THE AMATEURS★½ out of four stars Where: Lagoon. Rating: R for sexual content and language.
Jeff Bridges leads a notable cast (Joe Pantoliano, Tim Blake Nelson, Ted Danson, Valerie Perrine and many more) in this corny, conformist movie about nonconformity. He plays a small-town dreamer who convinces his buddies that a locally produced porn video would be just the thing to put their community on the map.
The story has no big dramatic conflicts, and the message is bland, believe-in-your-dreams hokum that never comes to grips with the seedy aspects of the story. Everyone in town gets behind the idea with the "Let's put on a show!" enthusiasm of an old MGM musical. With its jokes about overreaching writer/directors and do-nothing producers, the film loses its focus and drifts into weak moviemaking satire.
There might have been some lewd laughs in the material, but the movie is too timid to find them. You can see what they were aiming for -- a Frank Capra blue movie feeling. The result has the character depth of porn and the pulse-pounding sensuality of "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town." This sort of thing was done much better by the British years ago in "The Full Monty" and "Calendar Girls." There's really no call for an American rehash.
HOW TO COOK YOUR LIFE★★½ out of four stars Where: Edina. Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language.
San Francisco Zen priest and cookbook author Edward Espe Brown probably wouldn't make it on the Food Network. He'd never yell, "Bam!" He's too calm and didactic, too likely to turn a breadmaking class into a commentary on the waste and hassle plaguing our microwave-dependent daily lives.
German director Doris Dorrie's documentary follows Brown through tutorials at Zen retreats in California and Austria. He emerges as a gourmet spiritualist exploring the connections between how we feed ourselves and the state of our souls. Never far from a proverb, he's given to observations like "Working on food is working on yourself." Kneading dough requires patience and concentration, it gives our hands the opportunity "to be hands" and clears the mind. Diffuse and leisurely as a yoga breathing exercise, the film suffers from dangling digressions (Dorrie inexplicably includes a sidebar about Dumpster diving), but overall it's fine food for thought.
THE PERFECT HOLIDAY★½ out of four stars Rating: PG for brief language and suggestive humor.
Jovial and junky, this slapdash romance-in-a-Santa-suit pairs two of the best-looking actors in the movies (Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut) and tries to keep them apart by any means necessary.
Chestnut plays a struggling songwriter who moonlights as a mall Santa. Union is a wealthy, divorced mother of three who longs for a man "who will just pay me a compliment." When her little girl asks Santa for that, Santa checks out Mom and happily obliges. Next thing you know, he's trying to find a way to ethically court this beauty, risking "the betrayal of the Santa trust," as he puts it, while she's trying to figure out who this hunk is.
To stir up laughs, the producers throw in three very funny supporting players. Two-tons-o-fun Faizon Love is Chesnut's elf assistant, a comical bit of casting against type. Charlie Murphy plays Union's ex, a goofy rapper-clothier named J. Jizzy who is trying to cut a Christmas CD, much to the frustration of his long-suffering manager (the hilarious Katt Williams). "'I Saw Mommy Cappin' Santa Claus' isn't in the spirit of the season," he drawls.
It's treacly tripe, but has more giggles than most of the other middling "holiday" fare this season -- along with cameos by Queen Latifah (the movie's producer) and Terrence Howard as good and bad Christmas angels.
ROGER MOORE, ORLANDO SENTINEL