*** Bad Santa -- Billy Bob Thornton plays a foul-mouthed, sex-crazed drunkard who, with his "elf" helper (Tony Cox) gets a department store Santa job each year, then robs the seasonally bulging safe after hours. The film is overflowing with bad cheer and a bit of depravity, but it also manages to be a riot of black humor and slapstick. Its soft side features a young, innocent, slightly daft boy who takes to "Santa," but the story never gets mushy. This is not a family movie; it's twisted. (ES) Rated R
The Haunted Mansion -- Pirates of the Caribbean was such a huge success, it was only a matter of time before the fine folks at Disneyland started looking at the rest of their rides as a herd of potential cash cows. In The Haunted Mansion, Eddie Murphy plays a real estate agent who brings his family along to evaluate the curb appeal of a huge New Orleans mansion. Once inside, the family is tormented and trapped by 999 (um, isn't that, like, the Number of the Beast upside down???) ghosts. Rated: PG
*** The Missing -- Drawn from a little-known pulp novel, Ron Howard's latest movie is a gritty, brutal, often unpleasant portrait of a family crisis in 1885 New Mexico, in what Howard describes as "warped and strange and tragic times." Cate Blanchett has the John Wayne role; Tommy Lee Jones is her estranged father who helps save the day when daughter Evan Rachel Wood is kidnapped as a sex slave by renegades. (RP) Rated: R
* Timeline -- Contemporary archeology students are sent back to 14th-century France to rescue their professor (Billy Connolly) who has somehow become stuck there. Michael Crichton's novel had that good idea, but the film adaptation suffers from mundane direction, loose ends to spare, and much overacting. It turns into a story of smart people doing dumb things -- one of them falls for a medieval girl -- instead of just getting the prof and coming back. A few good visuals, but even the "action" is dull. (ES) Rated: PG-13
**** Don't Miss It *** Worth $8 ** Wait For The Video * Save Your Money
& lt;i & Capsule reviews are written by Ed Symkus (ES) and Ray Pride (RP), unless otherwise noted. & lt;/i &
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Publication date: 11/27/03