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Farce, Parody and Self-Parody 

Know the difference! This week's openings run the gamut from sly to clueless

Previews

Opening Friday, Sept. 25, is Fame, based on the 1980 musical about students at a New York high school for the performing arts. The soundtrack has been updated and the careers the students pursue have changed. With Debbie Allen and Bebe Neuwirth. Rated PG for thematic material including teen drinking, a sexual situation and language. 107 m. At Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

Based on the comic book series, the sci-fi thriller Surrogates is set in 2017, when people are safely cocooned while their surrogates engage in adventure. All is well until murder intrudes upon paradise and Bruce Willis is the F.B.I. agent who has to investigate. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene. 88 m. At Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

The sci-fi horror film Pandorum stars Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster as astronauts who awake in deep space and have no idea who they are or where. But something tells them they aren't the only life aboard the spaceship. Rated R for strong horror violence and language. 108 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

In the Loop is a UK comedy/satire on the theme of statesmanship. A furor develops when the U.S. President and the British Prime Minister agree that a joint war might be beneficial. Not everyone is equally enthusiastic. With James Gandolfini and Steve Coogan. Not rated. 106 m. At the Minor.

Reviews

THE INFORMANT!: If you aren't familiar with the actual story behind whistleblower Mark Whitacre, you might be confused by the events that unfold in Steven Soderbergh's film. It doesn't matter. Based on the book by New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald entitled The Informant, the addition of an exclamation point to the film title is actually the first clue to Soderbergh's approach and the breezy soundtrack solidifies the style.

Soderbergh's Whitacre is a fictional recreation that is as much a comedic as cautionary tale, and the amazingly versatile Matt Damon is easily up to the task of embodying the character within Soderbergh's most peculiar style.

Whitacre was a biotech engineer hired in 1989, when he was only 32, as BioProducts Division President of ADM (Archer Daniels Midlands). As the film opens, Whitacre is a company star who, perhaps at the urging of his wife Ginger (Melanie Lynskey, Away We Go; Two and a Half Men), confesses to FBI agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) that his company has been involved in price fixing.

Wired by the FBI to get proof, Whitacre embarks on a series of bizarre adventures and manages through a series of lies to create different personas for himself (which his voiced-over internal thoughts suggest he fully believed in). The film suggests that Whitacre may have been suffering from bipolar disorder, but Soderbergh finds a much more interesting explanation: In order to live in this world, particularly in a corporate culture, every statement you make creates a new persona and the only question is how many identities you can contain before reaching a breaking point. Soderbergh treats this to some degree as a great American joke. The amount of money Whitacre gets in kickbacks keeps increasing almost off-handedly, and somehow Whitacre doesn't see the reactions of the FBI agents when he believes he will take over the company.

Soderbergh and Damon are a killer combination, and this is a thoroughly entertaining film. Rated R for language. 108m. At Broadway, Mill Creek and Minor.

JENNIFER'S BODY: If you go to Jennifer's Body expecting something like Juno, you are destined for disappointment. What you will get, though, is a cleverly amusing send-up of the teen horror genre from Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Karyn Kusama (├ćon Flux; Girl Fight).

This is not one of those over-the-top spoofs, however; all of the genre elements are present and respected. It is the script's sly humor and questioning of the "body" that provides the undermining of the form. And given the ad campaign that focused on Megan Fox, who plays the title character, it might come as a surprise that the protagonist of the film is actually Needy played by Amanda Seyfried (TV's Big Love; Mamma Mia!), which is fortunate because Seyfried carries all the acting load of the film as well.

This is not a slap at Fox or the rest of the cast, all of whom fulfill the stereotypes of the genre. Following a brief prologue featuring Needy, the film flashes back to a typical high school teen horror film scene where Jennifer fulfills the role of sexy mean girl and Needy her bespectacled sensible best friend. But Jennifer takes a serious turn to the dark side when she gets in the van of indie rock group Low Shoulder, led by Nikolai Wolf (Adam Brody), following an aborted concert when the bar burns down.

Unfortunately, the guys at school still only see Jennifer's body, missing the inner demons, a failing that leads to their being rendered, so to speak, when they succumb to her overtures. But in many ways, the film is also about friendship. Despite coming to understand what Jennifer has become, Needy sticks with her as best she can and, in a very satisfying coda, extracts revenge on Jennifer's abusers.

The opening line of dialogue in the film is "Hell is a teenage girl." Needy lives on to rewrite the story and surprise genre expectations. Rated R for sexuality, bloody violence, language and brief drug use. 102m. At Broadway and Mill Creek.

LOVE HAPPENS:* Love Happens* is yet another one of those commercial Hollywood films where good actors are strangled by an awful script. This happens regularly with Jennifer Aniston, but Aaron Eckhart, who has been a fine actor since the offbeat In the Company of Men in 1997, has generally avoided this fate.

Love Happens may be a romantic drama, not a comedy, but Burke (Eckhart) and Eloise (Aniston) still meet cute (or as cute as you can get in Seattle) more than once. But we know it's a drama because self-help author Burke, who pushes honest confrontation with the tragic loss of loved ones in his workshops, lies to himself and the world about the loss of his wife. And poor Eloise, despite being a successful, nurturing, attractive woman with a sense of humor, can't find a worthwhile guy.

The script is a dreary by-the-numbers development from its premise. The fact that Burke leads workshops dealing with grief gives the film unfortunate leeway to include a series of sappy and ultimately glib scenes, an opportunity it seizes all too well.

The opening scenes that focus only on Burke comprise the best part of the film. Eckhart successfully conveys some of Burke's inner character despite limited help from the screenwriters. But when the interactions with Eloise begin, everything devolves into a superficial romantic story, one we've seen too often. I'm not blaming Aniston who is an underappreciated actor. It's just that her character isn't given any complexity.

Even the one character in the seminar who seemed real -- Walter, played by John Carroll Lynch (Gran Torino) -- is given a ridiculous scene in a Home Depot that robs his character of any dignity. Toward the end of the film, Eloise tells Burke to give himself a break. That's my advice in regard to this film. Rated PG-13 for some language including sexual references. 109m. At Broadway and Mill Creek.

Continuing

9. In a post-apocalyptic world, a group of like beings band together to take on the machines intent on their extinction. Rated PG-13. 79m. At Broadway, Mill Creek and the Minor.

ALL ABOUT STEVE. Sandra Bullock makes crosswords for a living and is set up on a blind date with cameraman Thomas Haden Church. Hilarity ensues. Rated PG-13. 99m. At Broadway.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS. Based on the beloved children's book where it rains food. The cure for the recession? Rated PG. 90m. At Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

DISTRICT 9. What will humanity do with the aliens of South Africa? Rated R. 120m. At the Movies and Fortuna.

THE FINAL DESTINATION. Nick has a premonition and predicts the killing of his friends. Then teens die. Surprise! Rated R. 81m. At Fortuna.

GAMER. Entertainment evolves to include gory, real, live human gaming. Throw out your Xbox. Rated R. 95m. At the Movies.

G-FORCE. Government-trained guinea pigs out to save the world. With the voices of Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz. Rated PG. 90m. At the Movies.

THE HANGOVER. Getting severely trashed with your bros at a Vegas-based bachelor party can have serious consequences, especially when no one remembers what happened. Wow, this is still in theaters! Rated R. 100m. At The Movies.

ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS. The gang makes a rescue mission for Sid that takes them into a mysterious underground world where they have close encounters with dinos and generally run amuck. Rated PG. 87 m. At The Movies.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. A special unit of Jewish-American soldiers is sent behind enemy lines to spread shock and awe among German troops in Nazi-occupied France in Quentin Tarantino's latest film. 153m. At Broadway.

JULIE & JULIA. Two chicks for the price of a flick! N. Ephron intersperses Julia Child biopic with tale of bored 30-something New Yorker seeking inspiration. Rated PG-13. 123m. At Broadway and Fortuna.

PONYO. "The Little Mermaid" through the lens of Japanese animation Rated G. 103m. At the Movies.

WHITEOUT. U.S. Marshal Kate Beckinsale investigates Antarctica's first murder. Rated R. 101m. At the Movies.

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