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.
Motion Picture Association of America ratings:
G – General audiences, all ages.
PG – Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 – Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children under 13.
R – Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or guardian.
NC-17 – No one under 17 admitted.
NR – Not rated.
(B) More than 25 years after the hit British miniseries captivated PBS audiences, novelist Evelyn Waugh’s classic tale of pre-World War II England shifts to the big screen, as young artist Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) becomes embroiled with gay Oxford classmate Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) and his aristocratic family (including Emma Thompson as Sebastian’s chilly, intensely Catholic mother and Hayley Atwell as Sebastian’s sensuous sister). Julian Jerrold (“Becoming Jane”) directs this lush, bold, intellectual adaptation, which ventures where the fabled ’80s miniseries couldn’t. (135 min.) PG-13; sexual content.
THE DARK KNIGHT
(B) Why so serious? This sequel to 2005’s “Batman Begins” wants desperately to be taken seriously. Mostly, it deserves to be — but it sometimes takes itself too seriously for its own good, as the Joker (an indelible Heath Ledger) wreaks havoc in Gotham City, prompting the interest of not only the Caped Crusader (Christian Bale) but crusading new D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). So overstuffed with characters, plots and counterplots that Batman sometimes seems like a supporting character, but Ledger’s Joker is one for the ages — or, more precisely, this age. Even without the actor’s tragic death, this sequel cloaks itself in funereal black. It’s as if somebody sprinkled ashes in the popcorn. (152 min.) PG-13; intense violence and menace. (C.C.)
ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD
(B+) Filmmaker Werner Herzog, who’s roamed the globe for both fictional (“Fitzcarraldo”) and factual (“Grizzly Man”) adventures, visits Antarctica — and the thousand or so people, from physicists to plumbers, who (like Herzog) gravitate to life on the edge. Beyond the astounding landscapes (a welcome sight for parched desert dwellers), “Encounters” wonders whether we really are approaching the end of the world. Yet, unlike some sound-the-alarm documentaries with a more overt political agenda, this one takes after its creator, who allows his extraordinary subjects, human and otherwise, to speak for themselves. (99 min.) G; mature themes. (C.C.)
(C+) Missed it by that much: Steve Carell steps into the (phone-equipped) shoes of Don Adams to play bumbling Maxwell Smart, a world-class intelligence analyst who finally gets the chance to trade his desk job for a globe-trotting field assignment, accompanied by savvy Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway). By grafting a typical origin story onto a typically breakneck espionage plot, “Get Smart” fails to capture the delirious slapstick lunacy of the classic ’60s sitcom that inspired it. Sorry about that, Chief. (110 min.) PG-13; rude humor, action violence, profanity. (C.C.)
(C) After he’s saved by a boozy, surly superhero (box-office king Will Smith), a struggling L.A. marketing expert (Jason Bateman) volunteers to rehabilitate the snide good guy’s tarnished image. An intriguing concept, but iffy execution — and director Peter Berg’s inability to meld the movie’s jokey first half with its anguished, emotional conclusion — makes for a bumpy ride indeed. With Charlize Theron rounding out the classy starring cast, it’s a downright shame imagining what might have been — if only “Hancock” had lived up to their potential. (92 min.) PG-13; intense sci-fi action and violence, profanity. (C.C.)
HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY
(B) When the mythical world rebels against humanity, hoping to take over Earth, cigar-chomping, beer-guzzling demon superhero Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his team — including pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) and aquatic empath Abe (Doug Jones) — lead the charge to save the planet. Like its 2004 predecessor, this has a middling storyline, but it’s made memorable by the dark, freaky visions of writer-director Guillermo del Toro, who seems to have transplanted every weird creature he couldn’t cram into “Pan’s Labyrinth.” In case you’re wondering, that’s a good thing. (110 min.) PG-13; sci-fi action and violence, profanity.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
(A) Whip-crackin’ good: Indiana Jones (inimitable, irreplaceable Harrison Ford) returns to derring-duty, reuniting with director Steven Spielberg and executive producer George Lucas for an exhilarating, thrill-a-minute romp that recaptures “Raiders of the Lost Ark’s” gleeful spirit. This time out, it’s 1957, and a graying, gritty Indy teams up with a rebellious teen (Shia LaBeouf) and “Raiders” flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) to battle Soviet spies (led by Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett) hot on the trail of a mystical Amazon artifact that may hold the key to life on earth — and beyond. (124 min.) PG-13; adventure violence, scary images. (C.C.)
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
(B-) In your face, in more ways than one: The first live-action feature shot in digital 3-D is an update of Jules Verne’s durable 1864 fantasy, about an absent-minded professor (Brendan Fraser), his surly teenage nephew (Josh Hutcherson) and an Icelandic guide (Anita Briem) on a fantastical, and possibly fatal, journey to the otherworldly (innerworldly?) title realm. Without 3-D, it’s just another empty-calories cinematic thrill ride; with 3-D, it’s still a thrill ride, but at least it’s a relatively fun one, chock full of reach-out-and-touch images guaranteed to make you giggle, squirm — or do both at the same time. (92 min.) PG; intense adventure action, scary moments. (C.C.)
KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL
(B) “Little Miss Sunshine’s” Abigail Breslin stars as the first “American Girl” heroine to make it to the big screen; she’s a plucky Depression-era lass determined to get an article published in the local newspaper — and help the down-on-their-luck hoboes haunting her neighborhood. This classy, heart-on-its-sleeve movie’s commitment to down-home values, meticulously researched back stories and be-all-you-can-be girl power has a seductive wholesomeness — and laudable life lessons appropriate for any era, including our own. (100 min.) G; all ages.
(C) S.O.S.: Meryl Streep (having a blast, even when we’re not) turns singing-and-dancing queen in this adaptation of the hit ABBA musical about a former rock singer, now living on a Greek island, whose three ex-flames (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsg?rd) show up at her daughter’s wedding. Occasionally entertaining, often excruciating (especially when poor Pierce tries to sing), this may have a stellar cast (augmented by “Big Love’s” Amanda Seyfried and veteran scene-stealers Christine Baranski and Julie Walters), but the narrative thread’s flimsier than dental floss — and director Phyllida Lloyd, who helmed the stage original, hasn’t the slightest idea how to direct a movie. (108 min.) PG-13; sexual references. (C.C.)
THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR
(C-) The third time’s definitely not the charm for this poor man’s Indiana Jones franchise, which reaches new heights (make that depths) of absurdity as intrepid Rick O’Connell (a game Brendan Fraser) and his archaeologist wife Evelyn (miscast Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz), retired from globe-trotting, head to China after their rebellious son (a charmless Luke Ford) unearths the remains of a shape-shifting emperor (martial arts whiz Jet Li) who was cursed centuries before. More often labored and lumbering than fun, this proves the “Mummy” saga should stay buried. (112 min.) PG-13; adventure action, violence. (C.C.)
(B-) Reefer madness: In the latest romp from producer Judd Apatow’s comedy factory, a hapless stoner (“Knocked Up’s” Seth Rogen, who also co-wrote the script) witnesses a murder — and runs for his life, his even more hapless pot dealer (a delightfully childlike James Franco) in tow. Powered by their pricelessly dopey repartee, “Pineapple Express” proves uproarious in fits and starts, but eventually falls victim to its own randomness — and a nasty violent streak that undercuts the movie’s sweetly addled bromance. (111 min.) R; pervasive profanity, drug use, sexual references, violence. (C.C.)
THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2
(B) The magic jeans are an even better fit the second time around, as the four title characters (America Ferrara, Blake Lively, Alexis Bledel and Amber Tamblyn) face that first lonely summer after freshman year on their own, from a Vermont theater festival to an archaeological dig in Turkey, before reuniting on the picturesque Greek isle of Santorini. All four, especially standouts Ferrara and Tamblyn, are far more nuanced performers than they were in the 2002 original, and while this isn’t exactly deep, it is deeply felt — and a refreshing change from most movies aimed at, and about, teenage girls. (117 min.) PG-13; mature material, sexual references.
(D) The wrong stuff: Astronaut chimps, led by the slacker grandson of the first chimp in space (voiced by “Saturday Night Live’s” Andy Samberg), go ape during a mission to a distant planet, where they help embattled residents fight a tyrannical leader. The plot couldn’t be more boring, the unattractive animation evokes the Teletubbies (not a good thing) and young kids won’t get some of the jokes — not that they’re funny. Sure, it’s just a G-rated romp, but does that mean it has to be dull and unimaginative? Anybody who’s seen “Wall-E” knows the answer to that. (81 min.) G; all ages.
(C-) “Talladega Nights” teammates Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, reunited with director Adam McKay, take a big step downward for this alleged comedic romp about two overgrown, unemployed cases of arrested development forced together when one’s mother (Mary Steenburgen) marries the other’s dad (“The Visitor’s” Richard Jenkins). Ferrell and Reilly share a fearless, anything-for-a-laugh abandon, but the doofus deadpan chemistry that made “Talladega Nights” such a hoot has all but vanished, replaced by a strident obnoxiousness bordering on desperation. (95 min.) R; crude and sexual content, pervasive profanity. (C.C.)
(B-) A beer-guzzling Joe Sixpack (Kevin Costner) becomes the sole deciding vote in a deadlocked presidential election, sparking a media circus in his New Mexico hometown — and a chance for his precocious, civic-minded daughter (Madeline Carroll) to get her goofball dad to be serious for a change. This timely, yet timeless, political comedy boasts a winning supporting cast (including Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane, Judge Reinhold and Stanley Tucci) and provides a welcome reminder that Costner can still make contact when he gets a pitch he can hit. (110 min.) PG-13; profanity. (C.C.)
(B) College-bound misfit Luke Shapiro (former Nickelodeon star Josh Peck) spends the summer of ’94 peddling dope, trading marijuana to his pothead psychiatrist (Ben Kingsley) in exchange for therapy while he pursues the doctor’s stepdaughter (“Juno’s” Olivia Thirlby). Writer-director Jonathan Levine’s quirky coming-of-age comedy, which won the audience award at this year’s Sundance film festival, is less a story than a series of moments — some funny, some poignant — but the heartfelt script and fine performances make it an unexpected treat. (95 min.) R; pervasive drug use, profanity, sexuality.
(A) Play it again, Pixar: “Finding Nemo” writer-director Andrew Stanton strikes again with a wonderful, full-of-wonder tale about a lonely garbage-compactor robot, stranded on an abandoned 29th-century Earth, who follows an alluring probe droid back to her mother ship — and discovers what happened to the humans who used to occupy the planet. Skipping from poignant comedy to sly satire, “Wall-E” deftly synthesizes cinematic influences from Charlie Chaplin to “Star Wars’ ” R2-D2, yet it never feels derivative, thanks to a magical blend of soaring imagination and down-to-earth emotions. Preceded by the hilarious short “Presto,” about an arrogant magician, his hungry bunny and not one but two magic hats. (97 min.) G; all ages. (C.C.)
(C-) Un-“Wanted”: Angelina Jolie plays a kick-butt killer training a mild-mannered office drone (“Atonement’s” James McAvoy) to take his place in an ancient, clandestine society of assassins. This mindless, soulless action workout directed (make that overdirected) by Russia’s Timur Bekmambetov (“Nightwatch,” “Daywatch”) confuses quantity with quality, style with substance, adrenaline with artistry. Not content to concentrate on mere mayhem, it aims for something more, and winds up achieving less, trying to pass off a heaping helping of the old ultra-violence as something visionary and profound. (110 min.) R; strong bloody violence, pervasive profanity, sexual situations. (C.C.)
THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE
(C) We want to believe in this sequel to 1998’s first “X-Files” movie (not to mention the cult-fave TV series that left the airwaves in 2002), but this gloomy, serpentine follow-up will make believers of no one who’s not already a diehard X-phile. This time around, reclusive ex-FBI agent Fox “Spooky” Mulder (David Duchovny) and partner Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), now a surgeon, joining two FBI agents (Amanda Peet, Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner) investigating a defrocked priest (Billy Connolly) who claims psychic powers. Alas, director Chris Carter, the series’ creator, throws out such a hodgepodge of stalker and serial killer clichés that whatever point he’s trying to get at remains puzzling, vague and, well, unbelievable. (104 min.) PG-13; violent and disturbing content, mature themes.