Opening this week
Son of Rambow (PG-13) Two fatherless British boys bond over Stallone and shoot their own film.
Kung Fu Panda (PG) See review here.
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (PG-13) Adam Sandler stars as a former Israeli super-soldier who longs to be a hair stylist.
Baby Mama (PG-13) In the wake of Knocked Up and Juno comes Baby Mama, another film centered on psychologically-fraught reproduction. Baby Mama stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as two women on opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum who decide to make a baby together. A delicious dichotomy, Tina Fey’s comic charm lies in her mix of prissiness and enough familiarity with the gutter-mouthed side of life to keep things interesting. In Baby Mama the priss is in the house, with Fey playing one half of a classic odd couple. A driven Philadelphia executive desperate to have a child, Kate Holbrook (Fey) is deep in the throes of baby lust: She sees babies everywhere, babies that taunt her with her own infertility. The film’s über-corny poster art with the title spelled out in baby blocks may be an early indication of the middle-of-the-road yuks to come. While Poehler sucks on a Big Gulp, Fey looks on sheepishly, and the effect is of a cartoonish poster for one of Schwarzenegger’s fish-out-of-water films like Junior or Kindergarten Cop and all of the conventionalized hilarity that implies. —Felicia Feaster
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (PG) Director Andrew Adamson soldiers on for his second stint in the Narnia director’s chair and manages to add some juicy subtext to Lewis’ simple, plot-driven adventure. The children are whisked back to Narnia, and the return can’t come soon enough for Peter, who has become a sullen brawler back in our world, a teenager who still thinks of himself as a king and bristles at any perceived insult. As Peter competes with Caspian for leadership of the magical Narnians, Adamson wrestles compelling drama out of Peter’s puffed-up sense that asserting his authority means going to war, even if it’s not a particularly well-planned one. In these scenes, Prince Caspian achieves an unlikely power that immerses the film in a sense of consequence. At other times, it starts to feel uncomfortably like an attempt to recapture not just the success of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but the success of The Lord of the Rings. — Scott Renshaw
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (R) Where many movie comedies clock in at around 90 minutes, those from Judd Apatow and his pals stretch out over a couple of hours of gag-filled dialogue. Even in his funniest films, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Apatow has shown himself to be less interested in storytelling than in creating situations in which his actors can do funny — often extremely funny — things. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, directed by Apatow’s one-time Undeclared collaborator Nicholas Stoller and written by his Freaks & Geeks co-star Jason Segel, simply goes the extra mile. It’s a sketch-comedy movie in which the standard plot-development questions — Will the guy get the girl? Will someone change for the better? — prove almost laughably irrelevant. —Scott Renshaw
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (R) The original Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle came as a pleasant surprise, because no one expected it to be good. The inherent problem with that kind of success is that it only works once. For the second round, people actually have expectations to be met, and, with any luck, exceeded. Unfortunately, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay does neither, though it’s not for want of trying — and that might just be the problem. Our heroes — played by John Cho and Kal Penn — are the same genial stoners, and Neil Patrick Harris returns as the same (hopefully) alternative reality version of himself. The humor is — if anything — more pointed and rude. It’s certainly more subversive in its take of on post-9/11 paranoia, but it all feels kind of desperate this time around, more forced, and the freshness is gone. Some laughs, but not enough. —Ken Hanke
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (PG-13) There’s little point speculating what kind of response Kingdom of the Crystal Skull might have inspired were it not carrying the expectations of a beloved franchise. It’s a contraption built almost entirely out of its own legacy, even more pointedly self-referential than Last Crusade. Action sequences clip along at a familiar pace — their preposterousness pushed to the edge of a cliff both figuratively and literally — and we get the requisite sequence involving massive quantities of some kind of creepy-crawly critter. But while the fight choreography occasionally rises to the occasion, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull too rarely pops with genuine energy. —Scott Renshaw
Iron Man (PG-13) The first big blockbuster film of the year is upon us, and it’s pretty darn good — for what it is. Let’s face facts, comic books aren’t Faulkner in four-color-process. Here we’re talking about a guy who dresses up in a flying metal suit to blast, bomb, and bludgeon his way through a variety of terrorists and a traditional super bad guy in an even bigger flying metal suit. There’s precious little wiggle-room for subtlety in a framework like that. But the beauty of Iron Man lies in the fact that the film realizes this and behaves accordingly. The secret weapon is Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role as a wisecracking, womanizing hedonist who’s made a fortune as an arms manufacturer. He sees the error of his ways, yes, but he never gets morbid about it: He continues to make smart remarks, and he actually enjoys his superhero status. Good chemistry between Downey and leading lady Gwyneth Paltrow helps to make the film a refreshing change. —Ken Hanke
Made of Honor (PG-13) The story of a wealthy playboy who inconveniently finds out his female best friend is getting married at the exact same moment he’s finally realized he’s in love with her. So instead of talking to her, he decides to accept her offer to be her maid of honor in order to stop her wedding and steal her away. Starring Patrick Dempsey in yet another attempt to transform him from a TV heartthrob into a full-fledged movie star, the film is generic rom-com formula. It doesn’t help matters that the movie’s never funny, or that Dempsey’s character is too misogynistic, sleazy, and selfish to ever root for. —Justin Souther
Son of Rambow (PG-13) Son of Rambow is about the wacky, comical spectacle of two movie-mad kids acting out their obsession. But it’s also a buddy film, a half-pint Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid about how adrift these kids are. Will’s father is dead, and Lee’s sorry substitute for a parent is an aloof older brother. It is no coincidence that the boys bond over an exemplar of uber-machismo, Rambo, the kind of man of action and purpose missing in their own lives. Son of Rambow suggests the stylized, retro sensibility of Wes Anderson married to the kiddie adventurism of Steven Spielberg, but director Garth Jennings’ often clunky and obvious hand with comedy too often veers into facile teen comedy and John Hughes-style visual jokes about the various freaks and geeks populating this small British burg. —Scott Renshaw
Speed Racer (PG) The Wachowski Brothers’ PG-rated adaptation of a vintage Japanimation TV series is a mishmash of styles. Is this to be a throwback live-action translation of a kiddie cartoon? Is it a densely structured tale of corruption, employing flashbacks-within-flashbacks? Is it lowbrow pandering to contemporary kids? And can it possibly work if it’s trying to be all of those things at the same time? The Wachowskis stage wild pursuits on Moebius strip courses full of vertiginous turns, jumps, and loops. Neon colors streak the track and fill the grandstands. Whenever Speed is trying to win a race — employing an array of gadgetry including jacks that catapult his car, the Mach 5, into the air like a high-performance kangaroo — it’s dizzying fun. But periodically the checkered flag needs to wave, and it’s during this down time that the Wachowskis don’t seem to know what to do with themselves. —Scott Renshaw
The Strangers (R) If you’ve seen the annoying trailer for writer-director Bryan Bertino’s singularly pointless debut feature, The Strangers, you’ve seen all the film has to offer — minus 88 minutes of tedious sadism. After a good deal of boring set-up, the film gets its characters to a singularly ugly ranch house where the decor is frozen in time in a style that might charitably be called Nixon Awful, right down to the endless bric-a-brac and shag carpet. Once there, our leads find strange things are happening, which means three masked psychos are going to terrorize them while the duo engage in increasingly stupid behavior to assure maximum psycho success. That’s all there is; there ain’t no more. Unless you have a burning need to see B-list actors Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman tortured by masked maniacs, there’s no reason to bother with this. —Ken Hanke
Then She Found Me (R) You know that feeling you get when you push your head through a cheese grater? Were I an ungenerous person, I would say that feeling is comparable to watching Then She Found Me, an ego-pic directed by Helen Hunt. In it, Hunt directs and stars as April Epner, a 39-year-old woman trying to get pregnant when her irresponsible husband (Matthew Broderick) decides to leave her. The next day, her mother dies, and then her birth mother (Bette Midler) suddenly appears, and then a Reasonably Attractive Man (Colin Firth) falls in love with her and can’t stop telling her how beautiful she is. It’s so self-absorbed that it’s basically like watching Hunt stare into a mirror and sadly chant, “I’m so pretty. Oh so pretty. And such a good actress. Oh. Oh. Oh.” Which is nice, and I’m glad she likes herself so much, but it’s not easy to sit through. —James DiGiovanna
What Happens in Vegas… (PG-13) The story of a pair of strangers — Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher — drunkenly marry in Vegas, but — before they can get an annulment — win a $3 million slot machine jackpot and are forced to remain married for six months before the money is split up between them. What Happens in Vegas is exactly what you expect: a 100 percent by-the-book romantic comedy short on laughs and originality. The movie is a laundry list of romantic comedy conventions, with the couple gradually falling for one another only to be foiled by superficial complications that are then romantically resolved. —Justin Souther
Young@Heart (PG) Directed by British filmmaker Stephen Walker, Young@Heart was first made for the UK’s Channel Four and has already won a number of awards. Young at Heart, the choir, has been performing for 25 years, and you have to be at least 70 to get in. And a lot of these senior citizens from Northampton, Mass., find their raison d’etre from being part of this choir, which has traveled widely to great acclaim. A sentimental sing-along? More like an in-your-face shock wave. The force of the film actually comes from — as the group’s musical director Bob Cilman must have divined when he came up with the music choices — the contrast between these 70- to 90-year-olds and their musical fare: rock and punk tunes. —Marsha McCreadie