Going to the multiplex? Read our mini-reviews

New and recent releases

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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

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