opening this week

Don’t Trip … He Ain’t Through with Me Yet (PG) Comedian Steve Harvey leaves his blue material at home in this stand-up performance in front of church-folk at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta, Ga.

She’s the Man (PG-13) When her big brother decides to ditch for a couple weeks in London, Viola (Amanda Bynes) heads over to his elite boarding school, disguises herself as him, and proceeds to fall for one of her soccer teammates.

Thank You for Smoking (PG-13) A comedy based on the book by Christopher Buckley. Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) earns a paycheck as Big Tobacco’s chief spokesman and administer of spin, a job that makes it tough for him to remain a role model for his 12-year-old son.

V for Vendetta (R) Reviewed at left.

The White Countess (PG-13) Reviewed on page 42.

critical capsules

16 Blocks (PG-13) A tired-looking Bruce Willis plods his way through this tired-looking rag-bag of clichés 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

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

Failure to Launch (PG-13) This somewhat repellent romantic comedy is about a woman (Sarah Jessica Parker) who specializes in duping 30-somethings still living at home by pretending to fall in love with them — thereby making them want to strike out on their own and get a house with an attic and a cookie jar, a wife, and 2.3 children. Since this is rom-com world, we aren’t supposed to wonder what happens when she dumps them, but merely be charmed when her scheme backfires and she falls for one of her subjects (Matthew McConaughey). It’s frankly not funny, romantic, or even remotely charming. —KH

The Hills Have Eyes (R) About halfway through Alexandre Aja’s remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes I was convinced that the film’s tag line, “The lucky ones die first,” was referring to the viewers of this entrail-festooned entry in the Inbred Hillbilly Cannibal sub-subgenre. There are moments in the film when new heights of imbecility must be scaled by the victims in order to keep the plot going, which itself offers some amusement value. The original 1977 version looked like it was made for $1.75, and while this new one looks like it cost at least 10 times that much, whatever visceral power Craven’s original had was lost in the budget increase. —KH

The Libertine (R) Johnny Depp, as the debauched 17th-century English poet and notorious rake John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, is creepy and alluring at the same time. If only the rest of the movie could keep up with Depp’s astonishing ability to dominate the screen and make you his cinematic bitch. Director Laurence Dunmore, in his feature film debut, relies too much on low-light shooting and the resultant graininess to signify Wilmot’s corruption and the general depravity of the culture of his world. But mostly, there’s not enough genuine raunch in The Libertine‘s bawdiness to rise above the level of transitory shock for shock’s sake. —MJ

Mrs. Henderson Presents (R) Oscar-nominated Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins make a perfect — if somewhat unorthodox — screen team in this delightful new film from Stephen Frears about the history of London’s legendary Windmill Theatre. Don’t let the historical setting (or that dreaded phrase “inspired by true events”) put you off. This is no dry study of history, but a delicious confection about getting a nude stage show past the British censors. Though nudity abounds, it should be noted that Dame Judi does not strip off, though Mr. Hoskins does. That will probably appeal to someone’s prurient interest. —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

Shaggy Dog (PG) Any movie that still thinks it’s funny to slap “Who Let the Dogs Out?” on its soundtrack — whether in reference to literal or figurative canines — is so creatively and comedically bankrupt that it’s beneath any kind of serious discussion. With The Shaggy Dog — a combined remake of the 1959 Disney film of the same name and its lame 1976 sequel, The Shaggy D.A. (thereby offering two crummy remakes for the price of one) — this is only the tip of the iceberg of the crimes against taste. Another witless family film about a neglectful father who learns the error of his ways — only this time by turning into a dog. For people who want to see Tim Allen hike his leg to use a urinal only. —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