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Capsule Reviews of current and ongoing movies

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Opening this Week

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (PG) Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, and Owen Wilson are all set to ham it up in this sequel to the family friendly hit. And this time they're bringing Amy Adams, as Amelia Earhart, with them. Unfortunately, Hank Azaria will also be there as the Pharaoh, doing one of his tired voices.

Terminator Salvation (PG-13) Christian Bale threw a fit on the set of this franchise reboot. Maybe it was because shooting the film was a pain in his bat butt. Maybe it was because the script sucked. Maybe it was because the star of the movie is actually virtual unknown Sam Worthington, and not Bale's John Connor. Also stars the lovely Bryce Dallas Howard.

Critical Capsules

Angels & Demons (PG-13) Tom Hanks — sans his greasy Da Vinci mullet — is back as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, summoned by Vatican officials to help deal with a potential crisis. In the wake of the death of the Pope, the four cardinals who are the primary candidates to replace him have been kidnapped. Evidence suggests the involvement of the Illuminati — the ancient society of scholars and artists whose pro-science views antagonized the Renaissance-era Catholic Church. And if Langdon can't follow the clues to the lair of the Illuminati, the Vatican itself could be destroyed by a cylinder of stolen anti-matter. Langdon has the potential to be a really entertaining character — a true, non-Indiana Jones academic thrust into life-threatening situations — but nobody involved appears the slightest bit interested in exploring that character. Hanks is once again stripped of his likability, furrowing his brow and scowling as though he's embarrassed to be a part of the thing even as he's filming it. And they manage to find an even less interesting female counterpart in Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), a physicist whose personality begins and ends with her ability to spout all the necessary tech-babble about the threat posed by the anti-matter. As was true in Da Vinci, Howard simply allows Langdon's puzzle-solving to carry us from one place to the next, like some life-or-death scavenger hunt. —Scott Renshaw

The Class (PG-13) The odds against French teacher François are tremendous. The kids are not impressed by authority figures and push back constantly, questioning and goading, refusing to read assignments or challenging François on his sexual orientation. The amount of knowledge François is actually able to impart is minute: instead he is a negotiator, a disciplinarian, and in a surprising dramatic turn in The Class, even a villain. When François' frustration with his students causes him to say something controversial to two of his female students, all hell breaks loose. An academic committee is convened, a hearing occurs, and the full weight of the school's bureaucratic apparatus comes down to crush both students and teacher. Despite a noble desire to plumb the real racial, class, and generational politics of a contemporary classroom, The Class may strike some as unbearably prolonged, and at times, stagnant exercise. There is an airless quality to the film, undoubtedly due to its setting almost entirely inside the classroom, with occasional jaunts to the teacher's lounge or an equally claustrophobic playground hemmed in by concrete walls. At a certain point, The Class begins to lose some of its energy. Spending time in its company can prove wearying. Perhaps the film demonstrates a little too well the rigor and exhaustion inherent in teaching. —Felicia Feaster

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (PG-13) Undoubtedly, you can guess by the title that this is a modernized knock-off of Mr. Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol — something the characters of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past must be totally unfamilar with. The idea is that Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey) is a sleazeball, womanizing photographer who will learn the error of his ways on the eve of the wedding of his brain-dead brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer), to the shrill and unlikeable Sandra (Lacey Chabert). Assuming that we're familiar with the original, there's not much chance we don't know where this is going. Throw in the one girl he ever truly loved, Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner), and there's no chance at all. The film's decision to make the already unctuous McConaughey über-sleazy works against whatever merit it might have had. What's left is an unbelievable reformation, cheesy special effects, not very funny comedy, and zero romance. —Ken Hanke

Is Anybody There? (PG-13) The bittersweet British film Is Anybody There? manages to be both heartwarming and irritating in equal measure. The story hinges on one of those Harold and Maude, generationally-mismatched odd couples who should have little in common, but after a difficult period of mutual disdain, end up having quite a bit. Clarence (Michael Caine) is a lonely, curmudgeonly magician who tours the British countryside in his garishly-painted camper. Clarence's nemesis is the precocious, death obsessed 10-year-old Edward (Milner, star of Son of Rambow). Edward lives with his parents in the house they have turned into an old folk's home, Lark Hall. Surrounded by death, young Edward is naturally obsessed with it. As Edward, Bill Milner does an impressive job playing an underage ghoul. Michael Caine is the film's saving grace. The British actor, at age 76, taps into that peculiar pathos that occurs when we witness a formerly vibrant, sexually dynamic actor aging on-screen. We see our own mortality reflected in Caine's altered body and, in this movie at least, his faded mind. —Felicia Feaster

Next Day Air (R) I'd held out some hope for this movie. The cast was full of likable performers; the director, Benny Boom, was an unknown commodity; and the trailer made the movie look like a clever Afro-American variation on a Guy Ritchie picture. Well, Guy Ritchie never made anything this bad and boring on the worst Madonna-influenced, crypto-Kabbalistic day of his life. If Ritchie swallowed a bottle of horse tranquilizers, he might approach this level of lameness. Maybe. The premise is fine. There's nothing wrong with the idea that a perpetually stoned delivery man, Leo (Donald Faison), might deliver a package containing 10 bricks of cocaine to the wrong address. That the address he delivers it to happens to belong to a pair of small-time crooks, Brody (Mike Epps) and Guch (Wood Harris), who think their ship has come in is good, too. They're portrayed as sufficiently lacking in gray matter that they might believe they can get away with making off with someone else's fortune in drugs. For that matter, the plot is generally workable all the way through. Unfortunately, no one knows what to do with it, and a dull, meandering, unfunny, and even unpleasant film is the result. —Ken Hanke

Obsessed (PG-13) I don't mind that TV director Steve Shill's theatrical film debut Obsessed is mindless, overheated, undercooked trash. I mind that it's boring mindless, overheated, undercooked trash. That's the one thing trash can't withstand. Unfortunately, it's also the one thing Obsessed has in abundance. Oh, it has other things — awful dialogue, hysterically obvious set-ups (the more forgiving among us may call this "foreshadowing"), laughably bad performances, a mentally defective storyline — but it's the boredom quotient that cooks the goose. The movie has about two minutes worth of plot — psycho blonde temp worker (Ali Larter) stalks and fantasizes a romance with her boss (Idris Elba), causing him no end of trouble and understandably earning the ire of his wife (Beyonce Knowles). It keeps going only because every character in the film behaves like an idiot. Yes, you'll finally get to the big Beyonce-Ali Larter catfight, but it's not that big and not that good. —Ken Hanke

The Soloist (PG-13) Now that Joe Wright's failed Oscar-bait, The Soloist, has also fared poorly at the box office, maybe Mr. Wright will get back to the business of making the movies his 2005 debut feature Pride and Prejudice suggested he had in him. This isn't to say that The Soloist is a bad movie, but the best that can be said of it is that it qualifies as an honorable failure. Finally seeing the film, there's no longer much mystery as to why the studio pulled it from awards season. Despite worthy performances from Robert Downey Jr. as LA Times columnist Steve Lopez and Jamie Foxx as the schizophrenic homeless man who was once a musical prodigy and whom Lopez befriends, the movie's mostly a mess with bizarre extraneous scenes filling up the gaps left by a narrative arc that doesn't exist. Strangely, the film itself recognizes this very problem when Lopez says he doesn't want to turn his articles on his friend into a book, because there's no ending. The film can't find one either, so it merely stops at a certain point with a bit of simplistic moralizing and a tepid stab at a "feel good" wrap-up. —Ken Hanke

Star Trek (PG-13) J.J. Abrams' Star Trek has arrived on the scene to stake its claim as the big movie of the summer. It just might win that accolade, too, because it's a surprisingly pleasing work that doesn't require being a certified Trekkie (or Trekker, if you must) to enjoy. Of course, it helps that Star Trek is such a part of collective pop culture consciousness that nearly everyone knows the main characters and basic set-up of the original 1960s TV series. The film works because it takes itself seriously without taking itself too seriously. It's not slated to become one of the "great movies." It has some significant flaws and missteps, but on its own merits it's entertaining. The whole origins story idea comes with a set of built-in pitfalls and Star Trek stumbles into a few of them. There's an inescapable sense of watching kids playing dress-up to the whole thing — a kind of Muppet Babies aura. It's hard not to imagine these young Trekkers arguing over who gets to play whom, which is echoed by the musical chairs business of who gets to command the ship at various points in the narrative. The business of jamming all the characters into Starfleet Academy at the same time is simply awkward. But it scores most of the time — and shows true genius in bringing Leonard Nimoy in to play Spock — or Spock Prime. Nimoy has just the right gravity to lend the film authenticity and an emotional resonance it would otherwise lack. —Ken Hanke

Sunshine Cleaning (R) OK, I admit: I have a huge girl-crush on Amy Adams. Her Rose Lorkowski is struggling in a way that many women will recognize: She's raising a child on her own, with the occasional help of her unreliable sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), and their slightly wacky dad, Joe (Alan Arkin). She's in love with a totally inappropriate man, Mac (Steve Zahn), once her high-school sweetheart and now married to someone else. She's a mess, but not a walking disaster area. She's coping, but she's frustrated, and she's just one misfortune away from a meltdown. Which comes, of course, when her son, Oscar (Jason Spevack), gets kicked out his elementary school. He's a nuisance, but of the creative, imaginative, won't-be-corralled type. The school wants to Ritalin him into submission, but Rose won't have it — she'll figure out a way to pay for the private school that will give Oscar the attention he deserves. So Rose gets a job cleaning up crime scenes, and it turns out mopping up blood and brains actually gets some respect. Sunshine Cleaning is tidy as a film, thanks to spiffy direction by Christine Jeffs and a lovely script by Megan Holley. Perhaps the very best moment of the movie comes when Rose explains why she loves this new job, and how useful it makes her feel. —MaryAnn Johanson

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (PG-13) It appears I'm supposed to have hated this movie, but I have to say I didn't. It's not a great movie, and I doubt I'll ever feel compelled to see it again, but I enjoyed it well enough while it was onscreen. Is it profound? No. It doesn't pretend to be weighty, which means that it isn't pompous like Watchmen or The Dark Knight. To me, that's a plus. I find it interesting and more than a little disheartening that the idea of quality in a comic book movie has become synonymous with "depressing." The charge that the story isn't realistic strikes me as peculiar to say the least. Uh, guys, we're talking about a main character who, for all intents and purposes, is indestructible and who sprouts blades out of his hands. If the film then wants me to believe that he and his half-brother, Victor, stop aging at the time of the Civil War, and that that happens to coincide with the current ages of stars Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber, I'm cool with it. It seems an easy enough leap to make. It has the basic problem of all origins stories — namely that you know where it's going — but it strikes a nice balance between a respect for the character and not taking itself too seriously. —Ken Hanke

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