JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION (PG-13) This is an African-American National Lampoon's Vacation, which raises the question: Why would Cedric the Entertainer want to be Chevy Chase when he has the potential to be much funnier, without the premature burnout? The incidents on the road prove too stupid for words, and while Cedric has some good one-liners, you can hear most of them in the trailer. —Steve Warren
THE LADYKILLERS (PG-13) The latest oddball odyssey from those wacky Coen Brothers remakes the beloved British comedy about a gang of crooks and con men using the home of an elderly widow as a base from which to pull off a heist. The movie's edges have been dutifully smoothed out and its characters, while colorful and eccentric, are never memorably odd in the best Coen tradition. Despite the occasional signature touch — a cat with a human finger in its mouth, a running gag involving Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a man giving mouth-to-mouth to a bulldog — the movie feels like another exploration of the mainstream vein recently opened up, to similarly mixed results, in Intolerable Cruelty. Most frustrating of all is the film's finale, a reduction of the original's elaborate last act to what feels like a rushed, 10-minute afterthought. Stars Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans and J.K. Simmons.
LATTER DAYS (NR) Can a hunky L.A. party boy and a sexually conflicted Mormon missionary find true love and happiness together? You might just discover an answer to that question in this by-the-numbers gay romantic comedy, but you won't find much else. A virtual textbook on formulaic filmmaking, Latter Days is filled with stereotypical characters, contrived coincidences and insipid romantic cliches. The filmmakers would have been well served to remember that a cliche doesn't cease being a cliche merely because of the presence of a gay character or two. Stars Wes Ramsey, Steve Sandvoss and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
MONSIEUR IBRAHIM (R) A sweet, breezy, coming-of-age film with just a dash of exotic flavoring, this French import stars Omar Sharif as a kindly Arab grocer who befriends a lonely Jewish boy (Pierre Boulanger) and plies him with nuggets of quasi-mystical wisdom. It's hard to dislike much about the film, but there isn't much that sticks with you either, outside of the ultra-cool locale of '60s Paris and the undying star power of the 72-year-old Sharif. The film becomes less interesting as its focus gradually shifts from the story of the young boy, eventually transforming into an all-too-conventional buddy flick and then a road movie. Also stars Gilbert Melki. Opens April 16 at Burns Court, Sarasota. 1/2
MYSTIC RIVER (R) Clint Eastwood's latest directorial offering dives into somewhat unfamiliar waters, with mostly successful results. Mystic River is an epic tragedy about how two devastating events, a quarter-century apart, change a handful of lives in a Boston working class neighborhood. Eastwood's film is uncharacteristically filled with charged symbols and nakedly emotional Big Speeches, but the top-notch ensemble cast is good enough to pull it off and leave us wanting more. Tim Robbins is particularly effective as the damaged man-child who never quite recovered from being molested as a child, and Sean Penn burns up the screen as a man with a dead daughter and one too many secrets. Also stars Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Gay Harden. 1/2
NASCAR 3-D: THE IMAX EXPERIENCE (PG) There are moments of thunderous sound and fury here (primarily the beginning and end), but the bulk of Nascar 3-D is a surprisingly sober, well-rounded and informative look at the history, science and even (gasp) philosophy behind high-speed racing. Likewise, the 3-D effects are less about in-your-face money shots and more, well, subtle and well-integrated throughout, pushing this documentary's all-important visuals to an even more pleasing level of vividness than many similar 3-D projects. It all culminates in a super-intense race-day sequence that is all about speed and volume, and nothing but. Narrated by Keifer Sutherland. 1/2
NEVER DIE ALONE (R) Rapper DMX stars as a badass big city criminal who returns to his hometown to settle scores. David Arquette plays the young journalist hanging on his every word. (Not Reviewed)
OSAMA (NR) The Osama of the title is not the one you might imagine, but the main character in a Yentl reconfigured as a sort of ethnographic science fiction. Osama takes place in the war-ravaged Afghanistan of the Taliban, where a little girl gets her hair cut short and disguises herself as a boy in order to be able to work and support her starving family. The film paints a blistering, documentary-like portrait of a terrified and terrifying society where any signs of independent thought are routed out and destroyed and women are rendered blind and mute. Our little hero, the girl who becomes a boy in order to be perceived as human, navigates through this culture, showing us a dark place devoid of humor and consumed with little other than the urge to memorize and to hate. The film's moments of warmth are rare but essential. What we see is so extreme it calls to mind the book-burning mentality of Fahrenheit 451 and, in fact, barely feels possible — the absurd ultimate in male stupidity and cruelty, Islamic fundamentalism at its most pure and worst. Stars Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati and Zubaida Sahar. Opens April 16 at Madstone Theaters.