OPENING THIS WEEK
It's 1957 in California's Mojave Desert, where an astronomer (Eric McCormack) is preparing to celebrate his anniversary with his adoring wife (Jody Thompson) -- that is, until a shooting star streaking across the sky turns out to be an alien spacecraft that crash-lands nearby. Robert Patrick, Jenni Baird and Dan Lauria also co-star in this sci-fi spoof. At Village Square. (90 min.) PG; sci-fi action, brief smoking.
FAST & FURIOUS
The fourth installment in the "Fast & Furious" franchise reteams original stars Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, who infiltrate -- and try to take down -- a heroin importer, with original co-stars Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez along for the ride. At multiple locations. (107 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of violence and action, sexual content, profanity, drug references.
THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD
Last year's closing-night attraction at the CineVegas film festival returns to Las Vegas, where the movie was partly filmed. John Malkovich stars as the title character, a washed-up mentalist in the Kreskin mold who's trying to get his career back on track. Colin Hanks plays a law school dropout who becomes his assistant; "Sunshine Cleaning's" Emily Blunt and Steve Zahn co-star, along with Las Vegas' own Matthew Gray Gubler. Part of the CineVegas screening series at the Palms. (87 min.) PG; profanity, suggestive remarks, drug references.
One of the hits at this year's Sundance Film Festival, this comedy-drama about a dysfunctional Albuquerque family stars "Doubt" Oscar nominee Amy Adams and Emily Blunt (who also shows up in "The Great Buck Howard") as very different, equally cash-strapped sisters who start a crime-scene cleaning service. "Little Miss Sunshine" Oscar-winner Alan Arkin, Clifton Collins Jr., "24's" Mary Lynn Rajskub and Steve Zahn (another "Great Buck Howard" co-star) round out the starring cast. At multiple locations. (102 min.) R; profanity, disturbing images, sexual situations, drug use.
ALREADY IN THEATERS
Movies are rated on a letter-grade scale, from A to F. Opinions by R-J movie critic Carol Cling (C.C.) are indicated by initials. Other opinions are from wire service critics.
(C+) A typically sophomoric Adam Sandler goes the family-friendly route in this Disney romp, playing a hotel handyman whose life changes when the outlandish bedtime tales he tells his niece and nephew magically come true. Keri Russell, Courteney Cox, Guy Pearce and Russell Brand co-star in a movie that's baloney on Wonder Bread with a Kraft Single and some Miracle Whip. In other words, it's edible but not exactly nutritious -- or delicious. (99 min.) PG; mild rude humor, mild profanity.
(A) In a class by itself: The top award-winner at last year's Cannes film festival, an Oscar nominee for best foreign-language film, this docudrama (based on the book by teacher and novelist François Bégaudeau, who plays himself) charts a year in the life of a racially mixed class at a tough Parisian school. Director Laurent Cantet's adaptation has the intimacy of a documentary and the tense pacing of a drama; the combination is powerful, hypnotic and full of moments that linger long after the bell rings. In French with English subtitles. (128 min.) PG-13; profanity.
CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC
(C) Worried about those bills you can't pay? Welcome to the wacky world of Rebecca Bloomwood ("Wedding Crashers' " Isla Fisher), a madcap Manhattan magazine writer who racks up $16,000 in credit-card charges, then gets hired by an editor (Hugh Dancy) who thinks she's a fiscal expert. "Shopaholic's" timing couldn't be worse, and this adaptation of Sophie Kinsella's best sellers could certainly be better, but Fisher's fizzy giddiness makes it possible to care for her character -- even when it's not possible to care for the movie. (112 min.) PG; mild profanity, thematic elements. (C.C.)
(B+) Neil Gaiman's satisfyingly shivery tale of a feisty girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning) whose curiosity leads to a darkly fascinating alternate world proves an ideal vehicle for stop-motion animation wizard Henry Selick ("Nightmare Before Christmas," "James and the Giant Peach"). Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane and Keith David deliver standout vocal performances in a visually stunning movie that resembles a pop-up storybook come to life (especially in 3-D) -- and exhibits far more artistry, and humanity, than many live-action movies. (101 min.) PG; thematic elements, scary images, profanity, suggestive humor. (C.C.)
THE CROSS: THE ARTHUR BLESSIT STORY
(C) There's a fascinating story in the 40-year spiritual and physical journey of the colorful title evangelist, who's listed in the Guinness Book of World Records and received CNN coverage for lugging a 12-foot cross through more than 300 countries. Unfortunately, this loving and well-made but frustrating documentary doesn't tell the half of it, treating Blessit like a talking head -- but never answering key questions regarding the inspiration for his faith and the impact of his constant wandering. (93 min.) PG; thematic material including violent images, drug references, mild profanity.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
(C+) Brad Pitt reunites with "Se7en" director David Fincher (and "Babel" co-star Cate Blanchett) for the ambitious saga of the title character, who's born in post-World War I New Orleans with the face and ailments of an 80-year-old man -- and ages in reverse. Overlong and overdone, "Benjamin Button" (loosely based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald tale and adapted by "Forrest Gump" Oscar-winner Eric Roth) emerges as a technical marvel, but in pondering the Big Picture, the movie too often falls under the spell of its own epic sweep. Winner of three Academy Awards, including art direction and visual effects. (167 min.) PG-13; brief war violence, sexual content, profanity, smoking. (C.C.)
DINOSAURS 3D: GIANTS OF PATAGONIA
(B) If you like dinosaurs (and who doesn't?), you'll love this 3-D documentary, which follows paleontologist Rodolfo Coria as he tramps the rugged wilds of Patagonia (southern Argentina), where remains of the largest dinosaurs in the world -- including the 120-foot Argentinosaurus -- have been discovered. The perfect blend of scholarly information and totally cool dinosaurs brought to vivid life. (40 min.) G; scary dinosaurs.
(B) To scam or not to scam -- that's hardly the question for rival corporate spies (Julia Roberts, Clive Owen), who concoct an elaborate ruse to steal lucrative secrets to bankroll their into-the-sunset retirement. "Michael Clayton" writer-director Tony Gilroy's twisty yet relatively lighthearted thriller is clever (although not quite as clever as it thinks it is), polished and flirtatiously sexy, thanks to the steam heat generated by reunited "Closer" co-stars Roberts and Owen. Still, they're not the only fun couple on the scene: Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti steal plenty of scenes as corporate bigwigs (literally) at each other's throats. (124 min.) PG-13; profanity, sexual references. (C.C.)
(C-) It's "Wedding Crashers" at cheerleader camp as two eager-to-score high school studs ("Dumb and Dumberer's" Eric Christian Olsen, "Heroes' " Nicholas D'Agosto) infiltrate the cheerleading squad. Brain-dead at worst, sophomoric at best, "Fired Up" does have its moments, but not enough of them to make it worthwhile for anybody who doesn't think the movie's initials ("F.U." -- in case you hadn't noticed) qualify as a laff riot. (94 min.) PG-13; crude and sexual content, partial nudity, profanity, teen partying. (C.C.)
FRIDAY THE 13TH
(D-) It may be set in a world of iPods, cell phones and "Girls Gone Wild," but this "reimagining" of the venerable horror franchise's 1980 introduction is the same old same old, as a group of hapless young TV stars (led by "Supernatural's" Jared Padalecki, "Shark's" Danielle Panabaker and "The Mentalist's" Amanda Righetti) foolishly check out Camp Crystal Lake -- and encounter the malevolent, hockey-masked Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears). If all you're looking for is the latest in impaling, beheading and butchering, welcome back. (97 min.) R; strong bloody violence, graphic sexual content, profanity, drug material.
(C+) A widowed Korean War vet (growling, glowering Clint Eastwood) in a deteriorating Detroit neighborhood finds his prejudices challenged when he becomes an unlikely neighborhood hero to the fatherless Hmong teens (Bee Vang, Ahney Her) next door. Eastwood says this vigilante melodrama will be his on-screen swan song, and it's a trip to watch Clint the Squint channel the ghosts of Eastwood past, but this underpowered star vehicle stalls and backfires at least as often as it shifts into high gear. (116 min.) R; pervasive profanity and racial epithets, violence. (C.C.)
THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT
(C) Another supposedly true Amityville-style horror movie, this one recounts a family's ordeal when they parents move to a home near their teenage son's cancer clinic -- and discover it's a former mortuary with a demonic past. Despite a classy cast (Virginia Madsen, Martin Donovan, Elias Koteas), the script's even creakier than the house; even worse, what scares there are don't get scarier, just more annoying. (92 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of terror, disturbing images.
HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU
(C+) And we're just not that into this all-star adaptation of the non-fiction best seller, which focuses on a bunch of Baltimore 20- and 30-somethings (led by Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Bradley Cooper, Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlett Johansson and Justin Long) trying to figure out the mysteries of love, sex and everything in between. Despite the considerable charisma and banter of its cast, the result is Woody Allen lite, with some deft observations about how the social media designed to bring singles together actually come between them. (129 min.) PG-13; sexual content, brief profanity.
HOTEL FOR DOGS
(C) Two melancholy foster kids ("Nancy Drew's" Emma Roberts, Disney Channel's Jake T. Austin) secretly take in strays at an abandoned house. Don Cheadle, Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon round out the starring cast of a circusy romp that departs from its source material (Lois Duncan's charming novel) in so many ways that it leaves you wondering what Animal Planet we're on. But there's no denying the appeal of the purebreds and pound puppies assembled for our awe -- and awws. (100 min.) PG; brief mild thematic elements, profanity, crude humor.
I LOVE YOU, MAN
(B-) A fine bromance: A newly engaged yet curiously friendless guy (Paul Rudd) launches a search for a best man that bears unexpected fruit when his instant bond with a fun-loving lug (Jason Segal) threatens his relationship with his understanding fiancée (Rashida Jones). Rudd's wry warmth balances Segal's fearlessly funny portrait of permanently arrested adolescence, while writer-director John Hamburg ("Along Came Polly") proves that he's got more on his mind than a snickering celebration of testosterone gone wild -- despite the inevitable jokes involving masturbation, projectile vomiting and flatulence. (104 min.) R; pervasive profanity, including crude and sexual references. (C.C.)
(C+) Low interest: An obsessive Interpol agent (Clive Owen) and a Manhattan assistant district attorney (Naomi Watts) team up to blow the whistle on a sinister international bank involved in everything from money laundering to murder. Watts' "Eastern Promises" castmate, Armin Mueller-Stahl, co-stars for "Run Lola Run" director Tom Tykwer, whose directing style this time around is more stop-in-your-tracks than perpetual motion, fatally slowing this topical, but hardly brainy, thriller. (118 min.) R; violence, profanity.
(C) A widowed MIT professor (Nicolas Cage) who opens a time capsule at his son's school discovers that some of its chilling predictions already have come true -- and his family may be implicated in future events -- in this weird, gloomy existential thriller from "Dark City" and "I, Robot" director Alex Proyas, who can't seem to keep Cage from lapsing into hysteria. You expect wild-and-crazy from a Nicolas Cage movie, but this is ridiculous. So is "Knowing's" ending, which borrows from L. Ron Hubbard, the Rapture Index, and a mess of apocalyptic sci-fi movies -- most of them vastly more entertaining than this one. (122 min.) PG-13; disaster sequences, disturbing images, brief profanity.
LAST CHANCE HARVEY
(B) Like at first sight: After striking sparks as supporting players in "Stranger Than Fiction," Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson team up for this charmer about the hapless title character, whose trip to London for his daughter's wedding turns disastrous -- until he meets a quiet loner who just might be his perfect match. Movies about perfectly nice people being perfectly nice often can be perfectly boring, but Hoffman and Thompson are clearly having such a delightful time, we do too. (C.C.)
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
(D) A grisly, sadistic update of the 1972 horror fave about a terrorized couple (Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter) getting revenge on the prison escapee ("Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles' " Garrett Dillahunt) who's kidnapped and assaulted their daughter. Plodding and completely predictable, the carnage is depicted in slow, quasi-reverential fashion, giving the entire experience a torture-porn veneer. (100 min.) R; sadistic brutal violence including a rape, disturbing images, profanity, nudity, drug use.
MADEA GOES TO JAIL
(C) America's favorite pistol'-packin' granny returns, with writer-director Tyler Perry reprising the irrepressible title character, who lands in the slammer following a freeway chase -- and will make her confused, disrespectful young cellmates see sense if she has to slap it into them. King of all media Perry gives fans what they want: daytime-TV pacing and standard adventures in self-help tedium, with the emphasis on dramatizing as many aspects of the black experience as possible, with the help of Derek Luke, all-grown-up "Cosby Show" kid Keshia Knight Pulliam and "Doubt" Oscar nominee Viola Davis. (103 min.) PG-13; mature themes, drug content, violence, sexual situations.
MONSTERS VS. ALIENS
(B) Creature feature: A mysterious space ray transforms a lovely bride (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) into a 50-foot Bridezilla -- who becomes the latest member of a mutant monster team battling invading aliens. This computer-animated sci-fi romp is machine-tooled to provide something-for-everyone fun -- goofy slapstick for the kids, movie spoofs for the grown-ups -- anchored by a top-chop vocal cast. (Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, Paul Rudd and Will Arnett are in on the fun.) It's all a definite kick, it not exactly an instant classic -- and even more eye-popping in 3-D. (94 min.) PG; sci-fi action, crude humor, mild profanity. (C.C.)
PAUL BLART: MALL COP
(C) Sitcom stalwart Kevin James stars and co-writes this comedy about a mild-mannered single dad trying to make ends meet as a New Jersey mall cop forced to take on insidious Santa's Helpers. Completely forgettable, yet frequently funny and weirdly satisfying -- in a Jersey-Loser-Gets-Respect kind of way. (87 min.) PG; violence, mild crude and suggestive humor, profanity.
THE PINK PANTHER 2
(C) Steve Martin returns as bumbling French detective Inspector Clouseau, who joins an international team of super-sleuths (including Andy Garcia as an Italian and Alfred Molina as a Brit) trailing a globe-trotting thief specializing in stealing historical artifacts. As usual, comic mayhem follows Clouseau everywhere; also as usual, none of it's particularly funny -- except once or twice, when Martin gets a chance to remind us what a brilliant physical comedian he can be. (92 min.) PG; suggestive humor, brief profanity, mild action.
RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN
(B-) Southern Nevada proves more than ready for its latest cinematic close-up in this revamp of the 1975 Disney favorite "Escape to Witch Mountain," about a hard-luck Vegas taxi driver (Dwayne Johnson, the artist formerly known as The Rock) whose latest fares (AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig) prove to be aliens on the run from government agents and inter-galactic killing machines alike. True to its title, the action-packed "Race" hardly stops to catch its breath, but it does capture a bit of the original's hokey-smokes vibe. Still, bigger's not always better -- which means that nobody's going to want to revisit this three decades from now. (99 min.) PG; sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, thematic elements. (C.C.)
(B) In post-World War II Germany, the passionate affair between a student (David Kross) and an older tram conductor (Oscar-winner Kate Winslet) reverberates through both lives -- especially when the grown student (Ralph Fiennes) ponders the impact of their life-changing liaison. "The Hours" team of director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare reunites for a thoughtful, restrained, adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's semi-autobiographical best-seller, which provides a stunning showcase for Winslet's uncanny ability to get under the skin of her contradictory character. (123 min.) R; sexual situations, nudity. (C.C.)
(B) "Titanic" sweethearts Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, both in top form, reunite as a '50s suburban couple wondering whatever happened to the extraordinary life they planned. "American Beauty's" Sam Mendes (Winslet's husband) directs this wrenching yet flawed adaptation of Richard Yates' novel, transforming wrenching emotional drama into a series of theatrical tableaux that aren't quite as haunting as they should be, but haunt nevertheless. (119 min.) R; profanity, sexual situations, nudity. (C.C.)
(B+) A beguiling Bollywood fairy tale (complete with plucky hero, damsel in distress, powerful villain and daunting trials for our hero), as an orphaned Mumbai teen (Dev Patel) becomes an unlikely contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" -- not for money, but for love. Director Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting," "28 Days Later") scores with yet another trademark combination of humor, hope and horror that soars on the strength of its winning characters and exotic setting. Winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay. (120 min.) R; violence, disturbing images, profanity. (C.C.)
STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI
(C-) Another video game gets a live-action adaptation, with "Smallville's" Kristin Kreuk as the title character, who embarks on -- what else? -- a quest for justice, seeking the man who killed her father. The casting (including Chris Klein. Neal McDonough and Michael Clarke Duncan) works, the settings (Bangkok and Hong Kong) are exotic and the martial arts brawls professionally mounted. Which makes it 20 times better than the godawful 1994 Jean Claude Van Damme/Raul Julia version, but that's not saying much. (100 min.) PG-13; violence and martial arts action, sexual references.
(B-) Liam Neeson kicks major butt as a former CIA agent out to rescue his kidnapped daughter (Maggie Grace) from human traffickers in a fleet, no-nonsense rescue thriller from crackerjack French director Pierre Morel. Satisfying for the Gaelic gravitas of its star, slam-bang chase scenes, bone-snapping martial arts -- and, of course, the scenic Paris setting. (94 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, drug references, profanity.
(C) A New Orleans detective (strapping ex-WWE star John Cena) must complete 12 challenges -- inspired by the 12 labors of Hercules -- to rescue his girlfriend ("Jericho's" Ashley Scott), who's been kidnapped by a vengeful ex-con ("The Wire's" Aidan Gillen, too good an actor to fit in here). Movies starring professional wrestlers should carry special warning labels; so should movies directed by the dubious Renny Harlin ("Cliffhanger," "Cutthroat Island"), so consider yourself warned. (108 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of violence and action.
(B-) After a stint in a mental hospital, a girl ("Lemony Snicket's" Emily Browning) returns to find her aloof father (David Strathairn) engaged to her late mother's nurse (Elizabeth Banks) -- and her mother's ghost warning of danger. This translation of the excellent South Korean chiller "A Tale of Two Sisters" becomes a less complex but passable scarefest, with the benefit of a better-than-expected cast and a streamlined structure best described as "Scare, Plot Twist, Repeat." (87 min.) PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic material, sexual content, language and teen drinking.
(C-) The landmark graphic novel hits the screen, with a vengeance, in an alternate-universe 1985, as a masked vigilante rounds up some ex-colleagues to battle conspirators out to discredit -- or kill -- past and present superheroes. Malin Akerman (as Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (alias Dr. Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian) and Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl) star for "300" director Zack Snyder, who knows how to depict bloody destruction -- but, like Dr. Manhattan, lacks the humanity to understand why it should not be taken lightly. (163 min.) R; strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, profanity.
(B+) Mickey Rourke's award-winning comeback anchors this gritty, moving character study of a broken-down professional wrestler struggling to make a comeback. Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei co-stars (as Randy's stripper girlfriend) for "Requiem for a Dream" director Darren Aronofsky, who downplays his customary visual flamboyance to keep the spotlight where it belongs: on his actors. (115 min.) R; violence, sexual situations, nudity, profanity, drug use. (C.C.)
(B-) Jim Carrey makes a welcome return to comedy as a chronically depressed loan officer who accentuates the positive -- by becoming a guy who can't say no for an entire year. A formulaic yet diverting comedy that boasts welcome charm and a worthwhile message. (104 min.) PG-13; crude sexual humor, profanity, brief nudity.