Opening This Week

Monsters vs. Aliens (PG)
An animated movie about an earthling turned into a monster as part of a secret government plot. Later, she’s released to save the world. Stars the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Rainn Wilson, and our own Stephen Colbert.

The Haunting in Connecticut (PG-13) A mother (Virginia Madsen) moves her ailing son to rural Connecticut for his health only to find there’s a spooky thing in the house. Also stars Martin Donovan and Elias Koteas.

12 Rounds (PG-13) Wrestler John Cena hits Hollywood in a movie in which his girlfriend is kidnapped and he has to perform a dozen feats of manly strength to rescue her. Also stars Ashley Scott, a native of the Holy City.

Critical Capsules

Confessions of a Shopaholic (PG) Forget the bad reviews — especially the outraged ones that are aghast that a movie with a credit-crazed heroine would dare to show its face at this unfortunate time in history. P.J. Hogan’s Confessions of a Shopaholic is a triumph of style over lack of substance — one made human by Isla Fisher and made romantic by the pairing of Fisher and Hugh Dancy. Fisher plays Rebecca Bloomwood, a wanna-be fashion writer working for a dying gardening magazine, and buried under a mountain of credit card debt. When she accidentally gets a job writing a column for Dancy’s financial magazine, things change for her, since her financial advice — delivered in shopping terms — is immensely popular. The film is essentially a stock romantic comedy, but it’s done with such stylish direction that it feels fresher than it is. And there’s Isla Fisher — the type of comedienne we haven’t really seen since the great screwball comedies of the 1930s, a performer who can remain sexy and appealing even while taking a pratfall. Even if the movie weren’t as pleasant a diversion as it is, she’d make it worth seeing. —Ken Hanke

Duplicity (PG-13) With its fractured narrative and its myriad convolutions, Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity still isn’t as clever and sophisticated as it’s obviously meant to be, but I’m not sure it matters very much. It’s a stylish, entertaining movie with pretty people in pretty clothes (or in very few clothes, which is OK as long it’s pretty people) in pretty locations saying witty things. At this point in the moviegoing year, it’s probably foolish to ask for more. This is a movie for movie people — with a bottle of Dom Perignon at the end. Stylish direction, a script that “thinks,” Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, and champagne. It’s late March and that ain’t bad. The story is basically a reworking of a Cold War spy flick with rival corporations rather than superpowers, and Owen and Roberts as former secret agents out to use their skills to con and defraud the corporations in question for personal gain. Gilroy, however, isn’t content with that alone and has created a “golden age”-style, battle-of-the-sexes romance for his stars, making them unable to trust each other and having that be part and parcel of the very reason they find each other irresistable. It’s the kind of film bonafide movie stars were made for. —Ken Hanke

I Love You, Man (R) I Love You, Man is only the latest in a long line of movies called the “bro-mantic comedy” or perhaps the “dick flick.” And it may have much to teach us about ourselves, my brothers — as we are, as we wish we could be, and as we want to make it excruciatingly clear to everyone that we’re not. It’s kind of depressing watching I Love You, Man look so insecure when attempting to prove its protagonists’ heterosexuality. On the surface, it seems very gay-friendly to have Peter’s (Paul Rudd) out-and-proud brother serving as one of his mentors in wooing male companionship. But one of the big early guffaw moments involves a misunderstanding on one of Peter’s “man-dates,” ending with a vigorous tongue-kissing. Neither director John Hamburg nor Rudd overplays the panic of the moment, but it becomes clear that the gay characters here exist primarily to prove by contrast what Peter and Sydney are not. It’s a shame, really, that I Love You, Man isn’t funnier, and that it feels as uncomfortable in its own skin as its hero. We’re getting closer to learning something interesting about what guys need from other guys, but the sociologists won’t be gleaning more from this effort than a few chuckles. There’s more bro-vado here than bro-mance. —Scott Renshaw

The International (R) We join Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, as a New York City district attorney, as they try to nail the ominously monikered International Bank of Business and Credit for some very bad things that could, arguably, be deemed crimes against humanity. Owen’s agent is twitchy in his hindered authority: He’s ex-Scotland Yard, eager to do some real police work to bring down these banking bastards (he’s crossed swords with them before, of course), and doesn’t want to be limited to Interpol’s information-gathering mandate. Watts is his unruffled counterpart, sleekly professional and calmly competent. (Refreshingly, their investigation is not complicated by romance, though the two actors sizzle with creative chemistry together onscreen.) At one point, during the Guggenheim sequence, everything I thought I knew about what was going on took a 180 turn … and then moments later took another 180 turn that, were normal physics involved here, should have taken us back to where we started, but instead takes us into a whole new realm. It’s awe-inspiring not just in a storytelling sense — how wonderful to be genuinely startled by a movie! — but also in an artistic one. So there really are still filmmakers out there who aren’t content merely to do work that is good enough, but better than we ever might have expected. —MaryAnn Johanson

Knowing (PG-13) Alex Proyas’ Knowing stands a very good chance of being in the running for best bad movie ever made. From a purely visual standpoint, it’s almost impeccable. The first third to one-half of the film is remarkably atmospheric and assured most of the time — even with Nicolas Cage’s patented flat performance. The effects work tends to be very good. Even when it’s not wholly believable, it’s so visually striking that it hardly matters. And there’s a very good Marco Beltrami score to top it off. The problem is that the direction, the effects, and the music are at the service of a screenplay that gets sillier and sillier as it moves from provocative horror thriller into the realm of religious allegory science-fiction. The premise of the movie — that a series of seemingly random numbers put in a time capsule in 1959 by a strange little girl (Lara Robinson) who hears voices whispering to her actually predict disasters for the next 50 years — is OK. The problem is that the more we learn about where the movie is going, the more preposterous it becomes and the less sense it makes — unless you’re willing to accept the notion (never really explained) of what might be called “Freewill Aliens.” Worth a look, but it’s apt to produce about an equal number of thrills and groans. —Ken Hanke

The Last House on the Left (R) The concensus on the Rotten Tomatoes website is that this remake of Wes Craven’s 1972 filmmaking debut “lacks the intellectual punch” of its model. The intellectual punch? Has anyone looked at Craven’s film recently? It’s a vile, dreary, depressing, amateurish work where the big question is whether the film’s instructional film-looking scenes of normal family life or its torture/humiliation/rape/revenge scenes are more appalling. So here comes the Craven-produced remake from Greek director Dennis Iliadis. What exactly can be said about it? Well, it’s less embarassingly made and … well, it’s less embarassingly made. Beyond that, there’s little to be said in its favor. It’s still a dreary story about a family revenging themselves of the people responsible for raping and (in this case) nearly murdering their daughter. This round we get more backstory to the characters, which only results in making the film both unpleasant and tedious. OK, so it does offer us someone getting his head put in a microwave oven, but you have to sit through the whole movie to get to it, and it’s really not worth the bother. —Ken Hanke

Madea Goes to Jail (PG-13) What we have is a ridiculous melodrama about an assistant district attorney (Derek Luke), who’s all set to marry another assistant district attorney (Ion Overman), until he runs into an old friend (Keshia Knight Pulliam in an ill-fitting red wig) who’s been arrested for prostitution. The meeting provokes a crise de conscience on his part (there’s much talk about “what happened that night”) that causes him to want to help her — much to the distaste of his upscale (and patently no good) fiancée. True feelings emerge and duplicity ensues. While all this is going on, there’s an unrelated plot involving Madea, her dope-smoking brother Joe (Perry in the usual high school drama department old-age make-up), the Browns (David and Tamela J. Mann), and lawyer Brian (Tyler Perry), who tries to keep Madea from a well-deserved stint in the big house. After more than an hour of this, we finally get to Madea — and, of course, the wrongfully railroaded prostitute — in jail. Predictability follows. —Ken Hanke

Miss March (R) Millions of brain cells committed suicide when they were exposed to Miss March, a “film” that has the distinction of being both less funny and more tasteless than The Last House on the Left. Miss March is the creation of two guys from a TV show called The Whitest Kids U Know — and it looks it. The pair responsible are Trevor Moore and Zach Cregger. They wrote this mess. They directed this mess. They star in this mess. Never has the term “triple-threat” had such resonance. Their idea of humor is predicated on screaming a lot, while bombarding the viewer with a notion of sex that would embarass a backward 14-year-old boy, and topping it off with a variety of gags centered on faulty bowel control. The “plot” centers around one of them coming out of a coma after four years and learning that his girlfriend is now a centerfold. Naturally, they go across country to the Playboy mansion to find her. Hijinks and encounters with rappers, psychotic firemen, and Russian lesbians follow — as does Hugh Hefner, offering life-lesson advice. —Ken Hanke

Race to Witch Mountain (PG) If someone forced me to come up with a single adjective to describe Andy Fickman’s Race to Witch Mountain, the first to pop into my mind might be “superfluous.” This isn’t because the movie’s a remake of 1975’s Escape to Witch Mountain. The movie is just pointless and unnecessary. Since the film carries the Disney banner, its existence as a moneymaker is already established. But that’s no excuse for the lack of effort. The whole ordeal feels shoddy and cheap. The sets are unconvincing, the action lackluster, the CGI corny bottom-of-the-barrel, and the plot’s riddled with contrivances. It’s all about a taxi driver (Dwayne Johnson) helping a couple of kids (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) get back to their spaceship (they’re really aliens, you see) in order to prevent an invasion of Earth by their planet. Kids may care. Chances are you won’t. —Justin Souther

Watchmen (R) Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is at once better than I feared it would be and a lot less than it might have been. If it’s never quite a trainwreck; neither is it much more than just OK. The problem with that is that OK is far removed from the delusions of grandeur and pop intellectualism that surround this film version of the highly-regarded 1986-87 comic book/graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Stripped of its gory, blood-soaked, sexed-up R-rated approach and its plodding 163-minute running time, the film isn’t much more than another entry in the dysfunctional “superhero” subgenre. Partly, it’s simply the result of the fact that what was fresh — the deconstruction of the superhero — 20-plus years ago just isn’t so fresh today. The main problem, though, is that Snyder hasn’t so much made a film of the comic as he’s taxidermied it. The deeper aspects of the book are subverted in favor of the “bad ass” qualities. The storyline — about a possible conspiracy to murder costumed heroes in an alternative 1985 America where Nixon is still president and nuclear war looms — is retained while the film almost slavishly copies the look of the comic, but characterization and motivation are sketchy to non-existent. Overall, it’s going to please some fans, anger others, and probably leave the uninitiated wondering what all the fuss is about. —Ken Hanke

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