OPENING THIS WEEK
Water woes, anyone? Director Irena Salina’s award-winning documentary explores the conflict between public health and private interests in connection with the world’s dwindling fresh water supply, focusing on environmental indifference, chemical irresponsibility, mass privatization and corporate chicanery. Las Vegas’ own Penn Jillette is among the parade of talking heads. At Village Square. (84 min.) NR; all ages.
HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3: SENIOR YEAR
It’s a threepeat for the Disney Channel’s smash song-and-dance franchise, which moves from the small to the big screen as Troy, Gabriella, Sharpay and their fellow East High Wildcats face the big finale of high school life — and explore their conflicting emotions by (what else?) putting on a show. Zac Efron, Vanessa Anne Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale return, along with director Kenny Ortega. At multiple locations. (112 min.) G; all ages.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Break out the 3-D glasses! The 1993 animated classic — co-written and produced by Tim Burton, directed by stop-motion master Henry Selick ("James and the Giant Peach") — returns for its annual ghoul-to-Yule run, reviving Halloweentown king Jack Skellington’s attempts to commandeer Christmas. At multiple locations. (76 min.) PG; scary images.
PRIDE AND GLORY
The sinister Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) might be dead, but his traps live on, as forensics expert Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) tries to protect a dark and deadly secret. The fifth entry in the hit horror franchise marks the directorial debut of David Hackl, who served as production designer for "Saw’s" second, third and fourth installments. At multiple locations. (88 min.) R; grisly bloody violence and torture, profanity, brief 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) Home on the range: City fathers of the titular town hire seasoned saddle pals Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen (both terrific) to stop a ruthless rancher (Jeremy Irons), but a winsome, new-to-town widow (Renée Zellweger) proves a definite distraction. Harris also co-writes and directs a refreshingly old-fangled Western (based on "Spenser" creator Robert B. Parker’s novel) that consciously echoes classic oaters yet serves up interesting twists on time-honored themes, riding tall in the saddle as it rides into the sunset. (114 min.) R; violence, profanity. (C.C.)
BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA
(C) To the dogs: Vacationing in Mexico, the pampered title pooch (voiced by Drew Barrymore) finds herself lost — and needs the help of the local canine contingent to get home. Andy Garcia, George Lopez, Paul Rodriguez, Edward James Olmos, Luis Guzman, radio’s Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo and (believe it or not) Placido Domingo round out the vocal cast of this Disney canine comedy. It’s not the apocalypse-signaling cultural abomination its trailers make it out to be, but that’s pretty much the best thing you can say about it. (91 min.) PG; mild thematic elements.
BODY OF LIES
(C+) Russell Crowe reunites with "Gladiator" director Ridley Scott — and "Quick and the Dead" co-star Leonardo DiCaprio — for this timely yet tedious thriller about a CIA operative who’s sent to Jordan to track a terrorist leader and forms an uneasy alliance with Jordan’s covert operations chief (Mark Strong). It’s all razzmatazz from expert razzle-dazzler Scott, meant to distract you from a script whose basic formula has seen more wear than an Abrams tank. (128 min.) R; strong violence including torture, profanity.
BURN AFTER READING
(B-) After last year’s Oscar-winning "No Country for Old Men," filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coen lower their expectations with this off-kilter black comedy about two dim-bulb gym employees (Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt) who find a computer disc belonging to a disgruntled, drunken CIA agent (John Malkovich) — and launch a doomed blackmail scheme. "Michael Clayton" teammates George Clooney and Tilda Swinton join the spyjinks (he’s a goofball serial philanderer, she’s an adulterous ice queen) and they’re all swell, but not even the dream-team cast can make this anything more than a fitfully amusing diversion. (96 min.) R; violence, sexual situations, profanity. (C.C.)
(B-) Back in Las Vegas following its CineVegas showcase in June, this aggressively transgressive black comedy (based on a novel by punk-lit "Fight Club" author Chuck Palahniuk) focuses on a sex-addicted con artist (Sam Rockwell, oddly touching) who finances the care of his deranged mother (the terrific Anjelica Huston) by pretending to choke to death — and playing on the sympathies of his rescuers. Kelly Macdonald, Bijou Phillips and director Clark Gregg co-star in an uneven, fitfully funny movie marked by nonstop weirdness. (89 min.) R; strong sexual content, nudity, profanity.
CITY OF EMBER
(C+) "Monster House" director Gil Kenan goes live-action with this family-friendly fantasy, based on Jeanne Duprau’s novel, about an amazing world of glittering lights — and the two teens ("Atonement’s" Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway) racing against time to solve the mystery of Ember’s existence, before the lights fade forever. Kenan’s inventive imagery provides flashes of energy and enchantment, but the characters (played by, among others, Bill Murray, Tim Robbins and Martin Landau) aren’t nearly as intriguing. Neither, ultimately, is the movie. (95 min.) PG; mild peril, thematic elements.
(B-) The toast of 18th-century London, the aristocratic Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley) turns heads with her outrageous fashions, her political activism — and a loveless marriage that prompts her to turn to a rising politician (Dominic Cooper of "Mamma Mia!"). Any similarities to the duchess’ descendant, Princess Diana, are hardly coincidental in this handsome, if superficial, drama; only the dependably subtle Ralph Fiennes (as the duchess’ dour duke, a prisoner of his own exalted station) manages to suggest the emotional eddies churning beneath the stiff exterior. (110 min.) PG-13; sexual content, brief nudity, thematic material. (C.C.)
(C+) Thrown together by a phone call from a mystery woman, two strangers (Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan) run for their lives — and try to figure out why they’ve been targeted as the country’s most wanted fugitives — in another wrong man (and wrong woman) on-the-run action thriller with a political message and a warehouse worth of high-tech gadgetry. Even with Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson on the case, this is still one overstuffed, yet relatively empty, chase. (118 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of action and violence, profanity.
(B-) Before Ernie Davis ("Finding Forrester’s" Rob Brown) can become the first black player to win college football’s coveted Heisman Trophy in 1961, he must deal with deeply ingrained racism — as embodied by his Syracuse University coach, Ben Schwartzwalder (a crusty yet tender Dennis Quaid). This fact-based drama follows a familiar playbook but packs a punch with its reminders of a time, not so long ago, when America’s racial divide was out in the open — and perfectly acceptable to plenty of folks who considered themselves upstanding, patriotic citizens. (124 min.) PG-13; thematic content, violence and profanity involving racism, brief sexual references. (C.C.)
THE FAMILY THAT PREYS
(B-) Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard star as the matriarchs of two very different Atlanta families — one wealthy, the other working class — who find their long friendship threatened by scandal in this undeniably entertaining melodrama from writer-director Tyler Perry, which features Sanaa Lathan, Cole Hauser, Taraji P. Henson, Robin Givens — and Perry himself, this time out of drag as a true-blue hard hat. Defiantly old-school, this shiny, two-timing throwback to 1950s melodramas (and prime-time TV soaps) proves Perry can whip up the suds with the best of ’em. (111 min.) PG-13; thematic material, sexual references, brief violence.
(B-) A firefighter (a genuinely compelling Kirk Cameron) and his publicist wife (Erin Bethea) are on the verge of divorce, until his father challenges him to "The Love Dare" — 40 days of spiritual effort to work his way back into his wife’s heart. This religious drama from writer-director Alex Kendrick ("Facing the Giants") may be a bit gimmicky, with dramatic firefighter rescues that have little to do with the plot, but it also features the rarest of cinematic creatures: characters with a strong, conservative Christian faith who don’t sound crazy. (122 min.) PG; thematic material, peril.
FLASH OF GENIUS
(C+) A college professor (Greg Kinnear) who comes up with a design for intermittent windshield wipers wages a quixotic legal battle against the Detroit automakers he claims stole his idea in this fact-based drama co-starring Alan Alda, Lauren Graham and Dermot Mulroney. If only the movie were more than intermittently interesting; Kinnear’s strong performance as its not entirely likable hero helps it rise slightly above convention, but that’s not quite enough. (119 min.) PG-13; brief profanity.
(B+) He sees dead people — and doesn’t like it one bit — when his unexpected death, and even more unexpected return from the dead seven minutes later, enable anti-social dentist Bertram Pincus ("The Office’s" Ricky Gervais) to see ghosts, one of whom (Greg Kinnear) hopes he’ll break up the impending marriage of his widow (Téa Leoni). This amusing, occasionally hilarious "Topper"-style charmer proves that Ricky Gervais is to comedy what the dry martini is to alcoholism — and that Leoni is one of our best comediennes. (102 min.) PG-13; profanity, sexual humor, drug references.
THE HOUSE BUNNY
(C) A Playboy Bunny (Anna Faris) gets booted from the mansion — and finds refuge with clueless sorority sisters who are about to lose their house — in a campus comedy featuring Colin Hanks (yes, his dad’s named Tom), Rumer Willis (yes, her dad’s named Bruce), "American Idol’s" Katharine McPhee — and, inevitably, Mr. Playboy himself, Hugh Hefner. Despite a winning performance from Faris, this falls on its tail so many times that, before long, the perky pinkness turns a bruising black-and-blue. (97 min.) PG-13; sex-related humor, partial nudity, brief profanity.
(C) In this animated monster bash, a lowly lab assistant who dreams of becoming a scientist gets his chance when his cruel master dies a week before the annual Evil Science Fair, enabling Igor to build his own creature — and battle an even more evil plot to destroy his world. A potentially original premise and an eager voice cast led by John Cusack and Molly Shannon are left to decay amid a clunky story vaguely reminiscent of "Monsters Inc." — and images that resemble "Corpse Bride" rejects. (87 min.) PG; thematic elements, scary images, action, mild profanity.
(C+) There goes the neighborhood: In this latest variation on the venerable wacko-from-hell subgenre, a law-unto-himself cop (Samuel L. Jackson, gleefully chomping the scenery) makes life hellish for his unsuspecting new neighbors, the nice interracial couple (Kerry Washington, Patrick Wilson) next door. Despite its provocative edge, "Lakeview Terrace" degenerates from a potentially thoughtful exploration of such hot-button issues as race and power, surrendering to its basest instincts. (110 min.) R; intense thematic material, violence, sexual situations, profanity, drug references. (C.C.)
(C) What a Payne: Yet another video game hits the big screen as Mark Wahlberg takes on the title role, a DEA agent (who lost his family to conspiracy killers) who teams up with an assassin (Mila Kunis) out to avenge her sister’s death — assuming the cops, the mob and a ruthless corporation don’t get them first. Stylish but derivative, this is one vacuous and bullet-riddled misfire — with a Wahlberg performance that makes you wonder whatever happened to that Oscar-nominated actor from "The Departed." (100 min.) PG-13; violence, including intense shooting sequences, drug content, sexuality, brief profanity.
MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA
(B) Director Spike Lee’s World War II epic focuses on four members of the Army’s all-black 92nd "Buffalo Soldier" Division (Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller), who become trapped behind enemy lines and must fight their way back to neutral territory. If it were a symphony, you’d think, three sublime movements, a fourth that’s turgid, and what’s with the wacky coda? But even at its most indulgent, it powerfully summons the courage of black soldiers in the face of discouraging racism. (160 min.) R; strong combat violence, profanity, sexual content/nudity.
(D) Shine off: A fire-ravaged department store harbors a horrific secret that threatens a cop-turned-security guard (Kiefer Sutherland) and his family. Inane, dull and about as scary as a bottle of Windex, this "Shining" rip-off substitutes a deserted department store for "Shining’s" hotel and a strung-out Sutherland for strung-out Jack Nicholson, making this minor chiller a major downer from talented "High Tension" director Alexandre Aja. (100 min.) R; strong violence, disturbing images, profanity, brief nudity.
MY BEST FRIEND’S GIRL
(D+) A professional cad who gets paid to mistreat women (who else but Dane Cook?) unexpectedly falls in love when his lovelorn best friend (Jason Biggs) enlists him to take his ex-girlfriend (Kate Hudson) on a rotten date so she’ll realize her mistake. Typically clunky and jarringly vulgar, this alleged romantic comedy repeatedly squashes the few signs of life in its appealing cast. (101 min.) R; strong profanity and sexual content, including graphic dialogue and nudity.
NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST
(B+) A jilted hero — high school musician Nick ("Juno’s" Michael Cera) — and a humiliated heroine ("The House Bunny’s" Kat Dennings) discover that their common frenemy is their ticket to a wild Manhattan night in this on-the-town romp from "Raising Victor Vargas" director Peter Sollett. Some movies skate by fast on slick action, while others snap with crisp dialogue. This one springs high on the bounce of its hugely likable leads. (90 min.) PG-13; mature thematic material including teen drinking, sexuality, profanity and crude behavior.
NIGHTS IN RODANTHE
(D+) Richard Gere and Diane Lane (who previously teamed in "Unfaithful" and "The Cotton Club") reunite for this adaptation of "The Notebook" author Nicholas Sparks’ romance about an abandoned wife overseeing a friend’s beachfront inn — and the inn’s sole guest, a doctor nursing both personal and professional wounds. Paralytic direction by George C. Wolfe and a script that might have come with a box of crayons provide the always attractive Lane and Gere nothing much to do. (97 min.) PG-13; sexual references.
(C) Assigned to spend the night shift with L.A. firefighters, a TV reporter (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman (Steve Harris) respond to a routine 911 call at an apartment building, where something unknown has attacked one of the residents — prompting the Centers for Disease Control to quarantine the building and cut off all telephone, Internet, TV and cellular access to those locked inside, who seem to be turning into rabid, homicidal zombies. Like any imitation, this remake of a 2007 Spanish thriller, isn’t as good as the original. But this is really about cheap thrills — and there aren’t nearly enough. (89 min.) R; bloody, violent and disturbing content, terror, profanity.
(C+) In this political quasi-documentary, comedian Bill Maher travels from the Vatican to Jerusalem — and points in between — to take on world religions, and the people who believe in them. A skilled debater, jolly jester and devout skeptic, Maher makes an irreverent host for this pageant from "Borat" director Larry Charles. It’s frequently very funny, but there’s something unsportsmanlike in the glee that Maher takes in baiting the fish in his barrel. (101 min.) R; profanity, sexual material.
(C) After sharing one scene in 1995’s "Heat," Robert De Niro and Al Pacino share a whole movie; too bad it’s this often turgid thriller about veteran New York City detectives trying to figure out the connection between a current murder and a case they thought they had solved years ago. Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Carla Gugino, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg, Brian Dennehy and "Frozen River’s" Melissa Leo co-star in what’s essentially a "Law & Order" episode stretched beyond recognition; De Niro’s minimalist behavior and Pacino’s maximalist performance provide only minimal interest. (110 min.) R; violence, pervasive profanity, sexual situations, brief drug use.
THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES
(C) In 1964 South Carolina, a 14-year-old (Dakota Fanning) flees her abusive father (Paul Bettany), accompanied by her caregiver and only friend (Jennifer Hudson); they find a haven with small-town sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo) who run a beekeeping business. Like a spoonful of honey, this adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s novel from writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love & Basketball") is cloyingly sweet and gooey — and almost impossible to swallow undiluted, despite the valiant attempts of the performers to sell the faux-profound platitudes they’ve been given. (110 min.) PG-13; violence, mature themes.
(C+) Daunted by the prospect of starting college as a virgin, a beleaguered high school senior ("Kyle XY’s" Josh Zuckerman) "borrows" his brother’s vintage Pontiac GTO to drive cross-country so he can hook up with an obliging Internet hottie (Katrina Bowden). James Marsden co-stars as the cocky older brother, while Seth Green steals the show as a sarcastic Amish dude who’s also an ace car mechanic. Some of the comedy hits, some of it misses, but it’s uniformly crude and lewd — which may be a plus, depending on your appetite for road-trip raunch. (109 min.) R; strong crude and sexual content, nudity, profanity, drug and alcohol use — all involving teens.
TELL NO ONE
(B+) Tell everyone: In this top-chop French thriller, an anguished pediatrician (François Cluzet) suspected of his wife’s murder eight years ago becomes a suspect once again when police reopen the case — and the doctor receives an e-mail from his presumed-dead spouse. Don’t let the subtitles scare you: in any language, this is a terrific mystery, blending gripping suspense with a haunting love story. In French with English subtitles. (125 min.) NR; violence, profanity, nudity, adult themes. (C.C.)
(B+) When the studio pulls the plug on their bloated Vietnam War epic, the self-absorbed stars (Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black and Ben Stiller, who also directs) bungle into the jungle — and wind up battling real-life bad guys. Gory, vulgar and wickedly funny, this equal-opportunity offender gleefully bites the Hollywood hand that feeds it before licking the very same hand and hoping the folks who finance big-budget movies like "Tropic Thunder" won’t take it too personally. (107 min.) R; pervasive profanity, sexual references, violence, drug use. (C.C.)
(B-) What a long, strange trip it’s been: Oliver Stone’s intermittently interesting ramble through the unlikely life of George W. Bush (a knockout Josh Brolin), from Yale to the White House, as he tries to overcome the disapproval of his ex-President father (James Cromwell) and ride herd on cabinet members from Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) to Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright). "W." has its moments, but Stone never figures out whether he’s making a scathing satire, gripping docudrama or an insightful psychological study. As a result, "W." seems as flawed as its title character. (131 min.) PG-13; profanity, sexual references, alcohol abuse, smoking, brief disturbing war images. (C.C.)
(C) They just don’t remake ’em like they used to, as this revamp of the 1939 classic (from "Murphy Brown" creator Diane English) demonstrates, focusing on has-it-all Meg Ryan — wife, mother, fashion designer, saint — who discovers her Wall Street tycoon husband has taken up with a sultry shopgirl (Eva Mendes), throwing her life, and her best pals (Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith) into a tizzy. The original’s a catty blast; this is a declawed, defanged exercise in smug self-entitlement, full of you-go-girl sisterly bonding and lots of yupscale fashion frenzy. This is progress? (114 min.) PG-13; sexual references, profanity, drug use, brief smoking. (C.C.)