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GOING ALONG FOR THE RIDE

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (PG, 1 hour, 50 minutes)

This movie is special. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" celebrates humor, language, imagination and life in ways that today's typical overproduced science-fiction films do not. It deserves a cult following of kids and adults, as did the 1978 BBC radio play of the same name (aka "H2G2") by the late Douglas Adams, his books and the 1981 British TV miniseries. Savvy kids 10 and older who read a lot, appreciate offbeat fantasy and off-the-wall comedy will savor this tale of an English Everyman who takes a dizzying trip through the galaxy in his bathrobe after an alien civilization blows up planet Earth. Director Garth Jennings takes an appropriately left-field approach to the material and, refreshingly, much of the film looks hand -- not computer -- made.

There are mean and ugly aliens, but somehow their fright level is low. Human characters drink and there are mild glimmers of sexual innuendo. In silhouette, we see an alien have one of his two heads sawed off. Jennings and his fine cast also lend the story a hint of poignancy and wonder at the cosmos amid the laughs. Some parents may object on religious grounds to the film's humorous, irreverent discussions of God and the creation of the universe.

Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) doesn't realize, as he tries to keep bulldozers from toppling his house to make way for a new road, that he'll soon have bigger problems. His best friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), confesses that he comes from another planet and must now save Arthur before Earth is blown up by the Vogons (the galaxy's huge, bulbous bureaucrats) to make way for a galactic freeway. Ford beams Arthur and himself aboard a Vogon ship just before Earth vaporizes. He gives Arthur a copy of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," an electronic book with a narrator's voice (Stephen Fry) detailing what to expect at every continuum.

Beyond the ratings game

PG-13s:

"King's Ransom" -- Comic actor Anthony Anderson overdoes it in heavy-handed farce about obnoxious businessman who engineers his own kidnapping to stop his estranged wife (Kellita Smith) from getting his millions; plan goes awry when an angry employee (Nicole Parker) and a hapless stranger (Jay Mohr) also plot to abduct him; Loretta Devine as his loyal assistant, Regina Hall as his dumb mistress add some laughs. Crude verbal, visual sexual innuendo, suggestive dancing; other graphic crude language, mild profanity; drinking, smoking. Not for middle-schoolers.

"The Interpreter" -- International thriller with intriguing premise but plodding, over-earnest style and rare excitement. Nicole Kidman in chilly, furtive turn as African-born United Nations interpreter who overhears an assassination plot against African leader coming to the U.N.; Sean Penn convinces best as Secret Service agent trying to discern whether she's for real. Portrayal of lethal violence, graphic for PG-13: prologue in Africa shows boys committing two gun murders; terrorist explosion on New York street; stabbing murders; bloody aftermath of suicide; middling profanity; sexual innuendo (scantily clad dancers); drinking. Teens interested in world issues.

"A Lot Like Love" -- Bland, pedestrian attempt at romantic comedy a la "When Harry Met Sally" (R, 1989); stars Ashton Kutcher as young entrepreneur, Amanda Peet as arty free spirit first meet in anonymous sexual liaison that she initiates on a plane, then slowly get to know each other in accidental/on-purpose meetings over seven years. Strongly implied (nothing graphic shown) tryst in airplane restroom; other strong verbal, visual sexual innuendo; sexual encounter in car with seminudity, cutting away before it gets explicit; Too sexually charged for many middle-schoolers.

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