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By Michael Calleri

Every now and then Matthew McConaughey realizes he's an actor and not a candidate for the beef boy Hall Of Fame.

When that happens, McConaughey takes a role that makes you wonder what his career would have been like if he had actually decided to study more acting techniques and concentrate on making good movies, rather than having made all those mediocre comedies with interchangeable leading ladies such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Lopez, Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Garner. Plus Kate Hudson. Twice.

When, in the performance of my job, I'm required to think about McConaughey, I think of his favorite character to play, the cocky party boy, an infantile Peter Pan who won't grow up. Good acting and McConaughey are not often used in the same sentence, but it's valid in "The Lincoln Lawyer," in which he's still playing cocky, but his character is that of a fast-talking attorney, an ambulance chaser with an ex-wife, some questionable friends and a rolling office -- his chauffeured Lincoln Town Car.

The movie is based on a novel by my favorite American crime writer, Michael Connelly. The author's most famous character is a Los Angeles detective named Hieronymus Bosch, but Connelly occasionally lets Bosch rest, and he roots around the California underbelly with other flawed men who find themselves surrounded by crimes and misdemeanors.

Interestingly, although Connelly has written 16 books in which Bosch headlines, none has been made into a film. The only other Connelly-based movie is the Clint Eastwood-directed "Blood Work," in which Eastwood plays retired F.B.I. profiler Terry McCaleb.

McConaughey plays Mick Haller (actually Mickey in the book, but then Hollywood has to tinker), who becomes involved in a "did he or didn't he" legal case.

His favorite bail bondsman, played by John Leguizamo, gets him interested in the arrest of a Beverly Hills playboy, acted by Ryan Phillippe, who is accused of beating a woman. The guy's wealthy mother (Frances Fisher) is willing to pay for her son's legal defense.

There are a number of misfits and hangers-on added to the mix, as well as Haller's investigator (William H. Macy), and some cops on the prowl. Haller has his own personal issues with which to deal, involving his ex-wife, played by Marisa Tomei.

"The Lincoln Lawyer" is beautifully acted by everyone, and the picture nicely tamps down its potentially too sunny Southern California venues, giving everything a believable grit.

Director Brad Furman and his screenwriter, John Romano, aren't interested in making us like Haller. This isn't a movie about a shyster redeeming himself. It's about a crime, an arrest, and legal maneuvers that are engaging and entertaining.

Hollywood loves courtroom theatrics, and although "The Lincoln Lawyer" has a touch of them, it's really not about showboating. Instead, it's a character-driven tale that rises above much of the cinematic junk we've seen recently. This is a good adult drama, the likes of which moviegoers genuinely deserve. It's better than television, believe me.

I like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's movie spoofs. If you're unfamiliar with these two talented chaps, they are the brains behind "Shaun Of The Dead" (zombies) and "Hot Fuzz" (cops and criminals).

Pegg and Frost are back with "Paul," an often hilarious poke at science fiction films, especially "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial."

The British comedy duo play Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, respectively, comic book geeks from the United Kingdom who attend the acme of conventions for their ilk, San Diego's ComicCon.

They meet the Sci-Fi idol of their dreams, which isn't enough to satisfy their adoration needs. So they hop into an RV to drive to the most cherished sites for believers in visitors from another planet, Area 51 in Nevada, and Roswell, New Mexico, where in 1947 in the nearby high desert there was the alleged recovery of an extraterrestrial spacecraft, including alien pilots, from a flying object that crashed.

As Willy and Gollings ease on down the road, they encounter a creature from outer space, but not just any creature. This little green man, named Paul, claims to have landed in America in the 1940s, his spaceship flattening a little girl's dog.

The alien Paul first stuns the Brits, then convinces them he's an OK guy. He likes weed and making himself disappear. Paul has big plans for himself, one of which is to see the yard where he landed and perhaps encounter the now much older person whose dog he crushed. He hitches a ride in Willy and Gollings's RV. They will take him on his earthbound mission, which has a second important goal.

Meanwhile, a classic government "man in black" is hot on the escaped Paul's trail, following orders from a mysterious woman. Add two bumbling bureaucratic types, a couple of rough-hewn barflies and a one-eyed woman who wears a T-shirt emblazoned with a drawing of Jesus shooting Darwin, and you've got a madcap stew that never rests. Other loony characters come and go and come again.

The R-rated "Paul" is well-written by Pegg and Frost, and the nuttiness is wrangled by director Greg Mottola.

To a person, the zany cast is excellent. It includes Jason Bateman, Blythe Danner, Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Hader, and Jeffrey Tambor, as well as John Carroll Lynch and Kristin Wiig playing a father and daughter whose last name is Buggs. Seth Rogen voices Paul, and there's a nice cameo from a famous filmmaker, which includes a visual homage that, should you catch the dual reference, earns you huge points in my book.

"Made In Dagenham" is an enjoyable slice-of-life British melodrama about the 1968 strike for equal pay with their male counterparts by women employees at the Ford Motor plant in Dagenham, England. Sally Hawkins is wonderful as the leader of the walkout, and Bob Hoskins shines as a union representative.

The film, directed by Nigel Cole and written by William Ivory, is straightforward, informative and entertaining.

E-mail Michael Calleri at michaelcallerimoviesnfr@yahoo.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 22, 2011