December 23, 2013 12:00 PM

American Hustle

Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper | R |

COMEDY

Dig out your plaid and platforms and get that hair fried, dyed and laid to the side – we’re going back to the ’70s! Loaded with so much style and swagger that it just barely avoids tripping on itself, American Hustle spins a wild yarn of romance, con artistry and dirty politics, loosely based on the Abscam scandal that put several elected officials behind bars. It’s a mess, but endlessly entertaining.

To keep all that fluff from floating away, director David O. Russell recruits a heavyweight repertory company from his past movies. The Fighter’s Bale and Adams play lovers Irving and Sydney, mid-level cons stung by the feds. That’s where Silver Linings Playbook’s Cooper and Lawrence come in. FBI agent DiMaso (Cooper) is wildly ambitious – your English teacher would call that his tragic flaw – as he uses Irving and Sydney to lure bigger fish with tales of an Arab sheik looking to bankroll development in Atlantic City. Lawrence is Irving’s wife, Rosalyn, a gorgeous, unhinged harpy for the ages.

If you think you know all that these actors can do, that you’ve seen all their tricks, get to a theater. Everyone is so precise in their lunacy, from Bale’s epic combover to Adams’s sexy mind games to Lawrence – oh my goodness, Lawrence. She’d better have room on her shelf for Oscar bookends.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Evangeline Lilly | PG-13 |

FANTASY

This mid-trilogy return to Middle-Earth is packed with dazzling effects and gnarly fights but can hardly stand on its own. Its salvation is the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), cunning and vicious, not to mention massive. But first Bilbo (Freeman) and the Dwarves have to slip past warrior Elves Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Lilly) through the heavily guarded Lake-town to the Lonely Mountain where Smaug awaits. It’s a fine, if violent, journey, but a bolder finale surely lies ahead.

Her

Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson| R |

COMEDY/DRAMA

Director Spike Jonze takes a thought experiment to a soul-nourishing end in Her, in which lonely writer Theodore (Phoenix) falls for his phone’s operating system Samantha (Johansson). She’s sexy and attentive but never an idealized fantasy babe. Her challenges our idea of real love, helped by a charming Phoenix and an empathetic voice performance by Johansson.

Lone Survivor

Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster | R |

ACTION/DRAMA

Take the film’s title at its word that a firefight won’t end well for Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg) and his fellow Navy SEALs. Based on a true story, Lone Survivor recounts a brutal skirmish with the Taliban in bullets, gashes and bone-snapping leaps down a mountainside. In spite of the thinly drawn characters, the actors are all in top form.

Twice Born

Penélope Cruz, Emile Hirsch | R |

DRAMA

Lovely Gemma (Cruz) falls for manic photographer Diego (Hirsch) in this melodrama, but they seem more flash-in-the-pan than long-term, particularly once Gemma is deemed infertile. A hasty attempt to find a surrogate in Sarajevo as the Balkan War breaks out leads to cruel twists, but they don’t make much sense – or impact.

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