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In love, he’ll do whatever it takes

Of his brisk, compelling “Retrieval,” Polish filmmaker Slawomir Fabicki has remarked that “We forget that when the world around us is gray all clear boundaries between that which is good, and that which is bad, easily blur.” And swiftly too in the case of intelligent but naive and desperate 19-year-old Wojtek (Antoni Pawlicki), stuck in a drab, fading coal-mining community. In love with a pretty Ukrainian undocumented immigrant, Katja (Nataliya Vdovina), who has a young son and who has fled from a brutal husband, Wojtek yearns to obtain proper papers for her.

To that end, he takes up prizefighting with sufficient success to become hired by a local entrepreneur, Gazda (Jacek Braciak), to be a nightclub and private party security guard. Soon Gazda is offering Wojtek more serious money to “retrieve” funds from debtors. Gazda may have boyish looks and be devoted to his children, but he is an utterly pitiless and ruthless loan shark. Although Wojtek becomes increasingly conflicted about having to terrorize people to make them pay up, he also realizes that Gazda will in return be willing and able to produce the papers Katja needs so badly.

“Retrieval,” which was Poland’s entry in the 79th Academy Awards, is relentlessly bleak but is so taut and observant that it is impossible to turn away from its darkening vision. Indeed, it has been beautifully crafted in the finest tradition of Poland’s venerable and distinguished cinema.

-- Kevin Thomas

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“Retrieval.” MPAA rating: Unrated. In Polish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. At the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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A ‘Neighbor’ to be avoided

It’s been a long way down for the talented Matthew Modine since his days working for such directors as Robert Altman, Alan Parker and Stanley Kubrick. He hits a new nadir, though, with his role as a bohemian L.A. architect in “The Neighbor,” a romantic farce based on the French telefilm “Mon voison du dessus.” Modine does what he can to sell the flimsy premise, but he’s so hamstrung by Eddie O’Flaherty and J.P. Davis’ sketchy script -- not to mention by O’Flaherty’s clumsy direction -- that it’s a losing battle.

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Worse, French actress Michele Laroque, from the original, is badly miscast as a hard-driving career woman fighting to evict her upstairs tenant (Modine) so she can combine the two loft condos she owns into one. The two-time Cesar Award nominee is stiff and charmless working outside her native tongue, resulting in zero chemistry with either Modine or Ed Quinn, who plays her narcissistic fiance.

Reliable actors Richard Kind, Meredith Scott Lynn, Ann Cusack and Patrick Breen pop in, but they too are victims of the slapdash approach.

-- Gary Goldstein

“The Neighbor.” MPAA rating: PG for language, including sexual comments with drug references, and smoking. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. At Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.

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‘Hell Ride’: That truly says it all

Executive produced by Quentin Tarantino, “Hell Ride” was written, directed by and stars Larry Bishop, son of Rat Pack sidekick Joey Bishop. If that sounds like a tantalizing combination, grindhouse sleaze meets debonair raucousness, alas, it is not to be.

The film gets the scummy patina right, all phony-Leone dusty trails, but while everybody on screen looks to be enjoying themselves, it is no fun to watch. Some bikers cross some other bikers and ride around a lot, fighting and meeting women and having convoluted flashbacks. The film is not without its moments -- mostly from a dazzlingly eccentric turn by Michael Madsen, with able support from Dennis Hopper -- but largely seems an excuse for Bishop to ride around on motorbikes with some pals and pepper the background with as many naked women as possible.

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Bishop puts across a persona similar to the way Eric Von Zipper, the inept leader of the motorcycle gang in the Frankie-and-Annette “Beach Party” movies, saw himself -- an intellectual outlaw -- yet, just like Von Zipper, he seems a comic fool to everyone else. The ironies of that distinction are rather lost on Bishop.

-- Mark Olsen

“Hell Ride.” MPAA rating: R for strong violence, sexual content including graphic nudity and dialogue, language and drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. In general release.


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