OPENING THIS WEEK
AVATAR: SPECIAL EDITION
If you didn't get enough of the world's most popular movie last holiday season, the sci-fi adventure returns in a 3-D rerelease featuring what director James Cameron promises is nine minutes of additional "cool stuff" -- including a scene where Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) get up close and personal. At multiple locations; at selected locations in IMAX. (171 min.) PG-13; intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, profanity, smoking.
THE LAST EXORCISM
A troubled evangelical minister (Patrick Fabian), who allows a film crew to document his final close encounter with demonic possession, is unprepared for the consequences when his fake exorcism turns terrifyingly real. Ashley Bell co-stars as the young victim. At multiple locations. (87 min.) PG-13; disturbing violent content and terror, sexual references, thematic material.
Internet pioneer Jack Harris (Luke Wilson) wrestles with his morals when web-based pornography takes off, threatening him to drown him in a sea of con men, mobsters, drug addicts and porn stars. "Midnight Run" screenwriter George Gallo returns to Las Vegas as co-writer and director of this fact-based tale, which filmed at locations ranging from the Las Vegas Country Club's golf course to a Hard Rock penthouse suite. Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht and James Caan co-star. At Sam's Town, Suncoast. (105 min.) R; strong sexual content, nudity, profanity, drug use, violence.
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) Overkill is underrated: In this slam-bang update of the '80s TV fave, framed ex-Army Rangers (Liam Neeson as Hannibal Smith, Bradley Cooper as Templeton "Face" Peck, "District 9's" Sharlto Copley as "Howlin' Mad" Murdoch and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as B.A. Baracus), try to clear their names, with Army captain Jessica Biel in hot pursuit. Of course it's ridiculously over-the-top, but it's also flat-out fun, with a cheeky sense of humor -- and way more enjoyable than expected, considering the ignominious history of movies inspired by TV shows. (118 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of action and violence, profanity, smoking.
CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE
(B) Calling a truce, canines and felines team up to thwart the rogue title character (voiced by a deliciously over-the-top Bette Midler) in this 3-D talking-critters spy spoof, a sequel to 2001's "Cats & Dogs." Along with the fur, the jokes fly fast and furious, but the visual effects too often look fake. Still, it's a delightful idea that cats and dogs not only enjoy a rich interior life while humans are away, but also function as highly trained super spies, complete with elaborate gadgetry. (82 min.) PG; animal action and humor.
CHARLIE ST. CLOUD
(D+) "High School Musical" teenthrob Zac Efron grows up -- and sleepwalks -- in this tearjerker about a young man who undergoes a near-death experience that leaves him seeing dead people, including his brother (Charlie Tahan), who hangs around to play catch. Efron, director Burr Steers (who directed Efron in "17 Again") and their collaborators (including co-stars Amanda Crew, Kim Basinger and Ray Liotta) want this melodrama to be weepy, soulful, inspirational, cathartic, ethereal and life-affirming; too bad they didn't aim to make it a bit interesting. (100 min.) PG-13; profanity, sexual references, intense accident scene.
(B) Assisted by a legion of jabbering, goggle-eyed Minions, the villainous Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) plots to outwit a nerdy rival (voiced by Jason Segal) by committing the world's most dastardly crime -- until a trio of adorable orphan girls changes his focus from bad to dad. This cheeky computer-animated tale combines deftly detailed animation, impish slapstick humor and expert use of 3-D, entertaining kids and their parents with equal flair. (95 min.) PG; rude humor, mild action. (C.C.)
DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS
(C) Not much bite: "Anchorman" and "40 Year-Old Virgin" castmates Steve Carell and Paul Rudd reunite for an undercooked remake of the 1998 French farce "The Dinner Game," about a monthly competition where the guest who impresses is the one who brings the biggest buffoon to the party. Rudd's a financial analyst up for promotion; Carell's a nerdy IRS agent (and amateur taxidermist) who might be his ticket to the top. Both work hard to bring some heart to the proceedings, but "The Dinner Game's" sharp satire of pretension has become a draggy exercise in strained slapstick. (114 min.) PG-13; crude and sexual content, partial nudity, profanity. (C.C.)
EAT PRAY LOVE
(C) When she discovers that she's not as happily married as she thought, a writer (a decorative, if hardly deep, Julia Roberts) embarks on an international quest to find herself. Along the way, she finds a few others -- including scene-stealers Javier Bardem and Richard Jenkins -- in a slick adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir from writer-director Ryan Murphy ("Glee"). A picturesque but far from profound, this asks us to accompany a privileged protagonist who's too wrapped up in herself to appreciate her blessings -- or make us feel her pain. (133 min.) PG-13; brief profanity, sexual references, male rear nudity. (C.C.)
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
(B) Eccentric amateur filmmaker Thierry Guetta convinces camera-shy graffiti artist Banksy to go on camera, only to have Banksy turn the tables -- and take over as director -- in a quirky documentary that bills itself as "the world's first Street Art disaster movie." It's an accurate description of a cinematic adventure that guides you through the world of street art before showing you the door, leaving you amused, thrilled, bewildered -- and a little confused about the nature of art. (87 min.) R; profanity.
(D+) Mucho macho: Veteran tough guys Sylvester Stallone (who also co-writes and directs), Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren (alias Sly's "Rocky IV" opponent Ivan Drago), Randy Couture and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin flex their muscles as mercenaries heading South American way on a mission to overthrow a corrupt general (David Zayas) and a rogue CIA agent (Eric Roberts). An exercise in nostalgia for a bygone era, "The Expendables" is willfully out of date, like an aged hair band that can't pack away the spandex. The movie has shockingly little connection to anything like the real world, but it's exactly the movie Stallone wanted to make; he loves this stuff, even if some of us can't. (103 min.) R; strong action and bloody violence, profanity.
GET HIM TO THE GREEK
(C) This summer's gross-out "Hangover" wannabe reunites "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" scene-stealers Russell Brand and Jonah Hill as, respectively, off-his-rocker rock star Aldous Snow and the low-level record company schlub assigned to escort him from London to a comeback L.A. concert, via New York and (inevitably) Las Vegas. Despite the satirical potential of its rock-music setting and the Brand-Hill team's fart-with-heart humor, this latest model from producer Judd Apatow's bromance assembly line doesn't have enough laughs to go the distance. (109 min.) R; strong sexual content and drug use, pervasive profanity. (C.C.)
(B) In 1930s Tennessee, a backwoods hermit (a perfectly cast, peak-form Robert Duvall) abruptly ends 40 years of seclusion to arrange a "living funeral" -- so he can hear what folks have to say about him while he's still around. Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, Lucas Black and Bill Cobbs provide terrific support in this old-fashioned, fact-based comedy-drama, which gets most of its charm from its characters, performances and rich period feel. In all, a promising feature debut for cinematographer-turned-director Aaron Schneider, who's already an Oscar-winner for the live-action short "Two Soldiers." (103 min.) PG-13; thematic material, brief violence.
THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE
(C) In the first of two sequels to the hit Swedish thriller "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," based on Stieg Larsson's best-selling trilogy, ace computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (the ferocious Noomi Rapace) is helping crusading journalist Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nykvist) investigate a sex-trafficking ring -- until she's forced to go on the run after being accused of multiple murders. Uneven, repetitive and occasionally nonsensical, this feels like a hasty knockoff compared to its far-superior predecessor, but it still offers a fair dose of suspense and action for those who can stomach its brutal violence. In Swedish with English subtitles. (129 min.) R; brutal violence including rape, strong sexual content, nudity, profanity.
(B) Seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis attempt to repair the Hubble space telescope -- resulting in more glorious images from the farthest reaches of space -- in an IMAX 3D documentary that's about as close as most of us ever will get to a trip into space. Director Toni Myers ("Under the Sea 3D," "Deep Sea 3D") splits the film between the repair mission and digital simulations of the cosmos built from Hubble's raw data, resulting in a truly dazzling star trek. (40 min.) G; all ages.
(B) Pretzel logic: "Dark Knight" writer-director Christopher Nolan's intriguingly twisty sci-fi thriller focuses on a team of dream raiders, led by heartbreak-haunted Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who must test their expertise when they're hired to plant an idea in the mind of a dying industrialist's heir (Cillian Murphy). Slyly witty Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whip-smart Ellen Page and femme fatale Marion Cotillard provide invaluable support, but it's Nolan's mind-bending visions -- from dazzling dreamscapes to knockout action sequences -- that dominate this three-dimensional puzzle of a movie. (148 min.) PG-13; violence, action. (C.C.)
THE KARATE KID
(C+) Kung fu hustle: This remake of the beloved 1984 hit moves the action to China, where Detroit 12-year-old Dre Parker (smart-alecky Jaden Smith, son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith) experiences extreme culture clash when the class bully confronts him, until apartment maintenance man Mr. Han (an admirably restrained Jackie Chan) instructs the newcomer in the intricacies of kung fu -- and life. No points for originality, but this handsome revamp follows its crowd-pleasing blueprint with unmistakable confidence. (135 min.) PG; bullying, martial arts action violence, mild profanity. (C.C.)
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
(A-) More than all right: Devoted L.A. parents Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) find their placid home life shaken up when their teenage kids ("Alice in Wonderland's" Mia Wasikowska, "Bridge to Terabithia's" Josh Hutcherson) track down their biological father (Mark Ruffalo), a footloose bachelor restaurateur who's shocked, yet delighted, to discover he's an instant father. Writer-director Lisa Cholodenko ("Laurel Canyon") performs a deft balancing act, addressing serious themes with sprightly wit in a terrifically acted movie that's both insightful and delightful. (104 min.) R; strong sexual content, nudity, profanity, teen drug and alcohol use. (C.C.)
KNIGHT AND DAY
(C+) An on-the-run secret agent (Tom Cruise) embroils an innocent bystander (Cameron Diaz, Cruise's "Vanilla Sky" co-star) in a web of international intrigue in a light-hearted action romp from director James Mangold ("Walk the Line," "3:10 to Yuma"). Breezy and watchable, even when the action and story spin ridiculously out of control, with Cruise and Diaz oddly appealing until the inevitable romance between them kicks in. It feels forced -- and forces the movie places it shouldn't go. (110 min.) PG-13; action violence, brief profanity.
THE LAST AIRBENDER
(D) Joyless, soulless and hopeless, this live-action adaptation of the hit Nickelodeon cartoon series focuses on Aang (Noah Ringer), who has the power to control water, fire, air and earth -- and restore peace to his war-torn world. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense") helms his first adaptation; it has epic scope and soaring ambitions, exotic locations and a cast of thousands (including "Slumdog Millionaire's" Dev Patel, "The Twilight Saga's" Jackson Rathbone, Cliff Curtis and Nicola Peltz), but it manages to get everything wrong. The worst part: two more movies may be in store. (103 min.) PG; fantasy action violence.
(C) A recent high school grad (all-grown-up Bow Wow), dreaming of creating his own shoe line but still working at Foot Locker, tries to keep a secret from his nosy neighbors: he's holding a lottery ticket that entitles him to a $370-million jackpot. The feature debut from longtime music video director Erik White, this starts out amiably enough but eventually develops a weirdly violent streak. At the ensemble cast (Ice Cube, Keith David, Loretta Devine, Naturi Naughton, Brandon T. Jackson and Mike Epps) keeps things sporadically enjoyable. (99 min.) PG-13; sexual content, profanity, drug references, violence, brief underage drinking.
NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS
(C+) The magical title nanny (Emma Thompson, who also scripted) returns to rescue harried mom Maggie Gyllenhaal, trying to run the family farm while her husband (Ewan McGregor) is off fighting in World War II. Rhys Ifans (as a scoundrelly brother-in-law), Maggie Smith (as a ditzy shopkeeper) and Ralph Fiennes co-star in this sequel to the family-friendly 2005 fantasy, which obviously owes much to P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins displays a warm naturalism and an old-fashioned cheerfulness uncommon to most of today's kids movies. (109 min.) PG; rude humor, profanity, mild thematic elements.
THE OTHER GUYS
(B-) Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg make an amusingly arresting team as mismatched New York City detectives -- one a by-the-book desk jockey, the other a street guy itching for action -- who labor in the shadow of flashy supercop colleagues (Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson) until they stumble onto Wall Street chicanery. Not the bust-a-gut buddy-cop spoof it wants to be -- it careens between action and comedy too much for that -- but even when spinning its wheels, its intermittent goofiness makes it easy enough to go along for the ride. (107 min.) PG-13; crude and sexual content, profanity, violence, drug material. (C.C.)
(B+) When an underwater tremor frees the title prehistoric man-eaters during spring break, tourists and residents alike try to keep themselves from becoming fish food in this killer chiller filmed at Arizona's Lake Havasu by "Hills Have Eyes" director Alexandre Aja. Cleverly knowing without collapsing into parody, this makes great use of its extremely random cast, which includes Elisabeth Shue as a bad-ass sheriff, Ving Rhames as her deputy, Jerry O'Connell as a "Girls Gone Wild"-style sleaze and crazed Christopher Lloyd as the resident fish expert -- plus Richard Dreyfuss, who makes a very cute cameo off the top. In short, a complete blast. (89 min.) R; strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, profanity, drug use.
(D+) If you're keeping score, this is the third "Predator" (not counting two "Predator" vs. "Aliens" spinoffs), but it's hardly an improvement, as warriors (led by Adrien Brody) try to evade the ravenous beasties trying to put the bite on them. The "most dangerous game" thrill is so much the center of the "Predator" series that there's almost nothing else to it; why bother with silly things like plausibility when your trademark climax is your star covering himself in mud? (106 min.) R; pervasive profanity, gore, strong creature violence.
RAMONA AND BEEZUS
(D+) Beverly Cleary's beloved books about the misadventures of grade schooler Ramona Quimby inspire this uninspired adaptation featuring Joey King and Selena Gomez, respectively, in the title roles. Little kids and tweens won't miss things like plot and narrative drive, especially with director Elizabeth Allen ("Aquamarine") playing up the antics for maximum wackiness. But this feels more like a series of individual episodes -- both madcap and heartrending -- than a cohesive story with any real drive. (104 min.) G; all ages.
(B) Except for "Hurt Locker," the notable films about the war on terror have been documentaries, and this Sundance award-winner -- co-directed by "Perfect Storm" author Sebastian Junger and veteran war photographer Tim Hetherington -- continues that track record, delivering an intimate portrait of an Army platoon's year-long tour of duty in Afghanistan's deadliest valley. Disturbing, rattling and heartbreaking in its immediacy, this unfolds with an objective yet impassioned voice, delivering a memorable chronicle of fraternity under fire. (93 min.) R; profanity, descriptions of violence.
(C+) Who is Salt? Who cares? When a defector accuses her of being a Russian spy, CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie, in a role originally written for Tom Cruise) goes on the run. This hyperkinetic thriller shows off Jolie's action chops -- and those of director Philip Noyce ("Clear and Present Danger"), who delivers a muscular, gritty and propulsive action tale that's also utterly ludicrous and lacking the slighted shred of humanity. As a result, "Salt" makes the supposedly engrossing ridiculously predictable, stranding such stalwart actors as Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor in the process. (100 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of violence and action. (C.C.)
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
(C) A 20-something Toronto slacker (callow Michael Cera, in desperate need of a new gig) who plays bass for a struggling rock band falls for an intriguing Amazon delivery girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) -- and must battle her seven evil exes to win her -- in a movie that plays like a video game, complete with vibrantly wacky visuals and rocket-powered pacing. Too bad this self-proclaimed "epic of epic epicness" seems so entranced by its own style that it doesn't notice, or care, the missing character development and a storyline that does nothing other than reset and repeat ad nauseam. (112 min.) PG-13; stylized violence, sexual content, profanity, drug references. (C.C.)
SHREK FOREVER AFTER
(C) It's not easy being green: The fourth (and, we hope, final) chapter of the fractured fairy-tale cartoon saga strands the restless title ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) in a twisted version of Far Far Away ruled by the unruly Rumplestiltskin. Not the worst "Shrek" sequel (that would be 2007's "Shrek the Third"), this nevertheless confirms that the franchise is long past its sell-by date; even the 3-D effects and the hilarious vocal stylings of Eddie Murphy's Donkey and Antonio Banderas' Puss in Boots aren't bright enough to lighten the prevailing been-there, seen-that mood. (93 min.) PG; mild action, rude humor, brief profanity. (C.C.)
THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE
(C+) No "Treasure": Nicolas Cage reteams with "National Treasure" director Jon Turteltaub (and uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer) for a live-action adventure inspired by the animated "Fantasia" sequence featuring Mickey Mouse in the title role. This time around, the apprentice is everyday guy Jay Baruchel (the voice of "How to Train Your Dragon's" Hiccup), who's recruited by sorcerer Balthazar Blake (Cage) to assist him in his battle against dapper nemesis Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina, alias"Spider-Man 2's" Doc Ock). This doesn't exactly conjure bedazzling magic, but it stirs up a pleasant-enough potion with effects, action and comedy that should send parents and kids home happy. (121 min.) PG; violence, frightening scenes.
STEP UP 3D
(C-) A tight-knit group of street dancers team up with an NYU freshman to take on top hip-hoppers in a 3-D dance fable featuring newcomers Rick Malambri and Sharni Vinson alongside "Step Up's" Alyson Stoner and "Step Up 2 the Streets' " Adam G. Sevani. There are several dull romances, a little parental melodrama, the threat of eviction and a Sharks-vs.-Jets rivalry that is even dopier than "West Side Story" because "Step Up 3-D" is supposedly set in the real-ish world. The dance sequences are thrilling, but the script is strictly 1-D; every scene in which anyone isn't dancing is a complete waste of time. (107 min.) PG-13; brief profanity.
(C) A 40-something TV executive (Jennifer Aniston), determined to undergo artificial insemination, never realizes that her best friend (scene-stealing Jason Bateman) has replaced her sperm donor's contribution with his own, triggering inevitable comic complications in a romantic comedy that's bright, breezy and utterly predictable. There are worse things than watching attractive people tie themselves into knots as they attempt to unravel their overly complicated lives, but there are lots better things too -- just don't expect to see them here. (100 min.) PG-13; mature thematic content, sexual material including dialogue, nudity, drug use, profanity. (C.C.)
TOY STORY 3
(A) The wonderful folks from Pixar ride to the rescue of a bummer movie summer with this more-than-equal second sequel, a delightful kids-of-all-ages animated adventure in which Andy heads off to college and his beloved toys -- led by cowboy Woody and space ranger Buzz -- find a new life at a deceptively sunny day-care center. Voiced by all-star returnees Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack (among others), plus such standout newcomers as Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton and Timothy Dalton, these cartoon characters have vastly more humor, personality, heart -- and substance -- than most of their live-action counterparts. (103 min.) G; all ages. (C.C.)
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE
(C) With a new director ("30 Days of Night's" David Slade) at the helm of the third chapter of Stephenie Meyer's teen vampire franchise, plus a stronger story, "Eclipse" manages to do what its two dreadfully dumb predecessors could not: It almost makes believers out of those of us who don't much care whether Kristen Stewart's moon-eyed teen Bella Swan chooses vampire stud Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) or werewolf hunk Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Trouble is, "Eclipse" is still pretty dumb -- not that this franchise's legions of fans will care. (124 min.) PG-13; intense action and violence, sexual references.
(D) What's in a name? An all-too-accurate description of the movie, when it's "Vampires Suck," a scene-by-scene vamp of the Stephenie Meyer "Twilight" movies -- with the odd "True Blood," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Gossip Girl," Kardashian and Lady Gaga gag tossed in -- from the folks who brought you "Disaster Movie," "Date Movie," "Meet the Spartans" and a lot of other lame parodies. Even by the standards of these things, which rely on an onslaught of jokey references to float, "Suck" s(t)inks. (88 min.) R; crude sexual content, comic violence, profanity, teen partying.
(B) French New Wave director Alain Renais, still going strong at 88, returns with a bizarre, stubbornly entertaining romantic comedy-drama (recently nominated for four French Academy Awards) about a lost, and found, wallet -- and its impact on the people it connects. Andre Dussolier ("Micmacs") stars alongside Sabine Azema ("A Sunday in the Country"), Mathieu Amalric ("Quantum of Solace") and Emmanuelle Devos ("Coco Before Chanel") in a movie that's both mundane and transcendent -- an enigmatic fairy tale for adults. In French with English subtitles. (104 min.) PG; thematic material, profanity, brief smoking.
(B+) To save her impoverished family's home, a flinty Ozark mountain teen (the eloquently reserved Jennifer Lawrence) goes in search of her missing father, a modern-day moonshiner who cooks meth instead of whiskey. Writer-director Debra Granik's spare, close-to-the-bone drama, a double award-winner at this year's Sundance film festival, is sometimes heavy going for those of us in the audience as well as its determined heroine, but watching her persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds -- and somehow maintain her integrity -- provides a quiet kind of uplift. (100 min.) R; violence, drug use, profanity. (C.C.)