Opening this Week

Step Brothers (R)
See review here

X-Files: I Want to Believe (PG-13)
This used to be a TV show about Fox Mulder and Dana Scully pretending they didn’t want to bonk each other. Ditto the movie.

WarGames (PG)
The 25th anniversary of this 1980s classic about computers gone terribly awry. For one night only, July 24, 7:30 p.m., at Regal Charles Towne Square 18 and Regal Azalea Square Stadium 16.

Reprise (R)
The Norwegian story of two childhood friends whose lives move in unexpected and vastly different directions. Opens at the Terrace Theater on Friday.

Critical Capsules

The Dark Knight (PG-13)
In director Christopher Nolan’s (Memento) and his co-screenwriter brother Jonathan Nolan’s new, über-dark Batman story, the Joker personifies the allure of destruction and mayhem. And though The Dark Knight clucks its tongue and cops a moralistic attitude about the propensity for violence that lurks in all people, the Joker represents the film’s have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too attitude. The jaw-dropping explosions, car chases, and creative murders unleashed by the Joker prove the point: Destruction is a gas. But are parents really prepared for thugs impaled on pencils? Adorable towheaded children threatened with a gun to the head? Hand grenades thrust in the mouths of bank executives who try to foil a robbery by blasting the thieves into Swiss cheese? And a villain whose preferred tactic is a knife held menacingly at his victim’s face? It seems almost cruel to take beloved child archetypes and turn them into projections for adult angst. Any kid who watches The Dark Knight will be ruined for anything but Peckinpah and Scorsese. Is it Gotham that’s the darkest place on earth? Or is it the multiplex? —Felicia Feaster

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (PG-13)
The first Hellboy movie was crazy mad insane, like you couldn’t even figure out what the frak was going on, but it didn’t matter. It was wildly entertaining in its geeked-out glory. And now Hellboy II: The Golden Army is just kinda there, like it has accepted its insanity and douses itself with a big handful of lithium every six hours, and is feeling much better now, honestly, and don’t forget to buy the Hellboy Happy Meal on your way home. I’m still thinking, four years later, about how wacky Hellboy was, and yet I can barely remember Hellboy II, and I saw that mere days ago. I want to say that Hellboy II is pure dumb popcorn fun while you’re watching it and instantly forgettable the moment the credits start to roll, but actually, I was forgetting it while I was still in the process of watching it. That could be the problem: watching Hellboy II is a process. It feels like it’s been tamed and corralled and commodified. Hellboy was rowdy and feral and dangerous, and already, in only its second outing, the franchise has been herded into the slaughterhouse and ground up in chuck chop and wrapped in sanitary plastic. —MaryAnn Johanson

Journey to the Center of the Earth (PG)
It’s a stripped-down (there are essentially three characters) sort of post-modern (the movie acknowledges the existence of the book it’s based on) variation on the Jules Verne novel with — depending on where you see it — the added novelty of 3-D. (Even if you see a 2-D print, you won’t be able avoid noticing where the 3-D approach, especially when Brendan Fraser spits his toothpaste in your face.) While this latest big screen Journey clearly benefits from having Fraser as the male lead (in 1959, it was Pat Boone!) and a reasonably brief running time of 92 minutes, the decision to drop the earlier version’s human villains and lost civlization reduces the dramatic tension to a bare minimum. It’s strictly an effects show with one Tyrannosaurus Rex and some indeterminate toothy flying fish for menaces. The thrills are more of the theme-park ride nature, but they’re solidly done and the whole thing’s family-friendly. —Ken Hanke

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (G)
Shameless in its sentimentality, pokey in terms of propulsion, and about as surprising as finding vegetables in a bowl of vegetable soup, Patricia Rozema’s Kit Kittredge: An American Girl still comes as a little oasis of thoughtfulness in a summer largely devoted to property damage and rampant explosions. There’s actual substance here. And acting. And characters. And directing rather than mere refereeing. In short, it’s a movie, not a 90-minute plug for a line of pricey dolls. Abigail Breslin is fine in the role of a young wanna-be reporter in 1934 Cincinnati, and the film’s story about life during the Great Depression — with a very slight mystery added — not only feels authentic, but seems unnervingly relevant. It’s really aimed at children, but in a good way — and it’s handled in a manner that doesn’t insult the adults in the audience. —Ken Hanke

Mamma Mia! (PG-13)
There are people out there who will not only love Mamma Mia!, they will adore it. I wish them well. Look, if you’re keen on ABBA and actually like a lot — I mean a whole lot — of people singing and dancing (not necessarily very well), squealing with spurious delight, and wearing hearty fake smiles in an attempt to convince you that they’re having a Great Time and you should be, too, this is your movie. Enjoy it and read no further. The movie (and its stage original) is basically an excuse to string about 20 ABBA songs together (most of which are scarcely connected to the proceedings) by means of a plot that makes no sense (how could a daughter conceived ca. 1968 be 20 years old?). A lot of very fine actors embarass themselves unduly in the process of bringing this to the screen. It’s about one percent inspiration and 99 percent desperation. On the plus side, where else will you see Meryl Streep goosed by a goat? —Ken Hanke

Meet Dave (PG)
Costing a reported $100 million to make and raking in an estimated $5.3 million its opening weekend, it appears Meet Dave is the front-runner for the year’s biggest absolute disaster. It appears the studio knew they had a dung pile on their hands, changing the film from its original title of Starship Dave to the more innocuous Meet Dave. How making it more unexciting is supposed to sell tickets is beyond me. Perhaps they thought it might go undetected altogether and save everyone a lot of embarassment. In any case, the problem isn’t meeting Dave, it’s getting rid of him. The titular Dave is in fact a human-shaped spaceship — played by Eddie Murphy — piloted by very tiny aliens (captained by a miniature Murphy) who have been sent here to fend off their own planet’s impending energy shortage by draining Earth’s oceans of salt. Tediously lame gags ensue, life lessons are learned, and unwary viewers lose a few bucks and 90 minutes of their lives. —Justin Souther

Mongol (R)
It’s from Russian director Sergei Bodrov, co-writing with Arif Aliyev, and it’s a beauty. As world-conqueror biopics go, Mongol is sort of the anti-Alexander. It’s consistently dignified in the way that Oliver Stone’s picture was consistently risible, and it’s justified by its enthusiasm alone in a way the latter certainly wasn’t. At once sweeping and intimately confidential, with durably magnetic performances by Japan’s Asano Tadanobu as the adored warlord and China’s Honglei Sun as Jamukha, his blood brother and eventual enemy, Mongol has to be by far the best action epic of 12th- and 13th-century Asian nomads you’ll see this month. How else will you get to know the founder of the Mongol Empire? It’s no use holding out hope for the definitive written record of his early life, so an honorably dramatized, handsomely photographed motion picture record will have to do. —Jonathan Kiefer

OSS-117 (NR)
Read a full-lengh review at | One of the funniest reccurring jokes in this hilarious French parody of James Bond films is how Agent OSS’s mystifying finesse with the ladies contrasts with what can only be described as his polymorphous sexuality. He’s fond of a man-on-man rubdown (“I love being rubbed with oil,” he quips to a hairy companion doing just that in an Egyptian sauna). Part of OSS’s broad Middle East agenda is to also find out who killed his beloved Jack, shown in numerous flashbacks cavorting on the beach with OSS. They begin by playing paddle ball and giggling like schoolboys. But in flashbacks the two bathing suit-clad men are soon tumbling around in the surf with abandon like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity making love in the rolling waves. Saucily subversive, screenwriter Jean Francois Halin’s crackling script questions the supposed hetero-manliness of the classic spy hero, but even more smartly pokes fun at French conceit and colonialism as exemplified by OSS, who sees French culture as superior and the local Egyptians as backward children. —Felicia Feaster

Roman de Gare (R)
Read a full-lengh review at | In tone, Roman de Gare has the dark comedy thrills of Hitchcock with just enough of a touch of menace to suggest the Austrian dystopian Michael Haneke. The overlaying sound effects, of Huguette’s clan slaughtering a pig as Pierre leads Huguette’s lovely young daughter into the woods, makes the short-hairs on the back of your neck stand up with the foreshadowing of doom. Huguette’s farm family fluctuates between country oddities and the kind of rural nightmares familiar from American exploitation films. Characters in Roman are largely unpleasant — until the end, when events change dramatically — which leads to a sense of confusion about whose point of view to privilege. No one is who they seem, a case exemplified by Huguette, who at various times in the story suggests she’s either a hooker or a hairdresser, but is decidedly and undeniably deeply neurotic. Since no real hero stands out, we are left to flounder. It’s a situation that plays with the usual hero identification with one person and one story line. —Felicia Feaster

Because writer/director Andrew Stanton and his Pixar cohorts are such extraordinary storytellers, there has been plenty of metaphorical content strewn throughout the computer-animation pioneers’ consistently delightful features: a critique of radical egalitarianism in The Incredibles, Cars‘ paean to the roadkill left on the superhighway to “progress.” In WALL-E, Stanton recognizes his little robot has developed a soul because of what he does that’s not part of his mundane routine. Being human, he reminds us, is about the ability to recognize beauty — the kind of beauty you find in a work of art like this breathtaking little miracle of a movie. —Scott Renshaw

Wanted (R)
The story of the film is at bottom a rethinking of The Matrix with a liberal sprinkling of the angst-driven echoes of Fight Club. If that makes it sound like there’s not much original about Wanted, the truth is that there isn’t. James McAvoy stars as a much put-upon office drudge who finds empowerment when he’s recruited by a society of assassins headed up by Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie. As a wild adrenalin rush, it’s hard to fault. The action set-pieces are truly amazing and the effects work is first-rate, but the film is so relentlessly violent that it’s finally more off-putting than fun. —Ken Hanke

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