opening this week

A Scanner Darkly (R) Richard Linklater directs live actors (Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr.) overlaid with animation in his version of sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick’s classic story. Set in California in the future, Scanner imagines a paranoid world in which two of every 10 Americans has been hired by the government to spy on the other eight, all in the name of national security and drug enforcement.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (PG-13) Reviewed at left.

Summer Film Noir Movie Series : The John Rivers Communications Museum’s third annual Summer Film Noir Movie Series continues this Thursday, July 6, with a screening of Lew Landers’ 1948 film Inner Sanctum, in which a man (Charles Russell), fleeing police after having committed a murder, hides out in a boarding house in a small town. The four-week series’ lineup also includes Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker on July 13, and Samuel Fuller’s steamy 1964 nailbiter The Naked Kiss on July 20. Admission to each film in the series is free of charge and will include a brief introduction by Rick Zender, curator of the Communications Museum. Movies begin at 7 p.m. at the museum, located at 58 George St. —Steven Zimmerman

Wordplay (PG) Patrick Creadon’s celebrated film stars the story of The New York Times crossword puzzle, and the current and historical creative forces behind it, revealing an entire world behind its practice, creation, and history. (At The Terrace.)

critical capsules

An Inconvenient Truth (PG) For a film consisting mostly of a middle-aged guy pointing to charts and lecturing about complex, controversial, and world-challenging ideas, An Inconvenient Truth makes for a more entertaining thriller than The Da Vinci Code. It also has the advantage of arguing a case that is authentic and terribly urgent. First-time director Davis Guggenheim combines Gore’s anti-warming campaign with his own personal drama, making him a protagonist bouncing back from the 2000 Presidential election to go door-to-door to preach his environmental message and save the world. Some, especially those already sympathetic to the subject, will find his story inspiring. Others will snipe at it snidely, unfairly, and with ugly humor. It’s no surprise that few or none of the film’s debunkers have questioned its rigorously documented facts. Harder for naysayers to dismiss is the substance of the slide show itself. — Peter Keough

A Prairie Home Companion (PG-13) The first great film of 2006 is also one of the best films Robert Altman has ever made. There’s more life, energy, and cinematic invention in this film from the 81-year-old legend than in all the exploding, effects-driven rubbish taking up screen space at the movies this season. An ensemble piece with a star-studded cast — Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Garrison Keillor — the film is basically a backstage look at the fictional last performance of Keillor’s long-running radio variety show, A Prairie Home Companion. It succeeds on this level, but, more, the film becomes a strangely charming meditation on death and the passing of an age — not as a bad thing, but as something that is merely an inevitable part of life. Keillor has handed Altman the script of a lifetime, and Altman has given him the perfect film of his brainchild — while summing up so much of himself and his films in the bargain. —Ken Hanke

The Break-Up (PG-13) Think Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with the characters dumbed-down to double-digit IQs. The Break-Up is easily as much fun as lobotomizing yourself with a dull spoon. Marketed as a romantic comedy, the film is blessed with neither romance nor comedy. A pre-credit sequence explains how — but not why — Jennifer Aniston’s character hooked up with Vince Vaughn’s character (apparently she’s a sucker for a free hot dog and a little snappy patter). The entirety of the charismatically-challenged couple’s relationship is detailed in “candid” snapshots (raising the question of who took the pictures of them in bed) behind the credits. The remaining 90-odd minutes of the movie exists merely to demonstrate how annoying and unlikable they are. It does a splendid job of that long before the movie has the decency to end. —KH

Cars (G) Though the big-eyed, childish looking characters of Cars might lead you to think otherwise, what the film really is, is a love letter to the heyday of the American road and the faded mystique of Route 66. What could have been Pixar’s most simplistic, pre-teen limited film turns out to be one of their biggest and most mature, as it tackles larger themes that’ll probably fly right over the heads of kids. It’s the characters that really sell Cars, but even so, there are moments in this film where you’ll forget you’re looking at a cartoon. It’s a stunning piece of work, a visual masterpiece, the kind of movie that would be a must-see even if the story weren’t any good. —Joshua Tyler

Click (PG-13) The latest Adam Sandler assault on the art of film is one those films where multimillionaire producers explain to audiences that money can’t buy happiness and that the best things in life are free. Why, we haven’t had a movie like this since R.V. came out weeks ago. Click is an even more odious variation on this bewhiskered bromide, managing to mix this message with typically juvenile, mean-spirited, sexist Sandlerian “comedy.” The premise of a universal remote control that controls your universe isn’t terribly original, but it could have worked — except that it’s not used here in any vaguely rational manner. Sandler’s fans will undoubtedly eat up the flatulence, oversexed dog, homophobia, and random violence gags, but may be perplexed by the film’s attempts at being serious. —KH

The Da Vinci Code (PG-13) First of all, anyone whose faith can be undermined by a Ron Howard picture is probably on pretty shaky ground belief-wise to start with. There’s nothing very shocking about The DaVinci Code — except maybe for the mauling it’s gotten from some critics. What were they expecting? A daring visionary work? It’s a film version of a middlebrow pop novel made by the quintessential middlebrow pop director of our age. Howard delivered exactly the film I expected — a glossy, well-made, utterly impersonal work that questions the divinity of Christ for seven reels only to turn around and conclude that belief in that divinity is essential in the eighth. It’s entertaining — especially when Ian McKellen is onscreen — but hardly substantial. —KH

The Devil Wears Prada (PG-13) The deliciously mean yet not totally heartless Prada makes an excellent show of demonstrating how even a cute preppie like Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) might get seduced into the shallow, selfish world of the stuck-up, anorexic fashionistas who work at a New York glamour magazine. And the predictable spiral Andy descends over the course of the film, selling herself out and alienating her charming boyfriend is, for all its inevitability, beautifully played and more than a tad touching. But the most wickedly entertaining thing about this flick is Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, the legendary queen bitch editor in chief of Runway and obvious stand-in for legendary queen bitch Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue magazine: pure seduction and pure evil all wrapped up in a fabulous wardrobe. —MJ

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (PG-13) One hundred cars were destroyed in its making, so if you want speed and destruction you’ll be happy. There are also lots of short-skirted, vacant-eyed women. The location is gadget-obsessed Tokyo where there’s no such thing as a straight thoroughfare, so “drifting,” or driving sideways, is what he-men do at night — in parking garages, crowded city streets, and lethally-curving mountain roads. Terrific racing. Ho-hum everything else. —Marci Miller

The Lake House (PG) A good film that is nearly a very good film. The thing that ultimately keeps it from being more than good is simply that director Alejandro Agresti and screenwriter David Auburn (Proof) never quite get the film past a combination of effective melodrama and fantasy (or sci-fi) and into the realm of the gloriously romantic. Put simply, any romance that doesn’t make at least one successful major assault on your tear ducts is one handkerchief shy of great romance. Engaging performances from Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock as the duo with the bad luck to fall in love despite living in different time frames help, but the movie’s too cerebral for its own good. —Ken Hanke

Mission Impossible III (PG-13) Two solid hours of preposterous stunts, ridiculous plotting, Tom Cruise’s biceps, and lots of things blowing up — all in bone-jarring Dolby sound. No, it’s not unwatchably bad, but it’s remarkably undistinguished. The big development this time is giving Cruise a girlfriend/fiancee/wife (Michelle Monaghan) for the villain (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to imperil. This affords Cruise the chance to emote. Unfortunately, Cruise’s tears seem about as sincere as his trademark smile, while his scenes of soulfully gazing into Monaghan’s eyes suggest less rapturous devotion than the star studying his own reflection therein. —KH

Nacho Libre (PG) I don’t know that it’s fair to say that Jared Hess’ new film, Nacho Libre, proves that his Napoleon Dynamite was a fluke. In the end, Nacho Libre is pretty much the same film all over again. Oh, the plot — Mexican monk (Jack Black) sets out to become a wrestler — is different, but it’s the same sort of deadpan, meandering narrative with the same lack of discernible structure. But Napoleon Dynamite offered the illusion of freshness wrapped up in a fairly mediocre movie. Here, Hess proves that even with a decent budget and a star, he can still scale the heights of mediocrity. Strictly for the “Vote for Pedro” T-shirt brigade and people with a burning desire to spend 100 minutes looking at Jack Black in spandex. —Ken Hanke

The Omen (R) One tolerated the bogus piety, extra-Vatican huggermugger and general Panavision gloom of the original The Omen because one knew there was a really cool decapitation or impalement to follow. Alas, the days when a possessed nanny could hurl herself from a mansion top and dedicate her demise to The Antichrist are gone. The sole way the new Omen might conceivably work is in its sadistic one-upmanship of the original’s fanciful deaths. But director John Moore’s idea of gore innovation is to simply linger on the bloody remains — and to relentlessly reference 9/11 in an attempt to get us in a properly antsy Armageddon-ish mood. —Ian Grey

Over the Hedge (PG) “It goes on forever!” screams one of the animal characters in Over the Hedge, describing the new shrubbery that popped up around their woodland home while they hibernated. But that also nicely describes the urban sprawl hidden behind it: Thousands of humans packed in tract housing, driving minivans, talking on cell phones, and paving over anything that gets in their way. Far from another computer animated classic, Over the Hedge nevertheless is a cute, clever little movie that gets on the screen, entertains, and then gets off. It’s succinct and sweet. Good enough. —KH

Superman Returns (IMAX 3D) (PG-13) In director Bryan Singer’s remake, the Man of Steel does indeed return, and he’s flying in with a tidal wave of promotional tie-ins. Singer directs a cast full of boring heroes — Kate Bosworth does a dismal impression of a journalist as Lois Lane, and Brandon Routh, the relative unknown squeezed into Superman’s tights, has all the expressiveness of a mannequin — and winning villains. Kevin Spacey crafts a far more malevolent Lex Luthor than Gene Hackman’s goofy genius, and Parker Posey vamps deliciously as his idiotic sidekick Kitty Kowalski. The CGI is well-done and highly believable, and the 3D parts of the IMAX version, including a segment about Superman’s adolescent discovery of his powers of flight, are stunning. It’s a fun bit of mindless entertainment, but it doesn’t hold a speeding bullet to either of Singer’s X-Men efforts. —Sara Miller

Waist Deep (R) What happens when you combine the director of Glitter with a former underwear model? In the case of Waist Deep, you end up with a surprisingly decent B-movie with a penchant for absurdity. While never reaching the sublime ridiculousness of, say, Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared, the makers of Waist Deep manage to make the melodrama, plot holes, and preposterous character names work to the film’s advantage. When his son, Junior (H. Henry Hall), is accidentally kidnapped during a car-jacking, ex-con O2 (Tyrese Gibson) teams up with Coco (Meagan Good), a woman who hawks business suits on street corners, to get the kid back from gangland kingpin Big Meat (The Game). Mr. Meat demands $100K for the kid, so they steal it from his bank accounts to become the redundantly named “new modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.” Not great, but it does manage to be entertaining, despite a ridiculous ending. —Justin Souther

Water (PG-13) The Indian-Canadian writer-director Deepa Mehta, whose last film was the misfired cross-cultural parody Bollywood/Hollywood, displays a far richer understanding of the cinema of her native land in Water, which hitches some of the most irresistible conventions of Hindi movie melodrama to an earnest agenda of social protest (which also got it banned in India). The target here is the orthodox Hindu prohibition against the remarriage of widows, who are quarantined in ashrams because their very shadows are regarded as polluted. After the death of the aged husband she’s never met, the child widow Chuyia (Sarala) is abandoned in one of these moldy ruins beside the Ganges, where she instantly sparks conflict. Water is manipulative propaganda in service of a good cause.

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 world’s 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 Teletubby 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 quotient. But for those not toting tots, consider passing on this one and taking in the remarkable Roving Mars instead. —Kinsey Labberton

X-Men: The Last Stand (PG-13) Compared to other comic book movies, the X-Men trilogy puts its social politics on its leather sleeves. No matter whether they’re “good” X-Men, led by civilized Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), or the more militant “evil” mutants led by Magneto, the franchise’s minority population of super-powered genetic aberrations stands in for any despised underclass. It would be great if all films lived up to their relevant themes or operatic aspirations. But The Last Stand features enough subplots for a bookcase full of graphic novels, including a teenage love triangle and the resurrection of a character from the previous film. With so many heroes, villains, henchmen, and political figures jockeying for screen time, everyone gets short shrift except for overreaching Magneto and anguished Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, the series’ MVP). —Curt Holman

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