Oct. 28 2008 12:00 AM

Pride and Glory. Director Gavin O’Connor’s New York cop-family story (based on a script by Joe Carnahan - “Narc”) doesn’t descend as far into cliche as last year’s “We Own the Night,” but even reliable performances from Jon Voight and Ed Norton can’t redeem it as more than a puffy melodrama set amid police trappings. After four cops are killed during a routine drug bust, patriarch Chief of Detectives Francis Tierney (Voight) demands that his twice-shy-cop son Ray (Norton) solve the case and track down the shooter. Standing in the way of Ray’s Christmastime investigation is his police commander brother (Noah Emmerich), whose wife (Jennifer Ehle) is dying of cancer. Ray’s cop brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Ferrell) has his own reasons for wanting to blunt Ray’s scrutiny. “Pride and Glory” works better as an actors’ showcase than it does as a well-worn genre thriller. Rated R. 123 mins. (B-)

Max Payne. Doomed from the start due to its videogame-heritage (the translation from game to film never works), “Max Payne” presents a breathless barrage of bullets in a pulpy demon-filled knockoff of “Constantine” (2005). Mark Wahlberg shares some Keanu Reeves-like wooden acting traits with a performance that points up the bag-of-hammersdialogue and sleepy plotting from first-time screenwriter Beau Thorne. Max (Wahlberg) is widowed detective working in the cold-case department of the NYPD when he’s accused of murder before going on a revenge mission to vindicate the unsolved assassination of his wife and child. Thorne attempts to inject some cartoon social satire with a subplot about a diabolical pharmaceutical company selling a hallucination-inducing drug that makes soldiers fearless. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges gets the gong for the worst on-screen performance of the year as cop with very, very little personality. Rated PG-13. 100 mins. (D)

W. Oliver Stone’s unpolished but finely tuned biopic of Western Civilization’s most controversial leader is a straight-ahead dramatized biographical film that pedals between George W. Bush’s misspent youth and his days in office. Josh Brolin is exceptional in a deeply personal portrayal of an ultimately tragic figure. Thandie Newton is spot-on as Condi Rice, and James Cromwell gives a multi-dimensional performance as George Bush Senior. Elizabeth Banks, Richard Dreyfuss, Scott Glenn and Jeffrey Wright are outstanding. A bizarro musical score goes too far as a satirizing element, but the sheer inertia of Stone’s rigorous efforts to put a cinematic bow on the Bush Administration compensates for the film’s excesses. (Lionsgate) Rated PG-13. 131 mins. (B )

The Secret Life of Bees. Sue Monk Kidd’s 2002 novel supplies the source material for this stagnate, ‘60s-era melodrama with an emphasis on mellow. Dakota Fanning plays Lily, a traumatized little girl who escapes the clutches of her abusive father (Paul Bettany) with the help of a housekeeper (Jennifer Hudson) to live with a family of African-American women on their beekeeping farm in South Carolina. Queen Latifah plays the home’s matriarch, August Boatwright, whose sisters, the kooky May (overplayed by Sophie Okonedo) and conceited June (Alicia Keyes), are poised to stir up subplot dramas of their own. “The Secret Life of Bees” is further evidence that there should be a moratorium on secret-life-of-anything movies. Rated PG-13. 110 mins. (C-)

Sex Drive. A mediocre teen sex comedy with a cast of competent young actors, “Sex Drive” misses the mark. 18-year-old virgin Ian (Josh Zuckerman) flirts online from his Chicago home with a girl in Knoxville, Tenn. When the girl promises to put an end to Ian’s days as a virgin if he’ll drive his brother’s 1969 GTO to Knoxville, Ian brings along his longtime girlfriend-without-benefits Felicia (Amanda Crew) and his best friend, Lance (Clark Duke), a chubby-but-gifted lady’s man. The road trip is momentarily livened by an irony-loving Amish auto mechanic, played with wit by Seth Green. An obligatory smattering of gross-out humor and a litany of erotic hopes and fears get ground up in a slapstick approach to an already diminishing genre. “Sex Drive” is no “Superbad.” Rated R. 109 mins. (C)

The Duchess. Saul Dibb’s foamy adaptation of Amanda Foreman’s “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire” focuses its soft soap attention so much on its leading lady’s personal struggles that it all but leaves out the story’s broiling 18th century political and social context in favor of lush costumes and well-appointed environs. Keira Knightley is ravishing as Georgiana, the 16-year-old wife to Ralph Fiennes’ none-too-loyal William Cavendish, the fifth Duke of Devonshire, who torments her with his blatant affairs and cruel disposition. Although Knightley and Fiennes give worthy performances, their best efforts pale against a prosaic story with little dimension. (Paramount Vantage) Rated PG- 13. 130 mins. (C)

Body of Lies. “Body of Lies” is a prime example of how cell phones in action movies work to strip away suspense and interest no matter how many gun battles and explosions there are. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, a CIA super agent globetrotting to any Middle East location that his snide D.C. boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) sends him to, by way of incessant cell phone discourse. Ferris, a mercenary for democracy, goes on bloody missions to draw out a terrorist mastermind that never claims responsibility for the bombing strikes he incites in Western countries. A love story gets mashed into the movie when Ferris falls for a hospital nurse (Golshifteh Farahani) whose Muslim traditions put a damper on any fun they might have together. (Warner Bros. Pictures) Rated R. 128 mins. (C).

Religulous. Bill Maher takes a shooting-fish-in-abarrel approach to questioning the validity of all religious beliefs and comes up with a cinematic breath of fresh air. “Borat” director Larry Charles follows Maher around the world to locations like Megiddo, Israel and to the Vatican — where Maher got tossed out for filming inside while he tried to track down the Pope. Maher questions his own Jewish mother and Catholic sister (his father was Catholic), Christian parishioners in North Carolina, ex-Mormons, Hassidic Jews, Muslims, a Catholic priest, and other religiously connected figures in a sincere attempt to discover how their beliefs were formed and more important how they are sustained. “Religulous” is a funny, debate-provoking movie that dares to question fundamental beliefs that have been foisted on societies in order to enable brutality and prejudice in the name of a higher power. Rated R. 101 mins. (A-)

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. A romantic love letter to Manhattan’s downtown music scene, “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” finds New Jersey high school senior Nick (Michael Cera) nursing his bruised heart by making volumes of mix CDs for his snooty ex-girlfriend. Enter Norah (Kat Dennings), already intimately familiar with Nick’s mix CDs, to make the most of a show where Nick’s band is playing. One fast kiss between Nick and Nora sets them off an all-night search to see their favorite band and to locate Norah’s missing three-sheets-to-the-wind amigo Caroline (Ari Graynor). Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO contributed musically to the light-hearted inner city road comedy that grooves on a youthful vibe from relatively obscure bands. The soundtrack is a keeper. (Sony Pictures) PG-13 90 mins. (B)

For more reviews visit www.colesmithey.com

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