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MOVIES

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.

BABY MAMA

(C) Gynecomedy: With her biological clock nearing midnight, an overachiever ("30 Rock’s" likable Tina Fey) hires a dubious young woman ("Saturday Night Live’s" Amy Poehler) to carry her baby. Detecting human life here would require a sonogram; this is mild to the point of pablum, making the fertile topic of surrogate motherhood inoffensive to anyone. Which is not an endorsement; in comedies, delivery is everything. (99 min.) PG-13; crude and sexual humor, profanity, drug references.

BEFORE THE RAINS

(B+) Indian writer-director Santosh Sivan makes an impressive English-language debut with this culture-clash drama, set in colonial 1937 India, about a British spice baron (cunning "Law & Order" charmer Linus Roache) who finds himself torn between two worlds when his affair with a naive employee (Nandita Das) is discovered. Based on one of three stories in the 2002 Israeli film "Yellow Asphalt," the movie’s transition from one culture to another proves seamless as it dispassionately explores how power, when threatened, ruthlessly exercises its prerogatives. (98 min.) PG-13; violence, sexuality.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN

(B-) It doesn’t seem quite so magical anymore, but the Penvensie siblings — stalwart Peter (William Moseley), practical Susan (Anna Popplewell), mischievous Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and little Lucy (Georgie Henley) — are back in Narnia nonetheless, helping the title character (dashing Ben Barnes) to reclaim his realm. Rousing, if occasionally ponderous, this combat-weary adventure lacks much of the magic that marked 2005’s "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," but this return trip to Narnia retains its appeal. Just barely. (140 min.) PG; epic battle action, violence. (C.C.)

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL

(C) Dumped by his TV-star girlfriend (Kristen Bell) after six years together, a struggling musician (Jason Segel, a cross between Albert Brooks’ sad-eyed clown and Will Ferrell’s bubbly klutz) struggles to recover with a solo trip to Hawaii — where he winds up in the same hotel as Sarah and her new British-rocker boyfriend. Sporadically funny, yet this latest from the Judd Apatow comedy factory lacks the crackle and snap of previous Apatow-zers; the sell-by date is getting ever closer. (112 min.) R; sexual content, profanity, graphic nudity.

GET SMART

(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.)

THE HAPPENING

(C) He still sees dead people, but this time they’re in a dead movie: Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense," "Signs") tries, and fails, to revive his movie mojo with this tale of an apocalyptic crisis that triggers global hysteria — and prompts stars Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel and John Leguizamo to go on the run. This mash-up of "The Birds" and "War of the Worlds" (or maybe it’s "The Birds" meets "The Blob") tries to be topical, but the premise is too thin to deliver any real chills. It’s beyond good and evil; it’s just dumbfounding — and dumb. (91 min.) R; violent and disturbing images.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK

(C+) No smash! Edward Norton (who co-wrote the script with "X2’s" Zak Penn) takes over from 2003 "Hulk" Eric Bana as troubled physicist Bruce Banner, who keeps trying to extinguish his inner monster, even as he’s hounded by a military that wants to harness his mean green power. Starts great, but finishes in noisy, effects-heavy waves of tedium. And French director French action director Louis Leterrier ("The Transporter") lets the effects get the better of him, stranding such capable actors as Norton, William Hurt and Tim Roth. Alas, it’s no "Iron Man" — although if you sit through the credits, a jokey Robert Downey Jr. cameo will remind you how much better "Iron Man" is. (138 min.) PG-13; sci-fi action violence, disturbing images, brief partial nudity.

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. Ridiculous, but also ridiculously entertaining. (124 min.) PG-13; adventure violence, scary images. (C.C.)

IRON MAN

(B) Up, up and away: The summer blockbuster season gets off to a flying start with this fast, funny retooling of the tired superhero genre, as jet-setting zillionaire arms merchant Tony Stark (a magnetic Robert Downey Jr.), captured by terrorists, devises a flying metal suit and weapons system, transforming himself from war profiteer to hero-with-a-conscience. It’s still the same old story, but a top-chop cast (including Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard) and a sly sense of humor make almost everything old new again. (126 min.) PG-13; sci-fi action and violence, brief sexual references. (C.C.)

KUNG FU PANDA

(C) Kung phooey: This computer-animated romp follows the fortunes of roly-poly Po (voiced by Jack Black), a pot-bellied panda who’s plucked from obscurity to train as a martial arts warrior under the tutelage of pint-sized Master Shifu (a wry Dustin Hoffman). Kids will adore the broad slapstick (and maybe even the "you gotta believe" homilies), but the all-star vocal cast (including Jackie Chan, David Cross, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu and Ian McShane) is largely wasted and the movie never figures out how mesh its comedic and chop-socky elements. (124 min.) PG; martial arts action. (C.C.)

THE LOVE GURU

(D) Raised by gurus, American-born Pitka (Mike Myers) returns to the U.S. to break into the self-help business as the title swami. His first challenge: a lovelorn hockey star whose wife has left him for a rival. Alas, this alleged comedy of low blows and elephantine misfires wastes the varied talents of everyone from Jessica Alba and Justin Timberlake to Ben Kingsley and Verne "Mini-Me" Troyer — and embodies the shrinking imagination of Myers, who continues to hone his franchise empire on the belief that penis activity and the politically incorrect (bring on the midget jokes and lewd Indian surnames) is the cutting edge, if not the manifest destiny, of screen humor. (88 min.) PG-13; crude and sexual content throughout, profanity, comic violence, drug references.

MADE OF HONOR

(C-) Something borrowed: "My Best Friend’s Wedding" gets a gender-switch makeover and a serious brain-drain as a bed-hopping Manhattan millionaire (Patrick "McDreamy" Dempsey) realizes that he loves his art-restorer best friend (Michelle Monaghan) — but not until she gets herself engaged to a Scottish hunk (Kevin McKidd) while working overseas. Predictable, generic and only fitfully amusing, there’s nothing to justify this rehash. You’ll have more fun watching "My Best Friend’s Wedding" on DVD. (101 min.) PG-13; sexual content, profanity.

THE PROMOTION

(B) Bittersweet but tasty: Two very different Chicago supermarket employees (John C. Reilly, Seann William Scott), assistant managers at the same grocery chain, stage a ruthless competition to determine who’s going to manage the company’s newest store. "Pursuit of Happyness" screenwriter Steve Conrad makes his directorial debut with a down-to-earth "Dilbert" that uses the structure of a workplace comedy to pose gentle moral and ethical questions about treating people right (or wrong), about honor and ambition, truth-telling and back-stabbing. (85 min.) R; profanity, sexual references, drug use.

SEX AND THE CITY

(C) Let’s not get Carried away: After a four-year hiatus, the HBO comedy’s fab four — Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) — return for what feels like an entire season of shoe love, true love and everything in between, all crammed into one loooooooooong sitting. Fans undoubtedly will revel in every bloated moment, but this never finds a middle ground between its TV roots and its big-screen incarnation, so those who never acquired an addiction to the series may wonder what the frenzy was, and is, all about. (145 min.) R; strong sexual situations, graphic nudity, profanity. (C.C.)

THE STRANGERS

(D) Three masked assailants (Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis) terrorize a young couple (Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman) staying at a secluded vacation home. Writer and first-time director Bryan Bertino wastes his taut, tense premise — two lovers, three villains, one house — by letting his imagination run mild: loud noises, faces popping up in windows, menacing messages scrawled in red. The movie may think it’s staring bravely into some moral abyss, but it’s really just a disappointing downer. (85 min.) R; violence/terror, profanity.

THEN SHE FOUND ME

(B-) Helen Hunt, as tightly wound as a ukulele string, makes her directorial debut and stars in this bittersweet tale about a teacher undergoing the mother of all mid-life crises when she meets her vivacious birth mother (none other than Caesars Palace headliner Bette Midler) just as her adoptive mom dies — and her Peter Pan of a husband (Matthew Broderick) leaves her. Colin Firth (as a divorced dad seeking her favor) almost steals the show, thanks to his wry, stoic grace, especially because Hunt’s uptight character is such a tough nut to crack — much like the movie itself. (100 min.) R; profanity, sexual content. (C.C.)

THE VISITOR

(B+) Proving "The Station Agent" was no fluke, writer-director Tom McCarthy returns with another heartfelt fable of lost souls finding each other. This time, a widowed economics professor (ace supporting actor Richard Jenkins, triumphant in his first leading role) returns to his little-used New York apartment to find an illegal immigrant couple living there: gregarious Middle Eastern musician Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and wary African jewelry maker Zainab (Danai Gurira). What follows, including the arrival of Tarek’s mother (Hiam Abbass), offers a poignant study of kindred spirits struggling, against all odds, to embrace their common humanity. (108 min.) PG-13; brief profanity. (C.C.)

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS

(C) Nothing unexpected happens in this upbeat fluff, as two vacationing New Yorkers (Cameron Diaz as a workaholic, Ashton Kutcher as a slacker) meet cute in Vegas, get plastered and get married, only to put their morning-after annulment on hold so they can hold onto a $3 million slot jackpot. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before — and won’t see again. Yet as the movie stumbles through its connect-the-dots plot and sitcom-style slapstick, there’s a frustrating sense of missed opportunities — and missing smarts. (98 min.) PG-13; sexual and crude content, profanity, drug references. (C.C.)

YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN

(B-) Adam Sandler plays an Israeli secret agent who, tired of endless stand-offs with his Palestinian nemesis (John Turturro), fakes his death so he can reinvent himself — as a New York hairstylist. Sure, there’s the familiar Jewvenile humor, but this crude, idiotic, ridiculous romp also happens to be flat-out hilarious — and Sandler’s funniest film in years, less about a manic man-child than it is a raunchily wholesome message movie that deploys stereotypes in order to smash them. (113 min.) PG-13; crude and sexual content, profanity, nudity.

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