Capsule reviews of recently released movies

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PULSE (PG-13) Japanese horror movies are still hot, so here's the latest Hollywood remake. Kristen Bell and Ian Somerhalder suspect they may have stumbled upon a supernatural website in this remake of a 1991 film by Asian auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure). Also stars Christina Milian. Opens Aug. 11 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

ZOOM (PG) Tim Allen is an over-the-hill, super-powered teacher at a school for budding young superheroes. No, it's not Sky High and it's certainly not an X-Men movie. It only seems that way. Also stars Courteney Cox, Rip Torn and Chevy Chase. Opens Aug. 11 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

STEP-UP (PG-13) A poor, tough Baltimore boy (Channing Tatum) hooks up with a rich ballet dancer (Jenna Dewan) and sparks, as if you couldn't guess, fly. Also stars Rachel Griffiths and Heavy D. Opens Aug. 11 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)


THE ANT BULLY (PG) If Antz was Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead tweaked as kiddie animation, then The Ant Bully might just be Das Kapital for tykes. Both movies put us up close and personal with a colony of plucky, stylized ants, but the inevitable life lessons learned seem to point in different (albeit equally warm and fuzzy) directions. Antz celebrated heroic individualism; the somewhat blander The Ant Bully extols the virtues of collective teamwork, but both movies culminate in group hugs and are cut from pretty much the same generic cloth. The story here concerns Lucas (Zack Tyler Eisen), a 10-year-old boy who takes out his frustrations on an ant hill, gets shrunk down to ant-size by a bug wizard (Nicolas Cage), and then must live among the colony until he proves to its six-legged inhabitants that he's got the right stuff. Exciting adventures ensue involving ominous wasps and hungry bullfrogs, sprinkled periodically with touchy-feely moments, uplifting speeches, and culminating in a life-or-death showdown with an obsessed exterminator (Paul Giamatti). Featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti and Zack Tyler Eisen. 3 stars

BARNYARD (PG) Can't get enough of those computer-generated animated movies about cute, talking animals? Here's this week's — although the writer-director here is Steve Oedekerk (Ace Ventura, Kung Pow), which might indicate something's going on just a tad bit more subversive than the norm, if you squint hard enough. Featuring the voices of Courteney Cox, Kevin James and Danny Glover. (Not Reviewed)

CARS (G) As animated opuses go, this one doesn't quite scale the heights of the Toy Story movies, Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles or Nemo, but — and of course you knew this was coming — even the least of Pixar's efforts is better than 99 percent of the competition. The story here — of an ambitious, self-centered racecar who learns to slow down and smell the diesel — hits all the right emotional notes, but feels a bit scattered and long-winded in the telling, and there are lengthy stretches where not much of anything seems to be happening. The animation is up to Pixar's exalted standards and then some, but the film's style doesn't leap out at you like the company's other efforts, and the anthropomorphic autos, while readymade for marketing tie-ins, seem a touch or two less endearing and enduring than what we've come to expect from the guys who gave us Toy Story. Pound for pound, there's still some solid family entertainment to be had in Cars, but the movie's nearly two-hour running time may have you checking your watch more than once. Features the voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy and Cheech Marin. 3 stars

CLERKS II While it doesn't pack the fresh creative punch Kevin Smith's original low-budget classic, Clerks II is still a reasonably funny follow-up to a movie that was pretty darn good standing all on its own. Picking up more than a decade after Clerks, the movie opens with sardonic store clerk Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran) discovering that the Quick Stop where he works has met a most unfortunate end. All this is punctuated by the wall-leaning antics of Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith), who are still dealing drugs but loving Jesus and practicing sobriety in the midst of various entertaining dance sequences, the best being a Silence of the Lambs homage that you really have to see to appreciate. Also stars Rosario Dawson and Trever Fehrmann. 3.5 stars

CLICK (PG-13) Another cosmic comedy from the creators of Bruce Almighty, that movie where Jim Carrey acquired divine power. Some similar magic is worked here with Adam Sandler, who gets his hands on a remote control that can manipulate the fabric of reality itself. Why wade through those arguments with your significant other, goes the movie's big joke, when you can fast forward straight to the make-up sex? A few major life lessons are certain to be in store at one point or another. Also stars Kate Beckinsale and Christopher Walken. (Not Reviewed)

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (PG-13) Much like the HBO sit-coms for which its director, David Frankel, is best known (Entourage and Sex and the City), The Devil Wears Prada zips along at a bright, busy clip, is competently crafted, mildly amusing and ultimately disposable. It's surprisingly easy to overlook the lack of substance and originality, however, when you've got Meryl Streep, in one of her most fully realized and thoroughly entertaining performances, holding court at the center of your movie. Technically speaking, our main character is a schlumpy, aspiring journalist named Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) who lucks into a job as assistant to the notorious Miranda Priestly (Streep), the powerful and ultra-sophisticated editor of a fictitious, Vogue-like fashion magazine called Runway. Tastemaker, queen bitch and snob extraordinaire, Streep's Priestly is an icy dragon lady who speaks softly and carries a big thermonuclear device, and every moment she's on screen is something to see. Just about everything else in The Devil Wears Prada, however, is negligible. Doe-eyed Andy transforms from fashion victim to couture-conscious swan and, as her career takes off, her personal life predictably disintegrates. Several bland romantic interests hover at the edges of the story, various minor characters deliver periodic speeches moralizing about Andy's impending loss of integrity, and Stanley Tucci pops up as the obligatory gay co-worker with whom our heroine bonds. Stars Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, Emily Blunt and Adrian Grenier. 2.5 stars

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (PG-13) This is the Al Gore Movie in much the same way that Brokeback Mountain was for the longest time the Gay Cowboy Movie. The movie is gussied up with lots of slick visual aids, but it is essentially a filmed lecture delivered by Gore to a polite, well-groomed audience. Gore comes off as authoritative (in his crisp blue blazer) but friendly and approachable (note the lack of tie) — but although the messenger is friendly, the message is anything but. An Inconvenient Truth is designed to scare the hell out of us, and that's just what it does. Gore provides ample but concise evidence of global warming, debunks the phenomenon's would-be debunkers, then gets down-and-dirty with an extended cataloging of the effects of unrestricted fossil fuel burning. Unfortunately, the movie is flawed by periodic interludes that look a lot like campaign ads for Gore's 2008 Presidential run (complete with endless shots of Al as government's last honest man, staring pensively out of doorways and windows, the weight of the world on his broad shoulders). Even more troubling, however, is that after nearly an hour and a half of ecological doom and gloom, we get barely a few minutes of suggestions as to how global warming might be fixed. The "solutions" scroll simultaneously with the closing credits almost as an afterthought, as if the filmmakers hope we won't notice how pathetic it is to believe recycling a few cans is going to stave off the next tsunami. That might just be the scariest thing of all in the scariest disaster film of the summer. 3.5 stars

JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE (PG-13) Hell hath no fury like — well, you know the rest — in this anti-romantic comedy about three high school girls taking revenge on the guy who cheated on all of them. Stars Jesse Metcalfe, Brittany Snow, Ashanti and Jenny McCarthy. (Not Reviewed)

MIAMI VICE (R) About the only thing this movie supposedly has in common with the popular '80s TV show is the name and director Michael Mann. Forget the '80s and those dopey blazers with the rolled-up sleeves — this big screen, R-rated Miami Vice takes place in a gritty, decidedly contemporary Miami with nary a pastel color or stubbly Don Johnston in sight. Bolstering the movie's box office potential are Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx in the lead roles. Also stars Gong Li.

MONSTER HOUSE (PG) The night before Halloween, sleuthing middle-schoolers DJ (Mitchell Musso), Chowder (Sam Lerner) and Jenny (Spencer Locke) suspect that the spooky house across the street possesses supernatural powers and a ravenous appetite for trick-or-treaters. Though way too loud and intense for small kids, Monster House at least proves less nightmarish than The Polar Express' attempts at holiday cheer. It also feels like a deliberate throwback to the 1980s' shrill, silly suburban adventures like The Goonies, so take that either as an endorsement or a warning. 2 stars —Curt Holman

OVER THE HEDGE (PG-13) Bruce Willis has his most convincing action hero role in some time, supplying the voice for a wily raccoon on a mission. The raccoon hooks up with a community of woodland creatures, leads them to the promised land of suburbia, introduces them to the glories of junk food, and shows them how to snatch the stuff in a series of daring heists. The catch here is that the raccoon has a hidden agenda — to eventually snag all the food for himself (specifically, for a intimidating bear he owes big time) — but, this being DreamWorks' latest PG-rated animation, the proper life lessons kick in just in time to ensure happy endings all around. Over the Hedge won't change anyone's life — the movie lacks the rafters-raising wit of a Shrek or the emotional richness of Pixar's best stuff — but this is solid, second-tier kiddie fare, and an awful lot of fun. Features the voices of Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell and Nick Nolte. 3.5 stars

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST (PG-13) Most of the elements that turned the original Pirates of the Caribbean into a surprise hit are in place here, retooled in a more lavish, frenetic Indiana Jones-ish manner that invites us to slam-gaze through an array of exotic locations, head-hunting cannibals, voodoo priestesses, swordfights, bad teeth, brawls, lots of swashbuckling pirates and, of course, zombies, zombies, zombies. This sequel achieves an admirable fusion of adventure, romance and horror that's similar to but not quite as effortless as the brew cooked up by the first film, with fabulous special effects but a story that comes off less like a crisply shaped narrative and more like an assortment of North by Northwest-inspired wild, wild goose chases in which various friends and foes collide while scurrying after a series of red herrings and holy grails. As with the summer's other recent blockbuster, Superman Returns, Pirates is too long by at least a half-hour and takes its sweet time getting going, but once that final hour kicks in, the movie takes off and doesn't look back. The stunts and battles of Pirates get bigger and better, finally achieving serious forward momentum, and the movie's impact finally catches up with its inflated budget. Stars Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hollander and Jonathan Price. 3.5 stars

SCOOP (PG-13) Woody Allen's follow-up to his career-revitalizing Match Point once again finds the director eschewing his beloved Manhattan for London, where mystery and murder play out among the city's upper crust. It may all sound like a note-for-note reprise of Match Point but the Woodman is reportedly back in comic mode this time. Stars Scarlet Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane and Woody Allen. (Not Reviewed)

SKETCHES OF FRANK GEHRY (NR) With four decades of big commercial features under his belt, director Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, The Way We Were, Out of Africa) chooses his old chum, legendary architect Frank Gehry, as the subject of his first foray into documentary filmmaking. As you might imagine, Sketches of Frank Gehry occasionally verges on a love letter from one old lion to another, but Pollack has the good sense to pepper the doc with a few talking heads who suggest that Gehry may be over-rated, and Gehry himself supplies enough self-doubt to keep things real. The film doesn't dig particularly deep, but Pollack manages to ask a lot of the right questions, cover most of the bases in such a way as to make Gehry understandable to lay viewers, and the imagery of those amazing, fluid buildings, is often simply astonishing. 3.5 stars

STRANGERS WITH CANDY (R) Jerri Blank, the anti-heroine of Comedy Central's Strangers with Candy, was a fortysomething former junkie, sex worker and high-school dropout starting life over where she left off: as a freshman. Alas, the big-screen "origin story" will disappoint the show's admirers and befuddle everyone else. Jerri (co-creator Amy Sedaris) returns home after a lengthy stint in the big house to discover her beloved father (Dan Hedaya) in a coma. When a doctor notices that Jerri's presence makes her dad more responsive, she moves back in and re-enrolls at Flatpoint High, hoping to make her father proud. The TV show's bright, deadpan tone caused viewers to breeze right through its hit-and-miss humor, but on film it proves to be underlit, arbitrary and at times agonizing. Sedaris' oversized mugging and awkward body language seem better suited for kabuki theater than a movie comedy. Stars Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert. 2 stars —Curt Holman

SUPERMAN RETURNS (PG-13) What to do with a ridiculously old-fashioned icon in these jaded, post-postmodern times? Why, make him an even more iconic icon, of course. Superman Returns is classy pop art that pushes every heroic anachronism and narrative inconsistency of the Superman mythos to its outer limits, then steps back and dares us to deny it. Taking up pretty much right after 1980's Superman II, Superman Returns meticulously recreates the spirit and particulars of Richard Donner's first two Superman outings, with our hero (a slightly wooden Brandon Routh) back in action after a prolonged absence — only to discover former flame Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth, also wooden) hooked up with another man, and perpetual arch-enemy Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey, putting a slightly more sinister spin on Gene Hackman's version) waiting in the wings. There's certainly fun to be had here, but Superman Returns takes such a reverential approach to its famous hero that he sometimes seems like an insect in amber, and consequently the film floats as often as it soars (it doesn't help that the pacing of this 2 1/2-hour opus is a bit dodgy, particularly in the beginning). But when the movie does get down to business, all is forgiven, with spectacular special effects sequences and elegant cinematic poetry that lifts Superman Returns several notches above standard popcorn fare. As superhero movies go, Superman Returns isn't quite the success story of Batman Begins (although both films reinvent the wheel by getting back to basics), but it makes a solid case for the continued relevance of Superman and his franchise. Also stars stars Parker Posey, James Marsden, Frank Langella and Eva Marie Saint. 3.5 stars

TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY (PG-13) Will Ferrell trots out yet another variation of his standard character — clueless, a bit pompous, but thoroughly silly and ultimately redeemable (think Adam Sandler crossed with The Mary Tyler Moore Show's Ted Baxter) — in this enjoyably ridiculous outing from the folks who brought you Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Ferrell's redneck racecar driver in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is basically just TV talking head Ron Burgundy with a different accent and worse table manners, and the new movie is even more of a plotless excuse for Ferrell's riffing than Anchorman was. That said, much of Talladega Nights is really quite funny, cruising along with considerable energy as it unleashes volleys of bizarre comic non-sequiturs and what appear to be semi-improvised skits. A lot of it falls flat but every so often a scene appears out of nowhere and simply floors us (case in point: the priceless sequence of an extended family dinner, featuring one of the oddest graces ever uttered.) Stars Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole and Michael Clarke Duncan. 3 stars

YOU, ME AND DUPREE (PG-13) Fans of Owen Wilson films will be disappointed to know that his latest picture falls short of the comedy bar he's so firmly established. When the loveable yet immature Dupree (Wilson) gets fired from his job and kicked out of his apartment, he's forced to move in with his newlywed friends, Carl and Molly (played by Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson). Of course, he quickly manages to turn their world upside down — which includes accidentally setting fire to the couple's living room — but while the are a few humorous scenes scattered throughout the movie, and, despite the star power of Michael Douglas as Molly's father and Carl's manipulative boss, You, Me and Dupree's overall plot lacks true comedic substance and it comes to a rather predictable conclusion. Also stars Amanda Detmer and Seth Rogan. 2 stars —Amy Moczynski

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