opening this week

Failure to Launch (PG-13) A mom and dad set their son (Matthew McConaughey) up with the perfect-girlfriend-for-hire (Sarah Jessica Parker) in a plot to get him to finally move out of their home.

The Hills Have Eyes (R) Director Alexandre Aja (High Tension) remakes Wes Craven’s classic horror film in which a car accident strands a vacationing family deep in the desert, where a family of mutated savages targets them for death.

The Libertine (R) Reviewed at left.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (Unrated) Reviewed on page 34.

Shaggy Dog (PG) Remake no. 2 this week. While investigating the goings-on at an animal laboratory, workaholic deputy district attorney Dave Douglas (Tim Allen) is accidentally infected with a serum that turns him into a sheepdog.

critical capsules

16 Blocks (PG-13) A tired-looking Bruce Willis plods his way through this tired-looking rag-bag of cliches churned out by the apparently also tired director Richard Donner from a screenplay by Richard Wenk (Vamp). The theory undoubtedly was that combining the star of the Die Hard franchise with the director of the Lethal Weapon franchise would result in fireworks. Instead, it’s a by-the-numbers damp squib — like a bad TV movie. Chances are you won’t care whether or not Willis and the witness (Mos Def) who’s supposed to testify against some dirty cops survive that 16-block trek to the courthouse. —Ken Hanke

Aquamarine (PG) It’s tweener time at the movies … again. This soggy tale about two girls (Emma Roberts and Joanna “JoJo” Levesque) who befriend a mermaid (Sara Paxton) is never mean-spirited. It’s never cruel. It’s just so … innocuous. It’s an afternoon special that seems to have blundered into a theater by accident on its way to a TV set. Does this sort of thing really appeal to 13-year-old girls? Or do the people who made it just think that it should? It won’t hurt you, but that’s the best I can say. The best performance comes from Australia, which plays the part of Tampa Bay with fair conviction. —


Brokeback Mountain (R) The name and setting of director Ang Lee’s much heralded new film perfectly evokes pain and loneliness and all those other tragically romantic emotions that twist your gut into a knot in the best love stories — and Lee’s remarkable film is one of the best ever. There’s nothing in the least political about it — it’s not about anything more than two people in love. The two people both happen to be men, but the fact that these guys couldn’t be more guyish might convince those who need convincing that that’s true for everyone who’s not heterosexual. Movies don’t change the world, but if one changes the minds and thaws the hearts of just a few people, that’s a start, maybe. —MaryAnn Johanson

Curious George (G) It captures that strange and wonderful state of a child’s psyche that comes about when intense inquisitiveness is encouraged and supported by parental love and attention and not too much scolding for perfectly normal mischief-making. And this Curious George is pretty much strictly for those little kids, which is fantastic: there’re so few films aimed at very young children that aren’t insipid or full of exactly the wrong kind of monkey business.If you loved George as a kid — and who didn’t? — there’s plenty to enjoy here even if you graduated from kindergarten way back in the 20th century. —MJ

Date Movie (PG-13) A sampling of Date Movie: Two Hobbits and a wizard walk into a jewelry store. One Hobbit asks the clerk how much she’ll give him for a certain ring in his possession. She offers $50 while the wizard bemoans the fate of mankind over the transaction. The Hobbit tells him to shut up and kicks him squarely between the legs. The wizard doubles up in pain, crying, “My precious!” Are you laughing? If so, this strangely unpleasant attempt to do for (or to) romantic comedies what Scary Movie did for horror films is for you. Otherwise, avoid at all costs. —KH

Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (R) Those looking for the next work from Michel Gondry — the director of the cult hit The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — had best wait for his announced Master of Time and Space if they’re wanting something comparable. This documentary from comic Dave Chappelle has a good heart and a good message, but the comedy quotient — while quirky enough — is low, and its primary audience is going to be fans of hip-hop. Otherwise, it’s unlikely that the film will hold much appeal. —KH

Deep Sea 3D (Unrated) Directed by renowned underwater cinematographer Howard Hall, Deep Sea 3D takes viewers through a pastiche of some of the ocean’s oddest creatures, many of which we’ve seen before in superior documentaries like the BBC’s Blue Planet. Still, with narration from Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet and the underwater vistas leaping out from a five-story-tall IMAX screen, it really is remarkably like being underwater, right next to the creatures themselves. Perhaps the best thing about the film is the music of frequent Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman; when a small anemone extends a series of seemingly never-ending branch-like arms accompanied by a jaunty Elfman ditty, one can’t help but wonder, just for a second, if it’s real or animation. —Sara Miller 

Doogal (G) This vapid release from the Weinsteins (who got lucky with Hoodwinked) is a redubbed and thoroughly Americanized version of a 2005 British release called The Magic Roundabout. It’s also a terminal case of dumbing-down. Sure, American audiences might not know that a roundabout is a merry-go-round, but we’re also apparently so intellectually stunted that the name “Dougal” has to be spelled out phonetically for us as “Doogal.” The uninvolving sub-Lord of the Rings story about an evil wizard trying to freeze the world into perpetual winter likely wasn’t any great shake in its original form — the animation is crude, the characters unappealingly rendered — but it had to be better than this.

Eight Below (PG) When eight sled dogs are abandoned in the Antarctic wilderness, they must struggle for survival against the elements while their owner fights to return and rescue them. The dogs are absolutely beautiful, and outshine a lot of the little flaws plaguing their movie. Dave DiGilo’s screenplay doesn’t pull any punches, and capably balances the demands of realism and family-friendly entertainment. This being a Disney movie, you can see the happy ending coming from a mile away. But when it comes, at least you feel you’ve earned it. —JT

Final Destination 3 (R) Everybody dies, but then that’s not much of a spoiler, since the same thing happened in both previous Final Destinations. This time, though, death is almost the least depressing thing facing the cast; the film’s encyclopedic litany of despair lends ex-X-Files scribe and Destination director/co-writer James Wong’s skilled, minor panic attack of a movie an unexpected, cumulative gravity. By about the fourth teen death, it becomes clear the franchise is going to stay true to formula and nobody is going to get out of here alive, and the film takes on the feel of an increasingly discomfiting death watch. That one character survives long enough to weakly give the world the finger is the movie’s sole victory. — IG

Firewall (PG-13) If nothing else, this stupefyingly boring wannabe thriller stands as a testament to what a really bad idea an Indiana Jones 4 starring 63-year-old Harrison Ford is. His feats of derring-do in Firewall are … let’s just say unpersuasive. So is the film. In fact, Ford isn’t the worst thing about this high-tech variation on The Desperate Hours with a singularly low-tech mentality. The plot has Ford as a computer security expert who finds himself at the mercy of vicious criminal Paul Bettany (warming up for The DaVinci Code?), who is going to off Ford’s whole family unless he help them rob the bank he works for. You’ve seen it all before and done better — probably as a TV movie of the week. —KH

Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D (Unrated) Until we get some poets into space, Magnificent Desolation may be as close as anyone gets to imparting the astronauts’ feelings of awe to the rest of us. The IMAX film promises to put viewers on the lunar surface, and through previously unreleased photos and footage from NASA’s archives, along with CGI and re-enactments, it pulls off the illusion. As entertaining as it is educational, the hyper-realistic 3D sims and cleverly collated archival footage give filmgoers the best idea yet of what it’s like to set foot on gray lunar soil. —KH

The Pink Panther (PG) Despite its surprising box-office performance on opening weekend (probably due to Steve Martin’s new status as a “family friendly” funny man, thanks to those abominable Cheaper by the Dozen flicks), this misbegotten “prequel” to the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers Pink Panther series is every bit as bad as its having been moved from a summer to a February release date suggests. Martin just isn’t Peter Sellers, no matter how hard he tries to be with his sub-Rich Little impression. The very fact that he’s so desperately trying (Sellers made it look effortless) would be enough to sink the movie by itself. Mechanical slapstick, however, steps in to bury it. —KH

Roving Mars (Unrated) Director George Butler, whose previous IMAX outing took him to Antarctica, delivers an eye-popping mix of people and machine, of genuine images and computer-assisted animations based on real pictures from NASA’s two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity — all of it accompanied by a magnificently ethereal score from composer Philip Glass. This is space-geek nirvana. I didn’t think it was possible for me to be any more in love with the idea of Mars — of going there, of exploring the planet, of seeing the Martian sights. But after seeing Roving Mars, I am. —MJ

Running Scared (R) Wayne Kramer follows up his indie debut film, The Cooler, with this no-holds-barred violent — beyond violent — crime thriller about a lowly mob member (Paul Walker), who specializes in cleaning up after “hits.” He’s been keeping the evidence as an insurance policy should he ever need it, and the kid next door (Cameron Bright) sees him stash a gun used to kill a crooked cop, which the kid then steals and uses to try to kill his abusive meth-dealer low-level Russian mobster step-father. In reality, this is possibly the most perverse fairy tale ever committed to film — and a completely wild ride. Brilliant and stylish, Running Scared doesn’t go over the top — it blows the top off and dances in the rubble. —KH

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (R) Set in the gorgeous, thirsty landscapes of West Texas-Chihuahua, a story that should be something of a race against time turns into a patiently morbid meditation on place. Guillermo Arriaga rearranges the sequence of events into his trademark brilliant confusions. The result is unexpected: methodical and thoughtful where it could have been paranoid and adrenaline-fueled, the film’s sacred pace and silent sarcasm are just right for a new West that feels older than ever.

Transamerica (R) Felicity Huffman gives what should have been the Oscar-winning performance of the year as a transgendered man in this worthy first feature from writer-director Duncan Tucker. Being a first film, it it tries very hard to impress you and get you to like it, and has a couple of missteps along the way as a result. But that doesn’t keep it from being a great little movie. The plot revolves around Huffman’s character discovering he has a son he never knew about — and a psychiatrist who won’t sign off on the final sex-change operation till Huffman deals with the troubled young man. By turns hysterical and heartbreaking, this is a film of tremendous warmth, charm and perception, anchored to a central performance that’s plain brilliant.

Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion (PG-13) For anyone still unfamiliar with Tyler Perry’s Madea franchise, there’s one important thing to keep in mind: Madea may be a big momma, but she’s no Big Momma. What a surprise, then, to find genuine humor in Madea’s Family Reunion, the sequel to Perry’s 2005 hit, Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Considering the inoffensive lightweight sermonizing that runs through the whole of Perry’s film, it would seem the perfect antidote to harried parents in need of some quality cinema time with their own offspring. But, of course, there’re the flatulence and sex jokes to bring Perry’s ultimately noble attempt down to a more pedestrian level. That’s too bad. —MS

Ultraviolet (PG-13) Hilarious, but for all the wrong reasons. Though undeniably ambitious — in terms of both style and wildly overstated allegory — I can’t conceive of calling Ultraviolet a good movie in any reasonable sense of the term. Overall, it’s a film that can best be thought of as the work of a more cerebral Uwe Boll. It’s a silly futuristic bit of nonsense with the worst special effects I’ve ever seen (even with Milla Jovovitch). Its message might have been interesting, in the manner of old Soviet propaganda movies (sort of Eisenstein by way of Marvel Comics), but the whole thing is so awash in awful dialogue, bad action scenes, and fuzzy plotting that it sinks almost at once. —KH

Wild Safari 3D: A South African Adventure (Unrated) The Charleston IMAX reaches back to 2005 for a kid-friendly 3D tour through South Africa’s national parks in search of the worlds top five big game animals: the elephant, the Cape buffalo, the rhinoceros, the leopard, and the lion. It’s mostly a film for the 12-and-under set, as the pacing moves at Teletubbie speed. The film rolls as if the audience is seated in the back of a topless Range Rover; it’s supposed to make one feel in the middle of the action, but the only action you’re likely to feel is car sickness. As with most IMAX films, the entertainment quotient is at least matched by the fun-fact-and-educational-anecdote quotient. But for those not toting tots, consider passing on this one and taking in the remarkable Roving Mars instead. —Kinsey Labberton