Opening This Week
3:10 to Yuma (R) A small-time rancher (Christian Bale) agrees to hold a captured outlaw (Russell Crowe) who’s awaiting a train to go to court in Yuma. A battle of wills ensues as the outlaw tries to psych out the rancher.
Shoot ‘Em Up (R) A loner who goes by the name Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) pacts with an unlikely ally (Monica Belluci) to protect a newborn baby from a determined criminal (Paul Giamatti).
The Brothers Solomon (R) Two well-meaning, but socially inept brothers try to find their perfect mates in order to provide their dying father with a grandchild.
Balls of Fury (PG-13) The story of a long-retired ping pong champ who’s chosen to enter an underground ping pong tournament in order to take down an evil crime lord, Balls of Fury is a comedy that aims low for the cheap laugh, and for that reason, does nothing to set itself apart from the glut of mediocre comedies out there today. Relatively unknown star Dan Fogler at least has enough charisma to steer the film away from being a constant annoyance. Christopher Walken steals the film as faux Fu Manchu crime lord Feng, and he genuinely seems to be enjoying himself. The only problem is that stealing this movie is a lot like stealing an AMC Pacer. Even if you do manage to pilfer it, it’s not going to get you very far. —Justin Souther
Death Sentence (R) Viewers in search of the high-powered vigilantism of Charles Bronson in Michael Winner’s Death Wish will be disappointed with James Wan’s Death Sentence, which isn’t exactly a remake of the Winner film. Rather it’s an adaptation of Death Wish author Brian Garfield’s 1975 novel Death Sentence — a related work penned by Garfield in reaction to the unrestrained pro-vigilante antics of the Winner movie. The results here are a movie that wants to have its vigilante violence and decry it, too. It doesn’t work. By turns stupidly violent and boringly preachy, the movie says one thing, while demonstrating another, and it’s all predicated on everyone doing the stupidest possible thing to keep the action going. Lots of gunplay, blood, and Kevin Bacon doing a half-assed Taxi Driver number on his hair just isn’t sufficient compensation. —Ken Hanke
Halloween (R) I wanted to like Rob Zombie’s remake — or rethinking or reimagining or rebooting or re-whatever-we’re-calling-rehashings-this-week — of John Carpenter’s Halloween, but the movie kept getting in the way. The wayward talents of Mr. Zombie were much better served by his earlier horrors, House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. Here he manages to combine both of those films’ weaknesses and none of their strengths. The idea of rethinking Halloween to give killing machine Michael Myers a backstory was dubious, but it becomes more so in Zombie’s vision of “white trash hell.” Since this eats up nearly half the movie, the second half comes across like a gorier cut-down version of the original minus any characterization. It’s better than the Eli Roth torture porn passing for R-rated horror these days, but it’s still strictly for splatter fans. —Ken Hanke
Hot Rod (PG-13) The story of an amateur stuntman (SNL’s Andy Samberg) who must raise $50,000 to pay for his father’s heart operation, thus getting the chance to beat him at hand-to-hand combat and gain his respect, Hot Rod is an idiotic comedy that mix and matches the stylings of Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and Napoleon Dynamite into one punishingly unfunny comedy. There’s never any attempt at actually crafting an honest-to-goodness joke. Instead we get a lot of bogus, worn-out ’80s nostalgia and phony random gags. It’s not even a movie; it’s a series of one-liners for high school kids to quote once classes start back up. —Justin Souther
The Invasion (R) German filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) was supposed to have his big English language debut with this fourth version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But Warner Bros. didn’t like what he gave them, so they had the Wachowski Brothers tart it up, after which they had Wachowski protegé James MacTeigue (V for Vendetta) monkey with it some more. The result is a thoughtful film that used the basic premise — aliens from outer space replacing people with emotionless copies — to examine the high cost of being human with some pretty preposterous action sequences grafted on to it. It’s a mess — often fascinating, but still a mess. Nicole Kidman is good; Daniel Craig, on the other hand, is as wasted as the opportunity. —Ken Hanke
The Last Legion (PG-13) This fair dose of campy entertainment is made all the more entertaining by virtue of the fact that no one involved seems to realize just how silly it all is. Its bubble-headed attempt to rewrite the origins of King Arthur in terms of ancient Rome and the “last ode to the Caesars,” who in this case is a boy (Thomas Sangster, whom we’ve already seen in one of these dithering ancient world operas, Tristan + Isolde). He has to be protected by a noble Roman warrior (Colin Firth looking perplexed to find himself wearing leather and window curtains), a Turkish fighting woman (Aishwarya Rai), and a quasi magician (Ben Kingsley slicing the ham thickly). It’s filled with unitentionally funny dialogue and smelly-looking gents in crepe beards clanging swords and saying, “Arrgh.” —Ken Hanke
Mr. Bean’s Holiday (G) Let’s face it, Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean character is an acquired taste, and if it’s a taste you’ve acquired you’re very likely going to love Mr. Bean’s Holiday. The plot such as it is follows Mr. Bean and the havoc he causes as he makes his way to a vacation in Cannes. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, but there’s no denying the gags are cleverly constructed. —Ken Hanke
The Nanny Diaries (PG13) No, it’s not in the same league as Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s last film, American Splendor, but it seems unlikely this pleasant, but largely unremarkable, romantic comedy ever had such lofty goals. The story of Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) taking a job as a nanny for a snobbish Upper East Side Couple, Mr. and Mrs. X (Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti), isn’t a lot more than a light-weight variant on The Devil Wears Prada. Directorially, it’s a little more stylish, but it’s also a good deal less funny. It’s never more than a fairly pleasant entertainment, but neither is it ever anything less. —Ken Hanke
Resurrecting the Champ (PG13) Rod Lurie’s Resurrecting the Champ is a so-so movie with a frequently less than so-so screenplay that somehow comes off as better than it is thanks to a stunning performance from Samuel L. Jackson. Otherwise, this fact-based drama plays like a mawkish version of the old Carole Lombard-Fredric March comedy Nothing Sacred. The ever-bland Josh Hartnett plays a sportswriter who happens to rescue a homeless man from some frat boys, only to be told by the man that he’s former heavyweight contender Bob Satterfield. Hartnett swallows this hook, line, and sinker, only to find out the truth is different — but not until he’s published an article and turned them both into celebrities. It’s ultimately preposterous and speechy, but nothing ever quite dispells the power of Jackson’s performance. —Ken Hanke
September Dawn (PG-13) In the years since the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre — where 120 men, women, and children were slaughtered in cold blood in Utah after a four-day siege — opposing versions of the event have collided. On the one side, historical evidence suggests that leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ordered the execution of the members of a wagon train traveling through Utah from Arkansas. On the other side, there’s the church’s official stand that John D. Lee conducted an unsanctioned renegade operation. No movie could possibly reconcile the tangled politics, emotions, and beliefs. But this one, from director/co-writer Christopher Cain (Young Guns) doesn’t even try. Instead, it cobbles together a weak Romeo-and-Juliet romance and pastes it onto something that manages somehow to be both unintentionally hilarious and borderline offensive. His operatic nonsense accomplishes something I don’t think he intended: By treating the Mormons with such laughable contempt, he actually made me feel sorry for them. —Scott Renshaw
Stardust (PG-13) In a prologue narrated by Ian McKellen in his most resonant Gandalf-ian tones, we learn of a magical world called Stormhold that exists in the middle of England, separated from our reality only by a stone wall. One young man managed to sneak through for a small adventure 150 years ago, only to have the infant result of that small adventure dropped on his doorstep nine months later. Flash forward 18 years, and Tristan (Charlie Cox) — that baby all grown up — is a restless lad pining for a seemingly inaccessible girl (Sienna Miller). Tristan’s search for his family history and accompanying romantic rendezvous are familiar enough stuff, but director Matthew Vaughn’s choices make everything feel even more like a mash-up of other movies, stories, and even amusement park rides. Like Frankenstein’s monster, it’s something sewn together from spare parts — but without that spark of lightning that would bring it to life. —Scott Renshaw
Superbad (R) There is a thin line between smart juvenilia and stuff that’s just plain silly — and Superbad keeps weaving back and forth across that line like Lindsay Lohan at a traffic stop. Produced by Judd Apatow (of 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up fame), it marks the first script by Seth Rogen (Knocked Up star) and Evan Goldberg (Rogen’s childhood friend from Vancouver). So it’s not hard to see a bit of autobiography — or at least wish-fulfillment — in the story of high school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Arrested Development’s Michael Cera). Soon to be attending separate colleges, the two best friends are looking for one last hurrah by supplying alcohol to an end-of-year party hosted by one of their school’s cool girls. Thus begins an odyssey that plays like a cross-breeding of all-night travelogue, end-of-school reminiscence, and cherry-popping quest. —Scott Renshaw
War (R) Following an FBI agent (Jason Statham) who’s attempting to take revenge on the mysterious assassin (Jet Li) who killed his partner, War is a convoluted action flick that suffers by taking itself way too seriously. Instead of realizing the shortcomings of its utterly ridiculous storyline or focusing on the action, the filmmakers take the exact opposite approach and skimp on the action, while overloading the movie with tons of silly plot. By the time you’ve slogged your way to the film’s jaw-droppingly unbelievable conclusion, the best you can do is wonder how anyone past the age of eight thought this would work. War is just plain dull, the action is sparse, and when it does occur, uninspired. —Justin Souther
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