Will Smith flies into theaters in Hancock

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OPENING THIS WEEK

THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI (PG-13) Roger Spottiswode's Children of Huang Shi is the blandest of epics based on the life of British journalist George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who entered China during the volatile late 1930s and found himself caught in a three-way crossfire between Chinese Nationalists, Communists and Japanese invaders. After a semi-promising start depicting Hogg shuttled from one wartime atrocity to the next, the movie quickly bogs down in an endless series of long-winded speeches about the awfulness of war and the obligation to save lives, culminating with our hero shuffling off to the hinterlands to oversee a ramshackle Chinese orphanage. The obligatory bonding takes place between the Anglo adult and the Chinese ragamuffins, most of whom have their lives happily turned around in short order, and the script grows even more exposition-heavy and cliché-ridden, alternately bombastic and sentimental and nearly always dramatically inert. The images are often striking, but the movie is badly written, sluggishly paced and unconvincingly performed, so that by the time we get to what should have been the film's dramatic centerpiece — a treacherous 500-mile trek over snowy mountains — it's hard to really care. Also stars Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh. Opens July 4 at Burns Court in Sarasota. 2 stars

HANCOCK (PG-13) Will Smith stars as an abusive, alcoholic superhero in serious need of repairing his public image. Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman are there to help. Also stars Eddie Marsan and Jae Head. Opens July 2 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL (G) Read Lance Goldenberg's review.

WHEN DID YOU LAST SEE YOUR FATHER? (PG-13) Solidly cast and handsomely crafted, but also more than a little monotonous, this rigorously sober British drama stars Colin Firth as a middle-aged man coming to terms with the impending death of his charismatic, scene-stealing father (Jim Broadbent). The always reliable Broadbent runs with the role of the domineering dad, expertly treading the fine line between charmer and a manipulator, but the movie doesn't do much beyond juxtaposing Firth's endless, one-note moping with flashbacks to earlier episodes with his dad. Based on the memoir by Blake Morrison, the film constantly appears to be in danger of sinking under the weight of its consistently glum tone, and comparisons to the somewhat better Big Fish are all but inevitable. Also stars Gina McKee, Matthew Beard, Sarah Lancashire and Elaine Cassidy. Opens July 4 at Regal Hollywood 20 in Sarasota. 3 stars

RECENT RELEASES

BABY MAMA (PG-13) Tina Fey and Amy Poehler offer up a watered-down version of their old SNL chemistry in this inoffensive comedy about a successful businesswoman (Fey) who hires a clueless skank (Poehler) to be the surrogate mother for her child. Nobody plays white trash as well as Poehler (it has something to do with that crazed, Nicholson-ian glint in her eye), but the script plays things too safe to let the comedian be nearly as unhinged as she needs to be. And between Poehler's antics and some juicy cameos by the likes of Steve Martin and Sigourney Weaver, the extremely funny Fey winds up reduced to a straight woman, or worse — a virtual supporting player in her own movie. There are a handful of nice moments (a Young Republican couple bonding with their Wiccan surrogate; "Endless Love" playing over an artificial insemination scene), but what pleasures there are here are nearly forgotten in a ridiculously inept final act full of forced revelations and rushed resolutions. The strong of heart can stick around for the closing credits, which feature some of the most worthless outtakes you'll ever see. Also stars Dax Shepard, Greg Kinnear, Romany Malco, Siobhan Fallon, Maura Tierney and Holland Taylor. 2.5 stars

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN (PG) Over 1300 years have passed since the events of 2005's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but the more things change the more they stay the same. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian finds the titular kingdom once again under the thumb of evil despots and again in need of saving by our noble, still younger-than-springtime heroes (who are this time whisked away from grimy London to magical mystery land not via wardrobe but by the conduit of a Potter-esque train station). The sequel's look and feel is a bit darker than the original, with a vaguely Medieval ambience and an endless clanking of swords and solemn line readings that become tedious well before the movie's 144 minutes have elapsed. Character development is even more cursory than in the first film, with the main draw being a tapestry of unintentionally dopey-looking centaurs, minotaurs and talking animals (including a rodent rip-off of Shrek's swashbuckling kitty) that, mystical pretensions aside, belong in a Sid and Marty Krofft production. Sergio Castellitto makes an interesting villain and Peter Dinklage manages to maintain his dignity under a false nose and gnomish make-up, but there's not much else to brighten up the plodding here. When Tilda Swinton's evil witch briefly materializes towards the end — and then just as quickly vanishes — the movie's lack of life becomes all too apparent. Also stars Ben Barnes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes and Warwick Davis. 2.5 stars

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