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The following movies are playing this weekend at local theaters. The Tech suggests using <> 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 V. Zelevinsky

Beyond the Mat (HH)

This unauthorized documentary about the people of the world of professional wrestling tackles some major issues, but seems to lack structure, and thus, loses some of its impact. While some wrestling fans will enjoy Beyond the Mat, the majority of viewers are likely to be turned off -- those unfamiliar with professional wrestling are likely to get confused by the constant name-dropping, while die-hard fans will be disappointed by the shallow coverage. And, by all means, this is no film for the faint-of-heart. -- Dan Katz

The Cider House Rules (HHH)

Despite the fact that the protagonists’ name is Homer, this film ends up feeling less like a Homeric epic and more like a Norman Rockwell painting: hardly great art or even art at all, but something with instantly recognizable humanity and an overall impact that can hardly be ignored. Credit this mostly to luminous acting and the screenplay’s understated emotional complexity. -- VZ

Dolphins (HHH)

Like most OmniMax movies, Dolphins is strong on visuals, filling the screen with eye-popping images, but falls somewhat short on story and characters. The film is stunning as it follows dolphins as they play and hunt, but is less successful when it attempts to say something about humans. -- VZ

Erin Brockovich (HHH1/2)

A great film that successfully combines many genres: courtroom drama, mystery, relationship and character study, satire, and wish-fulfillment fable. Erin Brockovich makes use of actress Julia Roberts’ and director Steven Soderbergh’s strong points and uses them to complement each other, creating a movie where story and characters matter and where the visuals are handsome and stylized at the same time. -- VZ

High Fidelity (HHH1/2)

John Cusack co-writes and stars as Rob Gordon, owner of a semi-failing used record store, in this honest, witty romantic comedy. When his longtime girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) walks out on him, Rob is forced to examine his failed attempts at romance and happiness. But don’t expect a sugar-coated love story; High Fidelity offers a realistic look at the world of relationships. -- Michael Frakes

Magnolia (HH1/2)

A sprawling incoherent mess of a movie, with a story and characters that manage to be both jaw-droppingly obvious and make no sense whatsoever. On the other hand, the annoying narrative bombast is compensated by great visual verve, and the climactic sequence is simply the most wildly creative bit of filmmaking of 1999, even though it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. -- VZ

Mission to Mars (H)

This latest Brian De Palma movie borrows so much from such space films as Contact, Alien, and 2001: A Space Odyssey that the result is not only poor -- it’s laughably poor. Mission to Mars relies heavily on computer graphics and insults its audience with bad writing. The final product would do better as a piece for Mystery Science Theatre 3000. -- VZ

The Next Best Thing (HH)

Madonna and Rupert Everett star as best friends who accidentally have a baby together. While Madonna and Everett are convincing in their roles, the premise of a gay man getting drunk and having sex with his female best friend is too far-fetched to swallow. Furthermore, the complicated custody battle that takes up the final third of the movie destroys the flow created by the first part of the film. -- Fred Choi

The Whole Nine Yards (1/2)

There are films that are bad, and there are films that are so bad they are good, and then there is The Whole Nine Yards, which is so bad it’s not even so bad it’s good, and there’s no point about writing anything about this stillborn, humorless, sexist, violent piece of garbage, not even worth deciding if the word “sucks” or “stinks” applies better, and since I already killed an hour and a half of my life watching this abomination, I’m not going to write more than a single sentence about it, so there. -- VZ

Wonder Boys (HHH)

Wonder Boys, director Curtis Hanson’s first film since L.A. Confidential, is an endearingly offbeat comedy that takes its sweet time developing, though most of that time it is a delight. Michael Douglas stars as the unshaven, over-the-hill writer and professor Grady Tripp. Tobey Maguire and Katie Holmes play Tripp’s students, with Maguire stealing the spotlight as a darkly enchanting would-be Poe. Also enjoyable are Robert Downey Jr. as Tripp’s loony editor, and Frances McDormand. Though overlong and overstuffed, the plot is always amiable and amusing, and the cast makes this one worth watching. -- Roy Rodenstein