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DVDs In Brief: May 19, 2010

Clint Eastwood’s Invictus (Warner Bros.) is a surprisingly modest-in-scale account of post-apartheid South African politics by way of a country-uniting rugby match. But the smallness helps keep the focus on the human moments, and some fine performances from Matt Damon and especially Morgan Freeman. It’s an epic of little, meaningful moments…

The cast of Garry Marshall’s sprawling ensemble romantic comedy Valentine’s Day (Warner Bros.) includes Shirley MacLaine, Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Jamie Foxx, Kathy Bates, Queen Latifah, Julia Roberts, and Hector Elizondo, yet it gives callow pretty boy Ashton Kutcher the lead role as a flower-shop proprietor—part-time cupid and full-time romantic sap. That’s just the first of the film’s miscalculations. Valentine’s Day is the rare star-studded opus that essentially doubles as a backdoor pilot for its own syndicated TV adaptation…

Squint a little, and CBS Films’ Extraordinary Measures (Sony) looks exactly like a made-for-TV disease-of-the-week programmer, except that it happens to star Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford. Not that they have much to do in this based-on-real-life checklist of a movie, in which a desperate dad (Fraser) devotes his life (and eventually, an entire biotech firm) to finding a treatment for the rare syndrome that's gradually claiming two of his kids. Ford, meanwhile, plays a wholly invented character, a crotchety researcher who may hold the key to the treatment, but mostly holds the key to keeping viewers awake until the predictable uplifting ending…

Though it earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Woody Harrelson as a salty badass with a sweet center—and a less-deserved nod for its screenplay—Oren Moverman’s The Messenger (Oscilloscope) isn’t terribly sure-handed in its treatment of Army officials tasked with the thankless job of expressing official condolences to the immediate family members of dead soldiers. Moverman apparently can’t decide whether his movie is about the specific actions of stateside soldiers or a larger statement about the war in general… 

Poor Jackie Chan. It’s bad enough that Hong Kong’s answer to Buster Keaton has seen his career fade via second-rate Hollywood action comedies and the natural diminishment of age, but did The Spy Next Door (Lionsgate) really have to open with a montage of Chan highlights from the days of yore? The intent was to set up his character’s high-flying spy credentials, but it cruelly sets the audience up for a disappointment, promising a demonstration of skills the once-great performer no longer has in his arsenal.