Bratz: The Movie (PG) During their first year of high school, four best girlfriends face off against the domineering student body president who wants to split them up into different social cliques.
Hot Rod (PG-13) An accident-prone daredevil (SNL‘s Andy Samberg) plans to jump the Snake River on a moped in order to win over his emotionally distant stepfather (Ian McShane).
Rescue Dawn (PG-13) Acclaimed documentarian Werner Herzog’s recounting of a U.S. fighter pilot’s (Christian Bale) epic struggle of survival after being shot down on a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War.
Underdog (PG) A lab accident turns a humble dog named Shoeshine Boy (voiced by Jason Lee) into Underdog, a superheroic pooch who speaks in rhyme. He uses his new skills to protect his love, Polly Purebred, and the rest of the residents of Capitol City from the mad scientist Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage).
Evan Almighty (PG) Not exactly a sequel per se to 2003’s Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty takes the biblical story of Noah, modernizes it, and then tells it the way Christian church leaders probably wish it was. You know, the warm, fluffy, pop-up book version with cute, fuzzy animals and none of that whole wrath of God, weeping and gnashing of teeth stuff that’s actually in it. Also missing is my favorite part of the biblical story: Noah’s drunken, nude, arguably homosexual post-flood celebration. For Evan, Steve Carell keeps his clothes on (most of the time) and goes for friendly, family-oriented comedy instead. Evan Almighty is a carefully PG family movie, geared towards being the kind of film church groups take their kids to after Sunday school. —Joshua Tyler
Hairspray (PG) The latest in a spate of movie-to-Broadway-to-movie adaptations, Hairspray couldn’t be more charming and joyous, more get-up-and-dance toe-tapping, more simply agreeable. Oh, sure, there’s satire galore about the wages of conformity and the price of small-mindedness — there’s no hedging in the send-up here of the idiocy of racial segregation, the crux around which Balitmorean teen Tracy Turnblad (newcomer Nikki Blonsky, who’s lovely) experiences her coming of age in 1962. But it’s couched in bouffant cotton candy and spritely songs. Even John Travolta in his drag fat suit as Edna, Tracy’s mom, is cuddly and adorable. If you want John Waters’ original film version — which is surely more redolent of his snide, acid humor — that one still exists, of course. But if you want the fluffy, featherweight but enchanting Broadway version, it’s as good as entertainment for the masses gets. —MaryAnn Johanson
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (PG-13) New director David Yates has delivered the grittiest, grimmest, most significant Harry Potter film yet. Even the light moments here ring with the gloomy force of the larger story. Harry is hauled up before the Ministry of Magic for trumped-up charges; the wizard newspaper The Daily Prophet is full of the denials from the Ministry that Voldemort has returned and that Harry is a liar for saying so; and a new headmaster has been appointed at Hogwarts to stamp down on the rebellion simmering there among the students — with obvious echoes of current world events. Meanwhile, Harry worries that he is more like You-Know-Who than anyone will tell him. That’s the real and palpable horror here: not the magic spells and the scary creatures, but the shadows that lurk in one seemingly ordinary boy, and that lurk all around us in the Muggle world. Escapism? Order of the Phoenix is as grounded in authenticity as movies get. —MaryAnn Johanson
I Know Who Killed Me (R) The new Lindsay Lohan vehicle — it’s a hearse — is the single most demented and incoherent movie of the year. In director Chris Sivertson’s inexplicable film, Lohan plays a young woman who has several extremities cut off by a mad killer, from whom she mysteriously escapes. Then she claims not to be the solid middle-class high-schooler she’s supposed to be, but a pole dancer of easy virtue and zero terpsichorean talent. It all ends up involving “stigmatic twins” (cue the Patty Duke Show theme variant: “But they’re stigmatics, identical stigmatics, and you’ll find…”). Don’t believe it? Ask Art Bell — he’s in the movie and explains it. And that’s one of the saner bits. —Ken Hanke
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (R) Your typical execrable Adam Sandler “comedy” with one minor difference — it’s a series of lame, offensive homosexual panic and “don’t drop the soap” gags that Sandler and company think they can get away with for 90 minutes as long as they spend the last 20 minutes speaking out for gay rights. I’m inclined to think the movie’s actually sincere. The problem is that this doesn’t change the fact that this stupid tale of two firefighters (Sandler and Kevin James) pretending to be a gay couple to get benefits is woefully unfunny, meandering, and just not very well made. At best, it’s an awful movie with its heart in the right place. That doesn’t keep if from being a bad movie, but if it makes even one homophobic jerk stop and think for a moment, then it’s a bad movie that wasn’t for nothing. —Ken Hanke
La Vie en Rose (PG-13) Possessed of a voice at once transportive and painfully delicate, Edith Piaf rose from poverty in 1915 France to become the bright light of concert halls from the Paris Olympia to Carnegie Hall. She gained still more fame during World War II by supporting the French resistance. Piaf was a friend to Yves Montand, Jean Cocteau, and Maurice Chevalier until her death of cancer in 1963. Director Olivier Dahan’s moving portrait of Piaf, La Vie en Rose, moves in an impressionistic fashion, from Piaf’s guttersnipe childhood to her teenage years, to decrepitude and then back again to adulthood, all conveyed in a brilliant performance by 31-year-old Marion Cotillard (Big Fish, A Good Year). Dahan’s direction is stunning and as attentive to tone as to sophisticated film technique. He is able to render the emotional elasticity of Piaf’s life from ecstasy to tragedy. Yet despite its story of suffering that comes in unceasing waves, La Vie en Rose may be the most hopeful film yet made about the grueling rigor of living. —Felicia Feaster
Live Free or Die Hard (PG-13) The title sounds like it ought to star Fifty Cent, but in fact Live Free or Die Hard (I guess they thought that calling it Die More Hardest would be stretching things) is all about Bruce Willis being a wisecracking bad-ass and engaging in an increasingly preposterous series of action/adventure set-pieces. This attempt to resuscitate the Die Hard franchise after the passage of 12 years and the remainder of Mr. Willis’ hairline is surprisingly effective at doing what it sets out to do. The bad guys are decent B-listers (Timothy Olyphant and Maggie Q), all Willis gets for a sidekick is Justin Long (of Jeepers Creepers and Mac commercials fame), and the plot never makes much sense. (It’s all about computers doing the kind of things computers can only do in the movies.) But as a thrill ride where a lot of stuff blows up and Willis trades barbs with anyone within earshot, it’s a lot of adrenalin-fueled fun. —Ken Hanke
No Reservations (PG) This critic, for one, has plenty of reservations. I don’t know if this Americanized remake of the German Mostly Martha is really that much lamer than the original, as has been suggested. Maybe vomitable life-lesson lines of dialogue like, “We both know it’s the recipes you create yourself that are the best” sound less emetic in German. This is essentially that film moved Stateside and populated with Catherine Zeta-Jones as the temperamental chef, Aaron Eckhart as the newly hired sous chef she can’t abide, and Abigail Breslin as recently orphaned niece Zeta-Jones finds herself raising. The film follows each and every formulaic requirement of the genre — right down to the penultimate reel’s misunderstanding. It’s blandly OK, but it could have used a lot more time in the oven. —Ken Hanke
Ratatouille (G) Writer/director Brad Bird’s latest from Pixar is the tale of Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a country rat who’s convinced that his destiny isn’t scavenging through garbage, but creating haute cuisine. Remy makes his way to Paris, and teams up with cleaning boy Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano) to become a hot-to-trot chef team. Ratatouille hits most of its high points in its tightly choreographed action sequences. Whenever Ratatouille is in motion, it feels almost as delightful as its Pixar predecessors. Yet in other ways, it sags where other Pixar films excelled. Remy makes for a surprisingly muted hero, neither his character nor Oswalt’s voice performance ever vibrant enough to carry the narrative. Nearly every supporting character similarly lacks a breakout presence. Ratatouille marks the first occasion where a Pixar film manages to get only the visual presentation right, while serving up a recipe we’ve sampled many times before. —Scott Renshaw
Sicko (PG-13) I can’t imagine a more important movie being released this year. I can’t imagine another movie making me feel so ashamed for America as a whole, or doing so with more justification. Sicko is an explicit call for revolution, and it is a profound and horrifying one. The underlying point of Michael Moore’s documentary is that our health care system in America is deeply sick because it is geared toward ensuring obscene profits for the corporations in the health-insurance racket and not toward ensuring that people are hale and hearty. With wit that’s as devastating a takedown as any angry rant could be, Moore makes fun of the image of “socialized” medicine that’s been sold to us by those same corporations. And in the larger context, he shows us how the American character has faltered under our system of “health care.” The inevitable question he leaves us with is: How do we find the energy for a revolution when we’ve come to such a frail and feeble state in both body and soul? That’s the depressing crux of Sicko. —MaryAnn Johanson
The Simpsons Movie (PG-13) Judging by its first-weekend box-office take, it was worth the 20 years it took The Simpsons Movie to make it to the big screen, and if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll probably agree. If you’re not, this film version isn’t likely to convert you. It’s essentially little more than a 30-minute episode extended to 90 minutes, a concept that both sells it to the fans and undermines itself. The first third is good, moving at lightning speed and not afraid to be random while setting up the plot about Homer accidentally turning Springfield into a toxic waste blight. Unfortunately, the film’s remainder becomes mired in the mechanics of that plot at the expense of the gags. For die-hard Simpsons addicts only. —Ken Hanke
Sunshine (PG-13) After dabbling for a decade or so in stories with at least a minimal grounding in human reality, Danny Boyle appears to have found the milieu that suits him best: When it’s the end of the world as we know it, he feels fine. In collaboration with his 28 Days Later writer Alex Garland, Boyle offers up another bleak near-future scenario in Sunshine: The sun is on the verge of burning out, taking humanity along with it. After a failed attempt by a team of astronauts to kick-start the sun’s fission furnace with a big-time nuke, a second mission takes flight seven years later. Sunshine inevitably invites comparison to plenty of other memorable deep-space creep-outs. But when Boyle simply dives into his set pieces, he delivers tension that makes it easy to forget comparisons. It’s messy and uneven, but as pure genre filmmaking it generally works. Boyle’s too talented to blow a concept like this — not when it would risk his next chance to put a jolt into imminent extinction. —Scott Renshaw
Transformers (PG-13) Not another big-budget summer spectacle — this is a full-on Gen-X nostalgia trip. Thus we get a revival of the 1980s-birthed civil war between the noble Autobots and the conquest-minded Decepticons, brought to earth in the quest for a powerful object called the All Spark. It’s busy, it’s silly — and none of it matters when the big metal critters are dominating the screen in the many frantic action sequences. Unfortunately, this is a film directed by Michael Bay, so don’t count on getting nearly enough sense of what that action is. Still, the Transformers truly are kick-ass movie creations, though Bay has seen fit to shoehorn them into a ridiculously over-stuffed story. It’s all less than it could have been, and no more or less than exactly what meets the eye: a big party for anyone who was ready to applaud the moment a truck turned into a robot, just like it did in their bedroom 20 years ago. —Scott Renshaw
Who’s Your Caddy? (PG-13) So bad, it makes Caddyshack II look like Caddyshack, and that’s a hell of an accomplishment. Who’s Your Caddy? follows a rap mogul named C-Note, played by Antwan Andre Patton, aka Big Boi of hip-hop group OutKast, who is denied membership into a predominately white country club (headed up by Jeffrey Jones!). From there, hijinks theoretically ensue, but in reality we get a comedy filled with racial and class stereotypes, clichés, and tired jokes. Director Don Michael Paul goes for the easy joke every time, and the entire ordeal looks and feels like an astonishingly bad sitcom. —Justin Souther