ANCHORMAN (PG-13) While it's not as smoothly, consistently entertaining as Elf, Will Ferrell's breakout movie, Anchorman specializes in an aggressively odd brand of humor that showcases the edgier side of Ferrell's comedic talents and takes more risks. The results are mixed: there's a noticeable amount of dead air and jokes that go nowhere, for sure — but the highs, when they come, are substantially higher, too. The movie is set in a San Diego TV newsroom in the 1970s, where popular but clueless anchor Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) becomes drawn into the war of the sexes when pretty but uncommonly capable Christina Applegate enters the picture. There's a solid running commentary bubbling under the surface about what happened when feminism first began creeping into the American workplace, but the movie is really anything but serious. Most of Anchorman plays out like a series of Ferrell's stranger skits from his Saturday Night Live years, with the scattershot non sequiturs eventually giving way to a crescendo of fabulously over-the-top (and gratuitous) parodies of fight scenes. Lots of amusing cameos here too, including Vince Vaughan, Tim Robbins and Jack Black, who is given the honor of lethally punting a pooch. Also stars Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Fred Willard. Opens July 9 at local theaters. 1/2
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS This movie creates a whole new meaning for the word cheesy, but surprisingly enough, it works more often than it doesn't. Lau Xing (Jackie Chan) robs the Bank of England to retrieve a sacred jade Buddha that was stolen from his village. In the course of his getaway, he encounters an inventor named Phineas Fogg (Steve Coogan) who has accepted a challenge from England's Royal Academy of Science to travel around the globe in 80 days — as it's the turn of the century, that's no small challenge. Xing joins him and the two travel by boat, carriage, camel, train, balloon and the first-ever "flying man" contraption, before returning to the top of the Academy's stairs. Days moves at a pace that keeps seat squirming to a minimum, and any stops made along the way are satisfyingly picturesque. Typical of Chan, the dialogue is unnaturally blunt and the character development minimal, but the comedic timing and fight scenes more than compensate. Yes it's fluff ... satisfyingly cute fluff. Guest appearances by Owen and Luke Wilson, Arnold Schwarzenegger (pre-governor), and Rob Schneider. 1/2
THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK (PG-13) A sequel of sorts to Pitch Black, in which Vin Diesel's self-serving, intergalactic bad-ass Riddick returns to find himself pitted against the Negromongers, a group of death-worshiping religious warriors going from planet to planet demanding "Convert or Die." Director David Twohy (The Arrival) might be offering up some thinly veiled allusion to the ongoing Islamist problem (or maybe he's just riffing on the Borg), but the movie has New Testament connections too, with Diesel's character eventually being set up as some sort of reluctant Messianic figure. All of this is just window dressing, however, for the movie's incessant action scenes, fights, chases and explosions, not to mention the non-stop digital effects, and sets and costumes directly lifted from David Lynch's Dune. One gets the impression that much of the movie's connective tissue, its actual story, now lies on the cutting-room floor, leaving us with a slightly better-than-average popcorn movie stripped down for the summer. It's a no-brainer that the real show will be the longer director's cut that's sure to eventually emerge on DVD, so consider this an appetizer (at best). Also stars Colm Feore, Judi Dench, Thandie Newton and Alexa Davalos.
THE CLEARING (PG-13) A more grownup role for Robert Redford (complete with semi-grownup haircut and an on-screen wife who's roughly his own age), but nothing much else to write home about. Redford plays a successful businessman who's kidnapped by a disgruntled former employee (Willem Dafoe), while Redford's wife and family sit at home trying to keep it together. While not as flashy as something like Memento, the film eventually reveals that its dual his-and-her storylines aren't actually taking place at the same time, a device that provides a few interesting moments but isn't really crucial to what's happening in The Clearing. Redford and Dafoe's characters do a lot of talking out in the woods, and the movie is ultimately more interested in functioning as an engaging character study than in offering up the expected payload of suspense or mystery. The film is carefully crafted and atmospheric, with strong performances from Redford and Helen Mirren, but it's not quite the human drama it wants to be, nor does it really add anything new to the thriller genre. Also stars Matt Craven and Melissa Sagemiller. Opens July 9 at local theaters.