OPENING THIS WEEK
In this futuristic chiller, the archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) teams up with some folks at an isolated desert diner to battle for humanity’s survival. Dennis Quaid, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson and Kate Walsh co-star for visual effects veteran-turned-director Scott Stewart ("Iron Man," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest"). At multiple locations. (100 min.) R; strong bloody violence, profanity.
TO SAVE A LIFE
Shaken by a friend’s death, an all-star athlete (Randy Wayne) decides to change his life — and the lives of less popular classmates — in this drama from cinematographer-turned-director Brian Baugh ("An American Carol"). At Sam’s Town, Village Square. (120 min.) PG-13; mature thematic elements involving teen suicide, teen drinking, drug content, disturbing images, sexuality.
When a minor-league hockey player (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) tells a youngster the Tooth Fairy doesn’t really exist, he gets his comeuppance when he’s transformed into the title character, complete with tutu and wings. Ashley Judd, Julie Andrews, Billy Crystal and "The Office’s" Stephen Merchant co-star. At multiple locations. (101 min.) PG; mild language, rude humor, sports action.
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.
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL
(D) Twice the Chipmunks, half the fun: The title trio (voiced by Justin Long, Jesse McCartney , Matthew Gray Gubler) faces competition from rival cuties the Chipettes (Amy Pohler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate) in this "squeakquel" to the 2007 hit. At least that one had a story; here, they’ve basically dropped the Chipmunks into "High School Musical" and, while your kids will love it, you’ll need a hazmat suit. (88 min.) PG; mild rude humor.
(D+) Something old, nothing new: Veteran armored truck guards (led by Matt Dillon) coerce the newbie in their midst (Columbus Short) to steal a vehicle with $42 million aboard — but their supposedly foolproof plan isn’t, triggering dishonor and dissent among thieves. Supporting players Laurence Fishburne, Jean Reno and Skeet Ulrich have their moments, but none of them leads to anything other than a factory film made from recycled parts. (88 min.) PG-13; intense violence, disturbing images, brief strong profanity.
(B-) Dances with "Aliens": Writer-director James Cameron ("Titanic") takes us to the 22nd-century planet Pandora, where paraplegic ex-Marine Jake Sully (clunky hunk Sam Worthington) joins a corporate mining operation’s scientific program — and finds a new life when he encounters the native Na’vi. Zoe Saldana (as Sully’s Na’vi love interest), Sigourney Weaver (the resident rebellious scientist), Giovanni Ribisi (the resident corporate creep) and Stephen Lang (the resident military whackjob) co-star in a visually spectacular effects extravaganza that might have been a genuine cinematic landmark — if only Cameron had paid as much attention to his story as he does to his technology. (162 min.) PG-13; intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sexual references, profanity, smoking. (C.C.)
THE BLIND SIDE
(B-) This heartwarming, fact-based crowd-pleaser focuses on future NFL tackle Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a gentle giant who rises from virtual homelessness to football stardom with an assist from a force-of-nature Southern belle (sassy Sandra Bullock) who takes him under her wing, and her roof. If it weren’t a true story, it would be tough to believe, yet writer-director John Lee Hancock ("The Rookie") tackles a few gritty issues in between the stand-up-and-cheer and lump-in-the-throat moments. (126 min.) PG-13; brief violence, drug and sexual references. (C.C.)
THE BOOK OF ELI
(C) Ready for another post-apocalyptic odyssey? This time, a loner (a well-cast Denzel Washington) fights his way across country to protect a sacred book that may hold the key to saving humanity: the last remaining Bible. Gary Oldman (as the resident bad guy) and Mila Kunis co-star for filmmaking twins Albert and Allen Hughes ("From Hell"), who mix preachiness and bloodshed to queasy effect; this is "The Road" with twice the plot, four times the ammunition — and half the brains. (118 min.) R; brutal violence, profanity.
THE BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY
(C) Almost a decade after their first cinematic appearance, the vigilante McManus brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus) return to Boston to avenge the death of their beloved hometown priest. Billy Connolly, Clifton Collins Jr., Judd Nelson and Peter Fonda co-star for writer-director Troy Duffy in a sequel that, unlike the original, doesn’t make you want to claw your eyes out. It’s just a scurrilous, sub-Tarantino action comedy that goes in all directions at once — especially over the top. (118 min.) R; bloody violence, profanity, nudity.
(B) Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodovar reunites for the fourth time with muse (and fellow Oscar-winner) Penélope Cruz. This time around, she plays a hooker-turned-actress who falls for a director (Lluis Homar) who transforms her into a succession of fantasy figures — until a car crash further transforms both of their lives. It’s a dizzyingly intricate genre-bender that expands upon the Spanish auteur’s recurring obsession with movie love — and mother love — but we get so wrapped up in Almodovar’s painstaking attention to structure that we’re impressed without being particularly moved. In Spanish and English with English subtitles. (128 min.) R; sexual content, profanity, drug use.
(B) When a Marine captain (a peak-form Tobey Maguire) disappears in Afghanistan, his black-sheep ex-con brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps in to comfort his sister-in-law (Natalie Portman) and her young daughters in this remake of the 2004 Danish standout from director Jim Sheridan ("In America," "My Left Foot"). It packs a definite wallop, but it’s not quite the knockout it could (and should) have been. (110 min.) R; profanity, disturbing violent content. (C.C.)
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS
(B) A wacky inventor (voiced by Bill Hader) discovers a way to create storms of food in a 3-D animated romp (inspired by a beloved children’s book) that’s clever and zippy, with a terrific vocal cast (including Anna Faris, James Caan, Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, Neil Patrick Harris and Andy Samberg) and some actual nutritional value hidden among the fun. (90 min.) PG; brief mild profanity.
(C) Trouble in paradise: Four couples (played by, among others, Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Kristin Davis, Malin Akerman and Jon Favreau) try to sort out their relationship problems amid Bora Bora’s tropical splendor in a tepid marriage-renewal comedy that has a decent cast and a few good ideas — but no clear grasp of what to do with them. (107 min.) PG-13; sexual content, profanity.
(C-) It’s 2019, and a plague has transformed most humans into vampires — including an undead scientist (Ethan Hawke) unwittingly caught up in a scheme to reverse the disease. Willem Dafoe (as an ex-bloodsucker named Elvis) and Sam Neill co-star for Australian filmmaking brothers Michael and Peter Spierig ("Undead") in another in a seemingly endless series of aren’t-we-clever resurrections of the vampire genre. Too bad this one plays like a dirge, striking one long, monotonous note of gloom, a dramatic flatline that barely budges even during the movie’s uninspired action-and-gore sequences. (98 min.) R; strong bloody violence, profanity, brief nudity.
DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS?
(D+) You don’t want to hear: After witnessing a murder, unhappily married Manhattanites (the usually effervescent, sadly flat Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker) find themselves in the witness protection program — and exiled to small-town Wyoming — in a mirth-free comedy that will make you wish you had enrolled in a witless protection program. (103 min.) PG-13; sexual references, momentary violence.
(A) Head of the class: This smashing coming-of-age drama (set in early-’60s Britain) focuses on a bright, college-bound teen (Carey Mulligan, delivering an Oscar-caliber, star-is-born performance) who becomes involved with a smooth-talking sophisticate (Peter Sarsgaard) almost twice her age. Author Nick Hornby ("High Fidelity," "About a Boy") adapts British journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir; he and director Lone Scherfig capture the endless, timeless conflict between book learning and the school of heartbreak with witty, rueful power. (95 min.) PG-13; mature thematic material involving sexual content, smoking. (C.C.)
THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS
(B-) When an enigmatic charmer (the late Heath Ledger) joins a centuries-old seer’s traveling sideshow, the stage is set for phantasmagorical visions and philosophical musings from writer-director Terry Gilliam. Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law step in for Ledger to complete scenes unfilmed at the time of his death, while delightful portrayals from Christopher Plummer (as the imaginative title character), model-turned-actress Lily Cole (as his bewitching daughter), Verne "Mini-Me" Troyer (as his sarcastic sidekick) and Tom Waits (as his devilish nemesis) keep the humor, and the humanity, in motion. (122 min.) PG-13; violent images, sensuality, profanity, smoking. (C.C.)
(B-) In post-apartheid South Africa, president Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) enlists the captain of the country’s white-dominated rugby squad (Matt Damon) to help unite the divided nation as the team competes for the 1995 world championship. Clint Eastwood’s fact-based drama blends elements of the great-man movie and the underdog-sports movie — elements that sometimes work against each other. But it’s unapologetically rousing, despite its earnest ambitions and stately, schmaltzy conventionality. (134 min.) PG-13; brief profanity. (C.C.)
(B-) Battle of the (s)exes: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin play the angles in this romantic comedy about a long-divorced woman who finds herself having a passionate affair — with the ex-husband who left her years ago for a younger woman. Writer-director Nancy Meyers’ usual mix of contrived humor and sledgehammer stereotyping gets classy treatment from the savvy Streep and the scene- and movie-stealing Baldwin, who emerges as the movie’s most human (and therefore most sympathetic) character, never mind what the script says. (118 min.) R; drug content, sexual situations, brief nudity. (C.C.)
(D) Unlucky charms: A wannabe bride ("Julie and Julia’s" Amy Adams) follows her boyfriend (Adam Scott) to Ireland, planning to propose on Feb. 29 — but winds up wending her way through the countryside in the company of a bickering, if beguiling, innkeeper. He’s played by Matthew Goode ("A Single Man"), whose surname is the only good thing about this witless, aimless slog through the romantic-comedy bog. (97 min.) PG; sexual references, profanity. (C.C.)
THE LOVELY BONES
(C) This strangely lifeless adaptation of Alice Sebold’s 2002 best-seller focuses on a murdered teenager ("Atonement’s" radiant Saoirse Ronan) who witnesses the aftermath of her death from a dreamlike limbo halfway between heaven and earth. "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson blunts emotional impact of what ought to be a heart-wrenching tale; rather that focus on the tormented survivors (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci), Jackson’s busy raiding his bag of special-effects tricks. As a result, the movie loses its dramatic momentum — and its grip. (135 min.) PG-13; mature themes involving disturbing violent content and images, profanity. (C.C.)
(C) Tormented director Guido Contini (a miscast Daniel Day-Lewis), the toast of 1960s "Cinema Italiano," struggles to overcome a major creative block — and juggle the attentions of the (too) many women in his life — in an adaptation of the Tony-winning musical inspired by Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning 1963 classic "8." Underwhelming, despite the best efforts of its all-star cast (including Day-Lewis’ fellow Oscar-winners Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench and Sophia Loren), this too often plays like a series of music videos — more or less diverting, but incapable of adding up to more. (118 min.) PG-13; sexual situations, smoking. (C.C.)
(D+) A young ninja (Asian pop star Rain, one of "Speed Racer’s" rivals) turns his back on the orphanage where he was raised, triggering a martial arts showdown. Thanks (or no thanks) to the dire script, flat performances and slick, tricked-out fight scenes, it gets increasingly hard to care about what goes on, even on those rare occasions when the action’s visible without the use of night-vision goggles. (99 min.) R; strong bloody stylized violence, profanity.
(D-) It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a turkey, and in "Old Dogs,” we have the season’s blue-ribbon gobbler, about friends and business partners (Robin Williams, John Travolta) forced to play daddy to 7-year-old twins. Yes, it’s supposed to be a comedy — but unless you think it’s fun to watch elderly canines urinate, middle-aged movie stars overact or Seth Green get hit in the groin by a golf ball, be prepared to sit and squirm at this witless, mean-spirited farce. (88 min.) PG; mild rude humor.
(C-) In this cute but clichéd animated space romp, an American astronaut (voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) lands on the title sphere and discovers little green people living in fear of alien invaders — just like him. "Shrek’s" Joe Stillman scripts, but this is no "Shrek." Instead of spinning its spoof of 1950s sci-fi paranoia in new directions, the movie trades in potty humor and tired "Terminator" and "Star Wars" send-ups. (126 min.) PG-13; brief violence, drug and sexual references.
PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL "PUSH" BY SAPPHIRE
(B) Set in 1987 Harlem, director Lee Daniels’ acclaimed drama focuses on Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), a black teen who’s pregnant (for a second time) by her absent father, stuck at home with her abusive mother (Mo’Nique), virtually illiterate — and determined to find dignity in, and endure, her unendurable situation. Harrowing and marked by heroic performances (especially from Sidibe and Mo’Nique), "Precious" looks squarely in the wounded eyes of its title character and sees a girl with poetry in her. (109 min.) R; profanity, violence, sexual abuse. (C.C.)
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG
(A) Let the good times roll: The magic’s back in this Disney delight, a traditionally animated tale set in Roaring ’20s New Orleans, about nose-to-the-grindstone Tiana (voiced by "Dreamgirls’ " Anika Noni Rose), who dreams of running her own restaurant — until a close encounter with a voodoo-cursed prince changes everything. Co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker ("The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin") serve up a scrumptious jambalaya of smart storytelling, spectacular visual set pieces and a memorable Randy Newman score; the result is the best traditionally animated Disney feature since 1991’s instant classic "Beauty and the Beast." (97 min.) G; all ages. (C.C.)
(B-) A father (a heroically restrained Viggo Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) wander a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape, trying to survive — with their humanity intact. This grueling, occasionally haunting adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from director John Hillcoat ("The Proposition") misses the resonant power of McCarthy’s stark prose, but remains a memorable (if memorable dismal) exploration of the endless battle for decency in the midst of depravity, of love in the face of death. (111 min.) R; violence, disturbing images, profanity. (C.C.)
(C-) In Victorian-era London, the title sleuth (Robert Downey Jr.) and his faithful companion Dr. Watson (Jude Law) take on a sinister serial killer ("The Young Victoria’s Mark Strong) in an anachronistic adventure that trashes one of the world’s most beloved literary characters, transforming him into a brash action hero. "Rocknrolla" director Guy Ritchie’s hyperkinetic style puts the focus on brawn rather than brain, which seems a cruel fate for an actor as smart as Downey — and a character as brilliant as Holmes. (128 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of violence and action, startling images, suggestive material. (C.C.)
A SINGLE MAN
(B) In early-’60s Los Angeles, a grief-stricken British professor (likely best actor Oscar contender Colin Firth) tries to carry on — and contemplates ending it all — after the sudden death of his longtime lover ("Leap Year’s" Matthew Goode). Firth’s marvelously restrained, deeply moving performance (and that of Julianne Moore as his brittle, bitter friend) breathe welcome life into this adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s novel from designer-turned-director Tom Ford, who all too often stages scenes with the studied precision of a fashion layout, robbing the movie of some of its life — and heart. (99 min.) R; disturbing images, nudity, sexual content. (C.C.)
THE SPY NEXT DOOR
(C-) Former CIA agent Bob Ho (Jackie Chan) finds himself back in the spy game while babysitting his girlfriend’s kids — one of whom accidentally downloads a top-secret formula, prompting a visit from Bob’s longtime nemesis, a Russian terrorist. Amber Valletta, Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez round out the eclectic starring cast of yet another lazy, kid-pleasing comedy about a man unprepared for fatherhood who’s suddenly saddled with children who hate his guts and whom he must win over in order to make time with their hot single mom. Luckily, that man is Chan, who’s still fit, capable of doing his own stunts and maintains his charm — even in charmless movie like this. (92 min.) PG; action violence, mild rude humor.
(C-) It’s a disaster movie, all right, but what else can you expect from master of disaster Roland Emmerich ("The Day After Tomorrow," "Independence Day")? Once again, the director demonstrates how to blow stuff up real good, putting everyone on Earth on a collision course with oblivion — including a few plucky souls (led by mavericky Everyman John Cusack and Noble Scientist Chiwetel Ejiofor) who prove humanity’s resilience while faceless billions perish. If high-tech digital effects are your thing, you’ll adore the destructo-derby spectacle, but for those who care about a credible storyline and sympathetic characters, abandon hope all ye who enter here. (158 min.) PG-13; intense disaster sequences, profanity. (C.C.)
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON
(C-) In this chapter of Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling series, Bella (Kristen Stewart) discovers that the course of true love never does run smooth, especially when her beloved Edward Cullen (brooding Robert Pattinson) leaves town with his vampire family rather than endanger her life. Good thing her friend Jacob Black (hunky Taylor Lautner) is still around — but he’s got a deep dark secret all his own. Goes double on the swoon factor, transforming the urgency of teen lust into a dour, draggy mopefest. (130 min.) PG-13; violence and action. (C.C.)
UP IN THE AIR
(B+) Flying high: A cynical corporate terminator (a perfectly cast George Clooney), whose job is telling other people they’ve lost theirs, struggles to make connections — between flights and between people. Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Jason Bateman lead the top-chop supporting cast of this witty, sometimes wise comedy-drama from writer-director Jason Reitman ("Juno," "Thank You for Smoking"), which blends timely and timeless themes with throwaway ease. (109 min.) R; profanity, sexual content, brief nudity. (C.C.)
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
(B) Let the wild rumpus start: A mischievous 9-year-old (Max Records) acts out, then runs away to avoid the inevitable punishment, finding refuge with an assortment of squabbling monsters (voiced by, among others, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara and Chris Cooper). Writer-director Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation") shapes Maurice Sendak’s kid-lit classic to his own offbeat sensibilities, delivering a madcap, melancholy live-action romp that speaks to the wild child inside us all. (100 min.) PG; mild thematic elements, adventure action, brief profanity. (C.C.)
THE YOUNG VICTORIA
(B) The turbulent early years of Britain’s Queen Victoria (Emily Blunt), who tries to survive multiple power plays as she ascends to the throne — and discovers true love with Prince Albert ("Chéri’s" Rupert Friend). This good old-fashioned period drama (scripted by "Gosford Park" Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes) isn’t terribly lively or insightful, but it’s rich in pageantry and dramatic moments, all of which hinge on Blunt’s beguiling performance. (100 min.) PG; mild sexual references, brief violence, brief profanity, smoking.
YOUTH IN REVOLT
(C) Michael Cera ("Superbad," "Juno") returns as another geek in lust: bookish Nick Twisp, who falls for a precocious prep school student (Portia Doubleday) while on vacation — and invents an arrogant "supplementary persona," a bad-boy Frenchman (also played by Cera), to help him win her heart. Despite some smart (and self-conscious dialogue), this adaptation of novelist C.D. Payne’s tales is like a combination of "Juno" and "Fight Club" — which means there’s little actual rebelliousness involved, just the same old oversexed adolescent angst. (90 min.) R; sexual content, profanity, drug use.