opening this week

Doogal (G) In the wake of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the Weinstein Company introduces another UK-centric animated project. When a sugar-addicted pooch (Daniel Tay) accidentally frees the villainous Zeebad (Jon Stewart) from a supernatural prison, the bad guy sets in motion events that cause the next ice age. The dog teams up with a motley fellowship on a quest for three magical, life-restoring diamonds.

Madea’s Family Reunion (PG-13) Tyler Perry slides into the director’s chair with the follow-up to Diary of a Mad Black Woman. While planning her family reunion, a pistol-packing grandma (Perry) must contend with the other dramas on her plate, including the runaway who has been placed under her care, and her love-troubled nieces.

Running Scared (R) A “hot” snub-nosed .38 pistol brings together a mob flunky (Paul Walker), his young kid (Cameron Bright), a Russian gangster, and a cop who should be dead.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (R) Reviewed on page 32.

Transamerica (R) In writer-director Duncan Tucker’s feature debut, a pre-op transsexual named Bree (a Golden Globe-winning Felicity Huffman) discovers that back when she was an experimental college student named Stanley, he fathered a son. When Bree agrees, at the insistence of her therapist, to bail the kid out of a New York jail, she just wants to drop him off somewhere safe and get back to Los Angeles for her long-awaited transformation. Odd-couple road trip ensues.

critical capsules

Brokeback Mountain (R) The name and setting of director Ang Lee’s much heralded new film perfectly evokes pain and loneliness and all those other tragically romantic emotions that twist your gut into a knot in the best love stories — and Lee’s remarkable film is one of the best ever. There’s nothing in the least political about it — it’s not about anything more than two people in love. The two people both happen to be men, but the fact that these guys couldn’t be more guyish might convince those who need convincing that that’s true for everyone who’s not heterosexual. Movies don’t change the world, but if one changes the minds and thaws the hearts of just a few people, that’s a start, maybe. —MaryAnn Johanson

Curious George (G) It captures that strange and wonderful state of a child’s psyche that comes about when intense inquisitiveness is encouraged and supported by parental love and attention and not too much scolding for perfectly normal mischief-making. And this Curious George is pretty much strictly for those little kids, which is fantastic: there’re so few films aimed at very young children that aren’t insipid or full of exactly the wrong kind of monkey business.If you loved George as a kid — and who didn’t? — there’s plenty to enjoy here even if you graduated from kindergarten way back in the 20th century. —MJ

Date Movie (PG-13) A sampling of Date Movie: Two Hobbits and a wizard walk into a jewelry store. One Hobbit asks the clerk how much she’ll give him for a certain ring in his possession. She offers $50 while the wizard bemoans the fate of mankind over the transaction. The Hobbit tells him to shut up and kicks him squarely between the legs. The wizard doubles up in pain, crying, “My precious!” Are you laughing? If so, this strangely unpleasant attempt to do for (or to) romantic comedies what Scary Movie did for horror films is for you. Otherwise, avoid at all costs. —KH

Eight Below (PG) When eight sled dogs are abandoned in the Antarctic wilderness, they must struggle for survival against the elements while their owner fights to return and rescue them. The dogs are absolutely beautiful, and outshine a lot of the little flaws plaguing their movie. Dave DiGilo’s screenplay doesn’t pull any punches, and capably balances the demands of realism and family-friendly entertainment. This being a Disney movie, you can see the happy ending coming from a mile away. But when it comes, at least you feel you’ve earned it. —JT

Final Destination 3 (R) Everybody dies, but then that’s not much of a spoiler, since the same thing happened in both previous Final Destinations. This time, though, death is almost the least depressing thing facing the cast; the film’s encyclopedic litany of despair lends ex-X-Files scribe and Destination director/co-writer James Wong’s skilled, minor panic attack of a movie an unexpected, cumulative gravity. By about the fourth teen death, it becomes clear the franchise is going to stay true to formula and nobody is going to get out of here alive, and the film takes on the feel of an increasingly discomfiting death watch. That one character survives long enough to weakly give the world the finger is the movie’s sole victory. — IG

Firewall (PG-13) If nothing else, this stupefyingly boring wannabe thriller stands as a testament to what a really bad idea an Indiana Jones 4 starring 63-year-old Harrison Ford is. His feats of derring-do in Firewall are … let’s just say unpersuasive. So is the film. In fact, Ford isn’t the worst thing about this high-tech variation on The Desperate Hours with a singularly low-tech mentality. The plot has Ford as a computer security expert who finds himself at the mercy of vicious criminal Paul Bettany (warming up for The DaVinci Code?), who is going to off Ford’s whole family unless he help them rob the bank he works for. You’ve seen it all before and done better — probably as a TV movie of the week. —KH

Freedomland (R) I don’t know when last a movie tried to do so much — nor get so tangled up and keep tripping over its own feet. Is it a mystery? A thriller? A sociological “message” picture? The answer is yes. The problem is that each aspect of Freedomland keeps getting buried by the other. In the end, the good is obscured by the desire to be altogether too much. As a mystery, the film is both appallingly transparent and maddeningly inconclusive. It goes on for what seems like eternity — even after said mystery is solved — and still leaves loose ends. But hey, who needs a plot when you’ve got a message, right? —KH

Munich (R) Munich is not about the historic 1972 slayings of Israeli Olympic athletes by Arab terrorists, though it starts with that event. Steven Spielberg movie explores what followed, when a group of Mossad agents were sent to track down and assassinate the Black September members responsible. In doing so, they nearly become terrorists themselves. This is easily Spielberg’s best film since Saving Private Ryan, and it’s nice to see him return to heavier, more exacting material. This is a great movie, but not a friendly one. It asks a lot of its audience, and staying with it till the end demands a price. But Munich is going to stick with you long after leaving the theatre. —JT

The Pink Panther (PG) Despite its surprising box-office performance on opening weekend (probably due to Steve Martin’s new status as a “family friendly” funny man, thanks to those abominable Cheaper by the Dozen flicks), this misbegotten “prequel” to the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers Pink Panther series is every bit as bad as its having been moved from a summer to a February release date suggests. Martin just isn’t Peter Sellers, no matter how hard he tries to be with his sub-Rich Little impression. The very fact that he’s so desperately trying (Sellers made it look effortless) would be enough to sink the movie by itself. Mechanical slapstick, however, steps in to bury it. —KH

Roving Mars (Unrated) Director George Butler, whose previous IMAX outing took him to Antarctica, delivers an eye-popping mix of people and machine, of genuine images and computer-assisted animations based on real pictures from NASA’s two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity — all of it accompanied by a magnificently ethereal score from composer Philip Glass. This is space-geek nirvana. I didn’t think it was possible for me to be any more in love with the idea of Mars — of going there, of exploring the planet, of seeing the Martian sights. But after seeing Roving Mars, I am. —MJ

Wild Safari 3D: A South African Adventure (Unrated) The Charleston IMAX reaches back to 2005 for a kid-friendly 3D tour through South Africa’s national parks in search of the worlds top five big game animals: the elephant, the Cape buffalo, the rhinoceros, the leopard, and the lion. It’s mostly a film for the 12-and-under set, as the pacing moves at Teletubbie speed. The film rolls as if the audience is seated in the back of a topless Range Rover; it’s supposed to make one feel in the middle of the action, but the only action you’re likely to feel is car sickness. As with most IMAX films, the entertainment quotient is at least matched by the fun-fact-and-educational-anecdote quotient. But for those not toting tots, consider passing on this one and taking in the remarkable Roving Mars instead. —Kinsey Labberton

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