Brief Encounters

DELIVER US FROM EVA

Opens Fri., Feb. 7 at Pacific Place

Of all the ridiculous, cartoonish comedies crowding the multiplexes lately, Eva is my favorite. Though it's superficially like TV's all-black sitcoms, its yucks are far more humane and rooted, perhaps because it's co-written by director Gary Hardwick (The Brothers), though a writer of black sitcoms tells me that virtually all such TV writers are white cynics from the Harvard Lampoon. Eva (Gabrielle Union) is the bossy big sister of three younger sisters whose men she mercilessly mocks. To end her meddling, her sibs pay the womanizing local player (LL Cool J) to break her heart and drive her out of town. You won't be shocked when they fall in love, but Cool J's smooth acting should raise an eyebrow. The fable of love and upward mobility is far more satisfying than J.Lo's Maid in Manhattan, because it's more in touch with real status hierarchies. The scenes in church and the bitchiest hair salon you ever saw establish a sense of place most movies don't even try to achieve. (R) TIM APPELO

HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS

Opens Fri., Feb. 7 at Meridian and others

Why point out the gaping plot holes and predictable ending of Days? We're not looking for Cassavetes here; this is romantic comedy, the low-fat Twinkie of the film food group. Still, Days is about 400 times better than Just Married, A Guy Thing, and the current glut of tragically unfunny romantic-comedy pretenders. Though it's tempting to hate her for her genetic good luck (thanks, Goldie!), Kate Hudson is way better than she has any right to be. The wispy-limbed 22-year-old convincingly and charmingly portrays a Cosmo-style journalist given the titular assignment. Yet the man she chooses to alienate (Matthew McConaughey) by crying in public, calling his mother after the first date, and otherwise behaving like an uncorked estrogen grenade turns out to have made a bet that he can make a woman fall in love with him in 10 days. Despite the labored setup and foregone conclusion, there's nearly enough charisma and good gags to pull it all off. (PG-13) LEAH GREENBLATT

LOVE LIZA

Opens Fri., Feb. 7 at Varsity

Philip Seymour Hoffman evidently loves his brother more than his own career. He stars in his brother Gordy's crash-and-burn script as a bereaved Web site designer who refuses to open his wife's suicide letter. His reluctance is contrived, a gimmick without plausible motive. It reminds me of the phony deferral of the climactic suicide in 'night, Mother, the lousy, dishonest 1983 play that vaulted Kathy Bates to stardom.

Mother succeeded because of Bates' incandescence onstage. Here, as Hoffman's mother-in-law, she's an old pro, but the script only permits her to nag him about his poor grieving skills. Liza gives Bates no insights into the daughter, the widower, or her own heart.

Hoffman dominates the screen time, though; yet despite his immense gift, his role is a lost cause. He's never achieved a more dissolute appearance: He looks like he just took a hair of the dog the morning after murdering Martha Moxley. Then he becomes a gasoline huffer committing slow suicide. Director Todd Louiso—who brilliantly played Jack Black's meek counterpart in High Fidelity—does a solid job of rendering this dissociative inhalant experience. It's not a bad setup for a film, since Hoffman's entire life is going down in fumes. Alas, nothing much happens to the guy, except for discovering the world of model-airplane racing. There's some mildly amusing satire of the lonesome polecat guys with their radio-control units, but it's all aimless. The story wanders pointlessly until a dead ending that seems an act of desperation. (R) T.A.

SHANGHAI KNIGHTS

Opens Fri., Feb. 7 at Pacific Place and others

By my count, Owen Wilson only says "bullshit" once in this PG-13-rated Jackie Chan vehicle, and I can't see why he bothered. This is not a movie that's going to work for adults. Kids are the real audience for Knights, so why the token cuss word? But for a few tame sexual innuendos and a couple of bloodless deaths, Knights is the kind of safe, bland, mediocre entertainment that could satisfy both sides of a rained-out peewee soccer match. Parents will be secure in the knowledge that there's not even a single fart joke in the film—and that's criticism, not praise.

Forsaking the Old West of 2000's Shanghai Noon, this sequel takes place mostly in Merry Olde England, circa 1887. Self- appointed sleuths Chan and Wilson travel to Britain to retrieve an imperial seal stolen by the same nefarious English aristocrat who killed Chan's father. It's a given there will be lots of fight scenes, but which screenwriter's idea was it to stage a sequence at Madame Tussaud's? Chan is 48, and all those stunts and injuries have caught up with him; but placing him in a waxworks? That's cruel.

Still, Jackie delivers a nice Gene Kelly "Singing in the Rain" homage, battles baddies in a revolving door, and even deploys lemon juice as a weapon. Otherwise, parents will wait impatiently for Chan's signature outtakes that accompany the final credits. Then they'll wonder why Knights even attempted a story when 107 minutes of bloopers would've made the kids just as happy. (PG-13) BRIAN MILLER

 
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