Recent releases

The Break-Up, Cars, The Devil Wears Prada


THE BREAK-UP (PG-13) A must for pop culture fetishists, if only because its romantic leads, Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughan, reportedly turned into a real-life couple while on the set. The Break-Up also features a premise with promise — modern world economics necessitate Aniston and Vaughan living together in their jointly owned condo even after their relationship implodes. Rumors of some partial nudity from Aniston probably won't hurt ticket sales either. Also stars Joey Lauren Adams and Jason Bateman. (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

CLICK (PG-13) Another cosmic comedy from the creators of Bruce Almighty, that movie where Jim Carey 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 DA VINCI CODE (PG-13) For all the controversy and high-profile protests, the worst sin of The Da Vinci Code turns out to be that it's just not worth all the fuss. The real story here is that there's not much of a story. In a nutshell, the movie is boring. The Da Vinci Code is Ron Howard's hugely hyped big screen adaptation of Dan Brown's bestseller about an ancient conspiracy to keep the world from discovering that Jesus was married and had a child whose descendants walk among us today. The movie is ostensibly a thriller, with various characters engaged in a life-or-death struggle to either expose or sustain the cover-up. But there's not much here that's particularly thrilling. Howard's drab and relentlessly talky adaptation moves in fits and starts, bombarding us with exposition when it should be developing characters or manufacturing a bit of suspense. The film never really achieves any significant forward momentum because it's constantly stopping in its tracks to explain itself (often in conjunction with some very clumsy flashbacks). There's just not much to sink your teeth into here, and even a few grisly murders, a self-flagellating monk/assassin, and an engaging performance by Ian McKellen (who turns up at the mid-point of this long, two-and-a-half hour affair) can't turn things around. Stars Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen and Jean Reno. 2 stars

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

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (PG-13) If the sequel is typically worse than the original, what hope is there for the third film in a series? In the case of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, none. Though set in a new location, the plot is as predictable as you'd expect. Lucas Black stars as Sean, an American teenager sent to live with his father in Tokyo after participating in one too many illegal street races. There, he crosses paths with the notorious Drift King, or D.K. (played by Brian Tee), and eventually learns the rules of Japanese street racing, aka drifting. The entire picture comes off as little more than an extended hip-hop video, complete with scantily-clad schoolgirls and continuous bursts of rap music. The only high point is a surprise cameo by a cast member from the original Fast and the Furious. Also stars Bow Wow, Sung Kang and Nathalie Kelley. 1.5 stars —Amy Moczynski

GARFIELD: A TAIL OF TWO KITTIES (PG) Although not as annoyingly frenetic as the first Garfield movie, this inevitable sequel is bland, boring kiddie fare that seems churned out by a machine, revolving around a case of mistaken identity loosely based on The Prince and the Pauper. The action this time is set in London, where pampered housecat Garfield (a computer-generated ball of fur voiced by Bill Murray) finds himself caught up in a squabble over a family fortune when it turns out he's a dead ringer for the aristocratic feline who's inherited the estate. Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt are along for the ride again, managing to be both insipid and irritating as the fat feline's human companions, and Billy Connolly turns up as the piece's supercilious villain, doing his best to elevate the role by channeling John Cleese. The movie also features more talking animals than Babe but there's not even a fraction of the wit. Also stars Ian Abercrombie. 1.5 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

KEEPING UP WITH THE STEINS (PG-13) A film that's unlikely to win over even the older, Jewish audience that is its obvious target demographic, Keeping Up With the Steins is a barely palatable mix of sitcom humor and ethnic kitsch. Jeremy Piven and Jamie Gertz star as a couple whose lives are thrown into predictable chaos when Piven's estranged father (Garry Marshall) shows up for his grandson's big bar mitzvah. Some of the film's satiric nudges have potential in a vaguely mean-spirited, early Philip Roth-ish sort of way (cruise ships and Dodger Stadium are among the spots rented out for the ultra-ostentatious bar mitzvahs on display here), but the movie's maudlin tendencies get the best of it early on, and most of what we see here is as bland as it is unfunny. Also stars Daryl Hannah, Daryl Sabara and Richard Benjamin. 2 stars

THE LAKE HOUSE (PG-13) The Lake House is a love-story-with-a-mystic-hook featuring dubious chemistry between its romantic leads, and a writer-director team (Proof scripter David Auburn and Valentin's Alejandro Agresti) who gussy up conventional melodrama with high-minded, vaguely artsy flourishes. With its tale of two people trying to forge a love connection across parallel planes of reality, The Lake House comes off a little like Ghost, albeit a paler shade of that movie, and without even the redeeming kitsch. Keanu Reeves plays a sensitive architect whose destiny appears linked with a woman he's never met (Sandra Bullock) who apparently lives two years ahead of him, in 2006. It seems that the two have, at separate times, rented the same, titular dwelling, and they soon become enthusiastic pen pals courtesy of the house's apparently magical mailbox. The movie slogs along towards its inevitable romantic collision, with director Agresti employing all sorts of corny and/or contrived techniques to show us Reeves and Bullock communicating across time. Movies like this often hinge on some sort of "surprise" ending, and you'll probably have the one featured in The Lake House figured out within the first 20 minutes. Stars Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Christopher Plummer, Dylan Walsh, Shohreh Aghdashhloo and Ebon Moss-Bachrach. 2 stars

NACHO LIBRE (PG) There are 15, maybe 20 minutes of certifiable solid gold scattered throughout Nacho Libre, a comedy about a masked Mexican wrestler, and the second outing by Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess. The rest of the movie is a pretty big disappointment, though, and you can't quite chalk it up to your typical sophomore slump syndrome (although that's part of the problem). Even though putting a bankable star or two in your new movie is a logical next step for a formerly low-budget indie director, the much-anticipated collaboration between Hess and fat 'n' sassy Jack Black is anything but a dream team-up. Napoleon Dynamite worked precisely because of its sprawling, no-name cast and droll, deadpan attitude — an attitude in direct contrast to Black's outsized and aggressively skewed screen persona. Black is more restrained here than usual, but he's still much too much for Hess' oddly inert, minimalist universe. Screenwriter Mike White, who worked wonders with Black and director Richard Linklater by wedding their indie sensibilities to the mainstream in School of Rock, is at a loss to achieve a similar alchemy here; the movie is just too slight to sustain Black's mass, and there's just not enough else going on in Nacho Libre to hold our interest. Stars Jack Black, Hector Jimenez, Ana de la Reguera, Peter Stormare and Lauro Chartrand. 2.5 stars

THE OMEN (R) A numbingly literal remake of the fair-to-middling 1976 horror flick, The Omen is almost as big an embalming job as Gus Van Sant's utterly unnecessary Psycho. Van Sant's slavishness was at least in the service of something worth genuflection, though; this new version of The Omen is like a cult devoted to drywall. The plot here, a hodgepodge of supernatural elements cobbled together to cash in on the momentum generated back in the day by genuinely good films like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, involves a couple raising a small child they suspect of being the Antichrist. People who get too close to the truth die grisly deaths; there are very few surprises and nothing remotely resembling a character to sink your teeth into (so to speak); and the whole thing is shot through with a pungent whiff of the apocalypse — a scent that never really goes out of fashion but that is more than ever on audience's minds these days (hence the remake). The juiciest bit of casting of all is Rosemary herself, Mia Farrow, who steals the show as the devil-boy's gloriously creepy nanny. If only the movie had the wit to capitalize on Farrow's presence or any of the other elements ripe for play here, The Omen could have been something worth talking about. Stars Liev Schrieber, Julia Stiles, Pete Postlethwaite, David Thewlis, Michael Gambon and Mia Farrow. 2.5 stars

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

A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (PG-13) The off-kilter yet pleasantly homespun America on display in this good-natured collaboration between Robert Altman and Garrison Keillor isn't really a story so much as a series of riffs, routines and odd ends that add up to considerably more than the sum of their parts. Then again, you might also say that the film's collection of small moments, tall tales and off-the-cuff anecdotes is nothing but story. Like so many Altman movies, this one is a wash of detail without concrete beginnings or ends, covering everything from love and death to sugar rushes and shoplifting. A Prairie Home Companion takes place on the set and behind the scenes of a long-running radio variety show in the process of broadcasting its final program. The show's musical guests, comedians and commentators compose a sort of family, both on stage and off, and Altman flits between observing their public performances and the backstage feuds, flings and foibles. The comparisons to Nashville are unavoidable, with A Prairie Home Companion playing like a scaled-down, less ambitious version of that 1975 Altman masterpiece crossed with the more recent and frivolous The Company. The ensemble cast seems to be having a great time together (the chemistry between Harrelson and Reilly is particularly inspired), the overlapping dialogue is quintessential Altman, and most of it plays out in a way that's as effortlessly natural as it is enjoyable. Stars Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Virginia Madsen, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly and Lindsay Lohan. 4 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

WAIST DEEP (R) Set in the tough streets of southern Los Angeles, Waist Deep attempts to create a modern-day spin on the story of Bonnie and Clyde and fails miserably. Tyrese stars as Otis, or O2, an ex-convict whose son is kidnapped during an ill-fated carjacking. O2 teams up with a street hustler named Coco (Meagan Good) and discovers that the only way to get Junior back is pay $100,000 to Meat (hip-hop superstar The Game), O2's former partner-in-crime. This prompts the newly-formed duo to stage a series of bank robberies to obtain the money. If the horrendous plotline isn't enough to ruin the film, the substandard acting and blatantly fake emotion make it tough to watch without plenty of eye rolling. Also stars Larenz Tate and Kimora Lee Simmons. 1/2 star —Amy Moczynski

WORDPLAY (PG) After Spellbound's success at transforming the nerdy arena of spelling bees into riveting spectacle, anything seemed possible. Hence Wordplay, a smart and lively documentary on the world of crossword puzzles, and the next leap forward for geek chic. With considerable style, wit and warmth, director Patrick Creadon draws us into the lives and mindsets of the individuals who make up crossword culture, focusing on the New York Times' influential puzzle editor Will Shortz and syndicated puzzle constructor par excellence, Weekly Planet contributor Merl Reagle. Adding an even more interesting texture to the proceedings are the talking heads sprinkled along the way, a curious group that includes such noteworthy puzzle-heads as Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, the Indigo Girls and Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina. The movie is mostly just good-natured fun, but its affection for its subject is infectious, and the most basic reading between the lines reveals something significant about humankind's love of language, codes, and our urge to solve (and create) puzzles. The last act takes us to the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament held in Stamford, Conn., an event that, regardless of how trivial it might sound to the uninitiated, is made positively gripping by a winning combination of precise shooting, editing and visual technique. 3.5 stars

X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (PG-13) There's lots to gawk at in this supposedly final installment of the X-Men franchise, including super-powered mutants who can fly, walk through walls, create massive walls of fire and ice, conjure storms, read minds, transform into metal, duplicate themselves and, in one spectacular sequence, redirect the path of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Last Stand would almost certainly have benefited from a narrowed focus on just a handful of characters, but the script and performances are a half-notch above what we expect in our comic-book extravaganzas, making this a solid if somewhat workmanlike conclusion to the X trilogy. The story this time out revolves around a newly discovered "cure" that turns mutants into ordinary humans — a discovery that forces the international mutant community to make some hard choices about who they are and who they want to be. This gives the movie plenty of room for not-so-thinly disguised messages about accepting one's self and others, but the whole mutant "cure" thingie is really just a Maguffin, a holy grail to be drooled over and chased after, not unlike the one currently on display in The Da Vinci Code. Fortunately, The Last Stand does a considerably better job with this material, and by the time the film moves in for the kill with its final assault of battles, disasters, illusions and revelations, we're exhausted and overwhelmed in that blissful way that only the best popcorn movies can supply. Stars Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Kelsey Grammar.3.5 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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