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Film review: 'Goblet of Fire' rewarding, dark

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE — *** — Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint; rated PG-13 (violence, mild profanity, vulgarity, brief drugs, brief gore).

The makers of the third "Harry Potter" movie, "The Prisoner of Azkaban," found a way to restore some of the magic that was missing from the first two pictures — by contrasting a few moments of light comedy with darker, more dramatic story elements.

That film was easily the best in the series so far.

Not too coincidentally, the makers of the fourth in the series, "The Goblet of Fire," have clearly studied that film's formula and tried to repeat it, albeit not quite as successfully. "Goblet of Fire" has a few humorous misfires, and the pervasive darkness and creepiness of some of the material may put off a few viewers. (Make no mistake about it, the film earns its PG-13 rating and is disturbingly violent at times, and scary enough to upset some younger kids.)

But like its predecessor, this is a more rewarding cinematic experience than the first two "Harry Potters."

"Goblet of Fire" finds the young wizard-in-training (Daniel Radcliffe), along with his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), returning for their fourth year of sorcerous studies at Hogwarts School.

As usual, the three get into their share of trouble. Harry even finds himself entered in the prestigious but dangerous Tri-Wizard Tournament, which is supposed to be reserved for older students only. The fact that Harry has been entered, evidently without his knowledge, is one of several things that suggest something sinister is coming — and that Harry's nemesis Voldemort may be behind it.

Director Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Mona Lisa Smile") and screenwriter Steven Kloves have had to do some cramming to get much of author J.K. Rowling's voluminous novel into the 2 1/2 hours-plus movie.

They also have a hard time finding enough screen time for the three young stars, as well as the swelling supporting cast; Maggie Smith is woefully neglected as Professor McGonagall. And some of the humor falls flat, such as a bit involving gossipy reporter Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson).

In spite of that and some formulaic plot machinations, the film does have several exciting moments — an aerial chase with a dragon probably the best among them. And it boasts some strong performances. Irish character actor Brendan Gleeson steals the show as the appropriately named Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, and the three young leads show increasing confidence in front of the camera (especially Grint).

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is rated PG-13 for strong scenes of violence and peril (including sorcerous attacks, creature attacks and some knife violence), scattered use of mild profanity and crude slang terms, some brief mild drug content (use of magical potions) and some brief gore. Running time: 156 minutes.