Opening this week

The Pink Panther 2 (PG) Steve Martin is once again the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. Being French will do that to you. He’s out to stop a thief on the prowl for historic artifacts. Also stars Jean Reno and Emily Mortimer.

Push (PG-13) A trio of well-scrubbed teens with supernatural powers are on a mission from God — well, actually, the U.S. government. Gosh, it’s supposed to be a secret! Stars Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, and Chris Evans.

He’s Just Not That into You (PG-13) It’s a romantic comedy with so many Big Names we’ve run out of room to list them all. See TV for more.

Let the Right One In (R) A Swedish film about a cute girl next door who happens to be a vampire. In Swedish with English subtitles. Stars Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, and Per Ragnar

Critical Capsules

Frost/Nixon (R) Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprise their roles from the award-laden stage version (a hit first in London and then on Broadway), and so it should be; the casting is definitive. Sheen, so memorably exact as Tony Blair in The Queen (another Morgan script), brings Frost alive more loosely, with a palpable combination of playboy cockiness and vulnerable status anxiety — as befits a ratings-sensitive, reasonably famous media personality who’s not taken seriously as a journalist and not entirely sure he wants to be. He bares his toothy grin as both weapon and shield at once. Langella is not the first and probably won’t be the last actor to portray the disgraced 37th president on the big screen, but his ownership of the role is total. This is so much more than merely an impersonation, and so completely consistent, that every once in a while it becomes hard to remember what the real Nixon looked and sounded like. —Jonathan Kiefer

Inkheart (PG) Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser) inadvertently sent his wife, Resa (Sienna Guillory), into a book called Inkheart while reading it aloud. In so doing, he also caused characters from that book — Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) and Capricorn (Andy Serkis) — into our world. The book in question has become increasingly difficult to find in the intervening nine years that bring us to modern times. Mo’s pursuit of this book — with the idea of somehow reading Resa “out” of it — has become his major preoccupation. It’s also high on the list of Dustfinger, who wants to be read back “into” the book, and Capricorn, who has other ideas. Likable supporting characters, and actors like Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, help make this agreeable entertainment, but Iain Softley’s flat-footed direction (especially at the end) keeps trying to sink it. —Ken Hanke

Let the Right One In (R) Chief among the strengths of Let the Right One In is that special, subtle way it has of making rarity seem like commonality. Let the Right One In is set in Sweden and is transcendently good — without even one single false note. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a chalky-featured, forlorn, and morbidly curious 12-year-old, passes the suburban Stockholm winter by being bullied at school, slipping into wounded isolation, and edging toward psychopathy. But he has a strangely alluring, dark-eyed new neighbor, Eli (Lina Leandersson), “more or less” his own age and more or less a girl, who insists they can’t be friends but seems to want to, and also seems to have her own unique burdens of outsiderhood to bear. Most significantly: She’s an immortal being who feasts on human blood. They will come to understand the yearnings they have in common. Oskar’s first stirrings of desire, way out of proportion to his self-awareness, and Eli’s evident weariness of eternal life, compounded by a strange kind of survivor guilt, collide in an improbably moving combination of transgressive fantasy and lonely resignation. —Jonathan Kiefer

New in Town (PG-13) Before I sat through Jonas Elmer’s New in Town on Sunday afternoon, I’d have said that putting J.K. Simmons and a T. Rex song in a movie could only help. Now I know better. Neither the usually reliable Mr. Simmons nor Marc Bolan’s “20th Century Boy” do a blessed thing to help thaw this icebound exercise in romantic comedy. You’ve seen everything offered here before. You’ve seen it done better, too. It’s that old wheeze about the tough-minded career gal (Renee Zelwegger) from the big city who gets sent to make changes at a dinky manufacturing plant in the sticks that’s been taken over by a large corporation. The natives are strange creatures for her — and us — to gawk at, make fun of, and feel superior to for two-thirds of the movie. Then she — and we — see the error of our ways, realize that these are the real people who’ve “got it right.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt matters any that our tough-minded career gal finds romance in the form of a champion-of-the-little-man union boss (Harry Connick Jr.). The clichés are thicker than ice on the frozen lakes that crop up in the movie, and the writing is transparent beyond belief. It’s also neither funny nor romantic. —Ken Hanke

The Reader (R) The Reader comes from a dark place altogether. It concerns an affair that begins in 1958 between a woman (Kate Winslet) in her 30s and a 15-year-old boy (David Kross), but that’s not the crux off the film, which deals with their later lives, her guilt as a guard at Auschwitz, his own mirrored guilt in not speaking up when he should have, and the price both ultimately pay. Beautifully made, splendidly acted, and of greater substance than most movies, The Reader poses some very difficult questions. Which means it’s a somewhat uncomfortable film. It’s smart enough, however, to know it need not answer them, and so leaves it up to the viewer. Demanding? Yes. But that’s also why it’s such a worthwhile accomplishment. —Ken Hanke

Revolutionary Road (R) There’s an underlying tension, and their marriage seems on the verge of tearing apart until April (Kate Winslet) suggests a bold plan: Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) will quit his job, they’ll sell the house, and they’ll move the whole family to Paris. Their friends and neighbors can’t quite grasp their “unrealistic” decision, but the Wheelers believe they finally can forge a meaningful life — unless something unexpected rears its head. The reunion of Titanic co-stars DiCaprio and Winslet after more than 10 years is not just a case of stunt casting; both actors are just right for the parts. Winslet’s brittle ferocity energizes April’s desperate need for something more than the role into which she has settled, while DiCaprio conveys both Frank’s intelligence and the eagerness to please, which is his undoing. Both of them attack the broken heart of the Wheelers’ marriage: a failure by both of them to understand that while April truly wants to escape from the norm, Frank — despite his bohemian pretensions — only wants an excuse for settling into a comfortable life. —Scott Renshaw

Slumdog Millionaire (R) Despite some outwardly grim circumstances, Slumdog Millionaire remains surprisingly ebullient. It’s filled with movement and candy colors, and Boyle is able to see the wonder of slums through the eyes of children who race through this vibrant universe. This is a feel-good coming-of-age story that offers a transcendent tale of a mistreated waif. And this story is buoyed along by its simple love story. Jamal strives to reunite with Latika, who has grown into a gorgeous young woman and whose beauty has become a liability. The improbabilities tend to stack up as the film sails along. There are atmospheric, romantic reunions at train stations that seem too perfectly-timed to be true. And some of the slumdog children have supernatural memories, able to recognize former buddies by the sound of their voices. To truly enjoy Slumdog Millionaire, you have to give yourself over to a film smartly released at a very opportune cultural moment. —Felicia Feaster

Taken (PG-13) In Taken, Liam Neeson kicks so much ass. How much? Well, imagine the exact amount of ass-kicking you think is enough, plus even more. Now double it. And he takes names, sometimes, but only to find out which asses he’ll kick next. Many of them don’t even have names. They’re dead, instead. That’s right: In addition to, and often as a result of kicking ass, Neeson — or, well, his character, ex-spy Bryan Mills — also does a whole lot o’ killin’. The reason is that his teen daughter, while vacationing in Paris with a girlfriend, has been kidnapped by sex traffickers. It’s Bryan’s worst nightmare. Or maybe his secret hope? Actually, the reason is that he’s highly trained, by Uncle Sam no less, in the arts of kicking ass and killin’. He even explains this to the kidnapper on the phone, at considerable length, in a riveting, parody-ripe little monologue evidently much cherished by screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, director Pierre Morel and not least Neeson himself. ­—Jonathan Kiefer

The Uninvited (PG-13) I guess The Uninspired and The Uninvolving were considered too honest, but they’d certainly be a more accurate description of the Guard Brothers’ The Uninvited. Oh, it’s fairly competently made and occasionally even atmospheric. But overall this is one of those movies that’s not bad enough to be funny, yet not good enough to be good. It’s passable with an audience of teenaged girls, who shriek right on cue at every shock effect. Even then, there’s an awful lot of dead air in between the shrieks. The story’s all about a girl (Emily Browning) fresh out of the laughing academy — from a stint there following the traumatic death of her invalid mother in a fire — and the spooky shenanigans she finds at home. Visions of charred mom clue her in on the idea that Mom’s nurse (Elizabeth Banks), who is now Dad’s (David Strathairn) fiancée, is responsible for the fire and other murderous doings as well. Dad is so sex-struck that he will hear nothing against the woman, of course. All of this is leading to one of those convenient absences for Dad, a somewhat surprisingly sanguinary (for the PG-13 rating) climax and a twist ending that would make M. Night Shyamalan blush with shame. —Ken Hanke


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