Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area


CURSED (PG-13) Wes Craven's latest creepfest reportedly finds the director in a more conventional, less post-modern mode than Scream, with Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg starring as teens suddenly endowed with mysterious powers that could destroy everyone they touch. Also stars Joshua Jackson and Shannon Elizabeth. Opens February 25 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)


ALONE IN THE DARK (R) All that's missing is Shaggy and Scooby, in this based-on-a-video-game spookfest about a "detective of the paranormal" (Christian Slater) and his cute girlfriend (Tara Reid) investigating zombie shenanigans at - wait for it now - Shadow Island. Also stars Stephen Dorff. (Not Reviewed)

ARE WE THERE YET? (PG) Sweetly moronic comedy with Ice Cube as a dedicated player and confirmed kid-hater who falls for a pretty single mom (Nia Long) and winds up chaperoning her children on what is supposed to be a short trip from Portland to Vancouver.


THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON (R) Forget Jamie Foxx in Ray. The best actor in a film from last year was Sean Penn in this quietly intense portrait of a disillusioned man being pushed farther and farther to the fringes of society. Penn stars as Sam Bicke, a Travis Bickle-like loser unlucky in love and increasingly agitated by the injustices he sees all around him. The film's Taxi Driver connections are unavoidable as The Assassination of Richard Nixon goes about depicting the breakdown and ultimate, tragic transformation of Penn's character, but there's no denying the power of this particular vision. We've seen this subject before, but rarely with the chilling meticulousness or raw emotional edge provided by Penn's astonishing performance. Also stars Naomi Watts and Don Cheadle.


ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (R) Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne star in this competently crafted but otherwise unremarkable remake of John Carpenter's 1976 genre slam dunk (which was itself an homage to Howard Hawks' immortal Rio Bravo from 1959). The movie's premise remains the same - cops and criminals in an old Detroit precinct house band together to stave off an assault from marauding hordes outside - but the film dulls its impact by paying too much attention to its stock characters, while making the predictable move of exchanging the original's main bad guys - urban gangsters and lowlifes - for everybody's new favorite whipping boys, corrupt cops.


THE AVIATOR (PG-13) Martin Scorsese's biopic about Howard Hughes (played here by Leonardo DiCaprio) begins in the 1920s with Hughes' flirtation with Hollywood, segueing into his affairs with the likes of Katherine Hepburn (an uncanny impersonation by Cate Blanchette) and Ava Gardner (a lightweight Kate Beckinsale), his outrageous financial triumphs and his steady surrender to his delusions. The Aviator covers a lot of other ground, too, and the question becomes how could one film do justice to this life. The answer, of course, is that it can't. But Scorsese has given us a big, muscular epic that, while not ranking with his very best work, is at least two films in one, both good enough to ensure that one of those nice, shiny statues will soon be residing on the director's mantelpiece.


BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE (PG) Family fare based on the perennial best seller, featuring an adorable little girl bonding with a cute dog, and a cast that includes Hollywood icons Cicely Tyson and Eva Marie Saint and musician Dave Matthews. You could probably do worse. Also stars Jeff Daniels and AnnaSophia Robb. (Not Reviewed)

BAD EDUCATION (NR) Pedro Almodovar's intricately convoluted noir fantasy is dark, dense, maybe even dangerous stuff, but the film candy-coats its Big Ideas in the outrageous kink of the director's earliest movies as well as the eloquent symmetries of his more recent melodramas, presenting its story-within-a-story as a sort of greatest-hits package from this remarkable Spanish filmmaker. You might even think of Bad Education as Almodovar's 8 1/2, a personal and professional summing-up that, like Fellini's magnum opus, neatly re-states all of the director's pet passions through a labyrinthine fusion of life and art, fantasy and reality. The movie spirals in multiple directions as we watch an autobiographical account of schooldays filled with forbidden passion mutate into a many-headed hydra as it passes through the memories of the film's various narrators. The tale that's spun becomes a sordid but surprisingly poignant web of intrigue, abuse and revenge, of sex, drugs, love and betrayal, and each time the story unfolds, another angle is presented, revealing new information that calls into question everything that's come before. Several of the characters might not even be who they claim to be (or, for that matter, what we imagine them to be), but that's almost to be expected. Almodovar has always been interested in illusions, in people pretending to be something they're not (most magnificently, the men pretending to be women in All About My Mother), and Bad Education looks a lot like the filmmaker's final word on the subject. Stars Gael Garcia Bernal, Fele Martinez, and Daniel Gimenez-Cacho.