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Racing Stripes
Dir. Frederik Du Chau; writ. David Schmidt; feat. Hayden Panettiere, Bruce Greenwood, and the voices of Frankie Muniz, Mandy Moore, Dustin Hoffman, Jeff Foxworthy, Whoopi Goldberg (PG)

Although it attempts to camouflage itself as a horse of a different color (or pattern for that matter), Racing Stripes is a sincere effort in the talking-animal genre that falters down the home stretch.

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Hayden Panettiere and an unusually fast zebra star in Racing Stripes.
Accidentally left behind by the circus during a rainstorm, a whimpering baby zebra, later named Stripes, finds a home when farm owner Nolan Walsh (Greenwood), an ex-horse trainer, takes him to live on his ranch with his daughter Channing (Panettiere) and a number of personable farm animals, including elderly pony Tucker (Hoffman), and Fanny (Goldberg), a rational goat.

Flash forward three years. At the bottom of the hill on which the farm stands, a racetrack is in full operation, allowing Stripes to watch thoroughbreds compete and latch onto the idea that he, too, is a racehorse. Recognizing Stripes' heart for the sport, Channing pleads with her father to let her race the zippy zebra, but to no avail. Her mother, who was also a horse rider, died after falling off her steed, which makes Nolan a worrisome father. But race they will as Stripes begins to train for the Kentucky Derby and prove to everyone that he can hold his own against the favored stallions.

Running mostly on passé comedy and paying cliché homage to films such as The Godfather, Scarface, Field of Dreams, and even Troy, Racing Stripes never kicks into high gear because of its imitative storyline. Screenwriter David Schmidt only does so much with his "underdog" tale, making everything else, including characterization and dialogue, follow in defeat. It does not say much when the highlight is two scene-stealing flies (Steve Harvey and David Spade) who jump onto the zebra's back to sing "Ebony and Ivory."

Add on a dozen or so scenes of flatulence and repellent close-ups of horse and bird dung, and movie-goers are stuck with a shoddy Seabiscuit for preschoolers. Kiko Martinez


White Noise
Dir. Geoffrey Sax; writ. Niall Johnson; feat. Michael Keaton, Deborah Kara Unger, Chandra West, Ian McNeice (PG-13)

A mind-numbing combination of 1999's The Sixth Sense and 2000's Frequency, White Noise puts the stiff back in stiffs as the deceased find a way to switch on the FM dial.

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He hears dead people: Michael Keaton as Jonathan Rivers, who talks to the dead on his cell phone and home entertainment center.
Following the death of his pregnant wife, Anna (West), Jonathan Rivers (Keaton) is confronted by Raymond Price (McNeice) who tells him that his recently departed love has been communicating with him through recording devices. Initially skeptical of Price's explanation of EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), Jonathan's reluctance quickly turns to obsession when he receives a call from his wife's cell phone and then hears her voice on his answering machine. Jonathan transforms his home into a ghost tracking station in hopes of hearing Anna's voice again.

Not all the voices and images, however, which come out of the televisions and tape recorders, are amiable as Jonathan begins to receive messages from malevolent-toned entities that snarl obscenities at him. Still trying to decipher his wife's voice from the static, Jonathan decides that he must go on a quest to help those other voices that are screaming out to him, all while keeping a close eye on Anna's whereabouts in the afterlife. Suffice to say, he ain't afraid of no ghost.

Keaton, whose last feature-length main character was as a snowman in the 1998 holiday film Jack Frost, falls devastatingly short as the leading man. Emotionally underwritten, Keaton, along with the plot and theory of EVP that is never logically explained, takes a backseat to quick edits and drab music by Claude Foisy (1994's Outer Limits) that beg us to wince at its predictability.

Cringe we may, not because White Noise is remotely scary, but because we can now anticipate someone satirically uttering the phrase, "I hear dead people." Kiko Martinez


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