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What's in movie theaters this week

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DOOMSDAY (R) The new film from talented writer-director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers) arrives without much buzz or even a chance for critics to review it, but we'll ignore the danger signs and hope for the best. This one's an action thriller set in a future where humankind faces imminent disaster. Stars Rhona Mitra, Chris Robson, Bob Hoskins and Malcolm McDowell. (Not Reviewed)

FUNNY GAMES (R) Playing like a stripped-down Straw Dogs meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Harold Pinter's basement, Funny Games is like the home invasion scene in A Clockwork Orange distilled to its nasty essence and stretched out to feature-length. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth star as a vacationing couple who find themselves terrorized by a pair of uninvited guests (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) — two unflappably polite boy-next-door types who apologize profusely as they inflict their torments. The movie's intruders are blank slates giving nothing away, and then, as if we weren't already thoroughly bewildered and brutalized, director Michael Haneke completely pulls the rug out from underneath us by pumping up the meta and having his characters periodically break the fourth wall. The funniest game of all here is that by getting us to wonder why these sickos are doing these terrible things to these nice people, the movie inevitably prods us into questioning our complicity in what we're watching. In the 10 years since the original Funny Games was made, the rise of torture-porn franchises like Saw and Hostel have made the question timelier than ever. Funny Games may not be the ultimate horror show, but it might just be the final word on our need to keep making and watching increasingly horrific movies. Also stars Devon Gearhart. 4 stars

HORTON HEARS A WHO! (G) Dr. Seuss is in the house again, with a feature-length adaptation of his tale about a very large elephant who gets in trouble when he pledges himself to protect a very tiny group of fellow creatures. Don't look between the lines for political allegories, and you might have a swell time. Featuring the voices of Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Will Arnett, Carol Burnett, Isla Fisher, Amy Poehler, Jaime Pressly and Seth Rogen. (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

JUNO (PG-13) Director Jason Reitman's second film is loopy in a more conventional way than his first, Thank You For Smoking, but it's equally clever and, even more crucially, just as much fun. The deliciously baroque plot twists of Smoking are almost entirely absent in Juno, but Reitman makes good use of this new-found, off-kilter minimalism, focusing his often static camera on characters whose endearing qualities rarely get in the way of their monumental oddness. Ellen Page is extremely appealing as the title character, a self-described "freaky girl" who gets pregnant, opts not to abort, and agrees to hand the infant over to a barren couple advertising in the local penny-saver flyer. Things start out impossibly light and bouncy, with everyone speaking in bursts of such glibly stylized strangeness (think Rory Gilmore meets Kevin Smith) that it's sometimes hard to take the characters seriously — but Juno eventually allows just enough cold reality to seep in to get our attention. Still, even when our heroine's water breaks and she's rushed to the delivery room, Juno has time for one last kitsch clarion cry, hollering "Thunderbirds are go!" It's that kind of a movie. Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody seem to be having a ball referencing all the hippest bands and grooviest horror movie directors, and they fill their movie with music by Cat Power, Belle and Sebastian, and whimsical pop tunes a la The Velvet Underground's "I'm Sticking With You," which are so simple and achingly sincere they seem to cross the line into pomo irony. Just like the movie. Also stars Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons. 3.5 stars

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