opening this week
Fearless (PG-13) Huo Yuanjia (Jet Li) overcomes personal and physical setbacks to become the most famous Chinese fighter at the turn of the 20th century. Will it really be Li’s last action film? Say it ain’t so.
All the King’s Men (PG-13) Reviewed on page 39.
Changing Times (PG) Traveling from France to Tangiers, a man (Gérard Depardieu) looks to reunite with his former love (Catherine Deneuve), though their romance ended some 30 years earlier. (In French.)
Flyboys (PG-13) Reviewed at left.
Jackass: Number Two (R) Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius and the rest of the brainless idiots from 2002’s original team up again for another round of stupid human tricks. Watch at your own risk.
Barnyard (PG) This anatomically incorrect tale of wild party animals in the barnyard may be the best animated CGI flick of the year. It stands out from the herd with clever action, witty dialogue, a fantastic string of musical numbers, and some good old-fashioned messages about heroism and taking care of others. Cover the eyes of sensitive kids during the scary coyote sequences. Otherwise, it’s great fun and little ones will love it. —Marcianne Miller
The Black Dahlia (R) Novelist James Ellroy’s world is a Hollywood where the glossy surface illusion hides all the ugliest parts of human nature. This is why there may be no worse choice to direct a James Ellroy adaptation than Brian DePalma, the uncontested master of the slick image. Here, the auteur takes on the lurid underworld of a true-life 1947 Los Angeles murder case, involving the discovery of the mutilated corpse of a beautiful woman, and turns it into a flourishy exercise in high-camp pseudo-noir. Unfortunately, nearly everything that’s remotely interesting about The Black Dahlia ultimately comes from its stylized moments. —Scott Renshaw
The Covenant (PG-13) This inane horror film, starring and directed by seemingly talentless people you never heard of, redefines bad. At least The Wicker Man offers Nicolas Cage running around in a bear suit. Nothing so entertaining occurs in this crap-encrusted compendium of dullness and ineptitude. Four hot underwear models, er, college boys are really witches descended from an old New England family of such. Witches, in this case, means they can fly, make girls’ skirts rise up, and throw globs of ectoplasmic goo. A fifth witch boy — descended from the same lineage — arrives on the scene with inhospitable intentions. Save your money: watch paint peel instead. —Ken Hanke
Everyone’s Hero (G) Here we have a very well-intentioned CGI-animated feature that recreates nicely the 1930s Depression era and the segregated world of baseball. But the boy-heavy story (only one girl character) never rises above its predictable storyline. This was the last project enbraced by the late Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana, and it reflects their “keep slugging no matter what the obstacles” philosophy of life. With some great animated train sequences, but an otherwise plodding story and oddly off-putting sidekicks (a talking baseball and bat). —MM
Gridiron Gang (PG) Almost exactly what you think it is: The Rock (aka: Dwayne Johnson) teaches a bunch of delinquents Self Respect and the meaning of Teamwork by turning them into a football team while they’re in juvenile prison. In other words, it’s another “true story” inspirational sports movie, and you pretty much know whether or not it’s your brand of jock-strap from that fact alone. The only difference between this and other films of its type is that it stars The Rock. All the underdog-coming-from-behind moments are alive and intact, and so are the usual array of “feelgood” moments and hokey inspirational speeches. —KH
Hollywoodland (R) This fictional take on the mysterious real-life death of television’s Superman manages to be fairly effective on a moment-to-moment basis, and frequent Sopranos director Allen Coulter spend a fair amount of time covering familiar ground about the schism between perceptions of fame and behind-the-scenes reality. Eventually, the tone starts to feel a little stale and obvious. There’s a bit too much wallowing in the lurid business beneath glittering surfaces. Even so Hollywoodland has at least a little bit more on its mind than exposé, and enough flashes of humanity to make up for its strangely stylized storytelling. —SR
How To Eat Fried Worms (PG) New Line’s adaptation of a 1972 children’s book of the same name by Thomas Rockwell. The tale of standing up to a bully by eating 10 worms (prepared in various repellent ways) makes for thin stuff spread over 90 minutes. And it seems thinner still under the lackluster direction of Bob Dolman, who loads the film with bogus energy and a seemingly endless array of bland and uninteresting imagery, which he smothers in an annoying musical score by Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh. Kids may feel differently, but it’s one of the most amateurish essays in excruciating tedium I’ve encountered in a year that’s hardly lacked for tedium. —KH
The Illusionist (PG-13) There is magic in The Illusionist, and I don’t mean merely the magic of stage conjurers, like the character this wonderfully mysterious and dreamy film turns on. Director Neil Burger creates a vision of Vienna at the turn of the 20th century that is half phantasm and half history, that plays with concepts of class distinction starting to disappear as an old world gives way to a new, that teases us by playing in a borderland between science and the supernatural as new modes of rational thinking were coming to the fore. Its greatest thrill may be that it finds a, well, magic middle ground where it could actually please everyone, where it’s just strange enough to electrify fans of the bizarre and just effortless enough to satisfy those who merely seek a diverting entertainment. —MaryAnn Johanson
Invincible (PG-13) Based on the true story of walk-on Eagles receiver Vince Papale, Invincible approaches football from the perspective of individual achievement rather than team camaraderie. Some might complain that it takes too long to get to the football, but this film isn’t as much a football movie as it is a character study; football is just a bonus. Sports movies are a dime a dozen, but this one raises itself beyond the genre to tell the simple, true story of a man beating the odds through sheer force of will. It’s not perfect, but Invincible works well as an uplifting study in hard work, humility, and perseverance. —Joshua Tyler
The Last Kiss (R) This angst-driven whine-fest of a movie starring Zach Braff is no Garden State — and not just because it takes place in Wisconson. Braff playing a “normal guy” the same way he played his dysfunctional Garden State character is just an expressionless bore, excessive of nose and bereft of chin, living an ultra-priviliged life that he likes to bitch and moan about with his equally privileged buddies who, in turn, kvetch about their lives. I’m not sure why they’re so miserable — except that they’re facing their 30s and are in a movie scripted by Paul Haggis. The burning question is will he sleep with hot college girl (and potential stalker) Rachel Bilson or will he stick with pregnant girlfriend Jacinda Barrett. The real question is why anyone should care. —KH
Little Miss Sunshine (R) Hilarious and heartrending. A family of dysfuctional poster-people, in constant battle with one another over absolutely everything, climb into into a VW van for a drive of hundreds of miles in order to get young Olive (Abigail Breslin) to the Little Miss Sunshine competition, to which she has been invited at the last minute. What’s more, they have to not kill one another in spite of the many disasters they encounter. This is my absolute favorite movie of the year so far, and not because, in the end, it holds up for well-deserved ridicule the obscenity of “beauty pageants” for little girls, though it does do that, in a surprising, brilliant, and laugh-out-loud way. Little Miss Sunshine is my favorite movie of the year for all the little touches along the literal and figurative road it takes to get there. Any absurdity — and there’s plenty — is more than trumped by raw emotional power. —MJ
The Protector (R) At least four stars’ worth of guilty pleasure. The Protector is delirious in its absurdity, remarkable in its preposterousness, ravishingly bad in its acting, astonishing in its feats of derring-do, spotty in its filmmaking technique, and utterly incoherent in its plotting. In other words, it’s quite nearly perfect for what it is. Chinese gangsters from Australia make the mistake of going to Thailand and purloining Kham’s (Tony Jaa) pachyderms, prompting our star to go to Sydney and unleash the wrath of Kham on them. It’s nonstop action with amazing feats from Jaa. —KH
The Wicker Man (PG-13) Even as a keen horror movie fan, I’ve never gotten the idea that Robin Hardy’s 1973 version of The Wicker Man was anything more than an overrated snooze-fest. So I wasn’t against the idea of Neil LaBute remaking its silly story about an uptight policeman investigating a disappearance on a remote island inhabited by a group of inhospitable pagans. But LaBute hasn’t improved one whit on the original — except in the department of increased laughs, which I don’t think was the idea. LaBute is an accomplished filmmaker, but even he can’t keep the remake from being two trainwrecks’ worth of silliness and nonsense. It moves like molasses until it turns into a laff-riot with Nicolas Cage’s stoic detective running around in a bear suit (yes, a bear suit) to face off with Ellen Burstyn made up like Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Need I say more? —KH