Hellboy II: Big-budget bizarro

Guillermo del Toro's dazzling sequel

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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

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

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