Short Takes

Capsule Reviews of The Ex, The TV Set, and other movies opening in area theaters this week.

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Zach Braff Jason Bateman Hip-hop Vivica A. Fox Mark Brown Sigourney Weaver Justine Bateman Jake Kasdan
The Ex
When career slacker Tom (Zach Braff) gets fired from his latest job, he packs up his wife Sofia (Amanda Peet) and their newborn kid, and trades life in the Big Apple for the calming pleasures of small-town Ohio -- Sherwood Anderson country. There, he takes his sad-sack father-in-law (Charles Grodin) up on the offer of an "assistant associate creative" position in a new-agey advertising company, only to find himself under the thumb of Sofia's paraplegic former high school classmate (and possible ex-flame), Chip (Jason Bateman), a seemingly benevolent cripple who's really Machiavelli on wheels. That's an inspired starting place for a farce, and director Jesse Peretz (working from a sometimes tasteless, often insidiously funny script by first-time screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman) has a knack for casting the kind of bright comic talent -- Amy Adams, Donal Logue, Mia Farrow, and Paul Rudd round out the ensemble -- who more or less just have to show up. The movie is Bateman's to steal, however, and he does early and often, whether reenacting an old high school cheerleading routine or trying to seduce Sofia by showing her the money shot from one of his favorite movies: Coming Home. -- Scott Foundas
Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

The Hip Hop Project
This is a story you've heard before: Inner-city kids falling to drugs/crime/pregnancy are saved by the power of music/dance/art. Don't let that premise (or the credited producers, Bruce Willis and Queen Latifah) dissuade you from checking out this documentary about a nonprofit hip-hop program in New York City founded by Chris "Kazi" Rolle, a quietly charismatic, formerly homeless teenager. The doc toggles between Kazi's personal story (he grew up on the streets of the Bahamas and remains mostly estranged from his mother), the inner workings of the Hip Hop Project, and the home lives of Kazi's protégés. From domestic strife to studio triumph, the most impressive accomplishment of The Project is not the student-made album, but that when Kazi says cheesy things like "This is healing through hip-hop," you actually believe him. -- Jessica Grose
Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

"What makes a beauty shop so great is that it really is a microcosm of society," intones an earnest voiceover at the beginning of The Salon. Indeed. The denizens of this eponymous inner-city beauty shop, helmed by Vivica A. Fox, are a panoply of multicultural stereotypes, from a fat black woman who scarfs doughnuts to a flamboyant (but secretly insecure!) gay man to a Chinese manicurist whose mispronunciation of the word "election" is just hilarious. Most cringe-inducing of all is the token white chick who insists on initiating a discussion about spanking, "or whoopin', as you guys call it." Or maybe it's the "hos" who are sporadically chased across the screen by their pimp. (Where's Al Sharpton's decency parade when you need it?) OK, no, it's definitely the bug-eyed homeless guy who prances around outside the salon, cackling wildly and mumbling in gibberish. You get the idea. Only a heady cocktail of apathy and boredom could explain so many gratuitous girlfriends and sistas. Writer-director Mark Brown, he of the Barbershop franchise, also has an inexplicable fondness for close-ups that cut off the tops of the actors' heads -- unfortunate in a movie about hair. -- Julia Wallace
Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

The TV Set
Writer-director Jake Kasdan and executive producer Judd Apatow -- both veterans of the brilliant-but-canceled NBC series Freaks and Geeks -- know a thing or two about the Sisyphean struggles to do quality, personal work in the meat market of network television. Their cautionary tale of an Apatow-like writer-producer (David Duchovny) as he runs the humiliating gauntlet known as pilot season won't exactly surprise anyone familiar with Blake Edwards' S.O.B. , Christopher Guest's The Big Picture, or those myriad other insider portraits of bastardized artistic genius. But Kasdan doesn't just set out to bite the hand that feeds him, and at its best, The TV Set is wry and true about the messy tangle of art, commerce, and family, as talented creative types try to stay true to themselves and put food on the table. The movie is also a treasure-trove of inspired comic personalities, including Justine Bateman (luminous as Duchovny's very pregnant wife), Sigourney Weaver (as the network president who swallows her prey whole), and relative newcomer Fran Kranz (as the talented but insecure young actor who quickly learns that, in TV, less is rarely more). Now, whether anyone would rather see this than curl up on the sofa with the latest episode of Slut Wars is another question entirely. -- Foundas
Rated R. Opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.

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