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'Ant Bully' a great flick for pre-teens

If you haven't already taken the 9-year-old to see "The Ant Bully," do so. Wonderfully animated, it tells a nifty story about Lucas Nickle who has just moved to a new town and is being picked on by a group of kids, one especially, an oversized meany who delights in pushing Lucas around.

Lucas in turn takes out his frustration on a discovered ant hill, hosing it down and doing more damage than he knows. Here's where the script borrows from "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." The ants hatch a plan and one night, while sleeping, Lucas is shrunk to the size of a, well, ant. He wakes up to discover that he's in the colony that he was so casually trying to destroy.

This is a point of view movie, and the message is a nice one. Walk around in the ants' shoes, so to speak, for a time, and your perspective begins to shift. Callousness becomes empathy, and the new insights are transformative. There's plenty of action, and Lucas' amazing adventure has plenty of engaging and precarious moments; more than enough to keep youngsters on the edge of their seats. Unlike "Monster House," which is likely too intense for the 6 to 10-year-olds, "The Ant Bully" isn't scary scary, though it has plenty of tight spots for Lucas and the ants. And not to forget that the ants are spiffily anthropomorphized, some pretty darned sharp, have developed a highly evolved society of cooperation, and thankfully are English speaking.

Animated. Starring the Voices of Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti and Lily Tomlin. Directed by John A. Davis. Rated PG

The Night Listener

Next time you're at the movies, watch closely those three or four trailers that precede the main feature. Good trailers are unique unto themselves. Ninety seconds of smart editing, quick cuts, tight shots, a hint of plot, and often promises made that can't be fulfilled. The movie, unlike the trailer, just doesn't have the juice.

That's the case with "The Night Listener." The preview had a dark, sinister look to it: a frayed Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams) walking slowly through an abandoned house, looking for a boy he's not certain exists; cut to Noone in the back-seat of a patrol car, terrified; a tight shot of a woman, blind, her opaque eyes staring into space, insisting that Williams will never see the boy. Never. Clearly, it has psychological thriller stamped on every frame.

Not to be. Instead, the plot, which gathers momentum and an uneasy tension in the first and second acts, deflates like a hot-air balloon in act three. That's when the realization hits &

the mystery is so thin, the stakes so low, that the outcome really doesn't matter.

But what a remarkable premise. A publishing house is about to release a memoir, written by a budding adolescent, Pete (Rory Culkin), who was sexually abused by this parents and as a result contracted AIDS. The manuscript is a tour de force. The only rub is that no one at the publishing house has ever met Pete. They've spoken with him and his mother, Donna (Tony Collete), on the phone, for over a year. But there's been no face to face contact. Noone, a well-known writer and host of a radio show, who has been given the final draft, begins to wonder about this kid: often hospitalized, taken out of school, and reportedly close to death.

The film is based on a novel written by Armistead Maupin, who also wrote the screenplay; however, it's not a story that translates well to the screen. Had the filmmakers simply extrapolated from Maupin's original narrative, this film might have had legs; instead, it's lackluster. Which also describes William's performance. Collete gives a convincing portrayal of the boy's blind mother, but she alone can't carry the film &

which proves to be all glove and no hit.

Starring Robin Williams, Tony Collete, Sandra Oh, and Rory Culkin Directed by Patrick Stettner. Rated R