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.
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS
(C+) Everybody’s favorite singing chipmunks add rap to their repertoire in a live-action/animation combo starring Jason Lee (TV’s "My Name Is Earl") as David Seville, who loses control of the computer-generated title cuties (voiced by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney) to an evil music executive. (92 min.) PG; mild rude humor.
(B) Keira Knightley reunites with "Pride & Prejudice" director Joe Wright for an admirable, if less than enthralling, adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel, set in 1935 Britain, about a precocious 13-year-old (Saoirse Ronan), who misinterprets the romance between a servant’s son ("The Last King of Scotland’s" James McAvoy) and her older sister (Knightley). (123 min.) R; disturbing war images, profanity, sexual situations. (C.C.)
THE BAND’S VISIT
(B+) Strike up the band: The band is Egyptian, their music is distinctly national in spirit and the arid little hamlet that they have stumbled into en route to a gig is Israeli. But never fear; Israeli filmmaker Eran Kolirin’s sly and bewitching chamber comedy underscores the decency of its characters while sidestepping the gooey, let’s-join-hands imperative of its premise. In English (too much English to qualify for a foreign-film Oscar nomination), Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles. (89 min.) PG; brief profanity.
THE BANK JOB
(B) In 1971 London, a motley crew of petty thieves (led by Jason Statham as a struggling mechanic and Saffron Burrows as his ex-model ex-flame) break into a Baker Street bank vault, unaware that they’re scoring a record haul — including salacious photos incriminating a royal. It’s a tangled web that "The Bank Job" weaves, but under the crisp direction of Roger Donaldson ("No Way Out"), the movie keeps multiple plot threads tangle-free and multiple colorful characters in orbit until their various worlds collide, setting the suspenseful (and supremely ironic) climax in motion. (111 min.) R; sexual content, nudity, violence, profanity. (C.C.)
BE KIND REWIND
(B-) When a dimwit mechanic (Jack Black) becomes caught in an electromagnetic field, his magnetized presence accidentally erases the tapes in a video store run by his childhood pal (Mos Def), forcing the duo to star in remakes of everything from "King Kong" to "Citizen Kane." (And nobody knows or cares about the difference.) A thin, airy premise threatens to dissolve this whimsical fable from "Science of Sleep" writer-director Michel Gondry, but a bigger-than-average heart saves the day — and the movie. (100 min.) PG-13; sexual references.
(B — what else?) Just out of college, bee student Barry B. Benson (voiced by Jerry Seinfeld, who also co-writes) rebels and ventures outside the hive, where he encounters a sympathetic florist (voiced by Renée Zellweger) — and decides to sue the human race for stealing honey. Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Alan Arkin, Oprah Winfrey and Kathy Bates buzz in and out of this fast-flying cartoon, while Seinfeld bats a zinger for every stinger. (90 min.) PG; mild suggestive humor.
THE BUCKET LIST
(C) Doing it to death: After sharing a hospital room during cancer treatment, a grouchy billionaire (Jack Nicholson) and a dignified mechanic (Morgan Freeman) share death-defying adventures during one last spree. Despite the dynamic duo of Nicholson and Freeman, Rob Reiner’s languid pacing and hokey staging transform what might have been a touching meditation on life’s fleeting wonders into a maudlin exercise in audience manipulation. (97 min.) PG-13; sexual references, profanity. (C.C.)
(B-) After he’s kicked out of private school — again — a lonely, brainy rich kid ("Alpha Dog’s" Anton Yelchin) goes slumming at the local public high school, where he becomes self-appointed psychiatrist (and prescription-pill supplier) for his new classmates. Not in the same league as "Pump Up the Volume," but an articulate script and an engaging supporting cast (led by Hope Davis as Charlie’s oblivious mother and Robert Downey Jr. as his beleaguered principal) help keep the mildly satiric hits coming. (97 min.) R; profanity, drug use, brief nudity, brief violence. (C.C.)
COLLEGE ROAD TRIP
(D+) Phi beta krappa: Disney Channel star Raven-Symoné is Daddy’s Little Girl heading off to college — that is, if Daddy (Martin Lawrence), a maniacal, control-freak police chief, will let her go quietly. Alas, this crass, disposable comedy (also featuring a cameo by Donny Osmond) is so over-the-top that its sheer mindless excess is a borderline saving grace — but not enough of one to save this movie, or us from it. (83 min.) G; all ages.
(C+) Or maybe not: A 30-something political consultant (Ryan Reynolds) tries to explain his romantic past to his inquisitive 10-year-old daughter ("Little Miss Sunshine’s" Abigail Breslin), who wants to know everything about her dad’s love life with three very different women (Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz). They’re all appealing, which is more than we can say, at times, for a disjointed romantic comedy from writer-director Adam Brooks ("Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason") that strains to realize its smart, rueful potential. (105 min..) PG-13; sexual content, profanity, smoking. (C.C.)
(D+) Natural selection means survival of the hottest in a flamboyantly silly post-apocalyptic thriller with a heavy debt to "The Road Warrior." Rhona Mitra is a glam fighting gal who takes on men with clubs and women with spikes after a dreaded virus resurfaces in a long-quarantined city, prompting an elite team to go after a cure by any means necessary. Malcolm McDowell, Bob Hoskins and Sean Pertwee co-star; "The Descent’s" Neil Marshall writes and directs. (105 min.) R; strong bloody violence, profanity, sexual content/nudity.
(D+) Following a corneal transplant, a blind violinist (laughably miscast Jessica Alba) recovers her sight, but is tormented by strange, shadowy images, which may be her imagination — or visions of a terrifying supernatural world. Alessandro Nivola and Parker Posey (let’s hope they both got fat paychecks) co-star in a preposterous remake of a Hong Kong horror hit that was — surprise! — far more compelling before it got lost in translation. (97 min.) PG-13; violence/terror and disturbing content.
(D+) Pure pyrite: "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" sweethearts Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey reunite for an "as-if" action romp about newly divorced couple on the trail of long-lost Spanish treasure. Donald Sutherland (as a globe-trotting billionaire), Ray Winstone (a rival treasure-hunter), Kevin Hart (a treasure-lusting rapper) and his henchmen (Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Brian Hooks) co-star; let’s hope they all enjoyed their tropical trek, because the movie they brought back is a tedious waste of time — especially yours. (112 min.) PG-13; action violence, sexual situations and references, brief nudity, profanity. (C.C.)
(C+) Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke ("Caché," "The Piano Teacher") serves up a shot-by-shot English-language remake of his 1997 breakthrough, about a vacationing couple (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth) terrorized by a pair of oh-so-polite psychos (Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet). Despite Haneke’s rigorously intellectual approach, these horrific "Funny Games" emerge as another, artier example of "torture porn," proving a bit too enamored of the exploitation-like action the movie claims to explore. (112 min.) R; terror, violence, profanity. (C.C.)
HORTON HEARS A WHO
(B) In the third month of the year comes an occasion to cheer: a Dr. Seuss tale that won’t make you wail! Yes, after the live-action travesties of "The Cat in the Hat" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," your faith will be restored by this charming computer-animated Seuss adaptation, about a helpful elephant (voiced by "Grinch’s" Jim Carrey) who tries mightily to protect a microscopic community from judgmental jungle residents who refuse to believe the tiny residents even exist. Not as good as legendary animator Chuck Jones’ delightful 1970 TV adaptation (what could be?), but vivid animation from the "Ice Age" folks and a top-chop vocal cast (also featuring Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Seth Rogen and Charles Osgood, who intones the original rhyming tale) make this a true family treat. (88 min.) G; all ages. (C.C.)
(C+) Laurel-and-Hardy hit men — one (Colin Farrell) forever getting into not-so-fine messes, the other (Brendan Gleeson) stuck with cleaning them up — bide their time on an enforced vacation in the picturesque Belgian town of Bruges, awaiting further instructions from their rabid boss (Ralph Fiennes). Playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh’s off-kilter killers prove diverting, but in trying to balance twisted humor and explosive violence, McDonagh creates a wild yet only sporadically satisfying trip. (107 min.) R; strong bloody violence, pervasive profanity, sexual references, drug use. (C.C.)
(C-) A genetic glitch allows a young man (a sullen Hayden Christensen) to teleport himself anywhere, anytime — and into a centuries-long war between the "jumpers" and their enemies — in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" director Doug Liman’s sci-fi misfire. Rarely have so many humdrum digital effects and so much expensive location photography been lavished upon so many disagreeable characters (played by, among others, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Lane and Rachel Bilson). They deserve better; so do we. (88 min.) PG-13; intense action violence, profanity, brief sexuality.
(B) Major critical buzz (only some of it deserved) surrounds this witty comedy-drama, from screenwriter du jour Diablo Cody, about a wisecracking high school misfit (a deadpan Ellen Page), pregnant by her boyfriend ("Superbad’s" Michael Cera), who finds a seemingly perfect couple (Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner) to adopt the baby. Mostly a delight, if a bit too self-consciously clever for its own good. (92 min.) PG-13; mature themes, sexual situations, profanity. (C.C.)
THE KITE RUNNER
(B-) An Afghan-born writer living in the U.S. ("United 93’s" Khalid Abdalla) returns to his homeland to redeem a childhood act of betrayal in a hit-and-miss adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s novel that begins well but drags onward, and downward, as it shifts from past to present. In English and Dari, Pashtu, Urdu and Russian with English subtitles. (122 min.) PG-13; mature themes (including child rape), violence, brief profanity. (C.C.)
MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY
(B) In 1939 London, a starchy, newly unemployed governess ("Fargo’s" Frances McDormand) stumbles into a job as companion to a madcap American singer ("Enchanted" charmer Amy Adams), and finds herself catapulted into a dizzying social whirl that transforms her from frump to late-blooming flower. Based on an all-but-forgotten ’30s novel, this nostalgic Cinderella story is a jubilee for McDormand, a scandalously underutilized treasure in Hollywood, and jolly good fun for most everyone else. Including the audience. (92 min.) PG-13; partial nudity, innuendo. (C.C.)
NEVER BACK DOWN
(C-) Extreme martial arts and dark family skeletons vie for center stage in an interminable "Karate Kid"-meets-"Fight Club" workout about a rebellious teen (Tom Cruise lookalike Sean Faris) who tangles with a popular rich kid (Cam Gigandet) at his new high school — and seeks mixed martial arts training from a wise mentor (Djimon Hounsou). This hyperkinetic bash-a-thon leaves no cornball cliché unturned, proving the ancient adage: Stay away from movies with titles providing brainless macho advice. (110 min.) PG-13; mature themes involving intense fighting/violence, sexuality, partying and profanity, all involving teens. (C.C.)
THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL
(B-) Historical hooey: In 16th-century England, two sisters from the powerful Boleyn family — scheming Anne (Natalie Portman) and dreamy Mary (Scarlett Johansson) — vie for the heart (and hot bod) of lusty, zesty King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) in an adaptation of Phillppa Gregory’s best-selling bodice-ripper that suggests a Tudor-era combo of "Mean Girls" and "Desperate Housewives." OK as far as it goes — which is not far enough. (115 min.) PG-13; mature themes, sexual content, violent images.
P.S. I LOVE YOU
(C+) A young widow (tearfully gallant Hilary Swank) tries to rebuild her life, following instructions left by her late husband ("300’s" Gerard Butler). Swank’s "Freedom Writers" director, Richard LaGravenese tries to cool down the mostly overheated farrago of sentiment, self-help and romantic cliché that marks this seven-hankie weepie featuring Gina Gershon, Kathy Bates, Lisa Kudrow (will someone please give this woman her own movie already?) and Harry Connick Jr. (126 min.) PG-13; sexual references, brief nudity.
(B) This modern-day fairy tale focuses on a lovely young heiress (Christina Ricci), who’s cursed with a pig’s snout for a nose — and an overbearing mother (Catherine O’Hara) anxious to marry her off to the first male blue blood ("Atonement’s" James McAvoy) who can stand to be in the same room with her. Ah, but looks prove deceiving — in all sorts of ways — as this whimsical charmer demonstrates, at least to tween girls and soft-hearted romantics of all ages. (102 min.) PG; profanity, innuendo, mature themes. (C.C.)
(C) After 20 years, Sylvester Stallone revives America’s favorite mercenary, who stirs from his sullen stupor to rescue missionaries from ruthless Burmese soldiers fighting a decades-long civil war. Not as bombastic as its predecessors, which is both its blessing and its curse. Indeed, the battle sequences are so muddled in execution we can’t tell who’s killing whom, which may have been the point. But knowing Stallone, and Rambo, it’s doubtful. (102 min.) R; strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults, grisly images, profanity.
(C) Quibble and dribble: Once again, Will Ferrell drapes his goofy man-child persona in 1970s polyester as the owner-coach-power forward of an American Basketball Association franchise on its last legs. The setups are promising, but the payoffs are as flat as an airless red-white-and-blue ball, even with Woody Harrelson, André "3000" Benjamin, "ER’s" Maura Tierney, Jackie Earle Haley and Ferrell’s "Blades of Glory" co-stars Will Arnett, Rob Corddry and Andy Richter on the team. (90 min.) R; profanity, sexual content.
THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES
(B-) After moving (unwillingly) to a rundown estate, twin brothers (one rebellious, one brainiac, both played by Freddie Highmore) and their plucky older sister (Sarah Bolger) battle hobgoblins, trolls and other assorted beasties lurking in the woods. This brisk adaptation of Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black’s fantasy tales overdoes the computer-generated effects, but potent fractured-family themes, plus memorable turns by Nick Nolte (as the movie’s resident monster), Mary-Louise Parker (as the kids’ embattled mother) and David Strathairn (as the inquisitive scientist who started it all) make this an all-ages treat. (97 min.) PG; scary creature action and violence, peril, thematic elements. (C.C.)
STEP UP 2 THE STREETS
(C-) Been there, danced that: In this sequel to the 2006 sleeper, romantic sparks strike between a street dancer (Briana Evigan) and a new classmate (Robert Hoffman) at the Maryland School of the Arts. Less a sequel than a variation on a theme, this dance movie can move — which is fortunate, because the rest of it, from the predictable class conflicts to sanitized keeping-it-real bluster, is too leaden to get off the ground. (98 min.) PG-13; profanity, sexual references, brief violence.
(D+) A young mammoth hunter (Steven Strait) leads a warrior band through uncharted territory to secure his post-Ice Age tribe’s future — and save his sweetheart (Camilla Belle) — in this tedious, ludicrous (but harmless) prehistoric epic from bombastic "Day After Tomorrow" director Roland Emmerich. It’s a low-test "Apocalypto," minus Mel Gibson’s gore-mongering and narrative drive. If only Emmerich took as much care with his human characters as with inanimate objects and CGI animals. (109 min.) PG-13; intense action and violence.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
(A-) Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson ("Magnolia") finally gets out of his own quirky way to spread his filmmaking wings with an epic adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s "Oil!" about the showdown between a budding oil baron (powerhouse Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis) and a neophyte preacher (Paul Dano) in early 20th-century California. A bit overlong and over-the-top, this gripping study of all-American greed and rapaciousness signals Anderson has finally struck gold — black gold. (158 min.) PG-13; violence. (C.C.)
(B-) A toast to this semi-sparkling romantic comedy about a perennial bridesmaid ("Knocked Up’s" Katherine Heigl), whose fixation on other people’s weddings — and the lack of romance in her own life — makes her a prime target for a cynical reporter ("Enchanted’s" James Marsden) desperate to escape the wedding beat. As frilly and fluffy as the title attire, but a nimble cast and an insouciant spirit make this more fun than its by-the-numbers plot indicates. (107 min.) PG-13; profanity, innuendo and sexuality. (C.C.)
(C-) Bringing new meaning to the term "Internet hit," an FBI agent Diane Lane) races against the clock to catch a psycho who displays his graphic murders online — with visitors to the site determining how fast his captives die. Lane is, as always, fascinating, but this abhorrent cyberthriller exploits the inhumanity of torture as it cynically condemns Internet rubberneckers (and by extension, moviegoers) for watching it. (111 min.) R; strong gruesome violence, profanity.
(C+) You’ve gotta get a gimmick, and this topical thriller has one, exploring an apparent assassination and terrorist attack at an international summit from multiple perspectives, including those of Secret Service agents (Dennis Quaid, "Lost’s" Matthew Fox), an American tourist (Forest Whitaker), a TV news producer (Sigourney Weaver) and the U.S. president (William Hurt) himself. Alas, it’s not enough to have a gimmick — you’ve gotta know what to do with it, and "Vantage Point" doesn’t, forcing us to try and solve a puzzle with pieces that never fit. (90 min.) PG-13; intense violence and action, disturbing images, brief profanity. (C.C.)
WELCOME HOME, ROSCOE JENKINS
(C) A big TV star (Martin Lawrence) gets cut down to size when he heads south to join his extended family for his parents’ 50th anniversary celebration, reconnecting with old rivals (Cedric the Entertainer) and old flames (Nicole Ari Parker). Despite a promising premise and an all-star cast (including James Earl Jones, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mo’Nique and Mike Epps), this recycles so much material it’s a wonder the film stock didn’t turn green during production. (114 min.) PG-13; sexual content, profanity, drug references. (C.C.)