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Analyze ThatDirected by Harold Ramis (Warner Bros., opens December 6)
My perverse fascination for movie sequel titles that make no rhetorical sense (I could ponder, say, Die Hard With a Vengeancelike a Zen koan) may carry me through the credits, but thereafter, Analyze That is merely the by now exhausted one-joke scenario—Mafioso on the couch—revisited and rehashed with unimaginative franchise fidelity. Director Harold Ramis and his cast fetch overchewed shticks, but what's surprising is the incompetent witlessness on exhibit. There's no limit to the botched comedy rhythms and wasted opportunities, particularly once Billy Crystal's bourgeois shrink and Robert De Niro's neurotic mobster become embroiled in the making of a Sopranos-esque TV show. (Anthony LaPaglia, as the show's lead paesano, doesn't get a decent line.) There's a strenuous effort not to broach or exceed in any way the comfort-zone properties of the first film. Perhaps all that will remain of this lacklusterness—once we graduate to Analyze Those, anyway—is the chilling ordeal of seeing Robert De Niro feign mental collapse by leaping about and belting out songs from West Side Story. —Michael Atkinson


EquilibriumDirected by Kurt Wimmer (Dimension, opens December 6)
In the crypto-fascist future dystopia of Equilibrium, culture has been expunged and emotions are outlawed. With the populace doped up on mandatory daily shots of "Prozium," the most grievous of capital crimes is "sense offense"—a charge that could just as well be leveled against this unapologetic landslide of steaming balderdash. Within the first 10 minutes, trench-coated storm trooper Preston (Christian Bale) has torched the Mona Lisa and blown his partner's brains out while the closet poetry buff cowers behind a contraband Yeats anthology. But Preston's own pesky feelings are stirred by a Beethoven symphony, a whimpering dog, and lusty resistance fighter Emily Watson, who's sentenced to death when the authorities discover her Victorian shabby-chic lair (everyone else does their apartments in Scandinavian spartan). Taunting new colleague Taye Diggs looks for signs of life beneath Preston's stoic mien, but as this clueless, bulimic debacle madly regurgitates ideas and iconography from Lang to the brothers Wachowski, Leni Riefenstahl to L. Ron Hubbard, Ray Bradbury to Susan Faludi, it's not just Bale who has a hard time keeping a straight face. —Dennis Lim


EmpireDirected by Franc Reyes (Arenas/Universal, opens December 6)
This crook-off between South Bronx drug dealer Victor (a not-so-convincing John Leguizamo) and Jack (sneer-sexy Peter Sarsgaard), the penthouse-rocking banker helping him into bubble money, would have made sense in stock-psycho 1998, but today it plays like a PSA on not giving suitcases of cash to strangers with platinum cards. Like this year's other Latino crime-vs.-legit nightmare, Abel Ferrara's 'R Xmas, Empire's great for stereotype busting (imagine, a nice apartment with a computer in the South Bronx), and requisite gunplay is funned up by Fat Joe. Too bad the central bedfellowship never gels, and Franc. Reyes's script turns a dissection of ambition into Sleeping With the Enemy-style nonsense. Doesn't help that Denise Richards plays her scenes like a hologram. —Laura Sinagra


Extreme OpsDirected by Christian Duguay (Paramount, in release)
The adrenaline-junkie heroes of this skiing/base jumping/snowboarding adventure aren't on any kind of official mission (as the title implies), just making an Alpine-set TV commercial. When the obnoxious producer (Brit Rupert Graves, wielding an earsplitting American accent) and brooding director (Rufus Sewell) stumble upon the hideout of a paranoid Serbian war criminal, they lead their crew and a jittery Olympian (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) on a mad dash down the slopes. In between the icy stunts, the actors spout hilarious dialogue about following your dream and "just letting the mountain tell you what to do." The mountain would probably recommend that you save your money. —Justine Elias


TheyDirected by Robert Harmon (Dimension, in release)
The antecedent-less pronoun—Them!, It!—can be a black hole of menace; Harry Potter's arch-foe, after all, is commonly referred to as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. In Robert Harmon's efficient, suitably anonymous chiller (he directed 1986's Rutger-howler The Hitcher), four single white twentysomethings find themselves pursued by noisome nasties—or simply relapsing into the "night terrors" of their childhood (an affliction given clinical attention here). Rather than amping the gore, They goes The Ring route, with everything from the plumbing to the subways conspiring against the diminishing band. If anything, the mental-ward video is even more terrifying than the one in the Naomi frightfest, with a chance pause that blurs a girl's features into a rictus all the more awful for being barely perceptible. As H.P. Lovecraft wrote at the end of "Night-Gaunts," a sonnet inspired by a recurring horrid dream: "But oh! If only they would make a sound,/Or wear a face where faces should be found!" —Ed Park


Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy NightsDirected by Seth Kearsley (Columbia, in release)
Undoubtedly the first animated holiday film centering on a bitter, shiftless, thirtysomething alcoholic, Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights stumbles through its standard Scrooge-enlightenment plot with a clumsily mixed cocktail of kiddie-friendly elements and college-level sex jokes. This dull extension of Sandler's ubiquitous "Chanukah Song" squanders the cross-cultural comedy potential of a Jewish-themed Christmas movie on cheap fart gags and boilerplate schmaltz. The producer-star voices the film's three main characters: Davey Stone, a beer-belching ne'er-do-well holiday hater; Whitey Duvall, an elderly, dwarfish basketball coach who teaches Stone the true meaning of you-know-what; and Eleanore, Whitey's whiny twin sister. Sandler's flat-footed crudity avoids all cleverness, opting for yuletide visions of shitting reindeer, hairy butt cracks, and neon-green snot rockets. The intended demographic for this locker-room farce seems dangerously unclear. Young 'uns might guffaw at seeing Whitey encased in a prison of frozen feces, but will they get Davey's musical number about his "morning erection"? —Ed Halter

 
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