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  The Chumscrubber
(DreamWorks)

This inept American Beauty redux nearly succeeds in making the specious Sam Mendes Oscar winner look like a modern classic. Shortly after best friend Troy commits suicide, SoCal teen Dean (Jamie Bell) gets drawn into a ludicrous drugs-and-kidnapping scenario hatched by a dim-witted crew of teenage plotters who must have also been responsible for the movie's script. The ensemble cast struggles vainly to create flesh-and-blood characters from the preposterous gallery of satirical crutches—William Fichtner as Dean's narcissistic therapist dad, Glenn Close in a mortifying performance as Troy's grieving mother, and saddest of all, the estimable Ralph Fiennes as the town's diffident mayor, who midway through the film inexplicably takes to painting pictures of dolphins on walls.


The Constant Gardener
(Universal)

Fiennes fares much better in Fernando Meirelles's topical thriller. His self-effacing star turn almost saves this well-intentioned jeremiad on the sins of the pharmaceutical multinationals. The political analysis is surprisingly cogent, but the overall impression is overwhelmingly defeatist. Special features include a piece on the Kenyan locations.

 
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