Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area

BOOGEYMAN (PG-13) A young man (Barry Watson) returns home to face the shadowy creature who tormented him as a child. The movie's million-dollar question - is the thingie real or a figment of the imagination? - sounds like an instant retread of any number of other recent horror flicks, but we'll reserve judgment until we see how this one plays out. Also stars Skye McCole Bartusiak and Lucy Lawless. Opens Feb. 4 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE (PG-13) Basically a concert film with a little bit extra, Lightning in a Bottle records one night in February of 2003, when a slew of the best living blues musicians gathered at New York City's Radio City Music Hall to do what they do best (hint: they didn't debate quantum physics). The film is nothing less than a celebration of the blues, with typically fine performances from aging icons representing the music's crème de la crème: B.B. King, Solomon Burke, Mavis Staples, Ruth Brown, Buddy Guy and more. Director Antoine Fuqua inserts some backstage banter and snippets of interviews here and there, and we also get to see a bit of archival footage projected up on the big screen at Radio City (a less than intimate spot for a concert like this), but the live event is the focus here, as it should be. It's only when contemporary upstarts like Public Enemy's Chuck D and a particularly moronic David Johansen join the fray (in an apparent effort to show the timelessness of this great American music) that things get fuzzy and the movie loses its way. Also stars Dr. John, Odetta and Bonnie Raitt. Opens Feb. 4 at Sunrise Cinemas. 1/2

THE SEA INSIDE (PG-13 A much-acclaimed performance by Javier Bardem is the centerpiece of this film by Chilean-born Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar (The Others). He plays a man paralyzed in a diving accident as a teenager who, after 26 years confined to his bed, insists on his right to die. Opens Feb. 4 at Tampa theater. (Not reviewed)

THE WEDDING DATE (PG-13) A romantic comedy that's really neither, starring Debra Messing as a single gal who hires a male escort to be her pretend boyfriend at her younger sister's wedding. This is one of those My Big Fat Best Friend's Wedding movies that seems to think anytime you give an audience a celebration attended by lots of neurotic friends and family, instant hilarity will ensue, but that's anything but the case here. Awful does not necessarily mean adorable (or interesting), and The Wedding Date features some of the more brutally miscalculated so-icky-they're-supposed-to-be-endearing relatives since Spanglish, including a couple of oblivious airheads who instantaneously gain 60 IQ points and break character just in time for their big, character-defining speeches, and then go right back to being drooling idiots again. Messing and her fake boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney) fall for each other, of course, but the movie is so flabby and unconvincing that we wouldn't even have been aware of the falling sparks if the horribly manipulative soundtrack hadn't already announced it as a fait accompli. Also stars Holland Taylor. Opens Feb. 4 at local theaters. 1/2

Selections listed below will be screened in the Regal Hollywood 20, Sarasota. For a full schedule, see www.sarasotafilmfestival.com or call 877-733-8491.

THE BREAK-UP ARTIST Vincent Rubino and Pamela Thur's 82-minute film, a Southeastern premiere, finds its hero Jim Verdi (Joseph Lyle Taylor) in the throes of a failed relationship. And while a break-up is eminent, Verdi avoids the task. A death of a close family member tosses Verdi into a search for meaning, and as relationships around him dissolve bitterly, he seeks out true love from a longtime female friend. 3 p.m. Feb. 3; 5:15 p.m., Feb. 5. -Allyson Gonzalez

MIRRORMASK(NR) The narrative is a bit muddled in spots, but it's rare to see an entire world evoked with as much sheer imagination as what's laid out before our eyes in MirrorMask. Most of the movie seems to unfold as the fever dream of a young girl (Stephanie Leonidaas) who blames herself for her mother's illness and lets that guilt seep into a fantasy taking place in a strange, phantasmagorical world populated by extremely curious, masked inhabitants. There's more than a little Lewis Carroll at play in this dark, visually spectacular offering, but fans of the British cult classic Paperhouse will find some parallels to that film as well. Jim Henson's workshop helped supply the wonderful special effects. 5:45 p.m. Jan. 31,; 3 p.m. Feb. 14. 1/2

OLD BOY (NR) South Korea is one of the hotbeds of world cinema right now, and Chan-wook Park is right at the top of that country's A-List of directors. Old Boy takes all of the psychological edginess, visceral punch and hallucinatory imagery of the director's previous near-masterpiece, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, distills it into something even more unsettling, and, incredibly, cranks up the intensity level another half-notch. The film is an action movie for existentialists, about a man whisked off the street and imprisoned for 15 years, for no apparent reason, and then released one day, also without any explanation, and charged with finding out what it all means. The most obvious cinematic reference points here are Lynch and Cronenberg, but the film is closer in spirit to Kafka and Camus, with a touch of Die Hard thrown in for good measure. Amazing, tough, deeply disturbing stuff. 8:30 p.m. Feb. 2; 9 p.m. Feb. 4. 1/2

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