opening this week
Reviewed on Page 26.
JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK
A 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, from Toronto to Palm Springs to Minneapolis, for every stand-up gig she can get. At Village Square. (84 min.) R; profanity, sexual humor.
THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE
Nicolas Cage reteams with "National Treasure" director Jon Turteltaub 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 nemesis Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina, alias "Spider-Man 2's" Doc Ock). At multiple locations. (121 min.) PG; violence, frightening scenes.
Street-smart tweens (Kayla Jackson, Alexis Biesiada, Pilar Martin, Kayla Raparelli, Na'jee Wilson) compete for a million-dollar prize on a TV talent contest -- battling their rich-girl rivals, the Wiggies, for top honors -- in a family-friendly musical featuring 13 dance numbers. At multiple locations. (108 min.) PG; rude behavior.
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.
(B) Everybody's got a secret in this beguiling indie, a slice-of-ethnic-life comedy set in the title Bronx fishing enclave, where a prison guard (a terrific Andy Garcia) with acting aspirations disrupts his already dysfunctional family even further after he brings home a young ex-con ("10,000 BC's" Steven Strait). Julianna Margulies, Alan Arkin, Emily Mortimer, Ezra Miller and Dominik Garcia-Lorido (Andy's daughter) round out the all-aces cast; writer-director Raymond De Felitta ("Two Family House") balances quirky comedy and rueful human truths with heartfelt and infectious charm. (100 min.) PG-13; sexual content, smoking, profanity. (C.C.)
(B) After he meets the woman of his dreams (Marisa Tomei), a recently divorced guy (ace sad-sack John C. Reilly) discovers he's got competition for her affections: her pathologically dependent son Cyrus ("Get Him to the Greek's" Jonah Hill). Catherine Keener co-stars in this hit Sundance film festival comedy from veteran indie filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass ("Baghead," "The Puffy Chair"), who have a knack for wringing laughs out of uncomfortable moments. "Cyrus" is steeped in cringe-and-wince humor, yet they manage to balance it with genuine sweetness. (92 min.) R; profanity, sexual material.
(B-) On the town: When hapless New Jersey suburbanites (Steve Carell, Tina Fey) venture into Manhattan for a night out, they steal another couple's reservation at an uber-trendy restaurant and find themselves plunged into intrigue and running for their lives. This comic thriller can't quite decide whether it wants to be slapstick or satire when it grows up, but Carell and Fey's terrific chemistry (along with Mark Wahlberg's deadpan self-spoofery as a perpetually shirtless security expert) keep the chuckles coming. (88 min.) PG-13; sexual content, profanity, drug references, violence. (C.C.)
(B) Assisted by a legion of jabbering, goggle-eyed Minions, the villainous Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) plots to outwit nerdy rival Vector (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 to emerge as a welcome addition to the ranks of movies that entertain kids and their parents with equal flair. (95 min.) PG; rude humor, mild action. (C.C.)
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 just doesn't have enough laughs to go the distance. (109 min.) R; strong sexual content and drug use, pervasive profanity. (C.C.)
(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 former "Saturday Night Live" teammates Adam Sandler (who co-wrote the script), Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider, plus Kevin James (Sandler's "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" castmate), you'd think some of the lines would work. But this assaults us with an awkward mix of humor that's rarely funny and heart that's never touching. (102 min.) PG-13; crude material including suggestive references, profanity and partial nudity.
(C+) Revenge is sweet -- unless it's dispensed by the coldly implacable title character (Michael Caine), a former Royal Marine who put all the terror and violence behind him -- until a horde of drug-addled, hell-raising young thugs start terrorizing his London public housing complex, prompting him to reconnect with his killing-machine past. This British "Death Wish"-meets-"Gran Torino" thriller is redeemed, but only partially, by another predictably expert Caine performance; you keep hoping the rest of the movie will catch up, and match up, with Caine, but no such luck. (102 min.) R; violence, profanity, drug use, sexual content. (C.C.)
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
(B) Up and away: In this sometimes exhilarating animated romp (especially in 3-D), a scrawny Viking teen wounds, then befriends a dragon he dubs Toothless, discovering that Toothless and his fellow flying terrors aren't so terrifying after all. "She's Out of My League's" Jay Baruchel (Hollywood's nerd du jour) and "Bounty Hunter's" brawny Gerard Butler lead the vocal cast of an adventure that truly soars when human and dragon take to the skies. (98 min.) PG; sequences of intense action and some scary images, brief mild language. (C.C.)
I AM LOVE
(B) Lush lust: A Russian (Tilda Swinton, as usual in tour-de-force form) who married into a wealthy, powerful Italian family finds her loyalties tested when she becomes involved with a chef (Edoardo Gabbriellini) who's a friend of her son (Flavio Parenti). This award-winning melodrama from writer-director Luca Guadagnino has a sprawling narrative and a swooningly operatic style; yet, despite its excesses (and there are many), the passion informing them is undeniable. In Italian, Russian and English, with English subtitles. (120 min.) R, sexual situations, nudity. (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 (a spectacularly smarmy Sam Rockwell). It's always a kick watching Robert 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.)
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 Mr. Han (an admirably restrained Jackie Chan), the maintenance man at his apartment complex, 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. After all, the story still works -- just not as well as before. (135 min.) PG; bullying, martial arts action violence, mild profanity. (C.C.)
(B+) Kick in the pants: A geeky teen (Aaron Johnson) reinvents himself as a superhero -- despite his total lack of superpowers -- in a seriously, nastily violent adaptation of Mark Millar's comic book series, which is utterly stolen by Chloe Grace Moretz ("500 Days of Summer") as the masked, purple-wigged 11-year-old vigilante Hit Girl. She embodies the movie's satirical attitude toward the excesses of superhero flicks -- and the very real consequences of Hollywood's slavish devotion to cartoon action. (117 min.) R; strong brutal violence, pervasive profanity, sexual content, nudity and some drug use -- some involving children.
(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 the 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; let's hope not. (103 min.) PG; fantasy action violence.
LETTERS TO JULIET
(C) Return to sender: In Verona, Italy, an American tourist ("Dear John's" Amanda Seyfried) finds a 50-year-old letter -- and writes a reply to the once-lovelorn correspondent (Vanessa Redgrave), who arrives, accompanied by her skeptical grandson (Christopher Egan), to search for her long-lost flame (Redgrave's real-life husband, Franco Nero). The scenery's lovely, and so is Redgrave, but everything else is so gooey and predictable it can't help but turn the movie's potential charm into undeniable smarm. (105 min.) PG; brief rude behavior, profanity, incidental smoking. (C.C.)
(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.
(B) After being hit by a stray bullet from a nearby munitions factory, a mild-mannered Paris video store clerk ("The Valet's" Danny Boon) recruits a crew of misfit junk collectors (the Micmacs of the title) to help him get back at the big, bad weapons manufacturers. In this whimsical French comedy, "Amélie" and "Delicatessen" director Jean-Pierre Jeunet combines the spirit and visual flair of those fantasies for a frivolous, featherweight -- yet fun -- concoction that's a nice palate cleanser. Especially when surrounded by all the computer-generated action of this summer's Hollywood bombast. In French, with English subtitles. (104 min.) R; sexual content, brief violence.
MOTHER AND CHILD
(B) Bring Kleenex: A 50-year-old (Annette Bening), the daughter she gave up for adoption 35 years earlier (Naomi Watts) and a woman (Kerry Washington) hoping to adopt a child of her own form the heart of this drama from "Nine Lives" writer-director Rodrigo Garcia (son of author Gabriel Garcia Marquez). Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits and Cherry Jones co-star in a poignant and exceptionally acted (if occasionally forced) study of interconnectedness. (125 min.) R; sexuality, brief nudity, profanity.
(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 (an earnest, pumped-up Jake Gyllenhaal) and a rival princess (ornamental 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.)
(B-) Not so very merry: Russell Crowe reunites with "Gladiator" director Ridley Scott for a sweeping, yet not quite stirring, origin tale -- one that doesn't completely scale the heights to which it (and they) aspire. Despite a top-chop cast (including Cate Blanchett as a forceful Marian, William Hurt and Max Von Sydow as noble nobles and Mark Strong and Oscar Isaac as venal villains), Crowe's straight-arrow "Robin Hood" is more like Gladiator (in the) Hood -- a far cry from the impudent, irreverent, irrepressible (and irresistible) rogue of Sherwood Forest we've come to know and love through a century of cinematic derring-do. (140 min.) PG-13; violence, including intense combat sequences, and sexual situations. (C.C.)
THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
(B+) This year's surprise Oscar-winner for best foreign-language film, this drama from Argentina -- part murder mystery, part romance -- focuses on a retired court investigator (Richard Darin) who decides to revisit a rape-murder case that went unsolved 25 years earlier and has haunted him ever since. In the process, he revisits a former colleague (Soledad Villamil), now a judge, who's also haunted him all along. It's a long and winding road, but writer-director Juan Jose Campanella ("House," "Law & Order: SVU") expertly guides us through every twist and turn -- whether those twists involve the plot or the emotions running alongside them. In Spanish with English subtitles. (129 min.) R; violent images (including a rape scene), graphic nudity, profanity. (C.C.)
SEX AND THE CITY 2
(D) Sex and the pity: Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and BFFs Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristen Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) trade the sidewalks of New York for the sands of Abu Dhabi on an all-expenses-paid luxury jaunt -- but the sudden appearance of Carrie's former flame Aidan (John Corbett) complicates matters for the current Mrs. Big, whose Mr. (Chris Noth) is back home in Manhattan. Smug, self-indulgent and tone-deaf, this trip to nowhere -- except bad-movie hell -- drives a stake through the heart of a once-beloved franchise that deserved a more dignified death. (146 min.) R; strong sexual content, profanity. (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 (voiced, with frustrating flatness, by story editor Walt Dohrn). 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.)
(B) His personal and professional lives on the skids, a disgraced car dealer (a peak-form Michael Douglas) does his best -- or, more accurately, his worst -- to alienate everyone around him in this keen-eyed character study from directors Brian Koppleman and David Lavien ("Ocean's Thirteen"). Susan Sarandon, "The Office's" Jenna Fischer, Mary-Louise Parker, Danny DeVito, Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg lead the standout supporting cast, but it's Douglas who steals the show, demonstrating his talent for bringing self-destructive, self-delusional jerks to life. (90 min.) R; sexual situations, nudity. (C.C.)
(C+) Two cocky scientists (Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley) defy legal and ethical boundaries to conduct a dangerous experiment -- splicing together human and animal DNA to create a new organism, with horrifying results. This "Frankenstein"-style chiller from director Vincenzo Natali ("Cypher") is pure potluck -- a pinch of braininess, a bit of gothic terror, a morsel of gross-out horror, a touch of kinky sex fantasy. And while the parts don't always fit that gracefully, the occasional bolts-in-the-neck crudeness is offset by wicked humor, really cool effects and a fair number of genuine scares. (110 min.) R; disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence, 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. Along with rueful observations about the inevitability of growing up, this "Toy Story" celebrates the inner kid in all of us -- especially the kid who knows, and embraces, the power of imagination. (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). 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.