OPENING THIS WEEK
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
A new version of the 1972 horror fave about a terrorized couple (Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter) getting revenge on the prison escapee ("Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ " Garrett Dillahunt) who kidnapped and assaulted their daughter. At multiple locations. (100 min.) R; sadistic brutal violence including a rape, disturbing images, profanity, nudity, drug use.
A virginal high schooler (Zach Cregger) awakens from a four-year coma to find his sweetie ("Standoff’s" Raquel Alessi) starring as the centerfold in a certain famous men’s magazine. Cregger and his "The Whitest Kids U Know" collaborator, Trevor Moore, also write and direct. At multiple locations. (89 min.) R; strong crude and sexual content, nudity, pervasive profanity, drug use.
RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN
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.
(C+) A typically sophomoric Adam Sandler goes the family-friendly route in this Disney romp, playing a hotel handyman whose life changes when the outlandish bedtime tales he tells his niece and nephew magically come true. Keri Russell, Courteney Cox, Guy Pearce and Russell Brand co-star in a movie that’s baloney on Wonder Bread with a Kraft Single and some Miracle Whip. In other words, it’s edible but not exactly nutritious — or delicious. (99 min.) PG; mild rude humor, mild profanity.
CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC
(C) Worried about those bills you can’t pay? Welcome to the wacky world of Rebecca Bloomwood ("Wedding Crashers’ " Isla Fisher), a madcap Manhattan magazine writer who racks up $16,000 in credit-card charges, then gets hired by an editor (Hugh Dancy) who thinks she’s a fiscal expert. "Shopaholic’s" timing couldn’t be worse, and this adaptation of Sophie Kinsella’s best sellers could certainly be better, but Fisher’s fizzy giddiness makes it possible to care for her character — even when it’s not possible to care for the movie. (112 min.) PG; mild profanity, thematic elements. (C.C.)
(B+) Neil Gaiman’s satisfyingly shivery tale of a feisty girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning) whose curiosity leads to a darkly fascinating alternate world proves an ideal vehicle for stop-motion animation wizard Henry Selick ("Nightmare Before Christmas," "James and the Giant Peach"). Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane and Keith David deliver standout vocal performances in a visually stunning movie that resembles a pop-up storybook come to life (especially in 3-D) — and exhibits far more artistry, and humanity, than many live-action movies. (101 min.) PG; thematic elements, scary images, profanity, suggestive humor. (C.C.)
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
(C+) Brad Pitt reunites with "Se7en" director David Fincher (and "Babel" co-star Cate Blanchett) for the ambitious saga of the title character, who’s born in post-World War I New Orleans with the face and ailments of an 80-year-old man — and ages in reverse. Overlong and overdone, "Benjamin Button" (loosely based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald tale and adapted by "Forrest Gump" Oscar-winner Eric Roth) emerges as a technical marvel, but in pondering the Big Picture, the movie too often falls under the spell of its own epic sweep. Winner of three Academy Awards, including art direction and visual effects. (167 min.) PG-13; brief war violence, sexual content, profanity, smoking. (C.C.)
(B-) Reigning 007 Daniel Craig returns to his dramatic roots as the eldest of three Jewish brothers (a standout Liev Schreiber and "Billy Elliot’s" Jamie Bell play his siblings) battling Nazis from a Belorussian forest camp during World War II. As he did in "The Last Samurai" and "Blood Diamond," director Edward Zwick explores a fascinating, fact-based subject, but can’t resist diluting the story’s stark power with action-flick clichés, dunderhead dialogue and Hollywood hokum. Even so, it’s an undeniable rouser. (129 min.) R; violence, profanity. (C.C.)
DINOSAURS 3D: GIANTS OF PATAGONIA
(B) If you like dinosaurs (and who doesn’t?), you’ll love this 3-D documentary, which follows paleontologist Rodolfo Coria as he tramps the rugged wilds of Patagonia (southern Argentina), where remains of the largest dinosaurs in the world — including the 120-foot Argentinosaurus — have been discovered. The perfect blend of scholarly information and totally cool dinosaurs brought to vivid life. (40 min.) G; scary dinosaurs.
(B-) In 1960s New York, a strict nun who runs a Catholic school (Meryl Streep) and an innocent underling (Amy Adams) suspect their parish priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of molesting the school’s lone black student. Scene-stealing Viola Davis co-stars for writer-director John Patrick Shanley, who adapts his own Tony-winning drama — and undermines (and overplays) some great performers with ominous, overly obvious symbols and odd camera angles that make "Doubt" hopelessly stagebound. (104 min.) PG-13; sexual references, mature themes. (C.C.)
(D+) No, this isn’t a speculation on when Echelon Place will resume construction on the Strip. It’s part of the periodic thriller invasion known as the After Dark Horrorfest, about a young engineer (Shane West) who gets strange cell phone messages promising untold riches, making him the target of a deadly international conspiracy in a movie that’s barely watchable, let alone enjoyable. (106 min.) PG-13; intense violence and action, sexuality, brief profanity.
(C-) It’s "Wedding Crashers" at cheerleader camp as two eager-to-score high school studs ("Dumb and Dumberer’s" Eric Christian Olsen, "Heroes’ " Nicholas D’Agosto) infiltrate the cheerleading squad. Brain-dead at worst, sophomoric at best, "Fired Up" does have its moments, but not enough of them to make it worthwhile for anybody who doesn’t think the movie’s initials ("F.U." — in case you hadn’t noticed) qualify as a laff riot. (94 min.) PG-13; crude and sexual content, partial nudity, profanity, teen partying. (C.C.)
FRIDAY THE 13TH
(D-) It may be set in a world of iPods, cell phones and "Girls Gone Wild," but this "reimagining" of the venerable horror franchise’s 1980 introduction is the same old same old, as a group of hapless young TV stars (led by "Supernatural’s" Jared Padalecki, "Shark’s" Danielle Panabaker and "The Mentalist’s" Amanda Righetti) foolishly check out Camp Crystal Lake — and encounter the malevolent, hockey-masked Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears). If all you’re looking for is the latest in impaling, beheading and butchering, welcome back. (97 min.) R; strong bloody violence, graphic sexual content, profanity, drug material.
(A-) Tony-winner Frank Langella and "The Queen’s" Michael Sheen reprise their Broadway roles as the disgraced ex-President and the debonair British TV personality in Peter Morgan’s adaptation of his hit play about the landmark 1977 interview between the two. Director Ron Howard maintains the dramatic core of Morgan’s play while expanding its cinematic vision; Oscar-caliber performances from Langella and Sheen do the rest. Compared to the clunky "Doubt," this is a textbook example of how to transfer a stage hit to the screen. (122 min.) R; profanity. (C.C.)
(C+) A widowed Korean War vet (growling, glowering Clint Eastwood) in a deteriorating Detroit neighborhood finds his prejudices challenged when he becomes an unlikely neighborhood hero to the fatherless Hmong teens (Bee Vang, Ahney Her) next door. Eastwood says this vigilante melodrama will be his on-screen swan song, and it’s a trip to watch Clint the Squint channel the ghosts of Eastwood past, but this underpowered star vehicle stalls and backfires at least as often as it shifts into high gear. (116 min.) R; pervasive profanity and racial epithets, violence. (C.C.)
HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU
(C+) And we’re just not that into this all-star adaptation of the non-fiction best seller, which focuses on a bunch of Baltimore 20- and 30-somethings (led by Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Bradley Cooper, Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlett Johansson and Justin Long) trying to figure out the mysteries of love, sex and everything in between. Despite the considerable charisma and banter of its cast, the result is Woody Allen lite, with some deft observations about how the social media designed to bring singles together actually come between them. (129 min.) PG-13; sexual content, brief profanity.
HOTEL FOR DOGS
(C) Two melancholy foster kids ("Nancy Drew’s" Emma Roberts, Disney Channel’s Jake T. Austin) secretly take in strays at an abandoned house. Don Cheadle, Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon round out the starring cast of a circusy romp that departs from its source material (Lois Duncan’s charming novel) in so many ways that it leaves you wondering what Animal Planet we’re on. But there’s no denying the appeal of the purebreds and pound puppies assembled for our awe — and awws. (100 min.) PG; brief mild thematic elements, profanity, crude humor.
Dennis Quaid headlines this horror thriller about a recently widowed, still-grieving detective who discovers a terrifying link to suspected serial killers who may have been inspired by Biblical prophecies concerning the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (You know: War, Famine, Pestilence and Death.) Ziyi Zhang and Peter Stormare co-star. (110 min.) R; grisly and disturbing content, sexual images, profanity.
(B-) Fiction becomes reality when a "Silvertongue" (Brendan Fraser) discovers he can bring literary characters to life — and must try to vanquish a medieval villain (Andy Serkis) who’s escaped from, and refuses to return to, life between the covers of a book. This "Harry Potter" wannabe makes a pleasant enough diversion, thanks to its fanciful premise and ace supporting cast (led by Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent and a fire-breathing, scene-stealing Paul Bettany, but it never conjures much magic. (106 min.) PG; fantasy adventure action, scary moments, brief profanity. (C.C.)
(C+) Low interest: An obsessive Interpol agent (Clive Owen) and a Manhattan assistant district attorney (Naomi Watts) team up to blow the whistle on a sinister international bank involved in everything from money laundering to murder. Watts’ "Eastern Promises" castmate, Armin Mueller-Stahl, co-stars for "Run Lola Run" director Tom Tykwer, whose directing style this time around is more stop-in-your-tracks than perpetual motion, fatally slowing this topical, but hardly brainy, thriller. (118 min.) R; violence, profanity.
JONAS BROTHERS: THE 3-D CONCERT EXPERIENCE
(C-) The teenthrobs hit the road in their cross-country "Burning Up" Tour, but this documentary features footage from last summer’s concerts in Anaheim, Calif., and New York City — along with behind-the-scenes moments tht feel self-conscious and staged. Someday, we may actually get a clue as to what makes the Jonas Brothers tick, but for now, Nick, Joe and Kevin are presented as so much glossy, superficial packaging. Which is, no doubt, exactly the way their screaming fans like it. (80 min.) G; all ages.
LAST CHANCE HARVEY
(B) Like at first sight: After striking sparks as supporting players in "Stranger Than Fiction," Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson team up for this charmer about the hapless title character, whose trip to London for his daughter’s wedding turns disastrous — until he meets a quiet loner who just might be his perfect match. Movies about perfectly nice people being perfectly nice often can be perfectly boring, but Hoffman and Thompson are clearly having such a delightful time, we do too. (C.C.)
MADEA GOES TO JAIL
(C) America’s favorite pistol’-packin’ granny returns, with writer-director Tyler Perry reprising the irrepressible title character, who lands in the slammer following a freeway chase — and will make her confused, disrespectful young cellmates see sense if she has to slap it into them. King of all media Perry gives fans what they want: daytime-TV pacing and standard adventures in self-help tedium, with the emphasis on dramatizing as many aspects of the black experience as possible, with the help of Derek Luke, all-grown-up "Cosby Show" kid Keshia Knight Pulliam and "Doubt" Oscar nominee Viola Davis. (103 min.) PG-13; mature themes, drug content, violence, sexual situations.
MARLEY & ME
(B-) Animal magnetism: Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson bond with a naughty, neurotic — and utterly lovable — yellow Labrador retriever in this adaptation of John Grogan’s best-seller. A shaggy-dog tale in more ways than one, anybody who agrees with the assertion that happiness is a warm tongue bath will lap up this heartwarming canine comedy. Those who don’t will dismiss it as a long-winded yarn in which nothing — and everything — happens. (123 min.) PG; thematic material, suggestive content, profanity.
NEW IN TOWN
(D) Gasping for air: A fish-out-of-water corporate climber (strident Renée Zellweger) finds herself in frost-bitten New Ulm, Minn., modernizing a snack food factory — and cozying up to the locals, especially the hunky union rep (Harry Connick Jr.). This strained slapstick drags out, then beats to death, a Whitman’s Sampler of small-town clichés, saddling its cast with characters so flat that cardboard seems dimensional by comparison. In short, it’s nothing but the same old same old — only worse. (96 min.) PG-13; brief profanity. (C.C.)
PAUL BLART: MALL COP
(C) Sitcom stalwart Kevin James stars and co-writes this comedy about a mild-mannered single dad trying to make ends meet as a New Jersey mall cop forced to take on insidious Santa’s Helpers. Completely forgettable, yet frequently funny and weirdly satisfying — in a Jersey-Loser-Gets-Respect kind of way. (87 min.) PG; violence, mild crude and suggestive humor, profanity.
THE PINK PANTHER 2
(C) Steve Martin returns as bumbling French detective Inspector Clouseau, who joins an international team of super-sleuths (including Andy Garcia as an Italian and Alfred Molina as a Brit) trailing a globe-trotting thief specializing in stealing historical artifacts. As usual, comic mayhem follows Clouseau everywhere; also as usual, none of it’s particularly funny — except once or twice, when Martin gets a chance to remind us what a brilliant physical comedian he can be. (92 min.) PG; suggestive humor, brief profanity, mild action.
(C) "X-Men" meets "Heroes" in a convoluted yet superficial supernatural thriller about young paranormals, with telekinetic and clairvoyant abilities, battling a clandestine government agency out to control them. Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning (who also voices "Coraline’s" title character), Camilla Belle and Djimon Hounsou lead the cast of a brain-vacation movie that should give us the willies, but ends up being willy-nilly instead. (111 min.) PG-13; intense violence and action, brief profanity, smoking, teen drinking.
(B) In post-World War II Germany, the passionate affair between a student (David Kross) and an older tram conductor (Oscar-winner Kate Winslet) reverberates through both lives — especially when the grown student (Ralph Fiennes) ponders the impact of their life-changing liaison. "The Hours" team of director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare reunites for a thoughtful, restrained, adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s semi-autobiographical best-seller, which provides a stunning showcase for Winslet’s uncanny ability to get under the skin of her contradictory character. (123 min.) R; sexual situations, nudity. (C.C.)
(B) "Titanic" sweethearts Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, both in top form, reunite as a ’50s suburban couple wondering whatever happened to the extraordinary life they planned. "American Beauty’s" Sam Mendes (Winslet’s husband) directs this wrenching yet flawed adaptation of Richard Yates’ novel, transforming wrenching emotional drama into a series of theatrical tableaux that aren’t quite as haunting as they should be, but haunt nevertheless. (119 min.) R; profanity, sexual situations, nudity. (C.C.)
(C-) An enigmatic IRS agent (Will Smith, in full messianic mode) embarks on a quest for redemption that involves seven strangers — who might not be strangers at all. Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson and Barry Pepper co-star in a convoluted holiday tearjerker (from Smith’s "Pursuit of Happyness" director Gabriele Muccino) that turns out to be an inspirational bummer suffering from murky camerawork and even murkier emotions. Not even the obligatory uplift at the end can make up for the melodramatic (and less-than-credible) plot contrivances we have to sit through to get there. (123 min.) PG-13; mature themes, disturbing content, sexual references. (C.C.)
(B+) A beguiling Bollywood fairy tale (complete with plucky hero, damsel in distress, powerful villain and daunting trials for our hero), as an orphaned Mumbai teen (Dev Patel) becomes an unlikely contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" — not for money, but for love. Director Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting," "28 Days Later") scores with yet another trademark combination of humor, hope and horror that soars on the strength of its winning characters and exotic setting Winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay. (120 min.) R; violence, disturbing images, profanity. (C.C.)
STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI
(C-) Another video game gets a live-action adaptation, with "Smallville’s" Kristin Kreuk as the title character, who embarks on — what else? — a quest for justice, seeking the man who killed her father. The casting (including Chris Klein. Neal McDonough and Michael Clarke Duncan) works, the settings (Bangkok and Hong Kong) are exotic and the martial arts brawls professionally mounted. Which makes it 20 times better than the godawful 1994 Jean Claude Van Damme/Raul Julia version, but that’s not saying much. (100 min.) PG-13; violence and martial arts action, sexual references.
(B-) Liam Neeson kicks major butt as a former CIA agent out to rescue his kidnapped daughter (Maggie Grace) from human traffickers in a fleet, no-nonsense rescue thriller from crackerjack French director Pierre Morel. Satisfying for the Gaelic gravitas of its star, slam-bang chase scenes, bone-snapping martial arts — and, of course, the scenic Paris setting. (94 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, drug references, profanity.
THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX
(C+) Mighty (and mighty cute) mouse Despereaux Tilling, who prefers reading books to eating them, befriends a banished rat, falls in love with a lonely princess and rescues his kingdom from the tyranny of grief in a computer-animated tale that’s a bit too derivative, and desperate, to be loved. (94 min.) G; all ages.
(B-) This adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling tale emerges as a fanciful, if fitfully engaging, amalgam of teen angst and vampire lore, as high school junior Bella Swan (appealing Kristen Stewart) falls under the spell of dreamy biology lab partner Edward Cullen (brooding Robert Pattinson) — who’s been undead since the Spanish flu epidemic of 1917. "Thirteen" director Catherine Hardwicke’s affinity for everyday teen traumas keep the movie grounded in emotional reality. (120 min.) PG-13; violence, sensuality. (C.C.)
(B) Joaquin Phoenix reunites with director James Gray ("We Own the Night," "The Yards") for this atmospheric, absorbing return to Brooklyn, where a troubled young man finds himself torn between the nice Jewish girl (Vinessa Shaw) his parents like and an alluring new neighbor (Gwyneth Paltrow) who’s even more screwed up than he is. Watching Leonard wrestle with one of life’s most maddening questions — which is better, wanting what you have or having what you want? — proves undeniably (and sometimes surprisingly) compelling. (100 min.) R; sexual situations, profanity, brief drug use. (C.C.)
UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS
(C) In this third "Underworld" tale, Kate Beckinsale’s out — and Rhona Mitra’s in as the kick-butt heroine of an action workout that explores the origins of the centuries-old blood feud between aristocratic vampires and their onetime slaves. "Frost/Nixon’s" Michael Sheen plays a young Lycan who rallies his werewolf brethren against Bill Nighy’s cruel vampire king in a silly, convoluted prequel only partially redeemed by Goth style and lead actors who expertly devour scenery with their pointy teeth. (92 min.) R; bloody violence, sexuality.
(C) "Dark Knight" screenwriter David S. Goyer writes and directs this horror tale about a young woman ("Cloverfield’s" Odette Yustman) battling a spirit — which could be her twin, who died at birth — trying to possess her. Gary Oldman, Carla Gugino, James Remar and "Twilight" baddie Cam Gigandet also turn up in a mostly dumb but generally passable horror flick. (88 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images, mature themes, sexual references, profanity.
(B-) After a stint in a mental hospital, a girl ("Lemony Snicket’s" Emily Browning) returns to find her aloof father (David Strathairn) engaged to her late mother’s nurse (Elizabeth Banks) — and her mother’s ghost warning of danger. This translation of the excellent South Korean chiller "A Tale of Two Sisters" becomes a less complex but passable scarefest, with the benefit of a better-than-expected cast and a streamlined structure best described as "Scare, Plot Twist, Repeat." (87 min.) PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic material, sexual content, language and teen drinking.
(C-) The landmark graphic novel hits the screen, with a vengeance, in an alternate-universe 1985, as a masked vigilante rounds up some ex-colleagues to battle conspirators out to discredit — or kill — past and present superheroes. Malin Akerman (as Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (alias Dr. Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian) and Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl) star for "300" director Zack Snyder, who knows how to depict bloody destruction — but, like Dr. Manhattan, lacks the humanity to understand why it should not be taken lightly. (163 min.) R; strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, profanity.
(B+) Mickey Rourke makes an award-winning comeback in this gritty, moving character study of a broken-down professional wrestler struggling to make a comeback. Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei co-stars (as Randy’s stripper girlfriend) for "Requiem for a Dream" director Darren Aronofsky, who downplays his customary visual flamboyance to keep the spotlight on his actors. (115 min.) R; violence, sexual situations, nudity, profanity, drug use. (C.C.)
(B-) Jim Carrey makes a welcome return to comedy as a chronically depressed loan officer who accentuates the positive — by becoming a guy who can’t say no for an entire year. A formulaic yet diverting comedy that boasts welcome charm and a worthwhile message. (104 min.) PG-13; crude sexual humor, profanity,brief nudity.