{sstar} Cinderella Man

PG-13, 2005, 144 minutes. Universal Home

Video. Contains boxing violence.

Forced to work as a longshoreman to feed his family (including his wife, played by Renee Zellweger) during the Depression, down-and-out boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) jumps at the chance to take on a heavyweight opponent. When he wins, he faces world champion Max Baer (Craig Bierko). In a way, this film, based on a true story, is "Seabiscuit" in boxing gloves. But there's more to it than that: a Runyonesque glow, thanks to director Ron Howard and scriptwriters Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman. Crowe's burly poignancy hits you foursquare in the ribs, right above the ticker. The abstract dance between his softness and physical power is the heartbeat of the movie, and it takes you through financial hardship, terrible times and some bloody battles with special grace.

* Extra: Director's commentary.

-- Desson Thomson

The Dukes of Hazzard

PG-13, 106 minutes, Warner Home Video.

Contains obscenity and mild sexual situations, crude and drug-related humor, and comic action violence.

There's a lot of armchair outlaws out there who fondly remember that long-running Friday night TV show with Bo, Duke and Daisy, and that '69 orange Dodge Charger, the General Lee. This movie, starring Seann William Scott as Bo and Johnny Knoxville as Luke, is smart enough not to mess with a good thing. "Dukes" is more charmingly lowbrow than screamingly funny, and it doesn't seem the slightest bit interested in straying from the formula of screeching cars, barroom brawls and other Southern cliches. Anyone going to this movie would want no less and, it seems, no more.

* Extra: Jessica Simpson music video.

-- Desson Thomson

Fantastic Four

PG-13, 2005, 105 minutes, 20th Century Fox. Contains intense action and some sexual


This movie version of the comic book series, which stars Jessica Alba (as Susan Storm), Michael Chiklis (the Thing) and others, feels like a rote adaptation. We go through the opening history and learn how four astronaut-scientists were caught in a wave of radioactivity and became the Fantastic Four team of superfreaks. But the movie lacks oomph. Despite some nice moments of computer-generated imagery, which includes a human fireball and a well-done scene on a Manhattan bridge in which the Thing uses his brute strength to stop a fire engine from plunging into the water, this "Four" ain't so "Fantastic." And the less said about the dialogue the better. The Fantastic Four never topped my personal short list, as far as comic book heroes went. And this so-so movie doesn't do much to change that feeling.

* Extra: Cast commentary.

-- Desson Thomson

{sstar} Ladies in Lavender

PG-13, 2005, 104 minutes, Sony Pictures.

Contains brief crude language.

Maggie Smith and Judi Dench give outstanding performances as lonely sisters who nurse an injured young man (Daniel Bruhl) back to health after he washes up on the shore of their Cornish village in this restrained British melodrama about love and letting go. Directed with a sure hand by actor Charles Dance, who clearly knows that the best way to play a scene is often to underplay it, the film never strays into mawkishness, even as it makes palpable the sisters' pain at the memories of love the stranger's presence dredges up, and the dignity with which they must ultimately accept what they cannot have.

* Extra: Featurette.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger star in the Depression-era boxing drama "Cinderella Man."