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<I>The Mexican</I> Hits The Theaters

The Mexican that is the subject of The Mexican is a gun, not a guy.

But it might as well be a guy, because this is a "guy" movie.

The Mexican is a comedy loaded with the particular kind of male "logic" that makes women tear out their hair and, in movies, is best solved with generous helpings of star power — which the film happens to have. See if you agree:

Jerry Welbach (Brad Pitt) is the kind of guy whose amiability masks a deep streak of incompetence. His best plan is to have no plan; his best weapon is an engaging smile; and he has a particular sort of charm that can make even losing look fun.

His girlfriend Samantha (Julia Roberts) probably knows all of this in those rational moments spent away from Jerry; with him, she explodes at his ineffectuality or gets lost in his blue eyes. She knows this is the guy her mom warned her about.

But Jerry wants to do well, he really does, so when his mobster boss (chilly Bob Balaban) tells him to fetch a mythic gun from Mexico as a final job for the Syndicate, Jerry sees it as his way out. He agrees, but the boss knows Jerry well enough to figure that he'll probably blow off the job without a little incentive, which comes in the form of a hitman (The Sopranos' James Gandolfini) who kidnaps Samantha.

Comedies that flirt with exasperation risk exasperating their audiences, too, and though Roberts can be too consciously cute at times, she, Pitt and Gandolfini have charm enough to make the movie fun just on that level. Pitt is an underrated (and underused) comedian who first showed his comedic range in an all-too-brief bit in True Romance and Gandolfini might just steal the picture. As he shows with his extraordinary acting in The Sopranos, Gandolfini can be funny, menacing and warm almost in the same breath, and it looks like his job in the movie is reacting to the nuttiness of Pitt and Roberts, which should provide some laughs. The movie is rated R and has some heavy violence.

Another shaggy dog story debuting this week is See Spot Run, which answers the ageless question, what else are those drug-sniffing police canines good for? It stars David Arquette as a postal carrier who gets mixed up with an FBI dog that escapes from his trainer (Michael Clarke Duncan) after the dog and FBI guy cross a local mobster (Paul Sorvino)

This, in other words, is a Disney movie for kids, like the Home Alone series, made this time by Warner Bros. It's rated PG-13 and has some slapstick.

The week's last major entry breaks away from the pack with its seriousness and high (though hopefully not too high) moral purpose. The Caveman's Valentine is a dramatic thriller that stars powerhouse Samuel L. Jackson as Romulus Ledbetter, a once devoted family man and Juilliard jazz prodigy, who lives in a cave in Central Park. Ledbetter, who suffers from schizophrenia, thinks he sees a homicide in Central Park and, because nobody believes him, tries to solve the case himself.

Jackson is a busy star who has done some superb work (Jackie Brown, Rules of Engagement, Pulp Fiction), but with the exception of the recent Shaft, hasn't quite broken through to full, movie-carrying star status like Denzel Washington or Laurence Fishburne.

With all the tics, pain and mania required in portraying such a wrenching thing as schizophrenia, Caveman's Valentine looks like a movie that will showcase all of Jackson's considerable acting prowess. It may also bring back into focus the twin devils of homelessness and mental illness and how the people often dismissed as "bums" are often only mentally ill and shamefully maltreated. The Caveman's Valentine is rated R.