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By Michael Calleri

There have been hundreds of movies about teenage misfits, and not just movies made in America. The lonely, confused adolescent is also a staple of films made overseas. It's important to always approach new works with an open mind. If you've sworn off movies with this subject matter because you are tired of teens searching for sex or the meaning of life, my advice is to give "Terri" a chance.

"Terri" is one of the best movies I've seen so far this year, and yes, it's been a weak year, but still, here is a straight-forward comedy-drama that offers interesting characters and good writing. The film does not collapse under the weight of raunchy behavior and youthful stupidity, and it does not take the easy way out.

Terri is a dreadfully obese teenager. His hair is long, and he has an androgynous look. Indeed, the spelling of his first name is odd for a male. He lives with his uncle, an aging gentleman whose mind is fading. The elderly man has dwelled in a world of books and music. Terri's parents are an afterthought, having abandoned him. Another striking thing about him is that he wears pajamas outside of the house, even to school. He's a huge, tall kid and the pajamas are the most comfortable thing he can wear.

Terri moves through his small world as an outsider. His uniqueness is a target. A sympathetic assistant principal, who's no pushover (a wonderful performance from John C. Reilly), appreciates that Terri is a student in need of attention and offers understanding and some serious advice. As is usually the case with high school misfits, Terri becomes friends with other outsiders. One is Chad, a very angry student who spends a lot of time pulling his own hair. There's also Heather, a pretty girl who gets into trouble for performing a sex act in Home Economics class. Bridger Zadina and Olivia Crocicchia are quite good as Chad and Heather, respectively.

What's especially wonderful is that Terri is a multi-layered character. His complexity is an asset to our enjoyment of the film. People see him as a large, shambling, problematic youngster, but he sees himself differently. He is not prone to self-loathing or self-pity. His loves his uncle, and his devoted care of the man adds a gentle beauty to the picture. Terri sometimes seems defensive, but it's actually his own special kind of self-esteem shining through.

Azazel Jacobs offers a directorial touch that never says look at me. He co-wrote the original story with Patrick DeWitt, who authored the screenplay. Both Jacobs and DeWitt have contributed believable words that never mock, but rather edify the characters. As the main character, Jacob Wysocki is superb as Terri, offering an exceptional, nuance-filled performance that should be thought about when Academy Award nominations are considered. "Terri" is a must-see.

"The Change-up" is yet another R-rated comedy that achieves its adult rating because of its crudity. It should be dawning on moviegoers that R may stand for rotten.

Jason Bateman is a lawyer with a nice family who finds his life boring. Ryan Reynolds is pothead who wants to act, and has no compunctions about starring in soft core porn. After a night of a little too much partying, the men are standing next to each other while urinating in a public fountain. They express their innermost thoughts out-loud: both wish they had the other man's life. Well, no surprise here, the fountain has magic properties and the men will soon inhabit each other's bodies. They will live the lives they dream about. Or so they think.

There are no surprises in "The Change-Up." It resorts to gutter humor that would be as boring to detail as it is to watch. If you find penis jokes and exposed breasts hilarious, then by all means waste your time and money. Bateman tries his best to create a character that compels our attention, but he can't rise above the tedious, cliched material. Reynolds is proving to be an acting lightweight who can't create a believable character. There's an actress named Leslie Mann as Bateman's wife who is so appallingly bad that every time she's on screen, the movie itself recoils in horror.

"The Change-Up" provides a pointless directing credit for David Dobkin who must nourish himself with puerile fodder. The film isn't so much directed as it is corralled. The screenplay credit goes to Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, but there is no real screenplay of which to speak. Stringing together vulgarities is not writing. The ending is predictable from the moment a baby's poo flies into Bateman's face. The Golden Age of Hollywood Comedy is weeping.

"Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" was not screened in advance for most of the country's critics. I saw it opening day, and I understand the studio's reluctance to let all reviewers see it. It's not too bad, but it never achieves the surprises and the entertainment quotient of the original "Planet Of The Apes" from 1968. This new edition is a prequel, and its purpose is to set up the groundwork for what happens in the 1968 success.

James Franco is a scientist, of sorts, who is devoted to Caesar, a chimpanzee. The critter has good days and bad days, but director Rupert Wyatt directs as if theses days are all one and the same. The movie gets bogged down with too many laboratory scenes, and although there's madcap action, it never achieves adventure nirvana. There's a heavy-handed message about monkeying around with genes, which we understand the first time we're hit over the head with it. The talky film is a bargain matinee diversion, nothing more.

"Snow Flower And The Secret Fan" takes the popular novel of the same name, set in the 1800s, and mistakenly alters it by adding modern scenes that offer nothing but tedium. Wayne Wang directs the dull story of two young Chinese girls who are bound together by cruel cultural traditions that are shown, but never really challenged. We watch and wonder why we should care. The picture has no depth and no fresh ideas.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 9, 2011