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In Theaters This Week... 

Film capsules to help you decide what to see

The American (R) — "You are American. You live for the present," says Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), a priest who befriends The American's enigmatic protagonist, a mystery man played by George Clooney who calls himself both Jack and Edward. Americans also like plenty of action in their thrillers, which director Anton Corbijn bravely ignores, reserving most of the gunplay for the movie's operatic last act. Corbijn — whose feature debut, Control, was a thoughtful biography of doomed Joy Division singer Ian Curtis — made his reputation as a photographer, so he has a rather static style. No surprise that The American often plays like a series of stunning and skillfully framed photographs. The movie is a little slow, but you may appreciate its quiet, contemplative mood. Or, if that high-minded approach doesn't work for you, there's always the sight of Clooney's bare torso and backside. (Pamela Zoslov)

Animal Kingdom (R) — Based in part on the true exploits of Australian crime families, Animal Kingdom follows emotionally remote teen J Cody (James Frecheville) after his mother's death sends him off to live with his Aunt Smurf. J's mother had always kept him away from his aunt, and it soon becomes clear why: Smurf hasn't raised sons so much as she's spawned a criminal gang, headed up by Pope (Ben Mendelsohn). Just as J starts to feel like one of the family, the cops come down hard on the Codys, the Codys come back harder, and everyone is reminded how much of a stranger J actually is. Detective Leckie (Guy Pearce) does his best to bring J in as a witness, but it's clear that J is on his own in this suburban jungle. Animal Kingdom is a crime flick that rarely depicts crime. (Lee Gardner)

Eat Pray Love (PG-13) — It is what it is, goes the cliché. And given that this is an adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling new-age chick-lit memoir starring Julia Roberts, it's about as good as could reasonably be expected. If you can avoid the fact that it all adds up to a story about a chic Manhattan woman who learns to reconcile her flaws only after she realizes that she is indeed the center of the universe, you'll discover a sweet, well-acted armchair travelogue and treatise about inner forgiveness. (Charles Cassady Jr.)

Going the Distance (R) — Drew Barrymore plays Erin, a 31-year-old graduate student and intern at a New York City newspaper who bonds over 1980s music and arcade games with Garrett (Justin Long), an indie record-company employee freshly dumped by his girlfriend. Six weeks into this romantic idyll, Erin must return to California to finish school, leaving Garrett to his goofy pals (Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) and his unrealistic music-industry job. Despite being a real-life couple, Barrymore and Long generate little charisma or erotic heat. And since they're less interesting than the supporting characters — the funny Sudeikis and Day, plus lovely Christina Applegate as Erin's sister, who's saddled with the sole unfunny trait of being a hygiene freak — our emotional investment in Erin and Garrett is limited. Overlong and meandering, Going the Distance has trouble maintaining a consistent tone. (Zoslov)

The Last Exorcism (R) — Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is a former evangelist who used to perform phony exorcisms, but now he wants to expose the ritual as a potentially dangerous sham. So he and a film crew visit a rural family that's looking for some divine intervention. Cotton expects something he's seen dozens of times, but he winds up with a lot more than he bargained for. Even when the spooky stuff starts, The Last Exorcism (shot documentary style with handheld cameras and iffy lighting) keeps the audience guessing: Are demonic forces really at work? Or is it just the dark side of human nature taking over? (Bob Ignizio)

Mao's Last Dancer (PG) — Director Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy) has carved out a career crafting sturdy films with just enough pulse to shuffle his audiences out of theaters with a half-smile and a bland compliment. Mao's Last Dancer — a tender, gawky, and at times gorgeous true story about an impoverished Chinese kid plucked from his village to be trained as a ballet dancer — is pleasant in the most Beresfordian meaning of the word. (Justin Strout)

Nanny McPhee Returns (PG) — This sequel to the minor 2005 hit based on Christiana Brand's kid-lit series — about a Mary Poppins-like nanny who looks more like one of Macbeth's witches — is mildly charming and passably entertaining. But instead of taking place in Victorian England, like the previous movie, the action here picks up in World War II-era Blighty, where the title character (again played by the redoubtable Emma Thompson, who also penned the screenplay) goes to work for the stressed-out Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal with a British accent as counterfeit as her bogus southern twang in Crazy Heart), whose husband (Ewan McGregor) is off fighting the war. (Milan Paurich)

The Other Guys (PG-13) — "Will Ferrell is back and Mark Wahlberg's got him" could be the tagline for this amiably goofy buddy-cop bromance by frequent Ferrell helmer Adam McKay (Talladega Nights, Anchorman, Step Brothers). Ferrell and Wahlberg play a pair of temperamentally mismatched NYPD doofuses who finally get the chance to prove themselves when the top dogs in their department (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) get temporarily sidelined. Because the movie ultimately devolves into the very thing it's poking fun at — '80s super-cop action flicks like the Lethal Weapon franchise, complete with explosions and car chases galore — it's not as satisfying as previous, more improv-friendly Ferrell-McKay collaborations. Still, the first half consistently delivers more big laughs than just about any studio comedy this season. (Paurich)

The Switch (PG-13) — This disappointing, tonally discordant artificial insemination romantic comedy by the Blades of Glory directing team of Josh Gordon and Will Speck shoots more blanks than laughs. Jason Bateman plays a neurotic, self-absorbed Manhattanite (is there any other kind?) whose life is turned upside down when he discovers that he's the biological dad of platonic BFF Jennifer Aniston's chip-off-the-old-block six-year-old son (scene-stealer Thomas Robinson). The film squanders the charm of its two appealing leads by forcing them to behave in the most obtuse, off-putting fashion imaginable. (Paurich)

The Winning Season (PG-13) — Sam Rockwell plays a washed-up coach who gets a second chance when he starts coaching a high-school girls basketball team. Where have we heard this one before?

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