Bad News Bears
dir. Linklater
Opens Fri July 22
Various Theaters

Here's the definition of "flat affect," which I swear to God, you'll need in a minute: "Flat affect is a deviation in emotional response wherein virtually no emotion is expressed, whatever the stimuli." That's the problem with this remake of the 1976 classic, directed by Richard "Dazed and Confused" Linklater--"flat affect." Sure, the original tale--revolving around pubescent little league losers and their drunken coach who learn what winning is all about--is a dry, almost naturalistic comedy that's brilliantly underplayed. But in this version, I'd be hard pressed to believe Linklater even gives a shit. The film drags aimlessly along for a good hour before hitting its stride, and even with a saucy script that requires kids to curse, fight, drink beer and eat chicken wings at Hooters, the patient is still flat-lining on the table.

Is it unfair to compare it to the original? Tough shit. Linklater is directing a paint-by-the-numbers carbon copy--except his film is hobbled by kids who can't act, and an amateurish inability to build both tension and tone. While not a disaster, Bad News Bears only exerts three-quarters of the effort needed to be a bonafide hit (which means you should only have to pay three-quarters of the ticket price, right?). WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY

Hustle & Flow
dir. Brewer
Opens Fri July 22
Various Theaters

Hustle & Flow tells the story of DJay, a pimp in the throes of a midlife crisis. Realizing that pimping isn't all it's cracked up to be--there's a lot more carpooling involved than you might think--he decides to launch a career as a rapper. He enlists his hos to help out (by "help" I mean "give blowjobs"), and promptly churns out a catchy/annoying single that he's sure will be his ticket out of the ghetto.

Despite a tremendous performance by Terrence Dashon Howard as DJay, Hustle & Flow is ultimately a transparent, casually misogynistic attempt to capitalize on middle class white Americans' fascination with the hiphop world. I should probably note that I know very little about hiphop; my boyfriend, who does, enjoyed the film and accused me of "lacking the appropriate pimp conceptual framework." This may be true, but I just don't buy that Hustle & Flow is an accurate representation of the life of a pimp turned rapper. Instead, by way of some snappy camera angles and a few strategically allocated hearts of gold, writer/director Craig Brewer has created a glossy, simplistic actualization of a cliché that white people are all too eager too embrace. ALISON HALLETT

The Place Promised in Our Early Days
dir. Shinkai
Opens Fri July 22
Clinton St. Theater

First, and maybe most important: The Place Promised in Our Early Days is beautiful. Its imagery--microscopically detailed, painstakingly composed, bathed in romantically technicolored light--is simply stunning. That's no surprise, really--its writer and director, Makoto Shinkai, rose to anime fame with 2003's Voices of a Distant Star, a moving and gorgeous short film that he made almost entirely by himself on his Mac G4.

But while Distant Star's story and melancholy dovetailed perfectly with the film's brief running time, Shinkai's anticipated follow-up, Place Promised, doesn't fare as well. Shinkai keeps the long shots and the downhearted tone, but stretches it all out with a vague, uninteresting story about parallel worlds and even more vague and less interesting characters. At two hours, the film's hollow prettiness and bittersweet tone wear off quickly, and the audience is left yawning through a great looking but monotonous film. Just as anime fans would be better off renting Distant Star, Shinkai would be wiser to either keep his work short and sweet or come up with a story that justifies the surely monumental task of making two hours of animation look this good. ERIK HENRIKSEN