why, as a director, he drives me absolutely crazy.

Sean Faris and Djimon Hounsou in Never Back DownNEVER BACK DOWN

Watching the so-silly-it's-almost-fun mixed-martial-arts melodrama Never Back Down, I felt instantly transported to the summer of 1984, when my friends and I saw The Karate Kid the first time around. Fight Club was still 15 years away, so we weren't yet treated to this film's bone-crunchingly "kinetic" violence, nor to the sight of shirtless brawlers pummeling each other with their pants buttoned 12 inches below their navels. (Nor, for that matter, to topless teenage lesbians making out in a jacuzzi.) But Never Back Down is still pretty much Karate Kid redux, and the experience of watching it felt like time-travel for another reason: The movie's high-schooler lead is played by Tom Cruise.

Dave Chappelle in Dave Chappelle's Block PartyDAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY

Dave Chappelle's Block Party is teeming with something that has been sorely absent from 2006's movie crop: joy. In the late summer of 2004, Chappelle, fresh from signing his now-legendary - and currently defunct - $50-million contract with Comedy Central, spontaneously decided to throw a block-wide bash, and recruited a batch of rap and R&B performers (including Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Kanye West, Jill Scott, and Lauryn Hill and the reunited Fugees) to perform a day-long gig in Brooklyn; the resulting concert doc features highlights from the concert interspersed with scenes of Chappelle kicking back with the stars and the block-party attendees, and the movie, directed by Michel Gondry, is a giddy, oftentimes exhilarating spectacle. It's hard to determine who's having more fun - the musicians, whose on-stage performances are heartfelt and vital; the Brooklyn masses, whose enjoyment of the show is palpable; or the movie's audience.

Jeez, you take one week off from regular movie reviewing and you fall so behind ... .

MurderballMURDERBALL

I've seen a lot of sublimely satisfying documentaries this year, but none with the scope and passion of Murderball. Like last year's brilliant Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the film's title and ostensible subject matter - quadriplegic rugby - are probably enough to frighten off the audiences who would love it the most, which I pray won't happen; Murderball, currently playing at the Brew & View Rocket, is, thus far, the most invigorating, fascinating, surprising, and deeply human movie of 2005.

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