OPENING THIS WEEK
BATTLE FOR TERRA
In this animated sci-fi adventure, humans looking for a new home target the peaceful title planet, touching off an interspecies war for survival. Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson, James Garner, Dennis Quaid, Danny Glover and Brian Cox lead the vocal cast. At multiple locations; in 3-D at selected locations. (85 min.) PG; sci-fi action violence, thematic elements.
GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST
At his brother's wedding, a bachelor playboy (Matthew McConaughey) finds himself confronted by memories of his past girlfriends -- and his role model, his Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas) -- in this romantic comedy co-starring Jennifer Garner as the one who got away. Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster and Anne Archer co-star for director Mark Waters ("Mean Girls," "The Spiderwick Chronicles"). At multiple locations. (115 min.) PG-13; sexual content, profanity, drug references.
IS ANYBODY THERE?
A Dominican baseball star, Miguel "Sugar" Santos (Algenis Perez Soto, a real-life baseball player making his acting debut), is recruited to play in the U.S. minor leagues -- and finds his field of dreams in Iowa in this acclaimed drama from the writing-directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck ("Half Nelson"). Rayniel Rufino, Andre Holland, Anne Whitney and Richard Bull round out the starring cast. In English and Spanish with English subtitles. At Village Square. (114 min.) R; profanity, sexuality, brief drug use.
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE
Hugh Jackman returns as the surly title character in this prequel, which explores how he's driven to join the for-mutants-only Weapons X program -- by the murderous back-stabbing of the future Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber). Danny Huston, Ryan Reynolds, Lynn Collins and Dominic Monaghan co-star for "Tsotsi" director Gavin Hood. At multiple locations. (107 min.) PG-13; intense action and violence, partial nudity.
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.
(B) Growing up's not just a job, it's an adventure, especially during the summer of '87, as cash-strapped college grad James Brennan ("The Squid and the Whale's" adorkable Jesse Eisenberg) spends his summer toiling in the arcade of a Pittsburgh amusement park -- and falling for a sharp-tongued co-worker ("Twilight's" Kristen Stewart). "Superbad" director Greg Mottola serves up a kinder, gentler coming-of-age comedy full of painfully accurate yet ruefully affectionate detail. (107 min.) R; profanity, drug use, sexual references. (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.)
CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE
(D) The indefatigable Jason Statham returns as hard-charging hit man Chev Chelios, who goes after the Chinese organ harvesters who've stolen his nearly indestructible heart -- and replaced it with a far less reliable battery-powered model. Alas, this sequel to 2006's grindhouse treat "Crank" is so amped up that it suffers an energy shortage well before the finale -- and is every bit as stupid as it sounds. (96 min.) R; frenetic strong bloody violence, crude and graphic sexual content, nudity, pervasive profanity.
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.
(F) In this atrocious live-action version of the Japanese animé favorite, young warrior Goku (Justin Chatwin) must outrace demonic Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) for control of seven magical orbs that give the possessor unlimited power. "Final Destination" director James Wong pairs elements reminiscent of "Lord of the Rings" (a quest) and "Transformers" (transformers), without the budget of either, for a movie chock full of chintzy effects, badly overdubbed dialogue and an idiotic script. Fun only if you're willing to suffer through it -- to laugh at it. (84 min.) PG; intense action/violence, brief mild profanity.
(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.)
(B+) Disney hearkens back to its "True-Life Adventures" of the 1950s with a feature-length version of the BBC/Discovery documentary series "Planet Earth," which follows three species of mothers and babies over a year -- polar bears in the Arctic, elephants in Africa's Kalahari Desert and humpback whales near the Equator -- plus a variety of wondrous creatures in between. Their circle-of-life experiences are photographed and edited with striking scope, clarity and ingenuity; the result combines colorful entertainment and a not-too-heavy-handed message about the perils of climate change. (89 min.) G; all ages.
FAST & FURIOUS
(C) The fourth installment in the "Fast & Furious" franchise reteams original stars Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, who infiltrate -- and try to take down -- a local drug lord (John Ortiz) eager to add the twosome to his elite driving team. Original co-stars Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez are along for the ride, but the real stars are the loud racing sequences (ably directed by Justin Lin) that look like the video games inspired by these movies: candy-colored automobiles, digital dashboards and automated female voices. In short, a tough guy fantasy about cars, girls -- and other tough guys. (107 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of violence and action, sexual content, profanity, drug references.
(C) Before he hits screens this summer as the ultimate fighting man in "G.I. Joe," Channing Tatum puts up his dukes as a young bare-knuckles bruiser who finds a wise but down-and-out mentor (Howard) to take him to the big time and a nice new girlfriend (Zulay Henao) to lend him emotional support. Yo, Rocky! The fight scenes pack a punch, but this turns into a dull, cliché-sodden drama during the many moments when someone's fist isn't connecting with someone else's jaw. (105 min.) PG-13; intense fight sequences, sexual situations, brief profanity.
(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.)
HANNAH MONTANA: THE MOVIE
(B-) Not to be confused with "Hannah Montana" the TV show, or last year's "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour," this new movie finds the title pop princess (Miley Cyrus) gettin' too big for her britches, so Dad (Billy Ray Cyrus) takes her alter ego, Miley, back to down-home Tennessee, where her people, her roots and her music can straighten her out. The story line may be a bit moldy and much of the frantic change-of-identity shtick is slapstick filler, but "Hannah'" tween-age fans will love it, and parents won't resent it. Much. (102 min.) G; all ages.
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.
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.)
(D) Less than zero: The inexplicable resurrection of that bygone literary phenomenon Bret Easton Ellis ("American Psycho"), this nihilistic, narcissistic, knuckleheaded movie about nihilistic, narcissistic knuckleheads focuses on a variety of wasted cases in early '80s Southern California, from a studio executive (Billy Bob Thornton) to a kidnapper (Mickey Rourke). Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder and Jon Foster co-star in a movie that might have been an interesting exercise in satire -- if only it had a sense of humor. Which it doesn't. (98 min.) R; strong sexual content, nudity, drug use, pervasive profanity, disturbing images.
(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.
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.)
OBSERVE & REPORT
(D+) Maul cop: A delusional, violent, sexist, racist, homophobic (not to mention bipolar) mall cop (Seth Rogen) takes on a flasher plaguing his dim-bulb dream girl (Anna Faris) -- and the detective (Ray Liotta) investigating the case -- in what would be the feel-bad comedy of the year, if it were the slightest bit funny. Writer-director Jody HIll's supposedly bold experiment in dark humor turns out to be a virtually empty exercise in wretched excess; because he can't tell the difference between fearlessness and obliviousness, this relentlessly bashes you over the head with a sledgehammer, until the inevitable headache sets in -- at which time it starts bashing you over the head all over again. (86 min.) R; pervasive profanity, graphic nudity, drug use, sexual content, violence. (C.C.)
(D+) "Fatal Attraction" meets "The Temp" when a wacko new office worker (Ali Larter) makes life miserable for a happily married asset manager ("The Wire's" Idris Elba) -- and his hands-off-my-man wife (Beyoncé Knowles). The three leads may be easy on the eyes, but the dialogue they're forced to spout is pretty harsh on the ears. One doesn't expect this type of movie to be plausible, but this one stretches the plausibility factor past the snapping point -- to the unintentional-laughter point. (100 min.) PG-13; sexual material including suggestive dialogue, violence, mature themes.
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.
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-) Teenthrob Zac Efron graduates from "High School Musical" -- but not from high school -- as the adolescent incarnation of an embittered family man (Matthew Perry) who magically gets a chance to live things all over again. It's not as clever as "Freaky Friday" or even "13 Going on 30," but, as a teen with the brain of a father, Efron ably carries this featherweight farce; for adults, this is mildly diverting stuff, but for its target tween audience, Efron's outside shot is a three-pointer. (102 min.) PG-13; profanity, sexual material, teen partying.
(B+) Writer-director Cary Fukunaga collected top directing honors at the Sundance film festival for his startlingly impressive first feature, which follows several Latin American immigrants bound for the U.S., from a Mexican gang member (Edgar Flores) to a Honduran teen (Paulina Gaitan) who reunites with her estranged father. Tough and beautiful, this is almost ruthless in its depiction of the brutality and degradation confronting the hidden hordes that cross rivers and hop trains trying to get to the United States. In Spanish with English subtitles. (97 min.) R; violence, profanity, sexual content.
(B-) Looking for a story, a Los Angeles Times columnist (Robert Downey Jr.) finds something more -- an unexpected friendship -- when he encounters a homeless, Juilliard-trained musician (Jamie Foxx) on the Skid Row streets. Based on columnist Steve Lopez's best-selling book, this is an undeniably touching tale. But, rather than simply presenting it, the movie keeps trying to tell us how we feel -- despite the fact that it doesn't always know how it feels about things either. (109 min.) PG-13; mature themes, drug use, profanity. (C.C.)
STATE OF PLAY
(B) Stop the presses: A veteran Washington reporter (the commanding Russell Crowe) and a neophyte blogger (feisty Rachel McAdams) team up to investigate the mysterious death of a congressional staffer -- employed (and then some) by a rising political star (a slick Ben Affleck), the reporter's college roommate. Based on an acclaimed British miniseries, this streamlined, Americanized version loses a bit in translation, but director Kevin Macdonald ("Last King of Scotland") keep things on track, building taut-wire tension without flashy camera tricks or computerized effects. (127 min.) PG-13; violence, profanity, sexual references, brief drug content. (C.C.)
(B-) 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 wildly different, equally cash-strapped sisters who start a crime-scene cleaning service, cleaning up other people's tragedies while trying to avoid their own. They're terrific; so are supporting aces Alan Arkin and Steve Zahn. But director Christine Jeffs ("Sylvia") uses a saber for a tale better suited to a rapier. (102 min.) R; profanity, disturbing images, sexual situations, drug use. (C.C.)
(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.
(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.