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'Lions for Lambs'

Everyone's heart is definitely in the right place, but this lifeless real-time drama amounts to two hectoring lectures and a mountaintop standoff.

Actually, "drama" overstates the case: Robert Redford directs, and also plays a liberal university professor who urges his best student (an utterly charmless Andrew Garfield) to devote himself to doing good in the world.

While he's doing that, a skeptical TV interviewer (Meryl Streep) sits in a Washington office grilling a conservative senator (Tom Cruise) about the next step in the war on terrorism — even as that next step is playing out grimly for two U.S. soliders (Derek Luke and Michael Pena) atop a mountain in Afghanistan.

Cruise, snarky and vaguely reptilian, is the only one who comes off very well, though it's hard to blame the performers: They're being ambushed by an expository, painfully implausible script every time it rounds a plot twist.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.