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.

BALLS OF FURY

(C) Goodness, gracious — there’s nothing great about the strained spoof “Balls of Fury,” in which a disgraced table tennis prodigy (Dan Fogler) gets a shot at redemption by competing in a secret tournament hosted by a criminal mastermind (Christopher Walken, hip-deep in broad self-parody). Every Kung Fu cheapie and “Karate Kid” rip-off is evoked through bleary lenses and awkwardly staged sight gags — and if it manages to leave you in wire-to-wire hysterics, someone needs to drive you home. (90 min.) PG-13; crude and sex-related humor, profanity.

BECOMING JANE

(B) This charming period tale speculates, “Shakespeare in Love”-style, about the romance between aspiring author Jane Austen (feisty, dreamy Anne Hathaway) and a dashing Irish law student (“Last King of Scotland’s” James McAvoy) — and how it inspired Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” The movie’s many pleasures (including a sterling supporting cast led by Julie Walters, Maggie Smith and James Cromwell) help atone for the movie’s heretical implication that Austen might never have achieved literary immortality without love. (120 min.) PG; brief nudity, mild profanity and sexual references. (C.C.)

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

(B+) You can’t go home again, but amnesiac spy guy Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) keeps trying, racing from London to Paris, Moscow to Madrid, Turin to Tangier to uncover the final clues to his past — in New York, where it all began. In a summer of underwhelming threequels , this one more than lives up to its predecessors, thanks to a top-chop cast (including David Strathairn and Joan Allen) and director Paul Greengrass’ ability to combine exhilarating action with a weighty sense of dread that gives “Bourne” a gravity — and a humanity — most action workouts lack. (114 min.) PG-13; violence, intense action sequences. (C.C.)

THE BROTHERS SOLOMON

(F) What’s the difference between deadpan and dead? Alas, this misbegotten “Dumb and Dumber” knockoff never figures out the answer, as graceless dimwits (Will Arnett, Will Forte) pool their meager mental resources to convince a woman, any woman, to bear their child and give their comatose father (Lee Majors) a grandson. Majors is the lucky one; he gets to sleep through the whole misbegotten mess. As for the rest of you, consider yourselves warned. (91 min.) R; profanity, sexual content.

DEATH AT A FUNERAL

(C+) Dying is easy, comedy is hard — and this mechanical Britcom set at an upscale funeral can’t always bring the laughs to life, despite the best efforts of director Frank Oz, who keeps the dominoes tumbling during the funeral from hell as a dutiful son (“Pride & Prejudice’s” Matthew MacFadyen) tries to give his father a dignified farewell. Rupert Graves, Alan Tudyk, Peter Dinklage and “Millions’ ” Daisy Donovan are among the sterling cast, all of whom have to work too hard to manufacture laughs and make sure this isn’t dead on arrival. (90 min.) R; nudity, profanity, drug use. (C.C.)

DEATH SENTENCE

(C-) Wishing for another “Death Wish”? Your wish most definitely does not come true as loving father Kevin Bacon runs amok with vengeance fever after one of his own is gunned down by tattooed gangbangers. Based on Brian Garfield’s novel of the same name (itself a sequel to the book that began it all, “Death Wish”), this latest exercise in do-it-yourself-justice-mongering (from splat-pack “Saw” auteur James Wan) is one-dimensional and clichéd. “In the Bedroom” it ain’t. (110 min.) R; strong bloody brutal violence and pervasive profanity.

EYE OF THE DOLPHIN

(B-) A rebellious 14-year-old (“Gracie’s” Carly Schroeder) spends the summer in the Bahamas with the father she never knew, discovering she shares his gift for communicating with dolphins. Adrian Dunbar, Jane Lynch and Katharine Ross co-star in this innocuous outing, which has a pleasantly dreamy quality that goes a long way toward helping audiences (especially its target of tween-to-teen girls) ignore its formulaic plot in favor of its laid-back charms. (96 min.) PG-13; substance abuse involving a young teen.

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER

(C+) It’s clobberin’ time! But maybe yawnin’ would be a more appropriate response to the Marvel-ous foursome’s return, as a new metallic menace (played by Doug Jones, voiced by Laurence Fishburne), plus returning nemesis Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), torment the title quartet (Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis). Between the special effects and multiple villains, this movie doesn’t have much time for, or interest in, its title characters. As a result, neither do we. (89 min.) PG; action violence, mild profanity and innuendo. (C.C.)

GREASE

(B-) What’s the word? Summer lovin’ — and some nifty ’50s fun as John Travolta, OIivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing and the whole overage gang return to Rydell High in this 1978 musical smash (inspired by the Broadway hit), now playing a return engagement at the Tropicana Cinemas. (110 min.) PG; profanity, sexual references, violence. (C.C.)

HAIRSPRAY

(B+) You can’t stop the beat in this wigged-out blast from the past, an adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway musical starring John Travolta (in fat-suit drag) as a super-size ’60s housewife whose bubbly daughter (winning newcomer Nikki Blonsky) integrates a 1962 Baltimore TV dance party. More mainstream than the 1988 John Waters satire that inspired it, but an all-star cast (including Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah, James Marsden, Michelle Pfeiffer, a dynamite Elijah Kelly and “High School Musical’s” Zac Efron) packs irresistible punch. (117 min.) PG; profanity, mild sexual references, teen smoking. (C.C.)

HALLOWEEN

(D) The title holiday may be two months away, but musician-turned-director Rob Zombie gets into the spirit early, reincarnating John Carpenter’s 1978 shocker about masked psycho Michael Myers (“X-Men’s” Tyler Mane) — and attempting to fill in the blanks when it comes to the mystery behind his mayhem. That mystery was the very reason Carpenter’s original still stands up as one of the scariest movies ever. This isn’t even scary — just another biff-bam off-with-your-head-ma’am slasher film. (110 min.) R; strong brutal bloody violence and terror, sexual content, graphic nudity, profanity.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX

(B-) Familiarity breeds contentment, not contempt, in the bleak fifth chapter of J.K. Rowling’s beloved tales, which finds an authoritarian bureaucrat (smilingly sinister Imelda Staunton) seizing power at Hogwarts magic academy — and casting a suspicious eye on Harry (quietly intense Daniel Radcliffe), who rebels when the powers-that-be doubt that villainous Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned. Not great or wildly imaginative, but good enough to get the job done. (138 min.) PG-13; fantasy violence, frightening images. (C.C.)

HATCHET

(B-) Gore galore: A spooky Louisiana swamp tour turns deadly for a motley crew of vacationers (including Joel Moore and Deon Richmond) in this homage to ’80s-style horror featuring genre faves Robert Englund (“Nightmare on Elm Street’s” Freddy Krueger), Kane Hodder (the “Friday the 13th” series’ erstwhile Jason Voorhees) and Tony Todd (“Candyman’s” title terror). It would be impossible for anyone who has seen the aforementioned movies to be shocked or surprised at anything here, but you have to admire Green’s reassembly of the pieces. (93 min.) R; for strong bloody horror violence, sexual content, nudity, profanity.

HOT ROD

(D) Crash and burn: A bumbling amateur stuntman (“Saturday Night Live’s” Andy Samberg) tries to survive multiple stunt jumps — to raise money for a heart transplant for his abusive stepfather (“Deadwood’s” Ian McShane) in a super-stupid mashup of Adam Sandler’s random violence and Will Ferrell’s dim wattage. Every pratfall lands with a splat and every punchline lands without a chortle. (83 min.) PG-13; crude humor, profanity, comic drug-related and violent content.

I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY

(C-) I now pronounce you a comic misfire: Straight, single Brooklyn firefighters (Adam Sandler, Kevin James) pretend to be a gay couple so they can claim domestic partner benefits. One of those movies that wants it both ways, indulging in rude, crude, homophobic hijinks inevitably followed by not-that-there-anything- wrong-with-that reminders. Until then, it’s OK to laugh. Unless you’re too busy wincing at the strained comedy — and the strained logic. (115 min.) PG-13; crude sexual content, nudity, profanity, drug references. (C.C.)

ILLEGAL TENDER

(C) A college student (the refreshingly natural Rick Gonzalez) finds himself on unfamiliar ground when he’s forced to join his mother (Wanda De Jesus) in a showdown against the gangsters who killed his father. Producer John Singleton and director Franc. Reyes (“Empire”) rounds up, and wastes, a mostly Latino cast in a second-rate action drama that’s reminiscent of, but not as satisfying as, a “CSI: Miami” episode. (108 min.) R; violence, profanity, sexual situations.

THE INVASION

(C+) The latest, and lamest, version of the aliens-on-the-loose classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” stars Nicole Kidman as a psychiatrist fighting to stay awake (she’s not the only one) after being infected with a space-spawn virus that turns people into numb, soulless beings. Despite the best efforts of co-stars Daniel Craig, Jeffrey Wright and Jeremy Northam, this movie feels as though it were made by the kind of pod people the first three “Body Snatchers” movies warned us against. (109 min.) PG-13; violence, disturbing images, terror.

LADRON QUE ROBA A LADRON

(B) The con is on in this “Ocean’s Eleven”-meets-Telemundo romp about two thieves (Fernado Colunga, Miguel Varoni) plotting to take down a TV informercial guru (Saul Lisazo) who’s made millions from selling snake-oil remedies to poor Latino immigrants — by hiring actual day laborers to infiltrate the mark’s household staff. Adding a karmic kick to standard heist conventions, this caper introduces an endearing gang of scam artists that reflects not only immigrant aspiration but sweet blue-collar revenge. (98 min.) PG-13; profanity, sexual content.

LICENSE TO WED

(D+) Dreaming of a traditional wedding, a newly engaged couple (Mandy Moore, “The Office’s” John Krasinski) schedules the big event, but can’t get the blessing of a charismatic church pastor (Robin Williams) — until they complete his patented marriage-prep course. Christine Taylor and De Ray Davis round out the cast of an alleged comedy where love goes out the window, followed by wit and good taste. It’s a one-joke affair — and that one joke isn’t even funny. (100 min.) PG-13; sexual humor, profanity.

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD

(C+) Yippie-ki-yay, y’all! After 12 years, the unstoppable John McClane (Bruce Willis) is once again tossed into a maelstrom of exploding machinery and impending disaster, this time from various corners of cyberspace as Internet terrorists plot to shut down the U.S. economy. Nothing more (or less) than a three-ring festival of intricate stunts and pyrotechnic effects, punctuated with clown routines and wisecracks that fly around almost as much as the shrapnel; you might not even mind that it’s too long. (130 min.) PG-13; violence, profanity.

MR. BEAN’S HOLIDAY

(C) Rubber-limbed Rowan Atkinson’s back, for what he (mercifully) promises is the final time, as the disaster-prone title character wins a trip to France, where he unwittingly comes between a boy and his father on the way to the Cannes film festival. Like the humble legume from which he takes his name, Mr. Bean is an acquired taste best appreciated in small portions. Those with an appetite for his crashingly predictable slapstick will relish the jaunt; the rest of us will wonder whether this trip was really necessary. (88 min.) G; slapstick violence. (C.C.)

NANCY DREW

(B-) Clued in: The venerable title sleuth, who’s thrilled generations of kids since 1930, proves equally at home in the 21st century, solving a legendary Hollywood homicide while surviving the challenge of being the new girl in school. Despite a contemporary setting, this adventure takes its cue from its oh-so-retro heroine, embodied by Roberts (Eric’s daughter, Julia’s niece) with crisp aplomb. (99 min.) PG; mild violence, brief profanity, thematic elements. (C.C.)

THE NANNY DIARIES

(C+) The best-selling novel is transformed into bitter-tasting fizz about a working-class Jersey girl (Scarlett Johansson, desperately seeking perky) who literally stumbles into a job as live-in caregiver for the bratty son of Park Avenue basket cases (Laura Linney, once again better than the movie, and miscast Paul Giamatti). Satire should be knife-sharp and whip-smart, but this is neither. How Oscar-nominated, husband-and-wife filmmakers Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (“American Splendor”) got lost here we’ll never know, but lost they are, and so is the movie. (105 min.) PG-13; profanity.

NO RESERVATIONS

(C) Break out the Alka-Seltzer: An uptight chef (Catherine Zeta-Jones) finds child care on the menu when she becomes guardian of her niece (“Little Miss Sunshine’s” Abigail Breslin) in a bland translation of the delightful 2002 German comedy “Mostly Martha.” Aaron Eckhart co-stars — as the resident free spirit — in a movie that doesn’t really leave a bad taste; it doesn’t leave much taste at all, save perhaps for the cloying echoes of Velveeta cheese. (103 min.) PG; sexual references, profanity.

OCEAN’S THIRTEEN

(B-) Honor among thieves: When a megalomaniacal casino mogul (Al Pacino) double-crosses Reuben (Elliott Gould) before the opening of the Strip’s latest megaresort, Danny (George Clooney) and the gang (including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Carl Reiner, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle and Andy Garcia) reunite for revenge in Neon Nirvana. This second sequel to the 2001 remake of the original 1960 Rat Pack romp (whew!) cruises along on the easy camaraderie and roguish charm of its all-star cast. (122 min.) PG-13; brief sexual references. (C.C.)

RATATOUILLE

(B+) Bon appetit: “Incredibles” writer-director Brad Bird serves up the summer’s tastiest animated treat as Remy, a rat with gourmet sensibilities, teams with a hapless kitchen helper to restore an on-the-skids Paris restaurant to glory. With its all-star vocal cast (including Ian Holm, Janeane Garofalo and, as the restaurant critic from hell, Peter O’Toole) and inventive slapstick routines that recall legendary silent clowns Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, “Ratatouille” ranks as a cinematic feast for kids of all ages. (110 min.) G; mild cartoon violence. (C.C.)

RESCUE DAWN

(B+) Play it again, Werner: German director Werner Herzog fictionalizes his 1997 documentary “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” as a U.S. fighter pilot (scarily intense Christian Bale), shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War, leads a daring POW escape. Herzog explores favorite themes (especially man’s battle to overcome the inexorable forces of nature without going mad) in relatively restrained style (for him), pondering the irony of terror and wonder existing side-by-side. (125 min.) PG-13; intense combat violence, torture, profanity. (C.C.)

RESURRECTING THE CHAMP

(B-) When a second-string sportswriter (likable lightweight Josh Hartnett) discovers a homeless man (a socko Samuel L. Jackson) is really a battered, presumed-dead ex-heavyweight, the article that results changes both lives. Based on an article by Pulitzer Prize-winner J.R. Moehringer, this earnest drama from journalist-turned-director Rod Lurie (“The Contender”) explores provocative themes but sometimes drops the ball, but Sam the Man’s on hand to save the day with a winning performance that’s half showboating, half subtlety. (112 min.) PG-13; violence, profanity. (C.C.)

RUSH HOUR 3

(C-) After taking Las Vegas by storm in 2001’s “Rush Hour 2,” detectives Lee (Jackie Chan) and Carter (Chris Tucker) head to Paris, where they tangle with Chinese Triads in another formulaic odd-couple-cop-buddy romp that’s equal parts dinner-theater revue and live-action Saturday-morning cartoon — a whirring, soulless pop product for those who don’t expect much more from a movie beyond cheap laughs and frantic diversion. (91 min.) PG-13 for sequences of action violence, sexual content, nudity and language.

SELF-MEDICATED

(C+) Las Vegas native Monty Lapica writes, directs and stars in this award-winning drama (which premiered at 2005’s CineVegas film festival) about a troubled Southern Nevada teen whose desperate mother (Diane Venora) tries to cure his drug habit by sending him to a controversial treatment center in Southern Utah. Lapica’s naked display of barely healed psychic wounds gives the movie a raw power — and a melodramatic self-indulgence that makes it self-absorbed as well as self-aware. As a first effort, however, it (and Lapica) show definite promise. (107 min.) R; drug use, profanity, sexual material. (C.C.)

SEPTEMBER DAWN

(D) Southern Utah’s still-controversial Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, in which a band of Mormons killed more than a hundred members of a California-bound wagon train, is given a turgid fictional treatment — complete with a cheesy Romeo-and-Juliet subplot. Jon Voight, as a vindictive Mormon elder, leads a cast that includes Lolita Davidovich, Terence Stamp (as Mormon leader Brigham Young), Dean Cain, Trent Ford, Tamara Hope and Jon Gries. Even if you can overlook the controversial interpretation of history, it’s tough to excuse the inept filmmaking. (111 min.) R; violence.

SHOOT ‘EM UP

(B-) Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti lend loads of grace and dashes of gravitas to this willfully outrageous action spoof in which Owen is a carrot-chomping gunslinger protecting an orphaned baby from Giamatti and his armies of assassins. Writer-director Michael Davis’ amiably pointless goof on amiably pointless action movies is so casually ludicrous it would be tough to swallow without its crafty stars, who almost convince us there’s something at stake, although they — and we — know better. (87 min.) R; violence, profanity, sexual content.

SHREK THE THIRD

(C+) Talk about your middle-aged spread: the latest installment in the fractured fairy-tale franchise proves it’s tough to generate laughs when we already know the joke. This time around, the title ogre (once again voiced by Mike Myers) and pals Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) search for an heir to the throne of Far, Far Away, while Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) plots to seize power with a little help from his villainous f(r)iends. (93 min.) PG; crude humor, suggestive content, swashbuckling action. (C.C.)

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE

(B+) “An Inconvenient Truth” collides with Springfield’s fun-tastic five in their raucously impudent big-screen debut, which piles up the “D’oh” as Homer faces the worst screw-up of a disaster-filled life — and tries to save the world from suffering the consequences. Series creators James L. Brooks and Matt Groening huddle with nine co-writers to winning effect; the usual suspects (Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer) raise their voices in blissful contentiousness. (87 min.) PG-13; irreverent humor.

STARDUST

(C) “The Princess Bride” it’s not. This adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fractured fantasy follows a small-town lad (Charlie Cox) who promises his beloved he’ll retrieve a star that’s fallen into a nearby magical realm. Claire Danes (as the star’s human incarnation), Michelle Pfeiffer (as a scheming witch), Peter O’Toole (as a dying king) and Robert De Niro (as a flamboyant pirate who makes Capt. Jack Sparrow look like an “Ultimate Fighter” contender) lead the starry cast, but this potentially entrancing storybook tale tries too hard. In a movie all about magic, the magic shouldn’t seem so maddeningly elusive. (125 min.) PG-13; fantasy violence, risqué humor. (C.C.)

SUPERBAD

(C+) When their booze-soaked party plans go awry, inseparable high school seniors (“Arrested Development’s” Michael Cera and “Knocked Up’s” Jonah Hill) face the comic consequences in a raucous, super-raunchy celebration of teen angst and lust that tempers its arrested-development comedic approach with glimmers of genuine insight. It would have been better — and funnier — if you could laugh with “Superbad” as easily as you laugh at it. But most audiences will be too busy laughing to care — especially when Christopher Mintz-Plasse shows up as the excruciatingly dweeby McLovin. (112 min.) R; pervasive crude and sexual content, profanity, drinking, drug use, fantasy/comic violence — all involving teens. (C.C.)

TALK TO ME

(A) Sound off: Outspoken ex-con Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene (Don Cheadle) talks his way onto the radio, spinning soul music and raising social consciousness in 1960s Washington, D.C. One of those rare movies that’s both raucously entertaining and seriously thought-provoking, “Talk to Me” showcases the Oscar-caliber dream team of the incendiary Cheadle and the chameleonic Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Greene’s dapper, ambitious radio colleague). A smart script, a can’t-stop-the-beat soundtrack and Kasi Lemmons’ deft direction add up to one of the summer’s — and maybe the year’s — best movies. (118 min.) R; pervasive profanity, sexual situations, brief violence. (C.C.)

3:10 TO YUMA

(B) All aboard: In post-Civil War Arizona, a downtrodden rancher (Christian Bale) joins a posse escorting a wily outlaw (Russell Crowe) to the prison-bound title train, setting up a psychological as well as literal showdown. This rip-snortin’ remake of the 1957 original (which also inspired director James Mangold’s 1997 update “Cop Land”) isn’t the second coming of the Western, dang it, but the dynamic duo of Crowe and Bale demonstrates how satisfying it can be to watch two men — one good, one bad, yet with more in common than either imagined — facing off in a life-or-death test of their true mettle. (117 min.) R; violence, profanity, sexual references. (C.C.)

TRANSFORMERS

(B-) Rock-’em, sock-’em robots: The mechanical title characters have more personality than the flesh-and-blood ones in a big-screen version of the ’80s cartoon hit (inspired by the shape-shifting Hasbro toys), in which dueling robot aliens bring their extra-terrestrial war to Earth, where a goofy teen (adorkable Shia LaBeouf) unwittingly possesses the key to the conflict. Overlong, overblown, over-everything, but the muscle-car ‘tude and eye-popping effects trigger more miles of smiles per gallon than most rival blockbusters. (144 min.) PG-13; intense sci-fi action violence, sexual humor, profanity. (C.C.)

2 DAYS IN PARIS

(B-) After a disastrous European holiday, a French photographer (Julie Delpy) and her boyfriend, an American interior designer (Adam Goldberg, Delpy’s real-life ex), endure more misadventures en route back to New York in a rueful romantic romp Delpy wrote, directed, edited, produced and scored. This might have befitted from some additional creative input; its story is fairly routine, as neurotic romantic comedies go. But Delpy has a knack for finding just the right details to bring out its charms. In English and French with English subtitles. (96 min.) R; sexual content, nudity, profanity.

UNDERDOG

(C) The ’60s cartoon favorite goes live-action as a lab accident zaps a canine (voiced by Jason Lee) with serious superpowers — which he’ll need if he hopes to save Capitol City from maniacal scientist Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage) and his henchman Cad (Patrick Warburton). Lots of cute doggy talk, good tricks, a dollop of family melodrama and corny, cheesy humor that distracts without altogether numbing, but no best in show. (84 min.) PG; rude humor, mild profanity and action.

WAR

(D) Don’t get your hopes up for this teaming of action aces Jet Li and Jason Statham. Instead of a lean, mean, butt-kicking machine, this utterly forgettable thriller — about an FBI agent tracking the mysterious assassin who murdered his partner — turns out to be a flabby and formulaic programmer that plays to neither man’s strength. It’s never painful to watch — but that’s only because it provokes no feeling at all. What’s this “War” good for? Absolutely nothing. (99 min.) R; sequences of strong bloody violence, sexual situations, nudity, profanity.

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