- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2008

Smart People (Miramax, $29.99) — “Smart People” is almost a great movie. It has a talented cast that makes for an interesting mix: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church and Ellen Page. It has a sometimes painful realism: These good-looking and well-known people have been transformed from movie stars into their Middle American characters, and director Noam Murro and writer Mark Jude Poirier have really captured the seriousness and the silliness of academic life. “People’s” plot is intriguing: Mr. Quaid is an almost-washed-up professor who meets a former student, now a physician (Miss Parker) when he gets a head injury. The curmudgeonly widower falls for the pretty, independent woman despite himself. Meanwhile, his adopted brother (Mr. Church) shows up and tries to inspire Mr. Quaid’s uptight daughter (Miss Page) to live a little. It’s a classic clash of personalities.

The problem is that what could have been a funny farce is actually a somewhat earnest drama. The best bits of the film are the comedy, particularly the satires of academia and the publishing world. Those are soon scuttled, though, in favor of a fairly typical Hollywood plot. It’s a romantic drama set in a smart world, not a smart romantic drama.

Still, it’s worth watching. The performances truly are better than average, and Mr. Murro and Mr. Poirier show enough talent to be counted as filmmakers to watch.

“People’s” DVD extras include a commentary by Mr. Murro and Mr. Poirier along with interviews with the cast. The outtakes and deleted scenes seem, as the movie sometimes does, like typical filler fare. There are a few interesting moments, though. The outtakes are just a collection of actors laughing instead of saying their lines — until we get to a scene between Miss Page and Mr. Church. He flubs his line, and she immediately fires back with: “You got nominated for an Oscar?” It’s a surprisingly nasty moment in what otherwise is a reel of laughs.

Mr. Church would have gotten a laugh, however, if a deleted scene featuring him had made it into the finished film. He’s trying, not very successfully, to pick up a bartender. “What are you doing later?” he asks. “[Sleeping with] my boyfriend,” she responds.

Biography: John McCain and Biography: Barack Obama (A&E, $12.95 each) — If the thousands of inches of newspaper space and hundreds of hours of television time haven’t given you enough background on the two men vying to be the nation’s next commander in chief, pick up these DVDs from A&E’s long-running series. Both explore the lives of the candidates from childhood to campaign, and both promise up-to-the-minute information on how each man won his nomination.

I Got the Feelin’: James Brown in the ‘60s (Shout Factory, $39.98) — This three-disc set has a plethora of goodies for fans of the late Godfather of Soul. Disc one includes a documentary, the director’s cut of “The Night James Brown Saved Boston,” a look at how the musician’s 1968 concert right after the assassination of Martin Luther King helped prevent riots in the city. Disc two has the footage of that concert, and disc three features a concert from Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater that was taped for a television special the week before the Boston show. A few other live tracks are included in the set as well.

Kelly Jane Torrance

Strawberry Shortcake: Rockaberry Roll (Fox Home Entertainment, $14.98) — This animated revival of the 1970s greeting-card-character-turned-television-video-game franchise portrays the supercutesy Strawberry Shortcake as a lead singer in an auditioning girl band.

The setting and saga would have to be a 6-year-old girl’s (the feature’s probable target audience) dream. The characters, which also include Shortcake’s gal pals Gingersnap (Asian), Orange Blossom (black) and Angelcake (blonde), are cute.

Oh, and Strawberryland is made of tasty fruits and lollipop trees.

The story follows the ups and downs of the girl band. It features a humorous scene that mimics the antics of the “American Idol” judges with Custard the Cat (clearly echoing Simon Caldwell) saying of the girls’ performance: “I sound better when I cough up a fur ball.”

The goody-two-shoes Shortcake, however, doesn’t blame the judges but simply says, “We did it to ourselves.”

This is where the moralistic and educational part comes in: Hard work and team spirit pay off.

The 45-minute DVD also features four cute and catchy songs as well as predictable but refreshingly friendly story lines. Other bonus features include a character gallery, a music video and printable coloring pages.

It’s innocent fun for its target audience — and only slightly annoying for the rest of us.

Gabriella Boston

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