Movie review: Stars aren't enough in this short-film collection

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"Stars in Shorts" delivers what the title promises: familiar stars in short films. What it doesn't deliver is a consistently enjoyable experience, because the quality of this compilation varies wildly.

The gentle charm of Chris Foggin's "Friend Request Pending," featuring Judi Dench as a senior citizen braving the world of Internet flirting, is offset by the one-note joke of Robert Festinger's "The Procession" (with Lily Tomlin and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as mother and son in a never-ending funeral convoy) and the forced Hollywood cuteness of Jay Kamen's "Not Your Time" (starring Jason Alexander as a film editor with dreams of directing, and featuring an array of industry bigshots).

Benjamin Grayson's thriller "Prodigal," which stars Kenneth Branagh, plays like a pilot for a justly unmade J.J. Abrams series, while Rupert Friend's "Steve" — about a couple (Keira Knightley, Tom Mison) beset by a needy neighbor (Colin Firth) — is a shrill exercise in British awkwardness.

Playwright Neil LaBute is represented twice, with different degrees of success: "After-School Special," directed by Jacob Chase and starring Sarah Paulson as a teacher on an outing with a student (Sam Cohen), is obvious in its shock-factor ending; and "Sexting," which LaBute directed with Julia Stiles giving a fiery monologue as an "other woman" meeting the wife of her married boyfriend, crackles with dark energy and is hands down the best of the seven shorts here.; —


'Stars in Shorts'

Opens Friday, Oct. 12, at the Tower Theatre; not rated, but probably R for shorts with strong language and sexual content; 108 minutes. For more movie reviews, visit