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Imported delights

A review of *Millions (PG)*Kung Fu Hustle (R)

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Alex Etel is cuter than cute as Damian in Millions.
  • Alex Etel is cuter than cute as Damian in Millions.

*Millions (PG)

*Kung Fu Hustle (R)

Millions: Kimball's Twin Peak

Kung Fu Hustle: Carmike 10, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

If not for cinematic imports, these would be dry days in the nation's movie theaters, where half-witted romantic comedies compete with mean-spirited horror and adventure flicks for our disposable dollars.

Two movies that opened in Springs theaters last weekend -- Millions from England and Kung Fu Hustle from Hong Kong -- offer silliness, tributes to Hollywood's golden days, fresh characters and surprising plots that leave viewers smiling in their seats. Neither is a masterpiece, but each offers that quality so elusive in our media-saturated culture: genuine entertainment.

That Millions, the heartwarming tale of a pair of motherless Irish brothers, is directed by grim meister Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) is its biggest surprise. Add some really fun visual treats -- a new neighborhood popping up out of the dust in a computer-generated frenzy; clouds that look like cartoon characters -- and the entertainment factor is already high.

Superb casting earns the film more high marks. The child actors, Alex Etel as Damian and Lewis McGibbon as Anthony, are natural and charming despite their eccentricities. They don't do cute; they merely are cute. Damian converses with saints and Anthony has an uncanny knack with finances, and when the two are unexpectedly gifted with a duffel bag full of cash, a series of adventures and misadventures are set in place. The film stumbles forward with a shifting focus, but enough endearing scenes to hold it together.

The missing mother hides between and behind the individual frames and scenes of the film, offsetting comic moments with a bittersweet result. The ending should have been dispensed in the cutting room, but it doesn't ruin the effect of having watched a sweet family heal itself with a little help from the spirit world.

Critic Roger Ebert best described Kung Fu Hustle, the newest effort by Asian box office champ Stephen Chow, after its debut at Sundance 2004 as being "like Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton meets Quentin Tarantino and Bugs Bunny." It's a martial arts extravaganza, slapstick comedy, a tip of the hat to stylized movie violence and an absurd cartoon.

Chow, who wrote, directed, produced and stars in the film, achieves his purpose -- entertainment with a capital E -- by sidestepping all reason and giving more attention to the over-the-top design of the film than to his own starring moments. Indeed, his character, Sing, lingers at the edges of the film until the ultimate battle with the Beast (Leung Siu Lung), when he finally rips his shirt off and reveals that, yes, beneath those shaggy locks, Superman has lurked all along.

The film opens with a Hollywood western-inspired showdown involving the Axe Gang, an army of guys in black suits and top hats wielding hatchets, and quickly departs to the mythical slum of Pig Sty Alley, a community of outcasts ruled by a cigarette-sucking, domineering landlady (Yuen Qiu) and her skirt-chasing husband. When the Axe Gang converges on Pig Sty, some unlikely heroes emerge, and fight scenes choreographed as carefully and outlandishly as grand opera ensue.

Chow shamelessly roots for the underdog, and we are treated repeatedly to quirky plot shifts that underline that effort. Kung Fu Hustle is a visual delight and a cultural nose-tweak, a heck of a lot more fun than a $100 million parade of car crashes.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

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