First takes |

First takes

AP and Internet reports

The formula is pretty familiar by now in these Judd Apatow-produced comedies. A couple of buddies get into trouble, and as they try to bumble their way out of it, their friendship only grows stronger. There’s even a word that’s been coined for this pop-culture phenomenon: the “Bromance.”

“Pineapple Express” tries to breathe some fresh life into this comic genre by turning it into a serious action movie. But because it tries to be both, it doesn’t completely work on either level.

Seth Rogen and James Franco have great chemistry, though ” not surprising, since they’re both longtime Friends of Judd who co-starred on his TV series “Freaks and Geeks.” Rogen also co-wrote the script with lifelong pal Evan Goldberg, with whom he wrote the script for “Superbad,” which was inspired by their geeky adolescence. This time, Rogen plays a slightly more functional version of his “Knocked Up” slacker: His Dale Denton is a process server, but he’s still dating a high-school girl and makes frequent trips to his pot dealer. That would be Franco’s affable space cadet Saul Silver ” a wildly different role for the actor, best known as the pretty-boy bad guy in the “Spider-Man” movies. Saul sells an inordinately strong strain of weed called Pineapple Express, which gets him and Dale into trouble when it tangles them up with a dirty cop (Rosie Perez) and a homicidal drug lord (Gary Cole).

“Pineapple Express” is at its best when it’s about these two guys getting to know each other by talking about absolutely nothing. But then it turns into a generic action picture, full of fist-fights and shootouts and explosions, in an obvious effort to be as broadly commercial as possible.

R for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence. 108 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

While anything remotely “Star Wars” is potentially a welcome trek for hard-core fans, this will be a mixed thrill given that the saga returns to the big screen as a cartoon.

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George Lucas’ prequel trilogy was so overloaded with computer-generated imagery that the digital animation of “Clone Wars” isn’t that big of a leap. The somber tone of those three movies ” chronicling the downfall of Anakin Skywalker from snotty teen to black-hearted Darth Vader ” is gone, replaced with a variation of the campy humor and camaraderie that characterized the original trilogy. Still, a “Star Wars” movie should be an event. Whether because of its cartoony format or its relatively lightweight story, “Clone Wars” definitely is not an event. It’s a fairly fun if forgettable little adventure that hurls Anakin, his new young apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi and the rest of the gang into a kidnapping conspiracy and rescue amid a galactic civil war between clone soldiers and android troops. The movie is a glorified introduction to the “Clone Wars” animated series debuting this fall on TV ” almost certainly a more appropriate home for a cartoon version of “Star Wars.”

PG for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language and momentary smoking. 98 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

Ben Stiller’s Hollywood satire couldn’t be any more “inside-baseball” if it contained references to the infield fly rule and Rule 5 draft picks. This movie-within-a-movie is certainly his most ambitious production as a director and it contains some of the biggest belly laughs of his career.

But while it blends comedy and action sequences far more skillfully and seamlessly than this summer’s “Pineapple Express,” which shifted from one genre to the other, after a while the whole endeavor winds up feeling feels overwrought and repetitive. Stiller co-wrote the script with Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen, produced and stars as Tugg Speedman, an increasingly irrelevant action hero who now leads the ensemble cast of the Vietnam War epic “Tropic Thunder.” When Tugg and his equally pampered castmates turn out to be too distracted to commit to the production, and costs start spiraling out of control, the first-time director (Steve Coogan) leads them into the jungle to bond and fend for themselves. But what they think is a carefully crafted exercise in make-believe turns out to be all too real. Jack Black is typically manic and a bit one-note as the drug-addicted comic star of the flatulent “Fatties” franchise.

But it’s Robert Downey Jr. who takes the humor to a daring, inspired level with his hilarious turn as an Australian method actor who undergoes skin-pigmentation surgery to play a black soldier. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise’s supporting performance as a megalomaniacal studio chief has its wondrously freaky moments, but it’s not nearly as career-altering as the hype would suggest.

R for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content and drug material. 106 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

An ex-cop (Kiefer Sutherland) becomes a night security guard at a long-closed department store that was ravaged by fire. He discovers that the store’s mirrors harbor a horrific secret that threatens him and his family. R for strong violence, disturbing images, language and brief nudity. 110 min.