A romantic comedy set in the world of Hollywood agents and wannabe actors, Americanizing Shelley isn't original, or the least bit believable, but it's so lovingly made that one's usual resistance to such clichs falls away. Square-jawed Brad Raider plays Rob Shorwell, a small-town guy interning at a small LA talent agency who lacks the killer instinct, but whose boss (the ever reliable, ever generous Beau Bridges) says he'll make Rob an agent if he can turn recent Indian emigre Shalini (Namrata Singh Gujral, who also wrote the script) into a tabloid starlet. It's a silly premise, built around all-too-familiar musings about a shallow L.A., but director Lorraine Senna keeps things moving along, even managing to make the requisite shopping-for-sexy-clothes montage feel fresh. That vigor comes chiefly from watching the gorgeous Shalini transform into a city girl, a process that never feels rushed. When Shalini's family arrives from India and Rob dons traditional garb and pretends to be her Indian finance, this minor but sweet movie reveals its reason for being — to bring a bit of Bollywood warmth and cheer to image-starved Indian-American audiences. (Chuck Wilson) (AMC 30 at the Block, Orange)
Playing a creep even colder than the stiffs he tended on Six Feet Under, Peter Krause makes a bid to become the poster child of post-9/11 paranoia in director Jeff Renfroe's 94-minute stay in cinematic Gitmo. In this Rumsfeld-era reworking of the Michael Douglas angry-white-guy clunker Falling Down, Krause plays a recently canned accountant who finds a new concern to pass the time: the semi-suspicious activities of "the Middle Eastern guy" (Khaled Abol Naga) who just moved in across the apartment complex. Unable to convince either his wife (the appealing Kari Matchett) or a dour FBI agent (Richard Schiff, slyly underplaying), he starts to run out of patience—and then remembers the handgun in his drawer. Expected ironies about homeland security, racial profiling, and fears of the Other land like a rain of anvils, and director Renfroe matches Krause's worked-up performance with a jiggly, flashy approximation of off-brand Tony Scott. (Jim Ridley) (Edwards "The Big One" Multiplex, Irvine)
Curtis Hanson's drama set against the world of competitive poker has been batted around the Warner Brothers release schedule so many times now (it was originally set to open in September of last year) that many had begun to wonder if perhaps the Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential director had drawn a bad hand. As it turns out, Lucky You is probably the best American movie in years to receive such unceremonious treatment. Despite having directed Eminem (quite adeptly) in 8 Mile, Hanson is at heart an unapologetically old-fashioned guy committed to making movies for adults in an industry that has surrendered itself to hormonal adolescents. The story is drawn along classical lines—a down-on-his-luck pro poker player (Eric Bana) forever in the shadow of his world-champion dad (Robert Duvall) takes one last stab at the World Series—but the parallels Lucky You draws between the game of cards and the game of life are thoughtful and true, as is the way Hanson (a Reno native) films Las Vegas in all its glittering desperation. The one weak spot is Drew Barrymore as an aspiring chanteuse newly arrived from Bakersfield, but like the hardboiled quickies Hanson grew up so enamored of, Lucky You is ultimately a story of honor among men in which everything else is fully expendable. (Scott Foundas) (Countywide)
PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES
See "Six Lives to Live." (Regency South Coast Village, Santa Ana)
In the kooky little Canadian town of Wawa, whose chief selling point is a 30-foot statue of a goose, a stranger knocks on the door of an autistic woman to break the news that her daughter was killed while hitching a ride in his car. So begins an awkward pairing of mutual emotional benefit between Linda (a no-frills, no-make-up Sigourney Weaver), who responds to the bad news by munching snow and focusing on shiny ornaments, and Alex, a taciturn fellow (Alan Rickman, who else?) whose spirit has been all but snuffed out by past trauma. My schmaltz-meter invariably vibrates in the presence of movies about the supposedly mentally ill healing the supposedly normal: Sure, we're all human, but there's a meaningful line to be drawn between the well and the ill, even in the case of spectrum autism. Marc Evans's indie drama, from a script by Angela Pell (who has an autistic son), keeps sidling up to the brink of mawkishness, then pulling back so nicely into Weaver's rich, hard-headed evocation of Linda's limitations, that one forgives the eye-popping speed with which Alex, grieving for two people he's never known, re-enters the human race and falls for Carrie-Anne Moss. (Ella Taylor) (Regency South Coast Village, Santa Ana)
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Director David S. Goyer has made a fortune with his overrated Batman and Blade screenplays, which milked the brooding loner shtick for all it's worth, but when he applies his template to a high-schooler rather than a superhero, it doesn't work. Apparently based on a Swedish novel and film, though it might just as easily be considered a remake of Just Like Heaven without the humor, The Invisible centers on golden boy Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin, of the similarly annoying The Chumscrubber). Nick may be an honor student, but he's been emotionally numb since the death of his father. When he inadvertently finds himself drawn into a conflict with the delinquent Annie (Margarita Levieva), things go drastically wrong and she ends up beating him to death...or does she? Awakening as an invisible, disembodied spirit, Nick must discover whether he's a ghost, or merely out-of-body. It's all, y'know, such a deep metaphor for alienation, man, especially since nobody truly "sees" Annie for who she really is, either. And yes, you are supposed to take this all extremely seriously; it probably sounded layered and complex when the writers were stoned. (Luke Y. Thompson) (Countywide)
KICKIN' IT OLD SKOOL
This ostensible comedy may be a new depths-of-hell low in the Emmanuel Lewis filmography, but for star Jamie Kennedy it's par for the coarse. Combining the appalling infantilism of Son of the Mask and the dork entitlement of Malibu's Most Wanted into a perfect storm of celluloid agony, Kennedy plays an '80s breakdance whiz who awakens after a 20-year coma (now that's comedy!) to reunite his old crew. Of course the hottie he loved back then (Maria Menounos) adores his idiot-manchild ways; of course she's still hooked up with his snotty rival (Michael Rosenbaum, detestable beyond the call of duty), who gets knee-slappers such as calling Kennedy's Asian-American and Hispanic crewmates "rice" and "beans." (Other gags concern bitchy black baby-mamas, dollar signs as Jewish symbols, and me-rikey-flied-lice dialect humor; if the movie were a human being, it would be a bellowing ex-jock who wields "post-racial" like his lawyer's business card.) The only tolerable part of director Harvey Glazer's subhuman farce is the climactic dance-crew step-off, choreographed by the one, the only, Adolfo Quinones, a.k.a. Shabba-Doo. The rest is strictly a Shabba-Don't—or, to borrow the hero's description of his so-called life, "a big, soggy piece of...shit-cake nobody wants!" Word. (Jim Ridley) (Countywide)
See "Spider Bites." (Countywide)