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Took a Shot

American Dreamz (Universal)

Till this, Paul Weitz had a stellar filmography, a career in ascension: American Pie (good), About a Boy (great), In Good Company (absolutely perfect). But this, er, satire about a dumb American president (Dennis Quaid, channeling whassisname) trying to get smart, a cynical wannabe singer trying to get famous on an American Idol knockoff (Mandy Moore), and a would-be terrorist sent to do them in (Sam Golzari) feels more like a sitcom spoof; it's a letdown -- about six feet down, to be precise. Nobody seems terribly into it, least of all Hugh Grant as the Simon Cowell character, more in love with himself than his contestants; only Willem Dafoe as Dick Cheney/Karl Rove seems to get the joke, wherever it is. What should have been scolding feels tepid; what might have been sharp is merely dull. -- Robert Wilonsky

Close Call (Warner Bros.)

American Dreamz: Hugh Grant does Simon Cowell, to the detriment of both.
American Dreamz: Hugh Grant does Simon Cowell, to the detriment of both.

Back in the good old days, a reactionary teen movie would punish a promiscuous teen by having her head chopped off by a slasher. Today, she gets gang-raped. Progress? Hardly. Close Call is yet another in a long line of movies (Havoc, Thirteen, Kids, Reefer Madness) designed to scare the shit out of parents by portraying teens as drug-crazed sex freaks (in a bad way). This story of a Korean American teen crying out for help is so concerned with melodrama, it doesn't even allow viewers the hypocritical pleasure of being titillated by all the naughtiness. To make a movie with cocaine, heroin, group sex, gang rape, fistfights, murder, and suicide -- and make it boring -- takes some kind of strange skill. This is an after-school special with occasional bare breasts. Let's bring back the decapitations. -- Jordan Harper

Reds: 25th Anniversary Edition (Paramount)

Warren Beatty, in the lengthy postmortem that debuts with this freshly minted two-fer, nails the movie he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in 25 years back: It's "a three-and-a-half-hour movie about a Communist who dies." With an intermission, no less, not to mention the talking heads who break into the action to explain what the movie can't, doesn't, or shouldn't. Now, though, the tale of fidgety journalist John Reed, his partner-in-agitation Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), and their playwright pal Eugene O'Neill (Jack Nicholson) is better seen as an epic love story than a historical docudrama. It charms and delights more than memory serves: Beatty plays Reed with something approaching boyish idealism, which makes him utterly lovable even at his stubborn worst. Nicholson's never been more suave; Keaton, never more alive. -- Wilonsky

The Cars Unlocked: The Live Performances (Docurama)

Odd for sober-minded Docurama to slum it in rock and roll detritus such as this; it's not as if the Cars were a band known for, uh, gravitas. And this odd collection of hit singles and home-movie outtakes does nothing to change that rep; having seen the band live during its heyday -- yeah, it was every bit as boring onstage as this 27-track trip down Amnesia Lane. There are some top-notch performances, but Ric Ocasek and the Cars have all the charisma of a mic stand; no talking, please, we're New Wave. And the in-between gunk -- old chit-chats, backstage goofing around, hotel-room what-have-yas -- only gets in the way; to the music, fellas, or begone. Which is why it's nice that the DVD comes with a CD; who wants to see the sausage made, anyway? -- Wilonsky

 
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