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Ex Marks the Spot 

Superb acting distinguishes It's Complicated

It's Complicated *** 1/2

Writer-director Nancy Meyers specializes in the postmenopausal romantic comedy, in which a 50ish woman, living in a gorgeous home, revives her flagging sexuality via an awkward liaison with an inappropriate man. In Something's Gotta Give, Diane Keaton's uptight authoress succumbed to the charms of Jack Nicholson's potbellied Lothario, who learned — as all men must in Meyers' movies — that older women are better than those young things they've been chasing. The signature Meyers moment is one of profound sexual embarrassment, like when houseguest Nicholson accidentally walks in on a naked Keaton. Meyers' latest, It's Complicated, follows the basic outline but is subtler and more successful. She takes the autumn-romance template, casts it with top talent, soft-pedals the slapstick and creates an audience-pleasing "sex-with-your-ex" romp. Meryl Streep plays Jane, divorced for 10 years, which she's spent rebuilding her life, opening a bakery and planning an addition to her beautiful house (see above). Her nest now empty, Jane confides to her obligatory girlfriend circle (Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson, Alexandra Wentworth) that she hasn't dated in years.

On a New York trip for her son's graduation, she has drunken sex with her once-loathed ex, philandering Jake (Alec Baldwin), now married to Agness (Lake Bell), a petulant, fertility-obsessed shrew who insists Jake help raise her bratty tot. Jane and Jake start an affair, and Jake falls "back in love," pining for the family he left behind. Jane glows, then frets, feeling naughty and excited, until she realizes that "other woman" might not be a suitable role, especially when a real suitor, architect Adam (Steve Martin), is waiting in the wings. (The "Meyers moment" occurs when Jake sends his paunchy naked webcam image to the wrong person.) Superb casting and a solid script make the movie a considerable improvement over Meyers' previous efforts. Streep, freed from impersonating a nun or Julia Child, is natural and winning. Baldwin, playing an ox-like narcissist, displays an endearing vulnerability. Martin is funny and touching in the stock nice-guy role, and John Krasinski has some amusingly awkward moments as Jane's future son-in-law, who accidentally becomes privy to the affair. — Pamela Zoslov

Opens Friday areawide

Sherlock Holmes ** 1/2

One can imagine Guy Ritchie as a child in England, crouched under the bedclothes reading Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and thinking, "Oh, I wish Holmes was like Batman, swinging about and smashing the evildoers!" Ritchie may not have actually had that boyhood wish — his new action-packed Sherlock Holmes was written by others (Michael Robert Johnson and Anthony Peckham) — but he has lent his directing talents to a Holmes that casts Robert Downey Jr. as the cerebral Victorian sleuth, re-imagined as a surly, bare-knuckle-brawling bounder. Setting aside the heresy against the sacred Holmes canon, casting Downey was this misbegotten movie's first mistake. The excellent Downey did intensive research for the role and wields a passable British accent, but he's too young and contemporary-looking to be a credible Holmes. The next error was rendering insignificant Holmes' friend and chronicler, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), who spends most of his screen time complaining about Holmes' violin playing, pistol shooting and experimenting on Watson's bulldog (the movie's most charming actor).

The film serves up a mixed stew of Holmes bits, featuring the evil Dr. Moriarty and Holmes' female nemesis, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, dreadful). The plot is some folderol about an occult society whose leader, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), survives the hangman's noose and has a plan for (what else?) world domination. Pursuing the case, Holmes and Watson participate in a series of imaginatively staged fight sequences. Ritchie and company deserve credit for taking Holmes out of the parlour, but really, Holmes should be charming rather than rude, and if he's going to be an action hero, he might at least be a genteel one. Overlong and a little unappetizing, this Holmes is unlikely to endear itself either to Holmesians or action-movie fans. Nevertheless, Ritchie is busily at work on a sequel. Sir Arthur, please telephone your office. — Zoslov

Opens Friday areawide

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