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Hollywood opened some of its most anticipated films of 2001 on Christmas Day. Full reviews of these movies appeared in Tuesday's Floridian section.

By Times staff

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 27, 2001

Hollywood opened some of its most anticipated films of 2001 on Christmas Day. Full reviews of these movies appeared in Tuesday's Floridian section.

In the ring

Will Smith put on 35 impressively muscled pounds to play the Greatest, but the film version of Muhammad Ali's life doesn't quite live up to that standard. Director Michael Mann boldly took on the tobacco industry in The Insider, but in Ali, he's oddly reticent about the controversy surrounding his subject. Why did Ali join the Nation of Islam? Was he being exploited? Ali doesn't say, becoming a story of hatchets already buried even though the genuine drama occurred when they were raised in anger. (Rated R; violence, profanity, sexual situations). Grade: B-

A sharp 'Mind'

It is no surprise that A Beautiful Mind has been nominated for several Golden Globe awards; expect the Oscar nominations to follow. Russell Crowe turns in an intense portrayal of emotionally tortured mathematician John Forbes Nash, a Princeton professor who agrees to help the CIA break enemy codes. When his wife discovers what he's doing, the depth of his involvement and endangerment are greater than anyone expected. As Nash's feelings of paranoia turn into schizophrenia, director Ron Howard bungles the conflicts between reality and delusion, taking fantasy too literally. Otherwise, Howard wisely trusts his story and the actors playing it out. Crowe is always at the center, a magnetic personality even when he's playing shy. (Rated PG-13; mature themes, sensuality, brief violence, mild profanity). Grade: B-plus.

Hook, line, sink

Everything is appropriate about Lasse Hallstrom's version of E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Shipping News, yet so little makes any lasting impact. We're watching the Readers Digest version of events, mentioning what must be the novel's high points without an author's freedom to expound on their linking importance.

Kevin Spacey turns in another quietly effective performance as Quoyle, a slumping schlub who marries a trailer tart named Petal (Cate Blanchett) and shares a daughter, Bunny. Petal escapes Quoyle's boredom by picking up men in bars. One fling leads to her fatal auto accident while Quoyle is grieving the death pact of his parents. The latter tragedy brings a visit from Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench), who convinces Quoyle to visit his roots in Newfoundland.

Still, propping up colorful characters for a payoff then moving to another chapter is a tack fit for a book, not a movie -- at least not this one. (Rated R; profanity, sensuality, mature themes, disturbing images). Grade: C.

Time travel made tiresome

Kate and Leopold is a conventional, rather overworked romantic comedy, in which leaping off the Brooklyn Bridge transports the characters between the present day and 1876.

Meg Ryan, as harried market-research executive Kate, is reattached to the kind of role she perfected in When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail: the cutesy, needy and maybe a wee bit desperate career woman who's also hopelessly romantic. Through a series of adventures, she links up with a man from the past, Leopold (Hugh Jackman). Courtly, dashing and romantic, Leopold is just what Kate needs, both for a client's butter commercial and for her own life. How convenient. Rated PG-13 (language). Grade: C-plus.

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