Opening this week

Religulous (R)
A documentary about religion, Borat-style.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua (PG)
It’s Babe with a bug-eyed dog.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (PG-13)
See review here.

Blindness (R)
Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo are out of sight.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (R)
Simon Pegg finally gets lucky in a film also starring Megan Fox.

An American Carol (PG-13)
Michael Moore gets spoofed in this David Zucker parody.

Flash of Genius (PG-13)
Greg Kinnear makes windshield wipers.

Critical capsules

Burn After Reading (R)
Burn After Reading continues the Coens’ recent interest in the semiotics of hair. No Country for Old Men boasted the homicidal Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) in a demented Prince Valiant ‘do. And the monstrous ballbuster in Burn After Reading, Katie Cox (Tilda Swinton), boasts a crown of fire: flame-red hair to bespeak her inner hellfire. Post-Michael Clayton, Swinton is becoming the go-to gal for uptight lady execs, this time as a tightly-wound British pediatrician who appears to despise children, her husband, CIA op Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), and even the twitchy married lover Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), who shares her bed. The Coens have always delighted in setting caricatures against a flat-line American landscape of casual sex and violence. What does a lackluster project matter, coming off four Academy Awards and a devout fan base? Like Wal-Mart and obesity, the Coens are an American institution with no chance of going away despite anyone’s protests. With four film projects currently in the works, the Coens abide. —Felicia Feaster

Eagle Eye (PG-13)
After the moderate hit which was Disturbia, Eagle Eye reteams the duo the world was yawning for, director D.J. Caruso and and star Shia LeBeouf, with the latter as angsty underachiever Jerry Shaw, who moonlights in a copy shop, spending his time off dodging his elderly landlady’s pleas for rent and playing poker in the store’s break room. After his more talented twin brother — who works for the Air Force — dies in a car wreck, Jerry finds $750,000 suddenly in his checking account and that his apartment has been filled with assault rifles and ingredients for explosives. He then gets a phone call from an uncredited Julianne Moore telling him he has 30 seconds to flee the premises before the FBI shows up. Then things get really silly. It’s all a set-up for a series of increasingly preposterous set-pieces. It just goes to show that yes, unfortunately, Michael Bay does have influence in modern cinema, no matter how grotesque a concept that might be. —Justin Souther

Ghost Town (PG-13)
Far and away the best movie to open this week is David Koepp’s Ghost Town. Unfortunately, it seems to be a film that not too many people are terribly interested in seeing — in part, I suspect, due to that God-awful generic title. Is Ghost Town really the best Koepp and co-writer John Kamps could come up with? The film deserves better. The story — involving a nasty-tempered dentist (Ricky Gervais), who briefly dies during a colonoscopy and afterwards can see and talk with ghosts no one else can see — may be nothing more than Topper by way of The Sixth Sense, but what the film and performers do with this material is pretty special. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Ghost Town is the savviness with which it balances comedy and romance, and the fact that its comedy is almost always rather kind and character-based. The blend of humor and humanity is just right. In some ways, it’s a throwback to an earlier time. It’s just possible, however, that these are its true strengths — the very things that give it something all too often lacking in mainstream movies these days: an identity. —Ken Hanke

Igor (PG)
As a kid movie, it’s probably fine. As adult entertainment, it’s never more than fair. Any film where the best gag is the existence of a mad scientist named Dr. Schadenfreude is a little wanting. In all fairness, there are some briefly amusing gags involving Scamper (voiced by Steve Buscemi), an existentially-minded rabbit (I think) with a death wish, whose desire is constantly thwarted by having been granted immortality. Mostly, this is tepid stuff with a plot so transparently predictable that even the savvier five year olds will be saying, “I’ve seen it.” John Cusack gives voice (but not all that much life) to Igor, hunchbacked assistant to an inept mad scientist, but he’s an Igor with a dream. He wants to become a great mad scientist in his own right and take first prize at the annual Evil Science Fair. Ultimately, this is dismissable kiddie fodder that’s mildly tarted-up with recognizable — if not exactly luminary (Arsenio Hall?) — names in the voice department. —Ken Hanke

Lakeview Terrace (R)
If there’s a good thing to be said when it comes to Neil LaBute’s Lakeview Terrace, it’s that it’s not as certifiably awful as it appeared it might be. For the most part, it’s actually entertaining. I say “for the most part” since the movie does ultimately turn into the generic thriller the trailer threatened. This also means the film turns into a disappointment instead of the surprise it should’ve been, since whatever it had on its mind goes down in a blaze of histrionics due to no one seemingly knowing what, exactly, to do with the potentially incendiary topics the film has on its mind. Samuel L. Jackson is great as the power-obsessed cop who hates interracial couples and sets out to make life hell for the one (Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington) that moves into his neighborhood, but he can’t save the movie from itself, making Lakeview Terrace just one more mediocre picture Jackson’s the best thing in. -—Justin Souther

The Lucky Ones (R)
Although I enjoyed this Neil Burger’ film, I freely confess two things — I don’t think it’s actually a very good movie, and I’m left with no clue as to exactly what the point of the film is. In essence, Burger has crafted a story about three Iraq War vets — Rachel McAdams, Tim Robbins, and Michael Peña — coming home and has dropped them into a situation that turns their return into a road movie. The set-up works OK in terms of character study, albeit a very contrived one, but the whole thing meanders, and you’re left with a feeling that Lucky Ones wants to make an Iraq war statement, but is afraid to. The characters are likable, the performances are good — especially McAdams, who is excellent — but there’s ultimately not that much there. —Ken Hanke

Miracle at St. Anna (R)
Savaged by most critics, Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna is admittedly too long and somewhat flawed. At the same time, it’s one of the most intensely personal and daring works to hit theaters in far too long. Lee’s film is much more than just a look at the black Buffalo Soldiers of World War II. It’s a surprisingly fanciful and yet deeply-felt drama on the nature of faith. In many ways, the film it most resembles is Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, but don’t take that comparison too far, because this is every inch a Spike Lee film. It bears his stamp on nearly every scene, clearly what works and what doesn’t both come down to Lee himself. The results is a weirdly religious message that may baffle and annoy — a situation that might be exacerbated by an even stranger and endlessly interpretable ending. —Ken Hanke

My Best Friend’s Girl (R)
In its favor, two things can be said of My Best Friend’s Girl. It isn’t quite the torturous abomination I had actually anticipated. The worst I can say is that it merely induces that dull pain at the back of the head that’s the result of brain cells crawling away to die of embarassment. And, there’s a certain scientific value to the film in the study of relativity, since it conclusively proves that Dane Cook looks a lot better when put alongside Jason Biggs. Cook plays Tank, a lout who makes a living by being boorish to women in order to make their boyfriends look better. This comes crashing down when creepy best friend Dustin (Biggs) asks him to do this with the stalking fetish of his dreams, Alexis (Kate Hudson). Nothing goes right, of course, and Tank falls in love with Alexis, etc. The real problem is that it never makes us like these people. They’re obnoxious cardboard characters going through the conventions of a genre that requires a light touch and something other than a lout, a creep, and a dimwit at its center. —Ken Hanke

Nights in Rodanthe (PG-13)
It’s pure unadulterated soap, and while soap can be engaging, even moving, Nights in Rodanthe misses the mark thanks to the typically ludicrous Nicholas Sparks plotting. It’s never a question of whether a thing is going to happen, only when, and there’s precious little mystery. On the plus side, the film is gorgeously photographed, designed and edited. Stage director George C. Wolfe seems to have an instinctive sense of film, or perhaps he’s merely revelling in the opportunities it affords. Technically, the biggest drawback is its hideous musical score (a lot of random guitar and piano noodling that’s barely music), but what sinks the film is this: The only reason we care even briefly about the main characters is grounded in the goodwill Richard Gere and Diane Lane bring with them. The characters themselves are nothing to get excited about — and that’s the one thing soap can’t survive. —Ken Hanke

Righteous Kill (R)
Righteous Kill‘s sole selling point is the teaming of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. What the film’s advertising fails to mention is that this isn’t the picture’s only reunion, as Pacino and director Jon Avnet have worked together previously, on the egregiously terrible 88 Minutes. Maybe the biggest disappointment in Righteous Kill isn’t the two leads phoning in their performances, but that it’s never as unintentionally hilarious as 88 Minutes. What the two movies have in common is their convoluted, largely incoherent nature, but in this case, there’re no exploding cars, no babe-magnet sexagenarians, no runaway fire trucks, no murderous lesbians. Instead, we get a plot that’s just as pointless and inane, but instead wrapped up in a self-serious tone due to its “important” actors. It’s a tame “which cop is taking the law into his own hands” mystery with a twist that’s obvious from around the 10-minute mark. ­—Justin Souther

Traitor (PG-13)
The way Traitor came to pass is this: Steve Martin, in the throes of Bringing Down the House, had an idea for an espionage thriller. It involved an undercover U.S. military operative deep into war-on-terror territory in the Middle East, possibly at the center of a murderous international conspiracy, and on the run from terrorists and feds alike. And it ended with a major twist. Martin told his idea to a producer, who is said to have liked it but didn’t seem to be doing anybody any favors by hiring Jeffrey Nachmanoff — the co-writer of that glum, dumb, global-warming disaster-flick The Day After Tomorrow — to write it up and direct. Still, Nachmanoff had a twist of his own to offer, which was that the protagonist should be a Muslim American, deeply conflicted about the moral imperatives of his actions. —Jonathan Kiefer

Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys (PG-13)
Tyler Perry’s latest opus is just more of the same. It’s silly soap with ham-handed characterizations, dubious depictions of “family values” (here extended to watching a cuckolded husband backhand his wife across a lunch counter with the intent of generating a cheer from the audience), and impossibly clunky dialogue. Yet for all that, The Family That Preys is also the first Perry film that actually looks like it belongs on a movie screen rather than a TV set or projected on a basement wall in a church. More, the casting of Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates as two long-time friends trying to hold their respective interconnected familiies together was a shrewd move on Perry’s part. Unfortunately, the pair can only do so much with the material at hand, and it’s not enough to raise the movie out of the realm of the cheap melodrama that has marked all of Perry’s movies. Perhaps if he’d get a co-writer and stop listening to the fans who tell him he’s a genius, Perry might make a good movie. This isn’t it. —Ken Hanke

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