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THE FOLLOWING MOVIES ARE PLAYING THIS WEEKEND AT LOCAL THEATERS. THE TECH SUGGESTS USING <HTTP://WWW.BOSTON.COM> FOR A COMPLETE LISTING OF TIMES AND LOCATIONS.

HHHH Excellent

HHH Good

HH Fair

H Poor

American Beauty (H1/2)

An extremely annoying movie: this deadpan black tragicomedy is a laughable failure as a work of art, being pretentious, simplistic, and self-important. Excepting a truly remarkable performance by Kevin Spacey (whose part is disappointingly small), there’s nothing to this movie beyond tortured metaphors, caricatures instead of characters, and a messy pile-up of red herrings instead of a plot. -- Vladimir Zelevinsky

Autumn Tale (HHH1/2)

Veteran French filmmaker Eric Rohmer continues his gentle, thoughtful, and detailed studies of romantic confusion in this delightful comedy about a middle-aged woman’s search for love and happiness. A vintage Rohmer film with all the sophistication, depth, and intricacy that makes his films so irresistible. Without doubt one of the best movies of the year. -- Bence Olveczky

Big Daddy (HH1/2)

Adam Sandler attempts to grow up as an actor playing a complete loser who gets transformed into a more respectable and lovable loser when he adopts a five-year old kid. The film starts out strong with great humor and some genuine acting from Adam Sandler, but eventually spills over the top with sappiness. -- Teresa Huang

The Blair Witch Project (HHH)

A nearly brilliant character study of three student filmmakers getting lost in the woods while shooting a documentary about a local legend -- and a solid but hardly outstanding horror picture. The horror is good but superfluous, and it only distracts from the heart of the picture, but that heart remains highly affecting and haunting. Contains probably the best performance of the year so far by Heather Donahue. -- VZ

Bowfinger (HHH1/2)

Bobby Bowfinger has an eager cast, a script about an alien invasion, and no star. Unfazed, he decides to film action star Kit Ramsey on the sly, sending his actors out to interact with him. With a quick-witted script that skewers Hollywood and actors alike, Bowfigner is a very entertaining ride. Murphy in particular is grand in a second role as the meek Jiff, and Bowfinger’s dog Betsy is not to be missed. -- Roy Rodenstein

An Ideal Husband (HH)

An Ideal Husband is an example of how not to direct a movie. With such superlative resources at his disposal -- star-studded cast (Jeremy Northam, Rupert Everett, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Minnie Driver), great source play, lush production design -- all that director/writer Oliver Parker manages to create is a particularly joyless, visually bland, narratively pedestrian, weird mixture of light comedy and somber drama, with these two halves desperately fighting each other. -- VZ

The Matrix (HHH1/2)

A wildly imaginative ride. The plot is nicely complex, the visuals and the special effects are out of this world. As the computer hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) dashes through a succession of interlocked dreams in the quest to find true reality, the film launches into a full-throttle mode of inventive action sequences. By combining cyberpunk ethos with anime style, The Matrix breathes new life into the genre of sci-fi action films. -- VZ

The Muse (HHH)

A comedy about a modern Muse, the immortal daughter of Zeus, inspiring a washed-out screenwriter, this is essentially one elaborate and consistently funny Hollywood in-joke. Features a great performance by Sharon Stone in the title role and a wonderful Mozartesque score by, of all musicians, Elton John. -- VZ

Mystery, Alaska (H/2)

A very confused hockey comedy-drama from Jay Roach (Austin Powers) and David E. Kelley (TV’s Ally McBeal). Based on the premise of a small town hockey team taking on the New York Rangers, Mystery, Alaska is essentially about the character quirks that are exposed when the outside world begins to invade. The movie suffers from an aimless plot and actors who seem to be acting in separate films. Additionally, it offers little in the way of either motivation or resolution. -- Amy Meadows

Mystery Men (HHH)

Part Batman, part Blade Runner, part Naked Gun, part something entirely new and original, Mystery Men is both a spoof of an over-directed over-produced over-merchandized superhero genre and an attempt to genuinely thrill and wow the audience. It is enjoyable, funny, rather sweet, and very inventive -- but rarely exciting, and somewhat hampered by the by-the-numbers story. -- VZ

Outside Providence (HHH)

It’s Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in the ’70s, and the Farrelly brothers are at it again. The writers of There’s Something About Mary show a broader scope here, moving from visual comedy to funny, affecting dialogue. Recreational junkie Tim Dunphy’s run-in with a parked police car nets him a transfer to strict Cornwall Academy, where he makes a new set of goofball friends. Dunph’s old man (Alec Baldwin) stays home with Tim’s three-legged dog and his card-playing buddies, who try to be bigots but can’t really pull it off. The precarious plot leaves center stage to a clever dose of lowbrow humor, perfectly delivered by a bunch of earnest simpletons. -- RR

Runaway Bride (HHH)

Sparkling chemistry between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts saves Runaway Bride from drowning in sappiness. The film tells the story of a bride who has left a string of fiancÉs at the altar and the smug journalist who writes a story about her. While the setup is riddled with enough movie clichÉs to make a person sick, Gere and Roberts shine on screen, affirming themselves as one of the more successful screen duos of the 90’s. -- TH

Run Lola Run (HHH)

Lola’s boyfriend needs $100,000 in twenty minutes, or else he’s dead. Lola’s motorbike was just stolen, so she has to run if she wants to be there on time. A minor plot detail: she doesn’t have the money. So she needs to run really fast. The result is a streamlined movie possessing an unstoppable sense of motion, and giving the visceral pleasure of seeing a tightly-wound plot unfold. -- VZ

The Sixth Sense (HHH1/2)

Cole Sear is a young boy whose special power, “the sixth sense,” enables him to perceive the ghosts which, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, walk among us every day. Bruce Willis plays the psychologist trying to help him. The strength of their performances carries the movie past its slight flaws, making The Sixth Sense one of the best movies of the summer. -- Tzu-Mainn Chen

Stigmata (H/2)

Patricia Arquette plays a possessed woman suffering from stigmata- experiencing the same wounds Jesus Christ did during his crucifixtion. Gabriel Byrne plays a skeptic priest who struggles to save her life and protect her from the Catholic Church. Director Rupert Wainwright’s first serious project lacks elements critical for a worthwhile thriller. -- Annie Choi

Tarzan (HHH)

A good, solid, workmanlike movie from the Mouse House; just about as good as anything they made in the last few years, and not better. The overall story of the orphaned boy Tarzan who’s brought up by the African apes is so tired that it really doesn’t matter much. What lingers in the memory is the more than usually affecting love story and the amazing visuals. --VZ

The Thomas Crown Affair (HHH)

A cross between a star vehicle and an old-fashioned heist movie: a bored zillionaire steals priceless paintings for fun, and a dedicated insurance investigator tries to trap him, falling for him in the process. Excellent opening and ending sequences, largely expendable middle; but that Monet-Magritte-Escher inspired climax is spectacular. -- VZ

Trick (HHH1/2)

At last! A queer romantic comedy in which the main characters are simply regular, well-adjusted gay people going about their everyday lives. A stellar trio of main characters and an excellent supporting cast, along with thoughtful pacing and a wonderful, quirky script, make this not only one of the best gay flicks in a long while, but also a romantic comedy that can hold its own against any straight comedy. -- FC

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