Going to the multiplex? Read our mini-reviews

New and recent releases

OPENING THIS WEEK

BUNNY CHOW (NR) Read Lance Goldenberg's review.

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (PG) Read Lance Goldenberg's review.

THEN SHE FOUND ME (R) Read Lance Goldenberg's review.

RECENT RELEASES

88 MINUTES (R) Al Pacino sports a goatee and a snappy action-hero name ("Jack Gramm") as an FBI forensic psychologist who finds himself matching wits with a brilliant (aren't they all?) serial killer. Be warned: The movie has already had its share of advance screenings, and the buzz is almost overwhelmingly bad. Also stars Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman and William Forsythe. (Not Reviewed)

10,000 B.C. (PG-13) 10,000 B.C. is the latest movie from Roland Emmerich, the man responsible for bombast-fests such as Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow, which should give you a fairly good idea of what to expect. Steven Strait and Camilla Belle play early humans running around in animal furs chasing and being chased by saber tooth tigers, woolly mammoths and other big, scary CGI creatures. There are some appealingly bizarre flourishes toward the end involving possible extraterrestrial influences on a quasi-Mayan/Egyptian civilization, but the movie is mainly just dull, silly (although not enough to be truly amusing) and a bit pretentious. Inexplicably, our grimy, dreadlocked heroes speak a stilted, prosaic English from a time when contractions apparently had not yet been invented. Also stars Cliff Curtis, Joel Fry, Tim Barlow and Nathanael Baring. 2 stars

21 (PG-13) A blander Ocean's 11 meets Good Will Hunting, 21 stars Jim Sturgess as a brilliant but dirt-poor MIT student who's reluctantly recruited by a shady professor (Kevin Spacey) to partake in a card-counting scheme to take Vegas for millions. 21 is an odd and not particularly satisfying kettle of fish, loosely based on a true story but only giving off the vaguest whiffs of anything resembling authenticity. Visually, the movie is a bit drab and dark, a look probably designed to make us think something serious is going on, but that's curiously at odds with a basically jaunty sensibility that seems to aim for (but never quite achieves) the groovy swagger of the Ocean's movies. The film doesn't ever manage to communicate the kids' system very coherently, nor with much energy, and 21 consequently winds up feeling a little like a heist movie without a heist. Spacey, who also produced, is fun to watch as yet another one of those deliciously insidious characters he plays so well, but he's not enough to save the movie. Sturgess' character rises, falls and then does a bit more rising by way of a half-hearted coda, but by that time 21 is simply running on fumes. Also stars Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, Aaron Yoo, Jacob Pitts, Josh Gad and Sam Golzari. 2.5 stars

BABY MAMA (PG-13) Tina Fey and Amy Poehler offer up a watered-down version of their old SNL chemistry in this inoffensive comedy about a successful businesswoman (Fey) who hires a clueless skank (Poehler) to be the surrogate mother for her child. Nobody plays white trash as well as Poehler (it has something to do with that crazed, Nicholson-ian glint in her eye), but the script plays things too safe to let the comedian be nearly as unhinged as she needs to be. And between Poehler's antics and some juicy cameos by the likes of Steve Martin and Sigourney Weaver, the extremely funny Fey winds up reduced to a straight woman, or worse — a virtual supporting player in her own movie. There are a handful of nice moments (a Young Republican couple bonding with their Wiccan surrogate; "Endless Love" playing over an artificial insemination scene), but what pleasures there are here are nearly forgotten in a ridiculously inept final act full of forced revelations and rushed resolutions. The strong of heart can stick around for the closing credits, which feature some of the most worthless outtakes you'll ever see. Also stars Dax Shepard, Greg Kinnear, Romany Malco, Siobhan Fallon, Maura Tierney and Holland Taylor. 2.5 stars

THE BUCKET LIST (PG-13) Director Rob Reiner layers on the schmaltz, and Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman supply the star power in a meathead's delight that might just have well been called Grumpy Old Terminally Ill Men. Freeman's obligatory opening voice-over sets the tone, cramming in the words "love," "fate" and "folks" in under a minute, as dying roommates Carter (Freeman) and Edward (Nicholson) decide to spend their final months, and a sizeable chunk of the latter's fortune, doing all the things they never got around to doing. Endless footage ensues of the old coots skydiving, getting tattoos, driving fast cars, and popping up in a virtual travelogue encompassing the Taj Mahal, the pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China. Freeman's wise but slightly prickly character periodically pontificates on the nature of the world, eventually teaching the meaning of life to the considerably richer but far more cynical Nicholson, and it all feels like the spitting image of a made-for-TV movie. Also stars Sean Hayes and Beverly Todd. 2 stars

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN (PG) Over 1300 years have passed since the events of 2005's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but the more things change the more they stay the same. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian finds the titular kingdom once again under the thumb of evil despots and again in need of saving by our noble, still younger-than-springtime heroes (who are this time whisked away from grimy London to magical mystery land not via wardrobe but by the conduit of a Potter-esque train station). The sequel's look and feel is a bit darker than the original, with a vaguely Medieval ambience and an endless clanking of swords and solemn line readings that become tedious well before the movie's 144 minutes have elapsed. Character development is even more cursory than in the first film, with the main draw being a tapestry of unintentionally dopey-looking centaurs, minotaurs and talking animals (including a rodent rip-off of Shrek's swashbuckling kitty) that, mystical pretensions aside, belong in a Sid and Marty Krofft production. Sergio Castellitto makes an interesting villain and Peter Dinklage manages to maintain his dignity under a false nose and gnomish make-up, but there's not much else to brighten up the plodding here. When Tilda Swinton's evil witch briefly materializes towards the end — and then just as quickly vanishes — the movie's lack of life becomes all too apparent. Also stars Ben Barnes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes and Warwick Davis. 2.5 stars

DRILLBIT TAYLOR (PG-13) Everybody's favorite suicidal actor (Owen Wilson) returns as a bargain-basement bodyguard protecting grade-school kids from bullies. Also stars Leslie Mann, Josh Peck, David Dorfman and Troy Gentile. (Not Reviewed)

FLAWLESS (PG-13) It's hard to avoid calling Flawless a heist movie, but anyone who puts too much stock in that description is bound to come away disappointed. The movie has a couple of things going for it, but the big jewel theft at the center of the story is a wash-out. Demi Moore stars here as Laura Quinn, an ambitious female executive repeatedly passed over for promotion at the London Diamond Corporation, while a series of less-qualified males sail right past her. With her head bruised from banging against that glass ceiling, Laura finds herself listening closely when an aging night janitor (heist-movie icon Michael Caine) approaches her with a plan to rob the corporation blind. The planning and execution of the heist turn out to be fairly perfunctory and rather uneventful, with director Michael Radford (Il Postino) spending more time dwelling on the post-crime investigation and ramifications — neither of which proves terribly interesting. The film is pleasant enough to look at, however, with solid production values and meticulous attention paid to its 1960 time period — but most of the performances (beginning with Moore's) are modulated to the point of lifelessness, and the movie is way too methodical for its own good. It's all bookended by some laughable latex make-up on Demi at the outset, and some annoyingly simplistic moralizing at the end that leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth. Also stars Lambert Wilson and Joss Ackland. 2.5 stars

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (PG-13) From the vintage movie posters fetishized in its opening title sequence to its dream pairing of martial arts icons Jackie Chan and Jet Li, The Forbidden Kingdom is nothing if not a kung fu fanboy's wet dream. The hero here, Jason (Michael Angarano), is very much representative of the film's target demographic (at least domestically) — a doughy white boy who worships at the altar of Bruce Lee — and the movie immediately jettisons logic and demands our total suspension of disbelief as it transports this modern misfit back to ancient China, where he's charged with returning an all-powerful staff to its rightful owner. Aiding him in this quest are a pair of kung-fu whizzes — an enigmatic monk (Li) and a wine-guzzling immortal (Chan) — and standing in the way are the minions of a particularly nasty and supernaturally endowed war lord (Collin Chou). Jet Li and Jackie Chan both do what they do best here. Chan, looking vaguely ludicrous under a wig of long dreadlocks, mugs and mixes goofy humor with impressive physical agility, while Li is all Zen-like calm and precision, even when fighting, a cool-as-ice presence who's only marginally less effective when he opens his mouth to speak. Also stars Bingbing Li and Yifei Liu. 3.5 stars

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (R) The latest rom-com from the Judd Apatow Hit Factory, Forgetting Sarah Marshall stars Jason Segel (who also wrote the script) as a good-natured slacker on the rebound from an ex-girlfriend who keeps turning up to torment him. Also stars Kristen Bell, Mila Knis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader and Jonah Hill. (Not Reviewed)

HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY (R) Everybody's favorite White Castle-loving stoners are back, and Guantanmo's got 'em. Stars John Cho, Kal Penn, Neil Patrick Harris, Paula Garces and Rob Corddry. (Not Reviewed)

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)

IRON MAN (PG-13) Even if every aspiring blockbuster released over the next few months turns out to be a massive dud, the summer of '08 will be fondly remembered for Iron Man, a credit to popcorn movies everywhere. Marvel Comics' metal-suited superhero is shepherded to the big screen by director Jon Favreau (Elf, Made) and co-writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (Children of Men), a talented team that supplies a surprisingly smart story that moves briskly while beautifully balancing humor and darker moments. There's also a super cast including Gwyneth Paltrow as pitch-perfect girl Friday Pepper Potts and Jeff Bridges as a towering weapons magnate with Daddy Warbuck's cue-ball head — but this is ultimately Robert Downey Jr.'s show, who invests the role of Iron Man's alter ego, playboy wunderkind Tony Stark, with enough charm, pathos and irreverent edge to keep us glued to the screen. Although not as visually poetic as the superhero movies of Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) or as existentially engrossing as the darker-than-dark Batman Begins, Iron Man is the real deal — a first-rate comic-book flick as suitable for grown-ups as it is for kids. Also stars Terrence Howard, Shaun Toub and Hilary Swank. 3.5 stars

MARRIED LIFE (PG-13) A curious blend of comedy, noir-mystery, overheated melodrama and one or two other genres that don't normally cozy up to each other, Married Life does a remarkable job of making its disparate elements feel welcome in the same movie. Chris Cooper stars as Harry, a quiet and decent man who plans to kill his loving wife Kay (Patricia Clarkson) because he can't bear the thought of her suffering when he leaves her for a younger woman (Rachel McAdams). Meanwhile, Harry's best friend (Pierce Brosnan) has own designs on his pal's pretty new girlfriend, and that's only the beginning of the twists and monkey wrenches that begin accumulating in this oddly understated little period piece. The movie's delirious romanticism recalls a more stripped-down take on Douglas Sirk, but the main influence here may well be none other than Alfred Hitchcock. Married Life displays oodles of the sort of slyly elegant humor in which Hitch reveled, never resorting to flashiness as it takes its perverse pleasures in the intricacies of its story's crimes. Inertia and a wave of red herrings threaten to take over by the end, but Married Life is still well worth your time. 3.5 stars

REDBELT (R) David Mamet's commercialization continues apace in Redbelt, a movie the writer-director insists is "not a martial arts movie," even though it's firmly entrenched in the immensely popular world of mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. The movie's almost absurdly noble hero is Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a cash-strapped Jiu-jitsu teacher who ultimately finds himself forced to take part in a phony competition that flies in the face of everything he believes in. Fighter Mike's moment of decision in a fatally compromised world inevitably evokes such morally charged fight-classics as The Set-Up, Body and Soul or even On the Waterfront ­— but the boxing movie Redbelt most resembles, for better or worse, might just be Rocky. Mamet's writing is oddly lazy here, and the world he details atypically black-and-white in a way designed to get us rooting for its heroes and hissing at its villains. The movie's set-up is lean and elegant, but Redbelt gives way all too soon to a rather convoluted and, truth be told, borderline silly downward spiral in which too many overheated events pile up way too quickly and resolve themselves way too neatly. Mamet grounds the movie in a palpable sense of realism — non-actors from the martial arts world pepper the cast, and the messy, grappling style of the on-screen fights is more concerned with authenticity than looking good for the camera — but Redbelt never quite manages to convince. Pitched somewhere between art film and commercial entertainment, Redbelt doesn't really work as either, and there's something a little coy about how both ends get played here. Also stars Tim Allen, Alice Braga, Randy Couture, Ricky Jay, Joe Mantegna, Emily Mortimer, David Paymer, Rebecca Pidgeon and Rodrigo Santoro. 3 stars

ROGUE (R) Jaws in the Australian outback, with crocodiles. From the Aussie director responsible for Wolf Creek, for better or worse — although I couldn't really say which, as the studio didn't allow critics an advance peek. Stars Radha Mitchell, Michael Vartan, Sam Worthington, John Jarratt, Stephen Curry and Heather Mitchell. (Not Reviewed)

SHUTTER (R) The latest Hollywood remake of a popular Japanese horror film stars Rachael Taylor and Joshua Jackson as an American couple creeped out by a dead girl who keeps showing up in their photographs. Also stars Megumi Tanaka, David Denman and John Hensley. (Not Reviewed)

SMART PEOPLE (PG-13) Fresh from Sundance, dysfunctional family dramedy du jour Smart People boasts Juno It-girl Ellen Page and a sprinkling of semi-big names like Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church butting heads to see who's the biggest mess. Also stars Dennis Quaid, Ashton Homes and David Denman. (Not Reviewed)

SPEED RACER (PG) With little to it other than pure, frenetic energy and an ultra-groovy design sense, Speed Racer is pitched somewhere between a manga comic book and a neon Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas acid trip amplified to the point of no return. Moviegoers raised on a steady diet of videogames will likely revel in the head-spinningness of it all; other (possibly older) viewers may find themselves yearning to be submerged in the nearest sensory deprivation tank. Constantly in motion and way beyond candy-colored, The Wachowski Brothers' new movie seems positively irradiated, like one of those trendy nitrogen oxygen cocktails pumping through the digestive track of some phosphorescent deep-sea creature. Speed Racer spews out a stream of splashy visuals, careens forward at a breathless clip and provides a certain modicum of fun, but it's impossible to enter into this proudly two-dimensional story in any meaningful way. Even the action scenes — primarily a series of races in which fancy cars endlessly flip around tracks twisted as if inside a worm hole (probably situated inside The Matrix, or maybe Tron) — are so flat they fail to drum up much excitement. And with no real sense of danger and no gravity (literally), the Wachowskis' pop opus begins to look a little like Shark Boy and Lava Girl with delusions of grandeur. Stars Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon and Matthew Fox. 3 stars

THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES (PG) Freddie Highmore fans will get more than their money's worth watching the young actor doing double duty as twin brothers Simon (the passive, buttoned-up one), and Jared (the rumpled, feisty one), who discover an all-powerful coveted by all manner of fantastical creatures. Some of these creatures are warm and fuzzy constructs, including a porcine Muppet voiced by Seth Rogen and a honey-sucking imp called Thimbletack (Martin Short) who looks like Ben Stein transformed into a 3-inch-tall version of The Hulk. But outside the house lurk swarms of nastier entities in the form of sharp-tooth-and-nailed goblins, commanded by a big-cheese ogre called Mulgrath (Nick Nolte). The special effects and action sequences are nothing to sneeze at, but what really distinguishes The Spiderwick Chronicles is flesh and blood. Sharp-eyed viewers will notice the name John Sayles (Return of the Secaucus Seven, Secret of Roan Inish) listed as one of the movie's screenwriters, and the touchy family dynamics underpinning the film are distinctly his. Also stars Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn and Joan Plowright. 3.5 stars

THE VISITOR (PG-13) In some ways, writer-director Thomas McCarthy's The Visitor seems like an attempt to re-tell the story of his debut feature, The Station Agent, albeit with a more conventional narrative focus and a plainly drawn political message that plays a little too neatly into contemporary passions. As in The Station Agent, The Visitor features a painfully self-aware loner — sullen, repressed, college professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) — whose self-imposed isolation is finally eroded by the good counsel of an earthy ethnic more in tune with the vibrations of mother earth. Walter's redeemer is Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), an Arab percussionist found squatting in his apartment, and the two men are soon hanging out like best buds, sharing falafels and sitting in on the drum circles in Washington Square Park. McCarthy is too good a filmmaker to allow this to feel like a typical Hollywood odd-couple bonding scenario, but the movie does become a little too reductive, often eschewing the thornier dynamics and more nuanced approach of The Station Agent for an oversimplified infatuation with the Exotic Other. The politics are a bit black and white, and the movie isn't exactly shy about manipulating our emotions, but The Visitor is often very good when discreetly demonstrating its finer points, particularly how seemingly dissimilar peoples are sometimes more alike than not. The film's real success, however, can be attributed to Jenkins (the balding, pockmarked character actor best known as the ghost-dad from HBO's Six Feet Under), whose beautifully underplayed performance exudes an authenticity that transcends the various clichés with which the film flirts. Also stars Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira, Hiam Abbass, Richard Kind and Marian Seldes. 3 stars

[email protected] (PG) A singing group composed of senior citizens (average age: 80) belting out oddball renditions of rock 'n roll classics, the Massachusetts-based chorus [email protected] are the subjects of a new documentary called, appropriately enough, [email protected]. There's nothing fancy here — filmmaker Stephen Walker basically just alternates between documenting the chorus during an eight-week rehearsal period and showing us interview snippets with individual members — but the old coots are generally colorful enough to hold our interest, and it all culminates in a big, sold-out performance that provides the requisite emotional pay-off. Among the standouts are James Brown's "I Feel Good," The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" and a smoothly effective take on Bowie's "Golden Years." There's certainly some fun to be had here but not without a degree of the gawking-at-the-geezers factor attached, whether it's watching the seniors trying to relate to the atonal dissonance of a Sonic Youth "song" or observing a couple of octogenarians trying to figure out which side of a CD faces up when you put it in the player. Walker's intrusive, slightly condescending interview style doesn't help much, either, but all is forgiven when he finally shuts up and allows the old folks to speak for themselves. Stars Jim Arementi, Bob Cilman, Joe Benoit, Helen Boston, Louise Canady and Eileen Hall. 3 stars

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