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For all his formidable gifts as a performer, Mike Nichols is celebrated mainly as a film director who delivers the goods—which means something only if the goods are worth delivering. Here he's applied himself to Patrick Marber's play about two men (Jude Law and Clive Owen) and two women (Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman) seducing, betraying, and punishing one another in various combinations. (The women never get it on, but in the film's funniest sequence Law flirts with Owen while posing as Roberts in a chat room.) As in Nichols's previous chamber works of romantic and sexual flagellation (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Carnal Knowledge), the actors are brilliant, the dialogue extremely clever, and the direction assured. But by the end I couldn't have cared less about any of the characters (2004). R, 98 min.

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