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Same Old Spacey 

But Married Life is a surprisingly good Hitchcockian thriller

Opening

FUNNY GAMES.Remake of 1997 thriller follows young men as they take a family hostage in a vacation home invasion. Rated R. 108 m. At the Minor.

LEATHERHEADS.A ragtag team in early-1920s professional football league is saved by golden boy war hero. Rated PG-13. 114 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and

Mill Creek.

NIM'S ISLAND.Author's literary creation inspires young girl's fantasy island; author and girl unite to conquer Nim's Island. Rated PG. 94 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

RUINS.Friends on vacation in Mexico are persuaded by German tourist to hunt for his lost brother, last seen near mysterious ruins. Rated R. 91 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Reviews

MARRIED LIFE: Harry Allen (Chris Cooper) has been married to Pat (Patricia Clarkson) for several decades, but is deeply in love with Kay (Rachel McAdams), a woman 20 years his junior. Rather than put his wife through the humiliation of divorce (this is the late '40s), he makes a plan to kill her. Harry's best friend Richard Langley (a jaunty Pierce Brosnan) also develops a serious interest in Kay, though he's always been a shallow ladies' man. Through a series of mixed signals and happenstance, Harry's plans are derailed and he's forced to deal with a changed situation.

With such a bland generic title, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this film and was pleasantly surprised. It's a sophisticated, ironic comedy of manners of a type not usually seen, at least in American film. Elements of black comedy are mixed in with social satire and suspense. While usually this would be too much for one movie to take on, all the elements coalesce to create suspense. Also, the period details are spot-on, especially in a party scene where virtually everyone is smoking a cigarette and thinks nothing of getting behind the wheel after a few drinks.

Chris Cooper, mainly seen before in character roles (most notably in the recent films of John Sayles) is more than capable of carrying the picture, fully expressing Harry's pain and pathos. Brosnan displays a sardonic quality that he's heretofore not shown, and his narration treads deftly between bemused distance and a nascent, surprised passion.

The actresses in the piece aren't allowed quite the same amount of breadth in their characters, though Patricia Clarkson's Pat is admirably frank and unsentimental in her opinion that sex is the main component in love and marriage.

The writer/director of this film, Ira Sachs, made a little-seen film several years ago called Forty Shades of Blue. Featuring Rip Torn as a grizzled Memphis music producer, that film was as loose-limbed and gritty as this one is tightly composed and structured. The fact that the same filmmaker could take on two such very different stories shows admirable range.

Married Life is similar to the retro take on the era that Todd Haynes made with Far from Heaven, but here the model seems to be Hitchcock instead of Douglas Sirk. Like Haynes' film, it's sometimes too mannered, though this is obviously a conscious choice of the director and one could argue that it highlights the social straitjacket in which the characters suffer. If there's a flaw to Married Life, it's that the story is a bit too schematic, with characters too often serving the needs of the plot — in this case the story of a crime of passion is a bit lacking in passion. It did keep me guessing until the end, though, with an ending that was surprisingly sentimental. At the Minor. Ends Thurs., April 3.

21. Based on the book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich, 21 is a fictionalization of the true story of a group of MIT undergrads who beat the Vegas odds through a system of counting cards, statistical analysis and memory tricks.

Young Ben (Jim Sturgess) has his sights set on Harvard Medical School, and has everything lined up except the exorbitant tuition. Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), his math professor, takes notice of him in class and invites him to be part of a secret club of students who are being trained to win big at blackjack through statistics and card counting. At first Ben declines the offer to join, but he eventually succumbs to the lure of easy money for med school (and the charms of Kate Bosworth as one of the other students).

The group starts to win big on their weekends in Las Vegas, but conflicts brew between Ben and his teammate Fisher (Jacob Pitts) when Ben proves himself a better player. The team begins to frazzle. Predictably, he gets together with Bosworth, who is little more than a pretty face here.

Eventually the group draws the attention of a Loss Protection manager played by a menacing Lawrence Fishburne, who's had run-ins with Mickey Rosa in the past, and is not above roughing up card counters he catches.

Brit Sturgess sports a convincing American accent as Ben (I almost didn't realize he played the Boleyn brother in The Other Boleyn Girl), and is likable enough, though his transformation form math nerd to high-stakes card player is hard to buy. Kevin Spacey effortlessly plays the snarky math professor, but he's played this kind of smugly self-assured character many times before. His insouciant deadpan begins to wear out its welcome before the movie reaches its end.

It's an interesting story, as it actually happened, so it's too bad it ends up processed through the Hollywood blender, especially in repetitive Vegas montages set to a pumped up, overbearing soundtrack (apparently there's quite a bit of neon there). I'm also sure the filmmakers felt that several strip club scenes were quite integral to the film. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Continuing

10,000 B.C.Cavemen on epic battle quest. Rated PG-13. 109 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

BAND'S VISIT.Stranded in a small town in the Israeli desert, the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra becomes a woman's unexpected house guests. Rated PG-13. 87 m. At the Minor.

THE BANK JOB.Smart British caper flick, with layers of intrigue. Rated R. 110 m. At the Broadway and the Minor.

BE KIND REWIND.A man whose brain becomes magnetized destroys every tape in his friend's video store; the men set out to remake lost films. 101 m. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway.

BUCKET LIST.A corporate billionaire and a working class mechanic, who have developed a strong bond while sharing a hospital room, embark on the road trip of a lifetime. Rated PG-13. 97 m. At The Movies.

COLLEGE ROAD TRIP.Girls-only road trip turns into nightmare adventure when one girl's police chief father tags along for the ride. Rated G. 86 m. At The Movies.

DOOMSDAY.Dreaded Reaper virus escapes walled off, brutally oppressed community and threatens major city. Rated R. 109 m. At The Movies.

DRILLBIT TAYLOR.Dorky teens hire former soldier of fortune as bodyguard, only to find he has his own agenda. 102 m. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway and Fortuna.

HORTON HEARS A WHO.Mocked do-gooding elephant attempts to rescue a microscopic civilization. Rated G. 87 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

IN BRUGES.Hit men face and conquer inner demons when forced to take time off in well-preserved medieval Belgium city. Rated R. 107 m. At the Minor.

NEVER BACK DOWN. Teen joins underground "fight club." Rated PG-13. 114 m. At The Movies.

OTHER BOLEYN GIRL.Beautiful Boleyn sisters, driven by family's blind ambition, compete for King Henry VIII's love. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

SHUTTER.Newlyweds investigate scary images in set of photos and learn some mysteries are better left unsolved. Rated PG-13. 85 m. At the Broadway.

SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES.The Grace family moves into the Spiderwick estate, the home of a dead ancestor, and discovers the evil creatures that already reside there. Rated PG. 96 m. At The Movies.

SUPERHERO MOVIE.Spoof movie takes aim at biggest superhero blockbusters of our time. Rated PG-13. 85 m. At Mill Creek, the Broadway and Fortuna.

VANTAGE POINT.Chaos ensues when the U.S. president is assassinated in Spain. Rated PG-13. 90 m. At The Movies.

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Jay Aubrey-Herzog

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