Aliens, Debaters, Jack Nicholson

This week's new releases

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ENCHANTED (PG) From its knowingly retro intro (an animated send-up of Snow White and a zillion other Disney classics) to its climatic CGI showdown, Enchanted is a mostly live-action romp that's both perky family-friendly entertainment and a sly spoof of all things Disney-fied. Amy Adams is spot-on as Princess Giselle, a wide-eyed romantic with perfect diction and an inner circle of animal confidants. She lands on the Upper West Side and progresses from sweetly clueless fish out of water to avid admirer of Madame Curie. The movie has a ball poking fun at its absurdly anachronistic storybook princess, with much comedic mileage generated from her encounters with various jaded real-worlders. But when push comes to shove, those same hardened souls begin kicking up their heels whenever the infectiously upbeat Giselle is around, as Enchanted makes it clear that it's firmly on the side of anyone who can turn the world on with a song. Also stars Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Timothy Spall and Idina Menzel. 3.5 stars

FRED CLAUS (PG) Vince Vaughan stars as the black sheep brother of none other than jolly old St. Nick himself (Paul Giamatti) in this kid-friendly comedy of sibling rivalry and holiday cheer. Also stars Miranda Richardson, Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins. (Not Reviewed)

THE GOLDEN COMPASS (PG-13) A handsome but weirdly turgid fantasy, The Golden Compass is everything you expect it to be and less. What we get here is a disappointingly transparent patchwork of Lord of the Rings meets Narnia in Harry Potter Land, packed to the gills with magical creatures, talking animals and airborne witches but without much feel for building an involving story or characters worth caring about. Based on the first book in Philip Pullman's popular His Dark Materials trilogy, The Golden Compass takes place in a parallel universe where people's souls exist on the outside of their respective bodies in the form of animal companions called daemons. This alternate world is also populated by groups of uneasily co-existing groups with names like Gyptians and Magisterium (the totalitarian villains of the piece), and the convoluted rivalries and competing objectives of the various sects are presented with all the bloodless efficiency of a CPA reading an annual report. Into this pointlessly frenetic fray comes Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), a 12-year-old orphan who finds herself at the center of a quest to save the world. The movie's production values are high; its special effects beyond reproach and a few of its actors appealing (Nicole Kidman is gloriously monstrous here, and Eva Green makes a fine, sexy witch), but The Golden Compass still winds up feeling confused, aloof and more often than not dull. Also stars Daniel Craig and Sam Elliott. 2.5 stars

HITMAN (R) Deadwood's Timothy Olyphant stars as a professional assassin who finds himself on the run from Interpol and the Russian military when he's set up as the fall guy in a political take-over. Also stars Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Robert Knepper and Ulrich Thomsen. (Not Reviewed)

I AM LEGEND (PG-13) Will Smith stars as the last human survivor of a deadly plague that has turned the world's population into bloodthirsty nocturnal creatures, and virtually the entire first half of the film consists of our hero and his faithful canine companion wandering the deserted streets of New York City. Director Francis Lawrence (Constantine) imbues these early scenes with both tension and an eerie poetry, finding undeniable power in the post-apocalyptic imagery of a depopulated Manhattan where stray weeds poke up through cracks in the pavement as if once again laying claim to the land. Smith holds down the film fairly well, but his character veers unconvincingly from rational man of science to unhinged paranoid to cartoon action hero, inconsistencies that are hard not to notice since there's so little else going on here. We don't often see the creatures, but when we do, the movie unravels further as they're a pretty derivative lot, a fusion of familiar elements from 28 Days Later and The Descent, all largely rendered via cheap and thoroughly uninspired CGI. Traces of elegantly creepy atmosphere can be found throughout, but the effect is all but ruined by packs of dopey looking zombie dogs (honest) and a little too much Bob Marley music at the wrong moments. Also stars Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Salli Richardson and Willow Smith. 2.5 stars

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