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Black amuses in 'Travels'

"Gulliver's Travels" (PG): Jack Black brings his laid-back, irreverent sensibilities to this likable adaptation of Jonathan Swift's 18th-century novel. The film is no masterpiece, and indeed lacks cinematic panache, but it radiates good humor, which could win the hearts of kids 10 and older. Lemuel Gulliver has languished for years in the modern-day mailroom of a major magazine. He can't even bring himself to ask out his secret crush, travel writer Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet). On a bad impulse, he submits plagiarized writing samples to her and she gives him an assignment to sail a boat alone in the Bermuda Triangle and write about it. He encounters a huge (slightly scary) storm, is engulfed, and wakes up on a beach, tied up by the little bitty people of Lilliput, who appear to live in 18th- or 19th-century Europe. Gulliver helps the Lilliputians repel equally tiny invaders and becomes a pampered hero.

The battle scenes are not scary, even when tiny invading ships fire cannonballs at Gulliver. His sojourn with giants (where he is the tiny person) is very brief, and we only see one (albeit huge) young girl who plunks Gulliver in her dollhouse. There he finds the skeletal remains of a previous prisoner. The film does a decent job of demonstrating how unacceptable Gulliver's lying and plagiarism are.

"Little Fockers" (PG-13): Sometimes a comedy franchise runs out of steam. Despite a scattering of real laughs, the humor feels awfully forced in "Little Fockers." That doesn't mean high schoolers won't get a charge out of watching adults behave badly in the film. The sexually focused humor is pretty graphic at times, making "Little Fockers" inappropriate for middle schoolers. Nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) has been promoted at the hospital, and he and his wife Pam (Teri Polo) have two young children. Greg's relationship with his suspicious, ex-CIA father-in-law Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) has mellowed, until Jack gets the idea that Greg may be having an affair with a flirtatious pharmaceutical rep named Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba). Greg's own dad Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) is off learning the tango in Spain, while his mom Roz (Barbra Streisand) has a successful sex advice TV show. How could any of these folks possibly embarrass poor Greg?

The adult-oriented sexual humor features erectile dysfunction jokes, including visual gags about that four-hour Viagra side effect, as well as other sexual innuendo and behavior. In a hospital scene, Greg and Andi insert a tube into a patient's backside. Characters use mild profanity, misuse prescription drugs, drink and engage in digestive humor.

"True Grit" (PG-13): A new adaptation of Charles Portis' novel, as opposed to a remake of the 1969 John Wayne movie (G-rated on video), this "True Grit" is a breathtaking film. Yet it is very iffy for middle schoolers because of its portrayal of grim Wild West lawlessness that includes gun and knife violence, hangings, fights, casual (fairly mild) mistreatment of Native American children, harsh treatment of animals -- all R-ish elements. The mayhem may not be ultragraphic, but it is intense. For older teens and adults, however, this "True Grit" offers the delights of a cohesive, brilliantly spun yarn. Co-directors and co-writers Joel and Ethan Coen celebrate the English language (and the book) in the kind of dialogue we rarely hear. Everyone from the lowest criminal talks in a colorful, literary style that is not the least bit dry.

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