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Little

Great performances save a terrible script and make comic fun
© Universal Pictures A take-no-prisoners tech mogul bullies and berates her staff — until she is cursed and transformed into the 13-year-old version of herself (Marsai Martin) and returns to the middle school where she herself was once bullied.
      Humiliated in a school assembly, Jordan (Marsai Martin) vows to be a bully. She stays true to her word; the adult Jordan (Regina Hall) revels at humiliating everyone who crosses her path. 
      Bearing the brunt is Jordan’s assistant April (Issa Rae). Eager to earn a promotion, April tolerates Jordan’s abuse. 
     But Jordan’s behavior boomerangs back on her when yelling at a child sends her back to her 14-year-old self. Her only hope in escaping her unwelcome fate is April. If April is willing …
     Billed as a fresh female update of Big, Little is an important movie for several reasons. First is its cast and director: three black women leads and black female director Tina Gordon (Peeples). Second, 14-year-old Marsai Martin becomes the youngest executive producer in Hollywood history. 
     Too bad, then, that the script is so shoddy. Gordon seems to have cobbled bits and pieces of a better comedy into a semi-coherent film. Scenes meander, then end abruptly. Storylines are brought up, then dropped. A bizarre musical sing-off in a restaurant starts and stops. Within the first 15 minutes, we hear a stunningly off-color transphobic joke. It seems as if a would-be raunchy comedy was cut down to an audience-friendly PG-13 without regard for coherence. Everything works out for the main characters, but only because the film seems to tire of its own story.
     Script and slipshod editing should make a disaster, but a brilliant cast saves the day. In a smaller role, Hall is a hilarious shrew. As her foil, Rae turns the hackneyed role of put-upon assistant into comedy gold. She can make just about anything funny, and when the dialogue gives her nothing, she uses facial expressions and physical humor to get laughs. 
     Martin is the star of the show. With the self-assured confidence of a 40-year-old woman in a child’s body, she draws laughs from even the drabbest set ups. 
     Little isn’t a good movie, but it is consistently funny and entertaining, thanks to the three women leading it. 
Fair Comedy • PG-13 • 109 mins.
 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Long Shot
    Journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) never felt comfortable rubbing elbows with the elite politicians he writes about. That changes when his former babysitter, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) emerges as a possible presidential candidate. 
       Reunited at a party, Charlotte and Fred are drawn to each other. Nostalgia leads Charlotte to hire Fred as a speechwriter. Soon she is smitten, and the pair embark on a romance that might threaten Charlotte’s presidential dreams. 
      A romantic comedy about love, politics and opposites finding commonality, Long Shot should be charming. Rogen is always good for a few laughs, and Theron is surprisingly funny. The movie also refreshingly switches up the gender roles, casting Theron as the powerful suave romancer and Rogen as the bewildered, wide-eyed neophyte. The duo has good chemistry and if their movie can avoid clichés, it should be worth the ticket.
Prospects: Bright • R • 115 mins.
 
Red Joan
     When Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) is arrested by MI5 and accused of treason, her community is shocked. The pensioner, as it turns out, may have been one of the most successful spies in the history of espionage.
     But was Joan a woman seeking to betray her country? Or trying to save it from itself?
      Don’t let Judi Dench’s name fool you. This is a story about Joan’s younger days, so Sophie Cookson plays Joan for most of the movie. Still, a true tale about an English woman convinced to spy for the Russians should be interesting. But if you’re looking for bravura dramatic performances from Dench as a woman who found her loyalties divided, you may not find it here.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 110 mins.
 
UglyDolls
     In Uglyville, looking good means being odd. It’s a town founded by all the toys pulled from the assembly line for being irregular. Rejected from sale, the UglyDolls have accepted each other. If you’re chubby, odd looking or weird — it’s all good as long as you’re being you. 
      But UglyDoll Moxy (Kelly Clarkson) wants more. She’s convinced that somewhere in the world is a child who would love her. So Moxy leads a group of friends into the real world. When she stumbles on the Institute of Perfection, she thinks she’s found allies. Will these cookie-cutter toys accept this odd crew? 
     A movie with a good heart and loads of clichés, UglyDolls hopes to teach kids to accept themselves. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 87 mins.