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Serial Mom Director John Waters creates here a wickedly funny--and nasty--comedy starring Kathleen Turner as the ultimate suburbanite: a woman so obsessed with suburban perfection that she kills a neighbor for not separating her recyclables. Hubby Sam Waterston and kids Matthew Lillard and Ricki Lake don't have a clue that in fact it is squeaky-clean mom who is the killer at large in their Baltimore neighborhood and who has murdered, among others, the guy who dumped her daughter. The final courtroom scene is a riot, turning her into a celebrity defendant (long before O.J.) and featuring a terrific cameo by Patty Hearst (yes, that Patty Hearst). Not for the squeamish or the easily offended, Waters's fans will find him in classic form. Nurse Betty A frenzied, screwball comedy with a lighter-than-light touch, Nurse Betty is a radical departure for director Neil LaBute, who helmed the vitriolic In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors. Betty (Renée Zellweger) is a perky Kansas waitress whose sole happiness comes from her obsession with the television soap A Reason to Love, starring dreamboat doctor David Ravell (Greg Kinnear). When her slimy car-dealer husband (Aaron Eckhart) enters into a drug transaction that goes horribly awry, Betty inadvertently witnesses the carnage and, in shock, becomes Nurse Betty, determined to reunite with her long-lost love, Dr. Ravell. Tailed by two hit men (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock), Betty heads to L.A. a determined woman, unaware she has their huge drug stash in tow. Though it takes a good half-hour to get going, once LaBute and the movie hit top speed, it's a surreal, often brilliant ride, as Betty's fantasy and reality collide, with unexpected (really unexpected) developments. The screenplay (by John C. Richards and James Flamberg) is wickedly inventive, and like his previous films, LaBute has assembled a peerless cast. Zellweger is charming and daffy in her best performance since Jerry Maguire, and Freeman is by turns menacing and touchingly romantic in his obsession with Betty. Kinnear is the epitome of self-serving shallowness (and makes us love him all the more for it), and Rock finally shakes his standup persona and emerges as a great comic actor. Look also for a scene-stealing Allison Janney as the producer of Kinnear's soap. Most movies rarely get such talent operating at full capacity, and Nurse Betty soars because of it. Very Bad Things Peter Berg's dark comedy about a bachelor party gone horribly awry is highly ambitious in its attempts to satirize suburbia, male bonding, and self-help philosophy, and for the most part it does succeed in hitting its targets with a malicious, misanthropic glee. When five buddies arrive in Las Vegas for some pre-wedding shenanigans, things quickly spiral out of control when the requisite prostitute falls victim to a grisly accident, igniting a spark in an already unstable powder keg of personalities. Following the lead of real estate agent and self-help guy Robert (Christian Slater), the men warily agree on a cover-up and covert desert burial. A couple hours and another corpse later, however, they're already at each other's throats, and their escalating breakdowns threaten to disrupt the highly prized wedding of hard-as-nails bride Laura (a stunning Cameron Diaz). Berg, like most actor-turned-directors (this is The Last Seduction star's filmmaking debut) helms the film with a wildly sliding tone and tends to weigh its strengths heavily on its performers. Slater's psycho turn is by far his most inventive yet (he's more in control than ever before), Diaz effectively mixes sunshine with poison, and Jon Favreau is effective and understated as the hapless bridegroom; the rest of the cast, however, tends to play up the histrionics. Be warned, though: Those expecting a sunny-style There's Something About Mary gross-out comedy will probably be shocked by Berg's take-no-prisoners agenda; this is comedy at its absolute blackest, and no one is spared. Your Friends & Neighbors In the age of ever-increasing crassness on screen (see the Farrelly brothers' comedies), there are some filmmakers who can make serious commentary instead of just throwaway gags. Neil LaBute's second feature is a corkscrew comedy of savage, bitter people who can't find happiness in many a thing, let alone sex. The film is not as tight or commanding as his first feature, the black-hearted In the Company of Men, but he gives six nameless characters six juicy parts with plenty to talk about. The emotional punch is devastating for those trying to find love and happiness on celluloid. One wife and husband (Amy Brenneman, Men's Aaron Eckhart) are nice people, living in a dream home, who can't connect sexually. Drama teacher Ben Stiller and live-in girlfriend Catherine Keener may just work out if, well, he didn't talk all the time. Stiller confesses his love for best friend Eckhart's wife; Keener starts an affair with artist assistant Nastassja Kinski. Then there's Jason Patric (who also produced) as a calculating, misogynistic doctor who has not had a peer on film or theater since David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago (which took a different film form as About Last Night...). Manipulative and forward, he's the white-hot core to LaBute's fire and has the monologue of the year to boot. LaBute's callous films aren't for everybody, but there is an art and clear-headedness to his work that most American independent filmmakers can't create on screen. Note: the six characters speak the only lines in the film, although through careful editing it never seems this way.

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MC18177 4 Movie Marathon: Dark Comedy DVD Collection (Serial Mom / Nurse Betty / Very Bad Things / Your Friends & Neighbors) $9.98