ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (R) The new movie from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) is a wistful tale about the end of a love affair. It's also a wicked black comedy/sci-fi yarn that deconstructs its own narrative through an almost maddeningly complex structure that inevitably mirrors the workings of the human mind itself. Two lovers, Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslett), end their relationship and, through some strange (but, in accordance with the movie's own wacko logic, totally mundane) procedure, have each other wiped from their memories. It's here that the bulk of Eternal Sunshine unfolds, within Joel's brain during the erasing process, as his memories play out, mutating into ever more wildly exaggerated forms before finally folding in on themselves, then withering and disappearing. Director Michel Gondry pulls out all the stops depicting what goes on inside Joel's brain, assaulting the viewer with a relentless barrage of audacious effects, ultra-rapid edits and all other manner of edgy, convoluted flourishes. Not all of it works, of course, but there are moments of considerable beauty and insight, not to mention a couple of awfully funny bits. Also stars Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson and Elijah Wood. 1/2
HELLBOY (PG-13) The fine lines between hero and anti-hero are bound to be blurrier than ever in this big screen version of the Dark Horse action-fantasy comic about demons and other supernaturally powered types enlisted to combat threats to humanity. The star is Ron Perlman, at home again under a ton of bizarre makeup, and the director is the unusually reliable Guillermo Del Toro (Blade II, Cronos, The Devil's Backbone). The previews look promising, but the studio opted not to screen the movie in time for our full review. That might be a bad sign, but we're keeping our fingers crossed. Also stars Selma Blair. Opens April 2 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)
HIDALGO (PG-13) Viggo Mortensen is Frank Hopkins, a moral man in the morality challenged America of the 19th century (not unlike Cruise's Last Samurai). Hopkins also loves his horse, Hidalgo, a scrappy mixed breed that all too clearly represents the melting pot ideal of all that's best in America. And so when pesky foreigners start bad-mouthing the horse and challenge its master to participate in a grueling 3,000-mile race across the Arabian desert, Hopkins jumps at the chance. The big race takes up most of Hidalgo's running time, and there's much talk about how impossibly difficult and awful it all is, but we almost never get a sense of that being true. There's a big digital effect of a sandstorm midway through the movie, and Arab bandits skulk about calling Hopkins an infidel, but most of the movie has all the suspense and dramatic gravity of an overly sanitized Disney cartoon. Also stars Omar Sharif, Zuleikha Robinson and Louise Lombard. 1/2
HOME ON THE RANGE (PG) If you've been waiting your whole life for a movie where Roseanne Barr tells us right up front, "I'm a cow" — well, the wait is over. The thing about the Disney animated feature Home on the Range is that Barr really is a cow — or at least she's lending her voice to one — although she's in good company, with Dame Judi Dench supplying another bovine voice. Together with cow No. 3 (Jennifer Tilly as a psycho-babbling new-agey heifer) and an assortment of other plucky barnyard animals, the trio become bovine bounty hunters in order to collect the reward money needed to save their farm. There's some nice retro hand-drawn animation here (just to prove it's not quite dead yet), and some amusing gags involving animals who seem to think they're in spaghetti westerns or kung-fu movies. Other than that, Home on the Range is a pleasant enough diversion but not really memorable in the manner of so many of Disney's very best films. Also features the voices of Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Randy Quaid. Opens April 2 at local theaters.
JERSEY GIRL (PG-13) Lord knows what was going on in Kevin Smith's mind to cause him to make this stinker, but the movie's sheer awfulness almost renders the question moot. Ben Affleck stars as a single dad living at home with his widower dad (George Carlin) and raising an impossibly cute 7-year-old daughter (Raquel Castro). Whether you love or hate Smith's previous films, it's impossible not to see Jersey Girl as the exact opposite of everything he's ever done. Smith's new movie is as sentimental, as by-the-numbers and, frankly, as brain-dead as any conventional romantic comedy you've ever seen, with most the big drama involving Affleck's character getting together with a cute video store clerk (Liv Tyler) or trying to get his former job back. The morbidly curious may feel compelled to see the film just to catch a glimpse of Affleck's ex, J Lo, but you'll have to look sharp: she dies in childbirth, less than 15 minutes into the movie. Also stars Stephen Root.