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62° Good Afternoon

'State of Play'

Several references to the declining health of the newspaper industry provide the only glimmers of realism in "State of Play," a semi-entertaining thriller built around the usual politicians, dead girls and nefarious corporations. You've seen it all before, including the paunch Russell Crowe sported in " Body of Lies," but with one exception: One intrepid reporter here is a blogger.

That's Della Frye ( Rachel McAdams), who works at The Washington Globe in D.C. with veteran scribe Cal McAffrey (Crowe). New media meets old when they begin investigating the death of a girl working for Congressman Stephen Collins ( Ben Affleck), who is trying to expose a shady security firm operating in Iraq (shades of Blackwater Worldwide).

Another wrinkle: McAffrey is friends with Collins and has a history with his wife ( Robin Wright Penn). So much for objective journalism.

Based on the 2003 BBC miniseries, "State of Play" boils an already chunky plot down to a thick paste of cliches. McAffrey is an unshaven, whiskey-drinking stereotype; Frye is the eager cub; their hard-nosed editor is Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren). Jason Bateman, as a K Street scuzzball, briefly snaps the movie awake; Jeff Daniels plays a creepy party whip.

Which party? That's left diplomatically unclear, although the film pretends to hit hard by railing against private companies profiteering from war. (In the series, the villain was the boring old oil industry.) It's topical, but this film is too slender to tackle such heavy material.

McAffrey and Frye, like most on-screen journalists, are preposterous: They blithely misrepresent themselves to sources and illegally bug a hotel room. In the end, however, the truth rolls off the presses. "I think people should have newsprint in their hands when they read this," Frye says. Some blogger she is.

PLOT Two reporters search for the truth behind the murder of a congressman's mistress.

CAST Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren

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PLAYING AT Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE Director Kevin MacDonald ("The Last King of Scotland") and co-writer Tony Gilroy ("Duplicity") resort to the usual ingredients to make a passably edible stew.



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