Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area


GUESS WHO? (PG-13) An updating of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner's societal critique/comedy from the late '60s, retold from a contemporary African-American angle and with the genders reversed (e.g. wary black dad deals with nervous white boy marrying into the family). Oh, and that's Ashton Kutcher apparently stepping into Sidney Poitier's shoes as the interracial X-factor. So this is progress? Also stars Bernie Mac. Opens March 25 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

IMAGINARY HEROES (R) We've seen this story way too many times before - at least half of them at the Sundance Film Festival - and this particular version is one of the weakest yet. It's all here - the angst-ridden, dysfunctional suburban family, the weird-for-weirdness' sake characters, the gratuitously depressing story arc - and I didn't believe any of it for a second. Sigourney Weaver delivers a sporadically amusing performance as the matriarch of the film's battered and broken brood, but that's about the only reason to see this derivative and badly written Ordinary People-Lite. Imaginary Heroes is shallow stuff pretending to be deep, a movie that strives for profundity but that would do well to remember that cynical does not necessarily equal smart. Also stars Jeff Daniels and Emile Hirsch. Opens March 25 at local theaters. 1/2

MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS (PG-13) Workmanlike writing and direction are the best things you can say about this sequel in which agent Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock), now a big media celebrity doing PR for the FBI, gets pulled back into active duty when her pal, Miss USA, is kidnapped. There's a female buddy movie angle here too - with Regina King on hand as the antagonistic bodyguard with whom Bullock will inevitably bond - and a couple of forgettable sidekicks, including a clueless male agent and Bullock's mincing Queer Eye for the FBI Agent stylist. The film juggles its various elements, mixing a little bit of comedy with a little bit of action, but not much happens and it's all equally predictable and bland. A virtual cameo by William Shatner breaths momentary life into the proceedings, but the rest is numbingly dull and listless, right down to the obligatory outtakes over the closing credits. Also stars Treat Williams, Ernie Hudson, Enrique Murciano and Diedrich Bader. Opens March 25 at local theaters.


ALONE IN THE DARK (R) All that's missing is Shaggy and Scooby, in this based-on-a-video-game spookfest about a "detective of the paranormal" (Christian Slater) and his cute girlfriend (Tara Reid) investigating zombie shenanigans at - wait for it now - Shadow Island. Also stars Stephen Dorff. (Not Reviewed)

ARE WE THERE YET? (PG) Sweetly moronic comedy with Ice Cube as a dedicated player and confirmed kid-hater who falls for a pretty single mom (Nia Long) and winds up chaperoning her children on what is supposed to be a short trip from Portland to Vancouver. 1/2

THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON (R) Forget Jamie Foxx in Ray. The best actor in a film from last year was Sean Penn in this quietly intense portrait of a disillusioned man being pushed farther and farther to the fringes of society. Penn stars as Sam Bicke, a Travis Bickle-like loser unlucky in love and increasingly agitated by the injustices he sees all around him. The film's Taxi Driver connections are unavoidable as The Assassination of Richard Nixon goes about depicting the breakdown and ultimate, tragic transformation of Penn's character, but there's no denying the power of this particular vision. Also stars Naomi Watts and Don Cheadle. 1/2

THE AVIATOR (PG-13) Martin Scorsese's biopic about Howard Hughes (played here by Leonardo DiCaprio) begins in the 1920s with Hughes' flirtation with Hollywood, segueing into his affairs with the likes of Katherine Hepburn (an uncanny impersonation by Cate Blanchette) and Ava Gardner (a lightweight Kate Beckinsale), his outrageous financial triumphs and his steady surrender to his delusions. The Aviator covers a lot of other ground, too, and the question becomes how could one film do justice to this life. The answer, of course, is that it can't. But Scorsese has given us a big, muscular epic that, while not ranking with his very best work, is at least two films in one. 1/2

BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE (PG) Family fare based on the perennial best seller, featuring an adorable little girl bonding with a cute dog, and a cast that includes Hollywood icons Cicely Tyson and Eva Marie Saint and musician Dave Matthews. You could probably do worse. Also stars Jeff Daniels and AnnaSophia Robb. (Not Reviewed)

BAD EDUCATION (NR) Pedro Almodovar's intricately convoluted noir fantasy is dark, dense, maybe even dangerous stuff, but the film candy-coats its Big Ideas in the outrageous kink of the director's earliest movies as well as the eloquent symmetries of his more recent melodramas, presenting its story-within-a-story as a sort of greatest-hits package from this remarkable Spanish filmmaker. The movie spirals in multiple directions as we watch an autobiographical account of schooldays filled with forbidden passion mutate into a many-headed hydra as it passes through the memories of the film's various narrators. The tale that's spun becomes a sordid but surprisingly poignant web of intrigue, abuse and revenge, of sex, drugs, love and betrayal, and each time the story unfolds, another angle is presented, revealing new information that calls into question everything that's come before. Stars Gael Garcia Bernal, Fele Martinez, and Daniel Gimenez-Cacho.

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