Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area.

click to enlarge Elf - New Line Productions
New Line Productions

ALIEN (R) There's virtually nothing in this "director's cut" of Scott's sci-fi/horror classic that you won't see in the DVD version, but the movie is still a scream. It's worth the price of admission just to experience the movie on the big screen, digitally restored with a brand new, six-track stereo mix. Scott's mix of science fiction and Gothic trapped-in-a-haunted-house horror story is quarter of a century old, but still scary after all these years. Stars Sigourney Weaver, Tom Kerrit, John Hurt and Ian Holm.

BEYOND BORDERS (R) Although it spews political messages like so much projectile vomit, and spans several decades and a slew of exotic locations, Angelina Jolie's latest project feels about as much like a serious epic as one of her Lara Croft: Tomb Raider romps. Jolie stars as a socialite with a social consciousness, torn between her marriage and a brash but charismatic doctor/political activist (Clive Owen). Despite a handful of powerful (albeit seriously exploitative) moments, the movie is a terribly clumsy mix of sloganeering and soap opera, clumsily comprised of three loosely connected acts, each taking place in an international trouble spot more awful than the last. Time passes, marriages dissolve (hers), deals with the devil (his) are struck and then largely forgotten, and Jolie and Owen's love appears to be the only saving grace in a world populated by very bad people with even worse teeth. The opening sequence in famine-ridden Ethiopia (complete with digitally generated starving infants) is particularly disturbing, and Jolie, who ages nary a day over the movie's 20 year span, gets a chance to wear some really cute outfits along the way. Also stars Noah Emmerich.

BROTHER BEAR (G) There's nothing particularly bad about Disney's latest animated feature, but not much really stands out either. Joaquin Phoenix provides the voice for Kenai, a brash young warrior who learns about humility and love when he's magically transformed into a bear and forced to walk a mile in the shoes — er, paws — of the very critters he's blithely killed. The lush animation is mostly of the old-fashioned 2-D variety, the obligatory, ultra-cute talking animal sidekick is on hand (a little cub called Koda), and the moral instruction offered by the movie, while well-meaning and potentially valuable, is a bit too preachy for both tykes and their parental units. It's all several notches up from straight-to-video, but there's a blandly familiar, weirdly generic feel to the story and characters (sort of Lion King meets Pochahantas' Native American mysticism). And while it's a treat to see Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas reprising their classic Mackenzie Brothers routine in the form of a pair of hop-loving Canadian moose, even that can't compensate for Phil Collins' pompous, New Agey muzak. Also features the voices of D.B. Sweeney, Jeremy Suarez and Michael Clarke.

ELF (PG) A good bit more than just another forgettable project for some former SNL cast member, Elf benefits from some very funny gags, smart direction, and a solid cast — beginning with its star, Will Farrell. Farrell plays Buddy, an overgrown Gump-ian man-child raised by elves (don't ask), who now finds himself in the urban jungle of the human world in search of his biological father (James Caan). Ferrell remains one of the funniest and most underrated performers ever to pass through the SNL factory, and director Jon Favreau gives him plenty of room to display the fearless, manic comedy he does so well. The humor veers between gleefully lowbrow slapstick and over-the-top oddness verging on performance art, but most of it works surprisingly well. The supporting cast is appealing as well, beginning with Caan, who makes a great straight man to Ferrell's ball of absurdist energy. Also stars Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen and Ed Asner. 1/2

GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS (R) Despite its enormous debt to the early, ultra-raunchy cartoon-comedies of John Waters, Girls Will Be Girls is an absolute treat for connoisseurs of exquisitely bad taste. This deliriously colorful, deliciously over-the-top comedy takes place in an L.A. bungalow inhabited by three bitchy women who sit around all day plotting against each other and devising schemes to find true love, or at least a quick roll in the hay. There's a chunky small-town gal who dreams of fame, an absurdly romantic, perennial victim who spends most of her time on the abortion table, and, best of all, a withered, alcoholic hag who functions as the group's den mother from hell. The plot is full of overheated flash points and ridiculous coincidences, like a Hollywood 1950s melodrama on acid, and all of the women are played to perfection by men. It's all terribly funny, in its own disgusting way, with something guaranteed to offend everyone. Stars Jack Plotnick, Jeffery Roberson and Clinton Leupp.