Spielberg's Minority Report gets good grades until the end.

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Spielberg's Minority Report gets good grades until the end.

Steven Spielberg just might turn into a great director if he stops sabotaging his movies. For the second time in as many films, he demolishes his product with a third act that voids all that's come before it. Minority Report can barely move during its final half hour, which is a shame, because until then it's a frenetic, engaging ride.

After last summer's bummer, A.I. -- with which Minority Report shares a handful of themes and ideas -- Minority Report feels like a huge sigh expelled after Spielberg shook off the heavy ghost of Stanley Kubrick. You can almost see the director beaming behind the camera, excited to play with new toys (animated cereal boxes and newspaper front pages, cell phones the size of quarters, police-issued "sick sticks" that render a renegade extremely nauseated) and, in Cruise, an actor built for speed.

The screenplay, by Scott Frank (Out of Sight) and novice Jon Cohen, remains true to the original Philip K. Dick story only in spirit. Dick's hero, a good cop being forced out of his job by an unctuous and ambitious comer, introduces himself as "bald and fat and old," the antithesis of Cruise's John Anderton. Dick, whose stories have inspired such films as Blade Runner and Total Recall, advances in his story the notion that there's no such thing as free will. That Spielberg's version says just the opposite is curiously and awkwardly at odds with yet another of the director's movies that just begs the audience to feel awful.

In the year 2054, three precognitives (including one played by Sweet and Lowdown's Samantha Morton) can detect a murder before it happens. These orphans, the grown children of junkies, float in a tank of water, marinating in deep thought. Their visions are all the evidence Anderton's Pre-Crime Division needs to convict. Though no crime has actually been committed, these (pre)criminals are banished to a storage facility, piled one atop the other like so much cordwood.

Anderton, a true believer in the system, is a driven boss but also a well-managed wreck. He blames himself for the disappearance and death of his son, which ruined his marriage and has rendered him a fanatical cop by day and a drug addict by night. He huffs an inhaler offering "clarity," then cues up three-dimensional home movies of his long-lost family.

But the fanatic becomes the hunted when Anderton is accused of a murder the precogs insist he will commit. The movie takes off when Anderton has to run not only from his colleagues, including his superior, played by Max von Sydow, but also Witwer (Colin Farrell), a smirky government official bent on running Pre-Crime. Minority Report becomes one long, capricious chase through Washington, D.C.'s back alleys, into a Lexus factory, past the seedy digs of a disgraced eye doctor (Peter Stormare) and across an outlaw fun factory where patrons can have virtual sex or commit virtual murder. Spielberg insists the nightmarish middle section of A.I., with its horrific Flesh Fair and carnal Rouge City, was his true contribution to that movie. Minority Report, so much of which is covered in grime and smut, fleshes out that obsession with the deviant fetishes of the seemingly normal.

The first two-thirds of Minority Report are such a good time that what happens at film's end doesn't quite obliterate it. The echoes still resonate, even when the director and screenwriters try to drown them out with ridiculous plot twists and an ending the movie doesn't deserve. Spielberg has grown up (you get the sense he's dying to make a really dirty movie), but he's still somehow stunted: He wants you to leave the theater smiling but not thinking very hard.

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