THE DA VINCI CODE (R) Here's a no-brainer recipe for box office gold: Take one of the most popular actors in the world, add one of our most consistently crowd-pleasing directors, sprinkle liberally with controversy, bake and serve. Tom Hanks and Ron Howard team up for the hugely hyped big screen adaptation of Dan Brown's bestselling page-turner about ancient conspiracies and theological dirty business. Also stars Audrey Tautou. Opens May 19 at local theaters. (The critcs' screening for this film occurred after the Planet deadline.)

SEE NO EVIL (R) What would summer be without at least one horror flick featuring attractive but terminally stupid teenagers having sex and then being slashed to bits? This one's for you, gore-hounds, and bon appetit. Opens May 19 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)


AKEELAH AND THE BEE (PG) Moviegoers who just couldn't get enough of Spellbound — you know who you are — might be more than a little curious about this tale of an 11-year-old girl who struggles against the odds and unites her community when she enters a national spelling bee. The studio's publicity flacks are throwing around the word "inspirational" a lot for this one, so be warned. Stars Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Keke Palmer and Curtis Armstrong. (Not Reviewed)

ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (R) Terry Zwigoff's second project with graphic novelist Daniel Clowes doesn't have quite the effortless swing of their first collaboration, Ghost World, nor the epic, car-crash poetry of Crumb, but there's still considerable, loopy fun to be had here. If you consider Zwigoff's movies so far as hit singles (a process culminating with Bad Santa), then you might think of Art School Confidential as a noble B-side. Our hapless hero here is Jerome (Max Minghella), a sweet but insecure college sophomore who's just trying to get laid or find true love (whichever comes first), all while navigating the bizarre corridors of art school and doing whatever it takes to become the greatest artist of the century. Zwigoff does a wonderful job spoofing the whole art school experience, and the movie's first half is a mostly hilarious collection of observations and vignettes, but the film eventually loses its focus. Things tip over the edge in ways both unexpected and unpleasant during the movie's last act, as Art School Confidential's satire transforms into a less than convincing thriller-cum-love story. It's all still well worth a look, but we feel Zwigoff straining at some sort of significance toward the end that blows the movie's cool. Also stars John Malkovich, Sophia Myles, Jim Broadbent and Matt Keeslar. 3.5 stars

BENCHWARMERS (PG-13) You know you're in trouble when Rob Schneider turns out to be the straight man in the movie you're watching. And that's only the beginning of the problems with Benchwarmers. Adam Sandler was the "brains" behind this project, donning a producer's cap and convincing several of his old SNL buddies to crawl out from under their respective rocks and come together for a predictable fusion of Revenge of the Nerds, Bad News Bears and every movie made over the past few decades featuring one or more former SNL players. The story involves geeky grown-ups Schneider, David Spade (sporting a really dumb Beatles do) and Jon Heder (basically reprising his Napoleon Dynamite shtick) clobbering teams of small children in baseball (although the kids are supposedly bullies, so there's a message here, sorta). Jon Lovitz gets in a few funny bits as the team's billionaire patron, but the bulk of the movie amounts to a string of fart jokes, gay jokes, booger-eating and product placements for Pizza Hut. The movie is mainly notable for a raunch factor that renders its PG-13 rating very nearly meaningless and what well may be the worst closing credit outtakes ever. Also stars Craig Kilborn, Tim Meadows (looking even more superfluous than he did on SNL) and Molly Sims. 2 stars

EIGHT BELOW (PG-13) Paul Walker is the nominal star here, but the bulk of the movie is devoted, happily so, to the trials and tribulations of a sled team of dogs stranded and struggling to survive in the Antarctic winter. Don't expect March of the Penguins, but you will find an unexpectedly satisfying sense of authenticity to this project, with moments that are both exciting and (yes, you knew this was coming) inspirational grounded in events that feel not so far removed from real life. There are a few false notes (including an awful CGI misfire) but the story has a nice, Jack London-esque feel, and the film's cinematography is almost as gorgeous as its husky and malamute heroes. Also stars Bruce Greenwood. 3 stars

FAILURE TO LAUNCH (PG-13) Surprisingly quirky, this flick rides the wave of your basic romantic comedy, but with exciting and unexpected twists. While Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker play familiar roles — Matthew as the hot, laid-back leading man content with living at home forever, Sarah as the sexy leading lady hired on by his folks to get him out — the supporting actors, namely Zooey Deschanel, Terry Bradshaw and Kathy Bates, are luminous. There are a few Ben Stiller-esque moments of physical comedy and one too many shots of middle-aged male ass, but overall, it's a fun movie. 3 starsErin Rashbaum

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