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Capsule reviews: 'Paul,' 'Limitless'

The Associated Press, Friday, March 18, 2011, 8:39pm (PDT)

Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

"Limitless" — Bradley Cooper shows he can truly act, truly command a screen — and not just swagger and preen — and his performance goes a long way toward making this sci-fi thriller more entertaining, and more plausible, than it probably should be. Cooper stars as Eddie Morra, a struggling and depressed New York writer who takes a magical pill called NZT that allows him to tap into his full potential. Suddenly, he's not only pounding out chapters, he's cleaning up, picking up new interests, learning new languages and wowing everyone he meets. More importantly and more realistically, he does the thing we'd all do with frighteningly expanded brain power: He turns it into a way to make millions of dollars. Fast. Director Neil Burger, whose first feature was the intriguing "Interview With the Assassin" from 2002, moves the story forward with an infectious energy. He probably didn't need to rely on some of the visual tricks he employs, though — words dropping from the ceiling to indicate a break in Eddie's writer's block, or multiple Eddies accomplishing tasks around the house. Still, Cooper is surprisingly good as the shlubby, stubbly version of his character in the beginning, and as the wildly improved version of himself on NZT. Robert De Niro is quietly fierce (and does some of his best work in a while) as the financial guru who's fascinated by Eddie, while Abbie Cornish probably doesn't get enough to do as Eddie's on-again, off-again girlfriend, who's skeptical of the new him. PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language. 105 min. Three stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"The Lincoln Lawyer" —Matthew McConaughey stars as a lawyer who drives around Los Angeles ... in a Lincoln. It has nothing to do with the capital of Nebraska or the former president. While you're watching it, though, you'll wish it did. Director Brad Furman's film, which John Romano wrote based on the Michael Connelly novel, has the slick, disposable feel of the sort of legal drama you could find any night of the week on primetime TV. From the opening titles and underdeveloped characters to the quick pacing and flat lighting, "The Lincoln Lawyer" seems insubstantial, recycled and forgettable. McConaughey plays Mick Haller, a cocky, sleazy defense attorney who thinks he's got it all figured out. But, because this is a McConaughey movie, his character will have his comeuppance, and it comes in the form of a high-profile case. Beverly Hills real estate heir Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) is accused in the rape and attempted murder of a prostitute. Louis insists he's innocent, so it should be no problem. But this pretty boy is, naturally more dangerous than he looks. Despite the many twists and turns, Mick actually ends up learning nothing and has no arc. Among the strong but woefully underused supporting cast are Marisa Tomei as Mick's ex-wife; William H. Macy as his best friend, a private investigator; and Bryan Cranston as a homicide detective whose screen time looks suspiciously truncated. R for some violence, sexual content and language. 119 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Paul" — The title character of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's latest genre comedy is a sarcastic stoner steeped in pop culture and busting with well-timed, crude observations. In short, he is Seth Rogen. Though the CGI-created alien, who's voiced by Rogen, has powers of healing and invisibility, his defining characteristics aren't his exoticism, but his normalcy. He wears cargo shorts and digs Marvin Gaye. Two vacationing, unabashedly nerdy Brits, Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost), stumble upon Paul in their sci-fi-loving tour of Southwest America, from Comic-Con to Area 51. Trailing Paul are a handful of agents (Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio), with a higher-up (sci-fi queen Sigourney Weaver) sending commands. It's the first time Pegg and Frost, who also wrote the script, have set a film in America or worked with director Greg Mottola ("Superbad," "Adventureland"). The result is an interesting mix of British and American comedy (Kristen Wiig just about steals the movie) that mostly comes off amiably and consistently funny. It does the same for science fiction as Pegg and Frost's "Shaun of the Dead" did for zombie films and "Hot Fuzz" did for action flicks, but falls closer to mere spoof than something of its own. R for language including sexual references, and some drug use. 104 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

— Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer

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