MOVIES


opening this week

FURRY VENGEANCE

The fur will fly when woodland creatures protest a housing developer's plans for a new Oregon subdivision that would wipe out their natural habitat. Brendan Fraser and Brooke Shields lead the human cast of this family-friendly comedy featuring "The Hangover's" Ken Jeong -- and a host of feisty critters. At multiple locations. (92 min.) PG; rude humor, mild profanity, brief smoking.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

In this update of the long-running horror fave, teens on the title street (Kyle Gallner, Katie Cassidy and Rooney Mara among them) keep having the same killer nightmare -- featuring razor-fingered fiend Freddy Krueger ("Shutter Island's" Jackie Earle Haley, who inherits the role created by Robert Englund). At multiple locations. (97 min.) R; strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror, profanity.

NORTH FACE

This fact-based drama, set in the months before the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, focuses on two German mountain climbers (Benno Fürmann, Florian Lukas) determined to conquer at the most dangerous rock face in the Alps: Switzerland's Eiger, an icy, almost vertical "death wall" where one false move will plunge a climber 3,000 feet to instant death. In German, Swiss German, French and Italian with English subtitles. At Village Square. (121 min.) NR; grisly violence.

PHISH 3-D

Shot last year at Phish's multi-day Festival 8 in Indio, Calif., this rock documentary features backstage and rehearsal footage, plus performances of never-before-seen cover songs (from the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street" album), a full-length acoustic set and six additional sets. At Town Square. (140 min.) NR.

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.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND

(C) Curiouser and curiouser: All the whimsical wonder that made Lewis Carroll's original such a demented delight have gone down the rabbit hole in director Tim Burton's visually vivid, thematically vapid version; it's almost as if Alice ("In Treatment's" Mia Wasikowska) took a wrong turn and wound up in Narnia (or on the Yellow Brick Road), where she encounters, among others, the Red Queen (hilariously unhinged Helena Bonham Carter), the Cheshire Cat (sly Stephen Fry) and the madcap Mad Hatter (who else but Johnny Depp?). It's demented, yes, but not exactly delightful. (109 min.) PG; fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, a smoking caterpillar. (C.C.)

AVATAR

(B-) Dances with "Aliens": Writer-director James Cameron ("Titanic") takes us to the 22nd-century planet Pandora, where paraplegic ex-Marine Jake Sully (clunky hunk Sam Worthington) joins a corporate mining operation's scientific program -- and finds a new life when he encounters the native Na'vi. A spectacular effects extravaganza that might have been a genuine landmark -- if only Cameron had paid as much attention to story as he does to technology. Winner of three Academy Awards, including best visual effects. (162 min.) PG-13; intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sexual references, profanity, smoking. (C.C.)

THE BACK-UP PLAN

(C) A New York pet store owner (Jennifer Lopez) undergoes artificial insemination and immediately meets Mr. Right (Alex O'Loughlin), creating allegedly comic complications for the fated-to-be-mated couple in yet another disposable contrivance that tests our tolerance -- and our patience . Unless you're a fan of movies where you can predict the plot moves before they happen and recite the dialogue along with the actors, better find a back-up plan. (104 min.) PG-13; sexual content, crude references, profanity. (C.C.)

BOOK OF ELI

(C) Ready for another post-apocalyptic odyssey? This time, a loner (a well-cast Denzel Washington) fights his way across country to protect a sacred book that may hold the key to saving humanity: the last remaining Bible. Gary Oldman (as the resident bad guy) and Mila Kunis co-star for filmmaking twins Albert and Allen Hughes ("From Hell"), who mix preachiness and bloodshed to queasy effect; this is "The Road" with twice the plot, four times the ammunition -- and half the brains. (118 min.) R; brutal violence, profanity.

THE BOUNTY HUNTER

(D+) The ex-cop title character (smirking Scot Gerard Butler) gets the chance to bring in, and get back at, his ex-wife (Jennifer Aniston), a reporter who's chasing a murder cover-up story -- until everybody starts chasing them in an alleged action comedy that has little to offer besides some face-time with its handsome stars. And that's not enough to redeem either the stars -- or the movie. (106 min.) PG-13; sexual content including suggestive comments, profanity, violence.

BROOKLYN'S FINEST

(C) The lives of three cops from New York's crime-ridden 65th Precinct -- a patrolman nearing retirement (Richard Gere), a secretive narcotics cop (Ethan Hawke) and an undercover officer (Don Cheadle ) -- intertwine, at the same deadly location, in this bloody mess of a cop drama. Despite a fine cast (including Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin, Vincent D'Onofrio and Lili Taylor), director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") grinds viewers down through the movie's relentlessly bleak and barbarous approach. (140 min.) R; bloody violence, strong sexuality, nudity, drug content, pervasive profanity.

CHLOE

(C) Guilty, but no pleasure: A gynecologist (Julianne Moore) who suspects her professor husband (Liam Neeson) of cheating on her hires an escort ("Dear John's" Amanda Seyfried) to test his fidelity. Writer-director Atom Egoyan (a two-time Oscar nominee for "The Sweet Hereafter") adapts the 2003 French drama "Nathalie," in which Gérard Depardieu, Fanny Ardant and Emmanuelle Béart originated the central roles. What's more boring than watching dull sex on screen? Listening to people talk about dull sex on screen, and that's how "Chloe's" characters spend (too) much of their time. (96 min.) R; strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity, profanity.

CITY ISLAND

(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 (Andy Garcia, terrific in a rare leading role) 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.)

CLASH OF THE TITANS

(C) "Avatar's" hunky, charisma-free Sam Worthington returns in a high-tech revamp of the campy 1981 extravaganza, as Perseus, the human son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), tries to prevent nasty Hades (Ralph Fiennes, having a blast) and his underworld underlings from spreading evil to the heavens -- and Earth. Decent but forgettable digital effects, combined with and a disappointing 3-D conversion, make for a long, joyless slog. (118 min.) PG-13; fantasy action violence, frightening images, brief sensuality.

COP OUT

(D+) It's buddy-cop comedy time yet again, as two of New York's semi-finest (Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan) go after a memorabilia-obsessed gangster who's stolen a rare baseball card -- meant to finance the wedding of one of the cop's daughters. Seann William Scott, Jason Lee, Adam Brody and Kevin Pollak co-star in a clumsy, post-modern example of a tired genre that stuffs as many genre references as it can into the ceaseless Willis-Morgan patter. (110 min.) R; pervasive profanity including sexual references, violence, brief sexuality.

THE CRAZIES

(B) The horror remake parade continues with "Sahara" director Breck Eisner's insane-in-the-membrane update of George A. Romero's 1973 chiller about small-town Iowans (played by, among others, Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell) who ingest water, tainted with a mysterious toxin, that makes them go (you guessed it) crazy. It's not exactly a zombie movie, but derives much of its horror from the same fear that the enemy lurks both within and without you -- and there's a very real chance you might turn into a monster. (101 min.) R; bloody violence, profanity.

DATE NIGHT

(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.)

DEATH AT A FUNERAL

(B) Second life: Director Neil LaBute ("In the Company of Men") and an all-star cast (led by Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan and Danny Glover) breathe new life into the 2007 British farce about an extended family coming together for a funeral marred by elaborate hijinks. The key figure connecting both movies is Peter Dinklage, reprising his role as a diminutive mystery guest who shows up with a big secret; his return is a prime reason why "Death at a Funeral" surprisingly deserves resurrection. (92 min.) R; profanity, drug content, sexual humor.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID

(B-) Get in touch with your inner wimp -- and surrender to the impish charm of this adaptation of Jeff Kinney's illustrated novel, about the misadventures of a middle-school misfit (irresistible smarty-pants Zachary Gordon) trying to survive a daunting rite of passage: sixth grade. This inventive comedy integrates Kinney's witty drawings with live-action antics, presenting some painful -- and painfully funny -- life lessons in a movie that's endearing child's play for kids of all ages. (120 min.) PG; rude humor, profanity. (C.C.)

DINOSAURS 3D: GIANTS OF PATAGONIA

(B) If you like dinosaurs (who doesn't?), you'll love this 3-D documentary, which follows paleontologist Rodolfo Coria as he tramps the rugged wilds of 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.

THE GHOST WRITER

(B) An exiled former British prime minister (dynamic, Tony Blair-ish Pierce Brosnan), holed up to write his memoirs, finds himself at sea when a longtime aide drowns. Enter a professional ghostwriter (a wry Ewan McGregor), who's utterly unprepared for the political and sexual intrigue swirling around him. Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski delivers an absorbing, sometimes edgy adaptation of Robert Harris' best-selling "The Ghost." Not on a par with such Polanski classics as "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby" (what could be?), yet still packs a slyly macabre punch. (128 min.) PG-13; profanity, brief nudity/sexuality, violence, drug references. (C.C.)

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

(B+) Before Hollywood gets its hands on Stieg Larsson's international best-seller, here's the killer Swedish original (with English subtitles): a gripping thriller about a haunted goth computer hacker (the ferocious Noomi Rapace) who helps an investigative journalist (world-weary Michael Nykvist) solve a 40-year-old mystery. Even with subtitles, what happens is gut-punchingly clear: not pretty, but undeniably compelling. (152 min.) NR; violence and gruesome images, sexual situations, nudity, profanity. (C.C.)

GREEN ZONE

(C) He's not quite Bourne again, but Matt Damon reunites with "Bourne" director Paul Greengrass for this topical thriller, about a U.S. Army officer who goes rogue in wartime Iraq, hunting for weapons of mass destruction after he uncovers evidence of faulty intelligence. It may be a visual and visceral knockout, but all the war-zone authenticity in the Arab world can't salvage the silly Hollywood plot at the heart of things. (115 min.) R; violence, profanity.

GREENBERG

(B) House-sitting for his brother in Los Angeles, a post-breakdown mid-life New Yorker (an engaging Ben Stiller) tries to figure out his unfathomable life. This edgy, perceptive comedy from writer-director Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale") conveys a happy-sad authenticity that makes it endearing despite its title character's off-putting qualities; mumblecore favorite Greta Gerwig has a breakout role as an aspiring musician with her own self-esteem issues. Together, they're anything but shallow, standard-issue big-screen lovers. (107 min.) R; strong sexuality, drug use, profanity.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE

(C) Crazy '80s: Three middle-aged buddies (John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson) who've had it with adulthood discover their own personal wayback machine when a ski resort hot tub transports them back to 1986 heyday, enabling them to settle old scores and mess with the timeline for personal profit. Alas, this dude-where's-my-youth adventure is not so excellent; fitfully amusing, it's mostly as lazy, self-involved and garish as the chintzy '80s themselves. (100 min.) R; strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use, pervasive profanity.

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.)

THE JONESES

(B) Everybody wants to keep up with these Joneses (Demi Moore, David Duchovny), who are just too good to be true -- because they're not really a couple at all, merely stealth marketers on assignment in suburbia. The stars do a fine job hawking first-time filmmaker Derrick Borte's good (but far from great) satire of our all-consuming consumer culture as things degenerate from razor-sharp opening to meandering middle to mushy Hollywood ending. (96 min.) R; profanity, sexual content, teen drinking and drug use.

KENNY CHESNEY: SUMMER IN 3-D

(B-) This smooth, slick music documentary captures the sights and sounds of the country star's 2009 "Sun City Carnival" arena tour, augmented with home movies and behind-the-scenes moments. Fans will undoubtedly be satisfied: the movie packs in 23 songs and spotlights the full Chesney, with his tight jeans, faded tank top and worn cowboy hat. But while his nasal baritone gets a constant workout, the 3-D's only a mixed success; Chesney's often in the audience's collective lap, but the effect sometimes flattens him into a bigger-than-life photo. (99 min.) NR.

KICK-ASS

(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.

THE LAST SONG

(C) Heard the one about two photogenic kids who meet cute and fall madly in love, only to find that tragedy trumps hormones? No, it's not "Dear John" -- it's the latest from "Dear John" author Nicholas Sparks, about a rebellious teen (Miley Cyrus) stuck in a Southern beach town to reconnect with her estranged father (a too-good-for-this-movie Greg Kinnear). Cyrus, now 17, has undeniable presence -- but she needs an acting coach. Then again, not even Meryl Streep could save Sparks' latest tub o' mush. (107 min.) PG; thematic material, some violence, sensuality, mild profanity.

LETTERS TO GOD

(C) In this faith-based heartwarmer, an 8-year-old fighting cancer (Tanner McGuire) puts his fears, hopes and prayers into the title missives -- which end up inspiring a troubled, cynical postal carrier (Jeffrey Johnson) to change his life. The postman may be inspired, we're not; this slow, bland tearjerker (co-directed by "Fireproof" co-producer David Nixon) is a depressingly unemotional affair, with writing and central performances so flat that even its loaded situations can't trigger waterworks. (110 min.) PG; thematic material.

THE LOSERS

(D+) The title's definitely an accurate description of this action loser about members of a CIA black-ops squad, betrayed and left for dead during a search-and-destroy mission in the Bolivian jungle, who go after the turncoat who targeted them. Deadly only in its dullness, this is all noise, no substance, stranding such appealing performers as Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana and Chris Evans, whose comedy flair briefly spices up the movie's vast smorgasboard of nothingness. (98 min.) PG-13; intense action and violence, sexual references, profanity.

OCEANS

(B+) The vanishing wonders of the aquatic world -- from fish that look like anything but fish to frolicking otters and a newborn walrus pup -- populate this stunningly beautiful nature film. "Winged Migration" directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud shoot and edit this documentary like a fictional feature, building palpable emotional connections (bring tissues) as narrator Pierce Brosnan reminds us that all this majesty is in danger. (100 min.) G; all ages.

OUR FAMILY WEDDING

(C) Feuding fathers (Carlos Mencia, Forest Whitaker) reluctantly come together when their children ("Ugly Betty's" America Ferrera, Bonanza High School graduate Lance Gross) become engaged in this culture-clash comedy featuring Taye Diggs, Diana-Maria Riva and Regina King. Despite the inherent cheesiness of the wedding genre -- and the equally checkered history of stridently ethnic movies -- this one manages to find the charm within the clichés. (90 min.) PG-13; sexual content, brief profanity.

PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF

(C) No spark: This latest attempt to find a new "Harry Potter" (from Chris Columbus, who directed the first two Potter movies) adapts the first installment of Rick Riordan's five-book series about a teen (Logan Lerman) who discovers he's the descendant of a Greek god -- and must undertake an odyssey to Mount Olympus. (Via Las Vegas, which is seen in second-unit footage filmed here.) Uma Thurman's snake-haired Medusa and Pierce Brosnan's studly centaur almost make this worth seeing, but despite the starry supporting cast (Rosario Dawson, Sean Bean, Kevin McKidd and Catherine Keener), this is more a list of ingredients than a magic movie. (119 min.) PG; action violence and peril, scary images, suggestive material, mild profanity.

THE PERFECT GAME

(B-) There's no crying in baseball -- except perhaps for this very sweet, very slight family movie, which scores smiles and tears of joy with its incredible-but-true tale of a ragtag team from Monterrey, Mexico, triumphing at the 1957 Little League World Series. As he did in his 1994 remake of "Angels in the Outfield," director William Dear emphasizes team spirit and uplift, showing yet more answered prayers in the church of baseball. Clifton Collins Jr. and Cheech Marin lead the cast. (118 min.) PG; thematic elements.

A PROPHET

(B+) In a French prison, a friendless, virtually illiterate Arab teen (understated, inscrutable Tahar Rahim) finds himself under the thumb of a wily Corsican gangster (the magnetic Niels Arestrup), learning life -- and death -- lessons. Part prison melodrama, part crime thriller, part character study, this Oscar-nominated drama (in French, Arabic and Corsican, with English subtitles) finds writer-director Jacques Audiard ("The Beat That My Heart Skipped," "Read My Lips") energizing genre movie conventions with idiosyncratic, imaginative flair. (154 min.) R; strong violence, sexual content, nudity, profanity, drug use. (C.C.)

REMEMBER ME

(C) A rebellious NYU student ("Twilight" heartthrob Robert Pattinson, still in full brooding mode) meets his match in a fellow student (Emilie de Raven), but their relationship is threatened by the very thing that brought them together in this dread-filled character study featuring Pierce Brosnan (once again demonstrating his character-actor chops) and always solid Chris Cooper. Set in the summer of 2001, this romanticizes -- and pretentiously revels in -- tragedy and its aftermath. (128 min.) PG-13; violence, sexual content, profanity, smoking.

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW

(B+) Let's do the Time Warp again! Back at Tropicana Cinemas Saturday night, this midnight-movie campfest remains outrageous fun more than three decades after goody-goody Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon) first encountered gender-bending Dr. Frank N. Further (Tim Curry) and his freaky friends from Transsexual, Transylvania. (100 min.) R; sexual references, drug use, horror violence. (C.C.)

THE RUNAWAYS

(B-) They love rock 'n' roll: In '70s Southern California, teen rebels Joan Jett ("Twilight's" Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Stewart's "New Moon" enemy, Dakota Fanning) fall under the influence of manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) to lead the title rockers. This rock chronicle of Jett's first band easily could have degenerated into a movie-length music video, yet music-video veteran Floria Sigismondi makes an impressive feature-film directing debut, crafting a brisk, engaging portrait, the story making up for its lack of character insight with driving, infectious rhythm. (109 min.) R; profanity, drug use, sexual content -- all involving teens.

SHE'S OUT OF MY LEAGUE

(C) Can a hottie and a nottie find true romance? An average guy ("Tropic Thunder" scene-stealer Jay Baruchel) tries to maintain an unlikely relationship with a perfect 10 who's on the rebound ("Starter for 10's" Alice Eve) in a blandly raunchy romantic comedy featuring Mike Vogel ("Cloverfield") and Krysten Ritter ("Woke Up Dead"). Too bad the filmmakers forgot to give Baruchel's character an actual personality that might appeal to the opposite sex; as a result, there's no reason to believe what happens to this nice-guy non-entity. (105 min.) R; profanity, sexual content.

SHUTTER ISLAND

(C+) Shudder Island: Director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Departed," "The Aviator") reunite for this adaptation of "Mystic River" author Denis Lehane's novel, set in 1954, about a haunted U.S. marshal searching for a murderous escapee from a hospital for the criminally insane. Exquisitely crafted, but an exercise in B-movie melodrama, albeit with an A-level cast: Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley and Patricia Clarkson are among the heavy hitters trying to score. Scorsese works hard (too hard) conjuring a creepy atmosphere, but creating sustained suspense seems beyond him. (138 min.) R; disturbing violent content, profanity, nudity. (C.C.)

TOOTH FAIRY

(C) When a minor-league hockey player (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) tells a youngster the Tooth Fairy doesn't really exist, he gets his comeuppance when he's transformed into the title character, complete with tutu and wings. Stealing liberally from "Monsters Inc." and "Elf" (among others), this is exactly what you'd expect: a harmless tale of optimism overcoming disbelief, complete with comical casting (including Julie Andrews as a Fairy Godmother) and a heaping helping of Johnson's game, antic charm. (101 min.) PG; mild language, rude humor, sports action.

WHY DID I GET I MARRIED TOO

(C-) Writer-director Tyler Perry returns with this sequel to the 2007 hit "Why Did I Get Married," as four couples reunite to vacation and analyze their problems: neglect (Perry, Sharon Leal), joblessness (Jill Scott, Lamman Rucker), adultery (Tasha Smith, Michael Jai White) and a dead child (Janet Jackson, Malik Yoba). Once again, storylines ramble, scenes fizzle, actors shout and weep embarrassingly and nuance is obliterated by sermonizing. (121 min.) PG-13 ; thematic material including sexuality, profanity, drug references, domestic violence.

 

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