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Hollywood plays Santa with two early releases, followed by three more Christmas Day

Hollywood plays Santa Claus early with two new releases — True Grit and Little Fockers — opening in theaters today. Three others — an early Oscars favorite, and new comedies from Jim Carrey and Jack Black — are labeled "Do Not Open Until Christmas." Times movie critic Steve Persall reviews all five in Thursday's Weekend, and tampabay.com/features. Check out these sneak previews of his reviews:

Opening today

True Grit (PG-13)

What it's about: Oscar-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men) remake Charles Portis' Western novel about a teenage girl hunting her father's killer, and the boozy marshal helping. John Wayne won an Academy Award for the 1969 version.

Persall says: "This True Grit will certainly be remembered for introducing to the screen a bracing new talent named Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie. … Jeff Bridges (is) possibly the closest to a Wayne-like object of respect in Hollywood today. Both actors use Rooster as an excuse to wonderfully overact; a honey-baked ham replaced by a saltier country ham."

Grade: B+

Little Fockers (PG-13)

What it's about: Another sequel to Meet the Parents featuring the same actors and plot — as you'd expect with another sequel to just about anything.

Persall says: "Little Fockers is a comedy abomination, tasteless and useless to a stunning degree, with storied actors smugly collecting paychecks for sullying their careers. … You can get whiplash from vigorously shaking your head at what talented folks agree to do in Little Fockers. Oh, and Ben Stiller, too."

Grade: F

Opening Christmas Day

The King's Speech (R)

What it's about: Colin Firth is a best actor Oscar frontrunner for playing King George VI, thrust upon the British throne on the eve of World War II. The monarch's lifelong speech impediment leaves him ill-prepared to lead his nation, so his devoted wife (Helena Bonham-Carter) enlists an unorthodox therapist (Geoffrey Rush) for a cure.

Persall says: "(The pairing of Firth and Rush) creates the most exciting odd coupling of the year; a puffed-up, insecure fop and a mischievous man anxious to deflate him, to save him. Rush's performance is the trump card of director Tom Hooper's exquisitely structured film, or maybe the wild card since he brings humor, making The King's Speech more fun than historical epics have a right to be."

Grade: A

I Love You, Phillip Morris (R)

What it's about: The incredibly true story of jailed con man Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), who falls in love with a fellow inmate (Ewan McGregor).

Persall says: "I Love You, Phillip Morris must be seen (maybe twice) to be believed. Steven's schemes to keep Phillip in his life involve multiple prison escapes, posing as a lawyer, a corporate executive and another guise that won't be spoiled here but is the ultimate in distasteful devotion. Think Catch Me If You Can mashed up with Brokeback Mountain if Mel Brooks directed and you'll get the idea."

Grade: A

Gulliver's Travels (PG)

What it's about: A cleverly juvenile update of the Jonathan Swift classic, with roly-poly force of nature Jack Black marooned in the tiny kingdom of Lilliput.

Persall says: Gulliver's Travels couldn't arrive at a better time for moviegoers, when dramas are angling for awards and Little Fockers passes for comedy. This is what the holidays need: a good, Swift kick in the funny bone."

Grade: B+

Steve Persall can be reached at Persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.

Hollywood plays Santa with two early releases, followed by three more Christmas Day 12/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 6:46am]

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