Drillbit, Langella and more

What's in movie theaters this week

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THE KITE RUNNER (PG-13) The breathlessly anticipated big screen version of The Kite Runner turns out to be as handsome as it is curiously bloodless — unless, of course, you're counting the picturesque spattering of crimson dotting the ground after a noble character's off-screen rape. Director Marc Foster's adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's much-admired book spans several decades and no less than two far-flung worlds while laying out a scrupulously symmetrical tale of friendship, loss and jumbo-sized redemption. The story begins in Afghanistan in the late '70s, where privileged 12-year-old Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and household servant Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) are the best of friends despite obvious differences in class and ethnicity. The young actors are extremely engaging, but Foster doesn't dig too deep beneath the surface of Hosseini's novel, often reducing political and cultural nuances to glossy ethnic exotica, and eschewing shades of grey for big, black and white emotions. Too many huge upheavals are crammed into too tight a space, with Afghanistan summarily gobbled up by the Soviets and then by the Taliban, followed by a barrage of coming-to-America soap-operatics culminating in an Act of Personal Courage redeeming the hero from the Very Bad Thing that occurred earlier in the film. Also stars Kalid Abdalla, Homayon Ershadi, Shaun Toub and Nabi Tanha. 3 stars

MAD MONEY (PG-13) A feeble yuk-fest for The Great Depression II, Mad Money stars Diane Keaton as an over-educated, under-skilled yuppie who takes up crime when her husband is the victim of downsizing. Callie Khouri (screenwriter of Thelma and Louise) is the director here, so there's plenty of warmed-over girl power going on, as Keaton hooks up with an African-American single mom (Queen Latifah) and a cute space-cadet (Katie Holmes) to stick it to the man, take the money and run. The movie tests our credulity at every step, with friendships forged in perfunctory fashion between its paper-thin characters, gaping plot holes you could do laps in and a heist that's straight out of a Scooby Doo cartoon. By the movie's midpoint, the women are all bumpin' hinies in the bedroom to golden oldies, and the shrinking middle class is just a shot away. The brand of humor here is supposed to get funnier in direct proportion to the bleakness of the times, but even with the New Dark Ages breathing down on our necks, Mad Money is just a drag. Also stars Ted Danson and Stephen Root. 2.5 stars

MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (PG-13) Bumbling out-of-work governess Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) worms her way into a gig as a social secretary for a fast-living starlet (Amy Adams) and finds herself lighting up lives, including her own, in the fizzy but thoroughly disposable Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. The movie takes place in London on the eve of World War II, which is supposed to add an undercurrent of dramatic tension to the lighter-than-air romantic dalliances here, but mostly serves as an excuse to puff up the fluff with swell-looking period costumes and English accents. There's some fun to be had in watching Adams flit about as the promiscuous, aspiring actress (channeling Marilyn Monroe with her breathy, little-girl voice), but the movie too often feels both predictable and hopelessly stagebound as it goes about the business of showing us McDormand's character magically smoothing over the bumps in the love lives of everyone she encounters. It's obvious from the start who's going to wind up with whom, and by the time the prim and proper Miss Pettigrew loses her inhibitions and hooks up with her own Prince Charming, the movie has all but worn out its welcome. Also stars Lee Pace, Ciaran Hinds, Shirley Henderson and Mark Strong. 2.5 stars

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (R) Much has been made of No Country for Old Men being some sort of contemporary Western, but when the filmmakers are Joel and Ethan Coen, you can bet the "Western" in question is going to scream for quotation marks. An expertly crafted nail-biter steeped in the beloved noir the filmmakers have repeatedly tinkered with, the Coen Brothers' new film takes place in a dusty Texas wasteland as redolent with alienation as a vintage Antonioni landscape. Enter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a certified piece of trailer trash who happens upon a drug deal gone south and winds up fleeing the scene of the crime with a briefcase filled with cash. This inevitably puts some very bad people on Llewelyn's trail — chief among them a soulless super-psycho named Anton Chigurh (an exquisitely chilling Javier Bardem) — and right behind is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a small-town lawman resigned to the nasty ways of the world. No Country is a beautifully modulated film, folding intense bursts of periodic violence into a carefully orchestrated atmosphere of mounting tension that is both eerily poetic and a bit melancholy. In its elegantly world-weary way, this is as iconic a chase film as The Night of the Hunter, as deeply mysterious as the Coens' masterpiece, Barton Fink, and not without perverse grace notes all its own. Also stars Kelly Macdonald, Tess Harper and Woody Harrelson. 4.5 stars

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