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"Neverland' worth finding

Published Nov. 25, 2004|Updated Aug. 29, 2005

A trio of high-profile films opened in theaters Wednesday and were reviewed in Floridian. The reviews can be found online at www.sptimes.com/Floridian.

Briefly recapping those reviews: Don't miss Finding Neverland, don't hurry to see Christmas with the Kranks, and don't bother with Alexander.

Finding Neverland (PG) stars Johnny Depp as playwright J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan and, according to biographies, an even odder person than the film depicts. Depp's portrayal of an ingratiating man-child is a highlight of Marc Forster's film, along with several fine fantasy sequences demonstrating Barrie's boundless imagination.

It's the reality stuff that bogs down Finding Neverland, especially upon second viewing, when the good parts aren't surprising anymore. Kate Winslet co-stars as a widowed single mother whose illness makes situations darker then necessary, and her relationship with the married Barrie (or his with her children) barely causes any scandal. Dustin Hoffman appears as Barrie's theater producer, yet these scenes seldom rise above standard backstage mechanics.

With its lovely sights, tear-jerking prowess and Depp on a roll, Finding Neverland earned a B grade from the St. Petersburg Times.

"Kranks' a sitcom-turned-movie

Christmas with the Kranks (PG) will probably clean up at the box office because American moviegoers have a strange habit of paying to view entertainment they can get free from any sitcom. Tim Allen (Home Improvement) has a movie career because of that. Certified movie star Jamie Lee Curtis (Anything But Love) chose a brief TV career despite it.

Allen and Curtis play Luther and Nora Krank, a Chicago couple who skip the usual Christmas soirees and gifts in favor of a tropical cruise. That doesn't please their holiday-obsessed neighbors (Dan Aykroyd, Cheech Marin, Tom Poston), who try imposing cheer on the party poopers. Then their daughter (Julie Gonzalo) makes a surprise visit, expecting halls to be decked and presents to be opened.

The movie contains a few good laughs _ Luther and Nora's makeover efforts are funny _ but it's not consistent. It doesn't need to be, not with Allen, Curtis and plenty of undiscerning ticket buyers out there. The film earned a C grade from the Times.

"Alexander' a Greek ruin

Alexander (R) is Oliver Stone's bloated biography of the Macedonian king who conquered what was known as the world in fourth century B.C. Colin Farrell (Phone Booth, Minority Report) plays the warrior with none of the athleticism or swagger that made Brad Pitt so much fun as Achilles in Troy this year.

But this isn't simply a movie ruined by miscasting. Stone's hubris as a filmmaker is well-known but seldom so wasted. He stages only two battles in a three-hour movie about a warrior king, making them almost undecipherable with needlessly swift editing, closeups too tightly framed and clouds of dust. He reduces Alexander's brutal politics and bisexuality to vague declarations and coy glances. Actors such as Angelina Jolie and Val Kilmer go over the top, perhaps to compensate for Farrell's lack of luster.

Beware of Stone bearing Greek gifts for the holiday. Alexander earned a D grade from the Times.

_ Steve Persall, Times film critic

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