THE ARYAN COUPLE (PG-13) As far as I'm aware there's no rule or law that says all Holocaust movies must be terrible, but that does seem all too often to be the case — and, you guessed it, here's yet another one. Director John Daly pulls out all the stops, unleashing a mother lode of narrative clichés and nonstop violin strings for this turgid, melodramatic tale of plucky German Jews nobly suffering and struggling to stay alive as World War II pings and pongs about everyone's ears. The film is so transparently manipulative and much of what happens is so easily predicted that even the movie's occasional moments of genuine power wind up feeling far less effective than they should be. Martin Landau diverts our attention for a while, showing up in a typically solid performance as a Jewish businessman trying to save his family from the Nazi death camps, but just about everything else here is very tough going indeed. Also stars Judy Parfitt, Danny Webb, Steven MacKintosh and Jake Wood. Opens May 26 at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. 2 stars


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

FRIENDS WITH MONEY (R) A Sundance film by way of its general plotlessness and obsessive urge to talk, but a chick flick in its undeniably female perspective, Friends with Money is full of a small, closely observed moments that never quite add up to much. It revolves around three affluent couples, with particular attention paid to their significantly less than wealthy friend Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) who works as a maid, smokes too much pot and can't manage to keep a boyfriend. The other, richer characters in the movie are involved in mostly unhappy relationships as well, and even the ones with less visible signs of relationship strain are going through nervous breakdowns of their own for other, essentially unexplained reasons. There are some nice little moments here and there, and the film is worth checking out if only for the natural way its ensemble cast play off one another, but the cumulative effect is a lot like watching a handful of mildly interesting women unloading with ninety minutes of therapy. Stars Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, Simon McBurney, Jason Isaacs and Greg Germann. 3 stars