THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (R) Mel Gibson's controversial account of Jesus' last 12 hours is a visceral and deliberately punishing experience that goes to great lengths fetishizing its copious pain, suffering, gore and instruments of torture. For all of its classy production values, in fact, The Passion often feels uncomfortably close to a basic, whips "n' chains exploitation flick, albeit one produced with God on its side. It's all quite beautiful, though, in a grim and grisly sort of way. There's also the little matter of the movie's thinly veiled anti-Semitism, whereby the Romans are the ones doing the heavy lifting but the Jews are seen as the ones pulling the strings in this cosmic tragedy. The real problem here, however, is that all that endless, bloody excess eventually becomes redundant, then numbing, and finally just boring. Stars Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Maia Morgenstern, Mattia Sbragia and Hristo Shopov.
THE PRINCE & ME (PG) A pampered Danish prince (Luke Mably) falls for a no-nonsense pre-med student (Julia Stiles) in this rom-com that derives equally from The Prince and the Pauper and Cinderella. Stiles shows more charm than usual, and her discomfort in the Danish court makes up a bit for the sluggish, prince-out-of-water scenes in America. The film almost challenges the storybook princess fantasy fetishized in recent teen films, but chickens out at the last minute. —Curt Holman
SCOOBY DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED (PG) This sequel to last year's big screen Doo isn't much more than you might expect, but it does beat the original on several counts. The CGI effects are more interesting and better integrated with the live action, beginning with the computer generated title pooch, who doesn't look nearly as grotesque this time around. Even more importantly, Scooby Doo 2 gets the crucial mix of scares to laughs down pat, with an array of monsters that, while spooky, rarely come off as too intense for the movie's core audience of 6- to 8-year-olds. Beyond that, it's business as usual, with Matthew Lillard giving us more of his spot-on Shaggy routine, Freddie Prinze Jr. looking right at home sporting Freddie's ascot, Sara Michelle Gellar busting out some prime Buffy moves, and a thoroughly un-mysterious mystery for the gang to solve. Also stars Seth Green and Peter Boyle.
SECRET WINDOW (PG-13) As with so many recent Johnny Depp projects, it often seems like Depp is pretty much the whole show in Secret Window. The plot itself is nothing special — a distraught writer (Depp) is menaced by an ominous redneck (John Turturro) who accuses him of plagiarism — but the movie is filled with pleasantly eccentric touches that you wouldn't expect with routine thriller material like this. Chief among those pleasant eccentricities is Depp himself, who spends much of the movie in a ratty bathrobe and perennially mussed, fright-wig hair, ranting and mumbling to himself. Likewise, there's a lushly mysterious musical score by Philip Glass that makes us feel that there's more going on here than there really is. Unfortunately with Secret Window, what you see is what you get. The film is based on a very minor short story by Stephen King. Also stars Maria Bello and Timothy Hutton.
SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE (PG-13) Diane Keaton delivers a memorable performance, both touching and very funny, as a middle-age woman who finds herself all shook up in love for the first time in ages. Jack Nicholson is also in fine form as the aging playboy playing romantic head games with our heroine, and Frances McDormand and Amanda Peet work wonders with small roles as Keaton's sister and daughter, respectively. Other than some very engaging performances, however, there's not all that much going on in Something's Gotta Give, a romantic comedy that breezes along on a handful of cute jokes and the sort of star power that transcends a so-so script. Also stars Keanu Reeves.