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A Register's-eye view of five current box-office leaders

THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS (Warner Bros) Directors: The Wach-owski Brothers. Keanu Reeves, Carrie Anne-Moss, Laurence Fishburne. (R)

Take One: The third and final film in the biggest action-sci-fi phenomenon since Star Wars, Revolutions promises sensory-overloading battle sequences — and answers to the riddles and puzzles of Matrix Reloaded six months ago.

Take Two: Compared to Reloaded, Revolutions mercifully lightens up on the pseudo-philosophical gibberish, avoids the outright sleaze and delivers bona fide thrills in the effects-laden battle scenes. Nor are innocents gratuitously slaughtered this time around. Problematic content, which includes some profanity, is less an issue here than in previous films.

Final Take: Revolutions has the makings of a good “middle” film lacking in Reloaded — but this was supposed to be the finale, and the story lacks a satisfying resolution. The philosophical riffing takes an existential turn, as autonomous choice becomes the hero's defining virtue.


(Universal) Director: I Richard Curtis. Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Kiera Knightley. (R)

Take One: Screenwriter Curtis (Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral) directs a huge lineup of stars in an offbeat romantic comedy loosely structured around nearly a dozen storylines, aiming to show that love, not hate, actually makes the world go ‘round.

Take Two: With its attention divided among so many storylines, few of the characters and situations rise above emotional button-pushing — often silly, contrived button-pushing at that. Profanity, frequent crass behavior and vulgarity, depictions of movie-set bedroom-scene shoots with excessive nudity and additional sexual encounters contribute to a view of humanity more degraded than inspiring.

Final Take: Despite a few bright spots — such as a raw, heartfelt exposé of adultery — Love Actually seldom feels honest or real, and ultimately succumbs to its offensive content.

BROTHER BEAR (Disney) Directors: Aaron Blaise, Bob Walker. Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez. (G)

Take One: It's the end of an era: After Brother Bear, for the first time in who knows when, Disney has no new traditional hand-drawn/2D animated features in the works and no plans to begin any. Take Two: With a script dating to the New-Age/ultra-PC heyday of Disney's ‘90s renaissance, Brother Bear outdoes even Pocahontas and Atlantis: The Lost Empire with its eco-spirituality and tree-hugging Gospel message that animals are people too — and kind, wise people living in harmony, at that — whereas humans are scary killers.

Final Take: Not only objectionable but just plain boring — and at times too frightening for the youngest children — Brother Bear brings Disney animation's attempts to recover from the collapse of its ‘90s formulas to an end not with a bang but with a whimper.

RADIO (Columbia) Director: Michael Tollin. Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris, Alfre Woodard. (PG)

Take One: From the screenwriter of The Rookie comes another uplifting, down-home, sports-themed drama based on a true story, this one about a sweet-natured, mentally handicapped black man named Radio taken under the wing of a small-town high school football coach.

Take Two: Despite the movie's conviction that it's celebrating Radio's virtues and all he has to teach others, Radio is really just a passive recipient of kindness or cruelty, not an active player in a movie that's really about congratulating everyone else on how kind they are to Radio. Limited profanity and some crass language; brief maltreatment of a mentally handicapped individual.

Final Take: It's not an unpleasant movie, just an unconvincing one, and not in The Rookie's league. The Rookie was a solid triple if not a home run. Radio fumbles on the 45-yard line.

PIECES OF APRIL(MGM) Directed by Peter Hedges. Katie Holmes, Derek Luke, Patricia Clarkson. (PG-13)

Take One: Indie/art-house attitude meets Thanksgiving-movie dysfunctional-family comedy-drama as a domestically uninclined city girl, the black sheep of a quirky suburban family, struggles vainly to prepare her first Thanksgiving dinner while her apprehensive family drives in for their first visit.

Take Two: Like April's dinner, the story starts unpromisingly: April's cohabitation with her boyfriend, including brief restrained sensuality and intimacy (no nudity), is taken for granted, along with some objectionable language. Yet as the film develops into a parable about taking steps in the right direction, one starts rooting for the imperfect, wounded characters, hoping to see them overcome past mistakes.

Final Take: Though flawed, April's heart is more or less in the right place, and mature viewers may appreciate the message of giving others the benefit of the doubt and putting family first even in problematic circumstances.

Steven D. Greydanus writes from Bloomfield, New Jersey