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Conversations With God; Don; Jaan-E-Mann; Le Petit Lieutenant

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CATCH A FIRE
See "Out of Afrikaans" (Countywide)


DEATH OF A PRESIDENT
See "Assassination Tango" (Regency Lido, Newport Beach; Art Theatre, Long Beach)


DON
Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan gets the snazziest gangster-dude entrance in Don since Chow Yun-fat's in A Better Tomorrow, way back in 1987. The sheer sensuous relish of a fantasy of mob glamour that favors Oakley shades and blue velvet Nehru jackets and sudsy marble bath tubs and leg-lift kung fu kicks in super-slow motion is one of the principle charms of Farhan Akhtar's glossy green action fantasy, which eschews originality from the outset except in the fetishistic details of the international mega-thriller vocabulary. The film is a remake with surprising variations of the classic Amitabh Bachchan vehicle of 1978, a down and dirty B-movie with A actors co-written by Farhan's father Javed Akhtar, one half of the culture-shaping Salim Javed screenwriting team that created Bachchan's "angry young man" persona in films like Zanjeer (1973) and Sholay (1975). The two halves of the central duel role, both the international crime lord Don and the paan-chomping street performer Vijay, who assumes Don's identity after his death, were written expressly for Bachchan and were tailored perfectly to his talents. Only a very foolhardy actor would attempt to beat The Big B at his own game, and Khan is nobody's fool. His normal acting style is so stylized it often verges on pantomime, and he finds an only slightly more flamboyant approach that fits perfectly in this aggressively self-conscious fantasia in which timing the actors movements to the pattern of the split-screen effects is more important than their emotions. After only two features, Dil Chata Hai and Lakshya, Akhtar is a superlative craftsman. There is a slum-demolishing car chase as electrifying as anything in the Bourne movies, and a shoot-out in a nightclub that's shot almost entirely in claustrophobic close-ups, but even the standard expository scenes have been pumped full of caffeine. Working to keep the home audience interested in a story it knows by heart, Akhtar adds so many additional betrayals and secret identities to a plot that was far-fetched to begin with, the real world becomes a distant memory, and happily so. (David Chute) (Laguna Hills 3; Naz 8, Artesia)


LE PETIT LIEUTENANT
Light on visceral thrills and heavy on the quotidian rhythms of life on the force, Xavier Beauvois' police procedural owes more to Prime Suspect and Hill Street Blues than it does to any film genre. And it's all the better for it, if you can withstand the glacial pace and loving attention to the smallest details. Jalil Lespert, who played the lead role in Laurent Cantet's Human Resources, stars as a provincial cop who lands a coveted Paris assignment working on a multiple robbery-murder investigation under the leadership of a Jane Tennison-like inspector, played by Nathalie Baye, who's returning to the force after a long struggle with alcoholism. Frumpy hair or not, Baye's worn features, mobile mouth and doe eyes betray not just long-suffering but a capacity for motherly sensuality that complicates the inspector's delicate relationship with her raw recruit. Still, if there's any excitement in Le Petit Lieutenant, it's the romance of the routine and the mundane, the cover-ups, elisions and casual racism of the police precinct, evoked by Beauvois with a spare precision that holds steady just this side of tedium. Even when tragedy finally strikes, it's the inner shifts that count. Walking along a beach, Baye turns to the camera the dull eyes of a woman who's seen it all, and has had enough. (Ella Taylor) (Edwards South Coast Village, Santa Ana)


RUNNING WITH SCISSORS
See "A Guide to Recognizing Your Shrinks" (Countywide)


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THE BRIDGE
See "Suicide Club" (Edwards University, Irvine)


CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD
Author Neale Donald Walsch claims to have literally taken dictation from God in answer to some of his own questions, and the New Agey books that resulted have gone on to huge success. But how do you make a movie out of one guy having a dialogue in his head? Stephen Simon's movie opts to tell the backstory of Walsch, played here by Henry Czerny under an astonishing variety of fake beards. Injured in a car crash, fired from his job, evicted, unemployable due to age and ailments, he does a stint in a homeless camp before a series of divine coincidences starts propelling him upward again. It's an agreeable enough tale right up until God butts in and starts talking; even if you can swallow the premise, it isn't particularly cinematic to watch a guy endlessly scribbling on legal pads. The rest of the film serves as an infomercial for the book, with every other character tediously going on and on about how amazing it is. (Luke Y. Thompson) (Edwards University, Irvine; Mann Rancho Niguel, Laguna Niguel)


JAAN-E-MANN
The surprisingly durable Bollywood leading man Akshay Kumar started out 15 years ago as a karate chopping action hero. But even then there was something chinless and ungainly about him, and now on the cusp of 40 Kumar has re-invented himself as a likable romantic stumblebum, a winsome dork in the body of a hunk. Kumar is just about perfectly cast in Shirish Kunder's Jaan-E-Mann ("Beloved"), a garish family entertainment for Diwali, roughly the Hindi-movie equivalent of the Chinese New Year season in Hong Kong. In an early flashback sequence Kumar relishes putting on coke-bottle glasses, radiator braces and a braying laugh as Agastya Rao, a college mega-nerd who will grow up to be a studly-looking astronaut, without managing to outgrow the agony of being ditched by Piya (Preity Zinta), a lively classmate who was miles out of his league. The story continues seven years later, as Agastya flies to New York to renew the courtship, in the company of Piya's loutish rock star turned film star ex-husband, Suhan (a charmless Salman Khan), who shadows the couple in a series of clownish disguises (including disco diva drag) to coach Agastya and feed him sure fire sweet talk through an earpiece. That episode is the movie centerpiece though it was doomed at the script stage by the fact that Khan's character is the focal point rather than Kumar's. Apart from an extended scene-setting flashback that takes the form of a lavish Farah Khan song and dance montage, most of the running time is devoted to wearying flop-sweat farce. Viewers who are not already Bolly-heads are likely to be appalled. (David Chute) (Laguna Hills 3; Naz 8, Artesia)


SAW III
See "What Would Jigsaw Do?" (Countywide)

 
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