Aug. 17 2009 12:00 AM

Funny People. Writer/director Judd Apatow raises the stakes on his already stellar formula for generating laughs with a comedy that is equal parts sincerity and wit. Set in a real-life world of Los Angeles stand-up comics, the story revolves around Adam Sandler, very much playing himself, as George Simmons, a hugely successful comedian living it up in his Hollywood Hills mansion. News that hes dying of leukemia inspires George to hire local newbie standup comic Ira Wright (perfectly played by Seth Rogen) to write jokes and work as a personal assistant who will guard Georges medical secret from the press. An awkward friendship develops between George and Ira, as George tries to set the record straight with family members, old friends and his former fiance Laura (Leslie Mann). Rogen is an ideal comic foil for Sandlers character, and the film provides a great format for each to express a range of comic levels. "Funny People" is by far Adam Sandlers best movie, because Apatow writes comic set pieces that allow germs of humor to expand between the more obvious laughs that Sandler hits with sharp-shooter accuracy. At two hours and 20 minutes, "Funny People" runs about 15 minutes longer than it should. But this is still the funniest movie of the year. (Universal) Rated R. 140 mins. (A-)

Orphan. "Orphan" is a persuasive addition to the subgenre of bad-seed horror films, like "The Omen," where a creepy little kid wreaks havoc and murder on the lives of ill-equipped adults. The real child of hell here is 9-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a charming orphan of Russian descent whose induction into the wealthy family of John and Kate Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga) allows for more than a few shocks of tragic violence and some very uncomfortable familial manipulation. Kates recent miscarriage of a daughter inspires the couple to bring an adopted girl to join their 10-year-old son, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett), and their hearing-impaired, 6-year-old daughter, Max (Aryana Engineer). Kate is a recovering alcoholic whose drinking almost cost Maxs life near their lakeside house. Despite Esthers polite demeanor and undeniable artistic gifts, bizarre events makes Kate suspect that Esther is a source of trouble. Director Jaume Collet-Serra redeems himself after his disastrous "House of Wax" with a genuinely scary movie ramped up by a truly inspired plot twist. (Warner Brothers) Rated R. 120 mins. (B )

Bruno. Sacha Baron Cohens follow-up to the hilarious “Borat" provokes half as many laughs in a seemingly less improvised comedy that goes twice as far as “Borat” in goosing sexual sight gags designed to make even the numbest audience members blanch. Cohens comic incarnation of Bruno is the flamboyantly gay host of an Austrian TV show called "Funkyzeit," from which the self-professed supermodel is fired for his shenanigans at a Milan runway show. Determined to become "the most famous Austrian superstar since Hitler," Bruno travels to Hollywood to start his own celebrity talk show. On his travels, Bruno attempts to seduce politician Ron Paul, seeks advice from an effeminate Christian expert at converting gays into straights, goes on a hunting trip with some Arkansas good ole boys and auditions irresponsible parents for their babies to act in a movie with his own "adopted" black baby. Some set-ups work better than others, but the films main failing is in the contrived character of Bruno, who tries too hard to provoke the humorous rejection that the character so avidly demands. That said, Coen picks up where Tom Green left off as cinemas most cunning agent provocateur. (Universal Pictures) Rated R. 82 mins. (B-)

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Perhaps better able to disguise its lacking narrative cohesion when screened in its intended 3-D context, "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" never properly invites the audience into its messy world of familial trust. Vocal performances by Ray Romano and Queen Latifah leave much to be desired, and they enable John Leguizamo to steal the picture with his pitch perfect execution of Sid the Sloth, whose theft of several dinosaur eggs sets the story in motion. Very pregnant woolly mammoth Ellie (Latifah) and hubby mammoth Manny (Romano) go on an adventure with aging saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary), deep into an underground world of prehistoric dinosaurs, where a swashbuckler named Eddie (Simon Pegg) serves as a guide. Eddies pirate personality clashes with the tone of the story, which welcomes dinosaurs to the "Ice Age" that was, well, responsible for their species demise. For a kids movie with the potential to at least be somewhat historically accurate in the interest of informing children about landmark events in the Earths history, "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" fails to do even that. Rated PG. 93 mins. (C)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Teen desire and romance hit Hogwarts in the sixth Harry Potter film, and they go a long way in providing contrast to the skullduggery perpetrated by Severus Snape, Draco Malfoy and three Death Eaters that swirl around the story like exterminating angels. The actors have all aged well into their familiar roles, with Daniel Radcliffe showing evermore confidence in playing the "Chosen One" with a reserve of humor and restrained emotion. The ever-perfect Michael Gambon is a delight as Dumbledore, whose objective of undermining the evil Lord Voldemort with Harrys prodigious help sets the films tempo. David Yates returns after directing the last Potter film with a determinedly Gothic vision that allows emotional and visual color to emanate from JK Rowlings collection of lively protagonists. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is the most balanced Potter film yet, perhaps because the right combination of screenwriter (Steve Kloves) and director has been established, along with the appropriate team of special effects wizards and talented production crew. Of course its the actors that make the magic happen, and every one, from Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane to Emma Watson and Bonnie Wright, cast a memorable spell. (Warner Brothers) Rated PG. 153 mins. (B )

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