OPENING THIS WEEK
COUNTDOWN TO ZERO
This doomsday documentary, which debuted at this year's Sundance film festival, explores the escalating nuclear arms race -- and how someone building, buying or stealing a bomb could trigger disaster. Gary Oldman narrates; talking heads range from former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev to ex- CIA intelligence agent Valerie Plame Wilson. At Village Square. (91 min.) PG; thematic material, images of destruction, incidental smoking.
EAT PRAY LOVE
When she discovers that she's not as happily married as she thought, a woman (Julia Roberts) embarks on a round-the-world quest to find herself. Along the way, she finds a few others (among them Javier Bardem, James Franco and Richard Jenkins) in this adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir from writer-director Ryan Murphy ("Glee"). At multiple locations. (133 min.) PG-13; brief profanity, sexual references, male rear nudity.
Veteran tough guys Sylvester Stallone (who also 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 dictator (Eric Roberts, Julia's big brother). At multiple locations. (103 min.) R; strong action and bloody violence, profanity.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
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.
COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY
(B-) The romance between the French fashion designer (a cold, steely Anna Mouglalis) and the exiled Russian composer ("Casino Royale's" intense Mads Mikkelsen) inspires this handsome drama, based on Chris Greenhaigh's novel, which flashes forward from their initial meeting, in 1913 Paris, to their passionate affair seven years later. These beautiful snapshots of their years-long liaison serve up luxury and loveliness, music and art -- plus a bit of sexually charged madness. In French, Russian and English, with English subtitles. (120 min.) R; strong sexuality, nudity.
(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 societal pretension has become a draggy exercise in strained slapstick. (114 min.) PG-13; crude and sexual content, partial nudity, profanity. (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.
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.)
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.
(D) High school pals reunite for a Fourth of July tribute to their late basketball coach in a shockingly inept comedy that's essentially "The Big Chill" with jokes about flatulence and bunions. Considering that the friends are played by ex-"Saturday Night Live" teammates Adam Sandler (who co-scripted), Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider, plus Kevin James (Sandler's "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" co-star), you'd think some of this would work, but it awkwardly mixes humor that's rarely funny and heart that's never touching. (102 min.) PG-13; crude material including suggestive references, profanity and partial nudity.
(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.)
IRON MAN 2
(C+) Billionaire superhero Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) resists sharing his secrets with the military, forging new alliances -- and confronting new enemies, from renegade Russian Ivan Vanko (gleefully rabid Mickey Rourke) to rival munitions maven Justin Hammer (spectacularly smarmy Sam Rockwell). It's always a kick watching Downey Jr., but this sequel to the 2008 smash isn't nearly as entertaining as its quirky, irresistibly smirky star. It assumes that more is better, but sometimes more turns out to be a bit of a bore. (124 min.) PG-13; intense sci-fi action and violence, profanity. (C.C.)
JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK
(B) A compelling (and transgressively funny) documentary look at an eventful year in the life of Joan Rivers, who at 75 goes to Britain for an autobiographical stage piece, competes on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" -- and hits the road for every stand-up gig she can get. It's a testament to the enduring resilience and indefatigable wit of its subject; age cannot wither her, nor Botox stale her infinite hilarity. (84 min.) R; profanity, sexual humor.
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.)
(D+) After a whirlwind vacation romance and marriage, a new bride (Katherine Heigl) returns home to start her life with her husband (Ashton Kutcher) and discovers his past life -- as a spy -- when contract killers come gunning for them. This brain-deadening collision of high concept and low standards reunites Heigl with "Ugly Truth" director Robert Luketic, and the result is just as ugly; whatever germ of an idea exists is quickly killed by witless writing and migraine-inducing direction. (105 min.) PG-13; violent action, sexual material, profanity.
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.
(D+) Nevada's first legal brothel, the Mustang Ranch, inspires this fictional account, with Oscar-winners Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci as cinematic versions of Sally and Joe Conforte, whose partnership is threatened when she falls for a visiting Argentine boxer (newcomer Sergio Peris-Mencheta). What's an actress of Mirren's caliber doing in this supermarket romance novel of a movie? A favor -- for her director husband, Taylor Hackford ("Ray," "An Officer and a Gentleman"), working with him for the first time since 1985's "White Nights." Alas, this soapy melodrama isn't exactly a step in the right direction. (117 min.) R; sexual content, pervasive profanity, violence.
(D+) Life's just beachy for the title Great Dane (voiced by Owen Wilson) when his family (Lee Pace, Judy Greer) moves from Kansas to sunny Southern California, setting the stage for comic mischief in this live-action romp featuring the voices of (among others) Kiefer Sutherland, George Lopez, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Steve Coogan, Marlon Wayans, Sam Elliott and Stacy Ferguson (better known as Fergie). Despite a clever nugget of an idea -- the dog park as a canine version of high school -- the groan-inducing puns, seriously cheesy green-screen effects and hokey, feel-good ending make this torment for anyone over 7, and they deserve better. (95 min.) PG; rude humor, profanity.
THE OTHER GUYS
(B-) Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg make an amusingly arresting team as two 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 it's spinning its wheels, the 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.)
(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? With Topher Grace and Walton Goggins enlivening things, and Laurence Fishburne in a Col. Kurtz-like cameo. (106 min.) R; pervasive profanity, gore, strong creature violence.
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
(C) In ancient Arabian-nights territory, the rascally title character (earnest, pumped-up Jake Gyllenhaal) and a rival princess (Bond girl Gemma Arterton) run for their lives, hoping to keep a magical dagger from falling into villainous hands. This video game-inspired adventure lumbers rather than rollicks, thanks (or no thanks) to its emphasis on computer-generated effects, extended action sequences and hammy overacting (from, among others, Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina). I want my "Mummy" -- or my "Raiders of the Lost Ark" -- or any of the other, better movies "Prince of Persia" recalls. (116 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of violence and action. (C.C.)
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.)
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.
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.)
(D+) Less than "Less Than Zero": This adaptation of Nick McDonnell's novel, about a pack of rich, venal 17-year-olds obsessed with money, drugs and their own reprehensible lives, plays like a melodramatic rip-off of Bret Easton Ellis books. Although the title could describe the characters' emotional maturity, it actually refers to a new superdrug the teens (played by, among others, "Gossip Girl's" Chase Crawford, Emma Roberts and Rory Culkin) will do anything to get. Veteran glitzmeister Joel Schumacher (who delivered Brat Pack-era teen faves "St. Elmo's Fire" and "The Lost Boys") directs this ludicrous exercise in script contrivance, unlikable characters, silly acting and affected emotion. (93 min.) R; strong drug content, alcohol abuse, profanity, sexual material, brief nudity and violence, all involving teens.
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). Almost. 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.
(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.)