Hellboy II: Big-budget bizarro

Guillermo del Toro's dazzling sequel

OPENING THIS WEEK

HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (PG-13) One the odder Hollywood blockbusters of this or any season, and I use the word “odder” in the most affectionate sense, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is that rarest of big-budget popcorn movies — a sequel that ups the ante of the original, taking chances so bizarre they might raise fears of putting the franchise at risk. The action sometimes even takes a backseat to the characters and to the movie’s pronounced quirk factor this time out, and though there’s a little too much rambling going on to generate a fully cohesive story, the sheer outpouring of visual imagination is almost too much of a good thing.
    Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) directs this sequel to his phantasmagorical 2004 blow-out, dazzling us with a full-to-bursting sense of the fantastic that’s gleefully tongue-in-cheek and even a little retro (think Men in Black meets the rubber-suited cantina creatures from Star Wars). At the same time, though, del Toro is never less than sincere as he conjures an eye-popping world of elves, ogres, kitty-gobbling trolls and tooth fairies for the movie’s hard-boiled, cigar-chomping demon (Ron Perlman) to contend with.
    Nobody makes the grotesque as appealing as del Toro, whose big message seems to be that we need our monsters. It’s a point eloquently demonstrated by the movie’s villain (Luke Goss), a supernatural being who resembles Edgar Winter and who rails against humankind for failing to understand the world would be a poorer place without its creatures of the night. Things tend to get a little silly from time to time — a lovesick Hellboy drinking beer in the shower is one thing, but seeing the big red guy get sloppy crooning "Can’t Smile Without You" is pushing it — but Hellboy 2 is good enough to withstand even Barry Manilow. Also stars Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, Anna Walton and John Hurt.
 Opens July 11 at local theaters. 3.5 stars

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (PG-13) State-of-the-art special effects will almost certainly be the real stars of this big-screen version of Jules Verne tale of a scientist discovering marvels, terrors and a fabulous lost city deep within the bowels of the earth. The movie will play at select theaters in a 3-D version, which is probably the ideal way to see this. Stars Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson and Anita Briem. Opens July 11 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

MEET DAVE (PG) Eddie Murphy once again takes on multiple roles, this time playing a gaggle of tiny extraterrestrials living inside an anthropomorphic spaceship that looks just like, well, Eddie Murphy, and that falls in the anthropomorphic spaceship equivalent of love with a smokin' hot earthling. Let the fart jokes commence. Also stars Elizabeth Banks, Austyn Lind Myers, Gabrielle Union and Scott Caan. Opens July 11 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

RECENT RELEASES

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. 1/2

THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI (PG-13) Roger Spottiswode's Children of Huang Shi is the blandest of epics based on the life of British journalist George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who entered China during the volatile late 1930s and found himself caught in a three-way crossfire between Chinese Nationalists, Communists and Japanese invaders. After a semi-promising start depicting Hogg shuttled from one wartime atrocity to the next, the movie quickly bogs down in an endless series of long-winded speeches about the awfulness of war and the obligation to save lives, culminating with our hero shuffling off to the hinterlands to oversee a ramshackle Chinese orphanage. The obligatory bonding takes place between the Anglo adult and the Chinese ragamuffins, most of whom have their lives happily turned around in short order, and the script grows even more exposition-heavy and cliché-ridden, alternately bombastic and sentimental and nearly always dramatically inert. The images are often striking, but the movie is badly written, sluggishly paced and unconvincingly performed, so that by the time we get to what should have been the film's dramatic centerpiece — a treacherous 500-mile trek over snowy mountains — it's hard to really care. Also stars Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh.  2 stars

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