Recently reviewed films now showing in metro area theaters:

American Gangster (R) Director Ridley Scott takes some Martin Scorsese, a little Spike Lee and a few pages from the mob-movie handbook to create the greatest crime drama since "GoodFellas." Denzel Washington plays Harlem smack dealer Frank Lucas, who is being pursued by bulldog Jersey cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). An unqualified masterpiece. 4 stars - Michael Clark

Bee Movie (PG) Jerry Seinfeld's long-awaited feature film debut is like an episode of his old TV show, only three times longer and animated. Geared more toward adults than children, the first half's mostly wacky misadventures morph into a preachy and downbeat finale. It's ultimately saved by celebrity voice cameos from Sting, Ray Liotta, Larry King and Oprah Winfrey. 21/2 stars - MC

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (R) Octogenarian director Sidney Lumet somewhat returns to his '70s heyday with a movie that is more like Tarantino than an old-school crime thriller. The spotty script by rookie Kelly Masterson is ultimately saved by riveting performances courtesy of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney. 3 stars - MC

Dan in Real Life (PG-13) Steve Carell shows more range than he ever has, but it's mostly a lost cause. A horrible combination of "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "The Waltons" by way of a Dear Abby advice column, the movie is designed to be a light, frothy romantic comedy but would have worked much better as an edgy, R-rated drama with regular injections of black humor. 2 stars - MC

Darfur Now (PG) Regarded by most media outlets as a nuisance rather than news story, the people of Darfur are being slaughtered wholesale by their own government. The one thing director Ted Braun's movie gets right is explaining some of the reasons why. It's too bad he spends most of the time fawning over actors Don Cheadle and George Clooney, who are there to raise the visibility of the cause. 2 stars - MC

Fred Claus (PG) Vince Vaughn stars as the title character and turns in a predictable Vaughn performance. His smart-aleck, charm-oozing bad boy offers acceptable contrast to Paul Giamatti's sad sack Santa, but the overlong movie itself is surprisingly stiff and serious. Evidently audiences agreed, as it posted a disappointing third place on opening weekend. 11/2 stars - MC

Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains (PG) Whether you love or hate Jimmy Carter and his work, no one can argue he is a fascinating individual and someone who would be the ideal subject for a sprawling, biographical documentary. With Carter's life story as the palette and Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme painting the canvas, the expectations are understandably high. Given these two powerful, almost fool-proof components, it makes the unmitigated failure of the final product all the more disappointing. 1 star - MC

Lions for Lambs (R) Even the most fervent anti-war protesters will wince with embarrassment watching this preachy, boring and static talk-a-thon. The presence of megastars Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford (also the director) isn't enough to breathe any life into what amounts to a 90-minute, three-part lecture told in real time. 1 star - MC

P2 (R) What could have been just another horror/slasher outing is pushed into recommendable territory thanks to the performances from leads Rachel Nichols ("Alias") and Wes Bentley ("American Beauty"). Trapped in an underground New York garage on Christmas Eve, the heroine must gather her wits long enough to outsmart a demented stalker. 21/2 stars - MC

Rails and Ties (PG-13) In keeping with this fall's roster of downbeat, sub-par, death-riddled dramas, "Rails and Ties" is a sparely told story of loss and regret, all amid a teeth-gnashing, white-knuckle presentation. From start to finish, Clint Eastwood's daughter Alison Eastwood's debut film is a manipulative, watered-down version of "Ordinary People" or "In the Bedroom." 11/2 stars - MC