This Week's Attractions

Battlefield Baseball, Collateral, Little Black Book, Lost Boys of the Sudan, Love Me If You Dare, Open Water, and Touch of Pink.

Battlefield Baseball

Runs Fri., Aug. 6–Thurs., Aug. 12, at Grand Illusion Though it may invite comparisons to Shaolin Soccer, no one actually plays the eponymous sport in this low-budget Japanese sports-horror-action flick— unless you count a brief game of catch. Baseball centers on Jubei (Tak Sakaguchi), a young man who commits accidental patricide whilst tossing the ball around with his kindly father. (The ball, hurled with superhuman force, goes right through poor Dad.) Crazed with grief, the hardball Hercules isolates himself from his Seido High School classmates . . . that is, until their team goes up against the notorious Gedo squad, whose idea of fair play involves mounting opposing players' heads on pikes. Finally, Jubei's killer pitching might come in handy! Where Soccer injected crazy new life into the tired sports-movie genre, Baseball is merely an erratic, largely unfunny mess that plays like Army of Darkness meets The Bad News Bears, without possessing the off-speed curve of either. (NR) NEAL SCHINDLER Collateral

Opens Fri., Aug. 6, at Metro and others Michael Mann's Tom-Cruise-as-hit-man movie puts the night back in nightmare. Shot mostly on high-quality digital video, it captures the strangely visible misty darkness one finds in Los Angeles between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., when the streets are more deserted than in The Last Man on Earth and coyotes lope menacingly across intersections like they own them, their eerie eyes flashing your headlights back at you. (This really happened to Mann during filming.) The master of the crime-story slow burn, Mann lets the movie lope along to build up a sense of the life of his protagonist, Max (Jamie Foxx), a cabbie who dreams of entre­preneurial glory while type-A assholes chatter away on cell phones in the back seat. Debi Mazar does a nifty, bitchy cameo as one fare; then comes a dishy, kindly prosecutor (Jada Pinkett Smith), whose driven nature softens after a long chat with Max. She hands him her card—maybe they'll get together later. Max seems to get still luckier with his next fare, Vincent (Cruise), who offers him $300 up front, $300 later to shuttle him around to all his night's appointments. Cruise is natty yet vaguely ratty in a shimmery suit, his stubbly beard just at the stage defined by the sexy brother on Six Feet Under as the "Oops-I-didn't-know-I-was-sexy look." When Vincent unwittingly witnesses the first of five murders Vincent must commit before dawn, he's drafted as an accomplice. The real danger at this point is the inevitability of what follows. Vincent must silence witnesses against a big drug ring. Max will meet doomed stooges and über-bosses. Rivalrous guys from the FBI (Bruce McGill) and LAPD (Mark Ruffalo) will scent Vincent's gory spoor. Max will make thwarted escape attempts and, ever sensitive, bring out Vincent's half-human side. A glossy disco will need redecorating after everyone converges there. Max will save the lady attorney's snug-skirted butt. But except for the last-act showdown, Collateral muscularly snaps the shackles of genre. Foxx is a magnetic mensch, and we're with him to the last mile. If Cruise can't match his Magnolia bad guy, he sure gives Vincent a reptilian efficiency, redeeming a character most action leads would render as a macho snore. This makes four good performances in his last nine flicks. The plot satisfies in a competent TV way. What's memorable, though, are the small, unforced moments: Irma P. Hall as Max's hospitalized mom, sassing him and bonding with Vincent; regular little guy Ruffalo outwitting the bigs. Collateral is all about Mann eliciting grounded acting and orchestrating racing mayhem in a style that says: no sweat. (R) TIM APPELO Little Black Book

Opens Fri., Aug. 6, at Meridian and others As Stacy Holt, associate producer of a daytime talk show, Brittany Murphy overworks an annoyingly affected pout and buggy eyes in Little Black Book's early stages, making it hard not to think this is going to be just another bland chick flick. But Stacy's obsessive plundering of her boyfriend Derek's (Ron Livingston) PalmPilot in attempts to uncover his secret not-so-former girlfriends takes a painfully cruel turn, transforming Book from shallow comedy/fantasy to something close to social commentary. In fact, Book can be seen as a fictional counterpart to a plethora of recent documentaries examining the deceptive, cutthroat world of televised media (Outfoxed, Control Room, The Corporation, etc.). Stacy's demented, manipulative co-worker Barb (Holly Hunter) is the embodiment of such practices, repeatedly informing those below her that in this biz, you don't make friends and you don't get attached. In the end, the film's aspirations to be something deeper than fluff and sweetness are shattered by a goofy Carly Simon cameo (the second such former-star sighting in the movie, after Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale playing a barista). Nonetheless, threaded throughout Book is an unexpectedly insightful look at the cruel reality behind TV production. (PG-13) EMILY PAGE Lost Boys of the Sudan

Runs Fri., Aug. 6–Thurs., Aug. 12, at Varsity What with the present genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, this refugee documentary certainly arrives at the right time. But whether its two young Sudanese protagonists—from the Dinka, a different tribe—have arrived at the right place is a different matter. America, they will learn, is strong on compassionate rhetoric but weak on follow-through. (Hmmm . . . why does that sound familiar?) Peter and Santino, two skinny lads in their late teens or early 20s (birthdays are uncertain), have been orphaned and uprooted during the '80s by the same northern Muslim versus southern animist/Christian upheaval that's gripped Sudan for decades. Introductory titles supply the bare, harrowing facts (2 million killed, 20,000 "lost boys" wandering in the desert), then we meet the two friends in a Kenyan refugee camp. Peter is the star of the movie: kind, patient, watchful, and with a sadness only half-masked by his half-smile. He also has a decent underhanded layup move when he drives to the hoop; he's obviously put in his time at the camp's hard-earth basketball court. His free-spirited pal Santino prefers the freedom of soccer; of some 4,000 kids airlifted to the U.S. in 2001, one suspects the filmmakers latched onto this pair because they're such opposites. Resettled in Houston, the Sudanese live in public housing and quickly learn to resent African Americans. (Before they left Sudan, one elder warned them, "Don't act like those people who wear those baggy jeans.") They're jealous of the natives' lighter skin tone, apprehensive about crime, and amazed by the softness and abundance of U.S. culture. "We haven't stopped eating since we got here," one marvels. They get by on minimum-wage jobs at places like—where else?—Wal-Mart, some of them managing to send money home to surviving family members. Lost Boys is a bit like Hoop Dreams, particularly since Peter's so intent on earning a basketball scholarship to junior college. He's a striver who later moves to Kansas City, Kan., to enroll in high school, leaving hapless Santino behind. Unlike the Hoop Dreams team, however, co-directors Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk clearly didn't have enough time and resources to follow their subjects comprehensively. Their movie covers about one year in the lives of Peter and Santino, then abruptly stops, ending with a few more explanatory titles, as if they ran out of money. (Such is the fate of documentarians who aren't Michael Moore.) Their unadorned, matter-of-fact approach is respectful and objective, but they simply need more time, more footage, more editing options. If PBS did reality-television shows, Peter's high-school-assimilation drama would be must-see TV. Thankfully, the filmmakers don't condescend at all to a Kansas teen Bible-study group that takes Peter into its fold; truly, he seems glad to have friends, however clueless. There's a great moment when a blond, pale-skinned girl interviews him for her high-school paper. He talks of massacres and dead parents; she, the astonished and unprepared reporter, looks to be on the verge of tears. Then he clams up—less out of grief, one suspects, than from the polite desire not to upset his hosts. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Love Me If You Dare

Opens Fri., Aug. 6, at Uptown Sometimes the French make it easy to hate them. Case in point: Writer/director Yann Samuell's interminable bit of Gallic whimsy in which two cute, insufferable kids spend a couple of decades goading one another into increasingly destructive pranks until they become attractive, insufferable adults. The original French title is Jeux d'enfants, which translates into "children's games," and which, I imagine, has a lot of audiences in France nod­­­- ding their heads going, "Ah, oui: jeux d'enfants!" as though this thing were just dripping with symbolism about the games we all play on our paths to love and happiness, or some such rot. For us Anglophones, though, it's Love Me If You Dare, and trust me—you daren't. In case you're wondering just how sticky this film really is, I should tell you that within the first few minutes 8-year-old Julien (Thibault Verhaeghe) is given a tin carousel by his adoring mother (Emmanuelle Grönvold), who's dying of cancer. When he asks her if she's ever seen such a beautiful carousel, she says that, yes, she has—in her heart. If you have no gag reflex and keep watching beyond this, you'll see the confused, alienated Julien befriend impoverished Polish émigré Sophie (Joséphine Lebas-Jolly) and watch them work through their outcast status by passing Julien's tin box back and forth as the impetus for a series of dares (Ruin my sister's wedding! Swear in class! Pee in the principal's office! and other knee-slapping jeux d'enfants). Soon, the two little brats are all grown up and played by Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard, who can't admit that they're in love and so proceed to wreak havoc on each other's lives with the little tin box in tow. An hour and a half later, you'll want to tell them just where they can put that little tin box. Samuell has a candied visual style reminiscent of Amélie and a couple of gorgeous, expressive leads who can't overcome the fact that they're playing petty, horrible people. I guess we're supposed to take Julien and Sophie's selfish cruelty with a wry, knowing tsk-tsk because, well, you know how jeux d'enfants are. All I know is, by the time Sophie was saying, "Julien, I no longer know when you're playing or not," all I was thinking was, "Julien, I no longer care." (R) STEVE WIECKING Open Water

Opens Fri., Aug. 6, at Neptune and others The buzz at Sundance was that this half-million-dollar shark-attack flick by director Chris Kentis and his wife/producer Laura Lau constituted an indie Jaws with the horror-out-of-nowhere appeal of The Blair Witch Project. Water does have its bone-chilling moments, and a winningly gritty DV mise-en-scène: ordinary Bahamas pleasure-dive cruise turned existen­­­tial nightmare. But there's no complica­tion in its consternation, and its impact gradually dissipates. Kentis does a good job in setting the scene. The work-driven, Beamer-drivin' couple (played just OK by unknowns Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) are experiencing a bad case of stale mate, so they decide to revive their lust for life with a diving trip. Their bickering is authentic. So is the process whereby their tour guide miscounts and accidentally leaves them at sea when he takes the boatload home. (It ought to be authentic, since the film is inspired by a real event.) The problem is, when you're afloat amidst little nipping slithery fish and somewhat larger sharks, there's not much to do but panic and wait and berate each other. Kentis is pretty clever with the camera, and nature paints him some dramatic canvases of light. When boaters strayed into the background of his shots, he cleverly incorporated them into the story, strengthening the tension. The end isn't too obvious, though there are only two possible endings: Escape, or be eaten. Water is twice the movie Blair Witch was. But it's not half the movie Jaws was. (R) TIM APPELO Touch of Pink

Opens Fri., Aug. 6, at Harvard Exit Thirtysomething Alim (The Guru's Jimi Mistry) might be a bit too old to play with imaginary friends, let alone dead film legends, but he does. He's regularly and inopportunely haunted by the ghost of Cary Grant (an embalmed Kyle MacLachlan), who quotes his own movie dialogue, gossips about dead co-stars, and freely dispenses two types of unsolicited advice: sartorial and bad. Grant is less a role model than Bogart was for Woody Allen in Play It Again, Sam, but closeted Alim listens when he's in a jam: His melodramatic, meddlesome mother flies in for a visit, but he hasn't told her he's sharing a London flat with his decidedly nonimaginary infidel boyfriend (Kristen Holden-Reid). Pressed into damage control, Grant convinces Alim to pass the lover off as a roommate, and to conjure up a pretend fiancée. Granted, if you have to have a celebrity-ghost gimmick, you could do worse than Cary—just imagine all the screwball possibilities. Then wince as they're squandered here. Presumably writer-director Ian Iqbal Rashid chose Grant because Bogie's been done, but that didn't stop him from lifting Pink's plot wholesale from The Wedding Banquet, only replacing the Chinese-American family with Pakistanis by way of Kenya and Toronto. The real Grant once said, "I improve on misquo­tation." The same can't be said here. (R) JORGE MORALES

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