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Capsule Reviews of Current Movies

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Opening This Week

Illegal Tender (R) When the thugs who killed his father come looking for him, a young Latino man and his mother flee from their home.

Mr. Bean's Holiday (PG) Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson), a curious, bumbling, nearly silent chap, travels to the south of France for a vacation, where his video diary somehow winds up as a world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

The Nanny Diaries (PG-13) Scarlett Johansson stars as a college student who goes to work as a nanny for a rich New York family. Ensconced in their home, she juggles their dysfunction, her studies, a new romance, and the spoiled brat in her charge.

Resurrecting the Champ (PG-13) Searching for his big story, a young newspaper reporter (Josh Hartnett) encounters a homeless man (Samuel L. Jackson) he thinks is a former champion boxer — a man forgotten by fans and believed to be dead.

September Dawn (PG-13) Reviewed here.

War (R) An FBI agent (Jason Statham) tries to settle the score with the infamous assassin (Jet Li) who killed his partner.

Critical Capsules

Becoming Jane (PG) Even though Becoming Jane is almost entirely invented, it captures both the aching romanticism and the cold, hard practicalities of Austen's fiction. And in a way, it even does Austen one better: it's laden with all of the angst and heartbreak and tears we've come to expect from a Sense & Sensibility or a Pride & Prejudice, but because it is adhering to the spirit of Austen's life — she never married, never enjoyed any kind of long-term romantic entanglements that posterity is aware of — it doesn't indulge in a happy ending. How can it? Spoiler alert! Anne Hathaway's charming and independent Jane does not end up happily ever after with James McAvoy's handsome and roguish lawyer Tom Lefroy. The movie works far better as a "fictional biography" — an enrapturing, spirited one with the foreknowledge of her bittersweet yet independent, unmarried life — than it does as a silly sitcom that hangs on the fulfillment of romantic dreams. —Maryann Johanson

The Bourne Ultimatum (PG-13) Bourne is back for a third and (supposedly) final adventure and nothing has changed in terms of quality, but nothing else is the same. Once again Greengrass and Damon deliver on a movie packed with more "holy shit!" moments than you can shake an Uzi at. Greengrass hasn't just topped the previous Bourne movies in every way, he's raised the bar for the spy and action genres for years to come, and he's done it in a movie with surpassingly little dialogue. Damon plows through The Bourne Ultimatum like a force of nature; a silent, living weapon on a mission of determined, unstoppable discovery. Every moment is jammed with danger, pounding against the screen in waves of energy and intensity. Perhaps even more amazing than the movie's ability to do things that'll make your jaw drop is the way it manages to pull off character development in the middle of all those car crashes and explosions. If you're like me, your nails will be firmly buried in the arm of your chair throughout the film's 111 minutes. —Joshua Tyler

Bratz (PG) When I first heard of Bratz I had no idea that Bratz was a line of dolls and no clue what these dolls were. Bratz, it seems, are little dolls with disproportionately large heads, provocative clothes, and approximately two pounds of make-up. I have no idea why they're called Bratz. Slutz would be nearer the mark. Oh, yes, the dolls have no noses, which naturally leads to a variant on the old Monty Python gag that begins with, "My doll has no nose," prompting the question, "How does she smell?" and earning the response, "Awful." Now, the four "actresses" comprising the cinematic Bratz have noses, but the movie still smells awful. It's kind of Mean Girls-lite minus the humor and with the dubious message that bonding equals shopping and a shared sense of fashion is the only basis for real friendship. —Ken Hanke

Daddy Day Camp (PG) The best thing I can say about this is that it doesn't attain the acute awfulness of last week's Bratz, but by the same token, it lacks the grim "end of civilization as we know it" fascination of that discharge of dumbness. We knew it was bad when even Eddie Murphy — star of The Adventures of Pluto Nash — turned down this sequel to his own Daddy Day Care. Then we learned that Cuba Gooding, Jr. would be inheriting the role — the kind of decision generally associated with persons who are detained in facilities where one is allowed nothing sharper than plastic scissors. In fact, the only holdover from the original is the writer — and that was unfortunate since he brought along ever summer camp cliché in existence and threw in projectile vomiting and a balloon full of urine. Are you laughing yet? —Ken Hanke

Hot Rod (PG-13) The story of an amateur stuntman (SNL's Andy Samberg) who must raise $50,000 to pay for his father's heart operation, thus getting the chance to beat him at hand-to-hand combat and gain his respect, Hot Rod is an idiotic comedy that mix and matches the stylings of Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and Napoleon Dynamite into one punishingly unfunny comedy. There's never any attempt at actually crafting an honest-to-goodness joke. Instead we get a lot of bogus, worn-out '80s nostalgia and phony random gags. It's not even a movie; it's a series of one-liners for high school kids to quote once classes start back up. —Justin Souther

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (R) Your typical execrable Adam Sandler "comedy" with one minor difference — it's a series of lame, offensive homosexual panic and "don't drop the soap" gags that Sandler and company think they can get away with for 90 minutes as long as they spend the last 20 minutes speaking out for gay rights. I'm inclined to think the movie's actually sincere. The problem is that this doesn't change the fact that this stupid tale of two firefighters (Sandler and Kevin James) pretending to be a gay couple to get benefits is woefully unfunny, meandering, and just not very well made. At best, it's an awful movie with its heart in the right place. That doesn't keep if from being a bad movie, but if it makes even one homophobic jerk stop and think for a moment, then it's a bad movie that wasn't for nothing. —Ken Hanke

The Invasion (R) German filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) was supposed to have his big English language debut with this fourth version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But Warner Bros. didn't like what he gave them (why are studios always hiring folks with an artistic bent and then are all surprised when they do something artistic?), so they had the Wachowski Brothers tart it up, after which they had Wachowski protegé James MacTeigue (V for Vendetta) monkey with it some more. The result is a thoughtful film that used the basic premise — aliens from outer space replacing people with emotionless copies — to examine the high cost of being human with some pretty preposterous action sequences grafted on to it. It's a mess — often fascinating, but still a mess. Nicole Kidman is good; Daniel Craig, on the other hand, is as wasted as the opportunity. —Ken Hanke

The Last Legion (PG-13) This fair dose of campy entertainment is made all the more entertaining by virtue of the fact that no one involved seems to realize just how silly it all is. Its bubble-headed attempt to rewrite the origins of King Arthur in terms of ancient Rome and the "last ode to the Caesars," who in this case is a boy (Thomas Sangster, whom we've already seen in one of these dithering ancient world operas, Tristan + Isolde). He has to be protected by a noble Roman warrior (Colin Firth looking perplexed to find himself wearing leather and window curtains), a Turkish fighting woman (Aishwarya Rai), and a quasi magician (Ben Kingsley slicing the ham thickly). It's filled with unitentionally funny dialogue and smelly-looking gents in crepe beards clanging swords and saying, "Arrgh." —Ken Hanke

Once (R) Once is a musical of sorts, only not in the way you probably tend to think of musicals. The Guy (Glen Hansard of Irish rock band The Frames) is a Dublin street busker, and the Girl (Marketa Irglová) is a classically-trained pianist, an immigrant from the Czech Republic making a meager living selling flowers and magazines in the street. In a near-perfect melding of music and filmmaking, Once finds dynamic ways to incorporate Hansard's songs into the narrative, but what's most remarkable about the film is that, aside from the force of its musical moments, it's a surprisingly assured piece of filmmaking from a relatively inexperienced director and a couple of musicians moonlighting as actors. Playing characters who dance awkwardly around what they might ultimately mean to each other, Hansard and Irglová turn in naturalistic and utterly winning performances, their every conversation invested with an unspoken sense of the growing connection between them. —Scott Renshaw

Rescue Dawn (R) "Nature is not a force against you," intones the narrator of an instructional film watched by U.S. sailors early in this war drama — which means the film clearly wasn't directed by Werner Herzog. Dramatizing the same true story he already explored in the 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Herzog tells the tale of Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), a Navy pilot shot down during a bombing raid over Laos in 1965. Captured and interned in a Viet Cong POW camp, Dengler is determined to escape — but as fellow POW Duane Martin (a terrific, uncharacteristically subdued Steve Zahn) observes of their surroundings, "The jungle is the prison." This places the film squarely in Herzog's wheelhouse — as a story of man trying to impose his will on the unforgiving world around him, it's almost ridiculously compelling. But it's also a reminder of how gripping an old-fashioned prisoner-escape yarn can be, with Bale providing the wild-eyed bravado of a man who never even considers failure as an option. While Herzog doesn't seem as comfortable with the conventional set-up and denouement, he imposes his great filmmaking will on the narrative's wild, untamed center. —Scott Renshaw

Rush Hour 3 (PG-13) The third installment of the Rush Hour series finds Detective Carter and Chief Inspector Lee heading to Paris to take down a crime syndicate. Maybe the most generic and superfluous movie of the summer, it's not quite as bad as the trailer may indicate, but it's far from good. Jackie Chan is fine, but he's playing a role he could do in his sleep, while his action sequences are nothing you haven't seen a hundred times before from him. Chris Tucker manages to be almost funny on a couple of occasions, but undermines himself by his usual loud and shrill shtick that's already brought his career to a halt. Let's hope they paid Roman Polanski a lot of money to embarass himself by appearing in this. —Justin Souther

The Simpsons Movie (PG-13) Judging by its first weekend box office take, it was worth the 20 years it took The Simpsons Movie to make it to the big screen, and if you're a fan of the show, you'll probably agree. If you're not, this film version isn't likely to convert you. It's essentially little more than a 30-minute episode extended to 90 minutes, a concept that both sells it to the fans and undermines itself. The first third is good, moving at lightning speed and not afraid to be random while setting up the plot about Homer accidentally turning Springfield into a toxic waste blight. Unfortunately, the film's remainder becomes mired in the mechanics of that plot at the expense of the gags. For die-hard Simpsons addicts only. —Ken Hanke

Skinwalkers (PG-13) If nothing else, Skinwalkers returns us to the realm of the classic werewolf-in-trousers — you know, like Lon Chaney instead of some cartoonish CGI creation. The bad news is that the movie is still pretty awful. To borrow that immortal self-critiquing line from director James Isaac's last movie, Jason X, "This sucks on so many levels." Yeah, it was cut from an R to a PG-13 in the wake of the box office disasters of Hostel 2 and Captivity, but, trust me, no amount of boobs or blood would help this silly movie about good werewolves vs. bad werewolves in a fight over a boy who will "lift the curse" on his 13th birthday. Amazingly, everyone involved seems to be dead serious, which is harder to believe than the plot. —Ken Hanke

Stardust (PG-13) In a prologue narrated by Ian McKellen in his most resonant Gandalf-ian tones, we learn of a magical world called Stormhold that exists in the middle of England, separated from our reality only by a stone wall. One young man managed to sneak through for a small adventure 150 years ago, only to have the infant result of that small adventure dropped on his doorstep nine months later. Flash forward 18 years, and Tristan (Charlie Cox) — that baby all grown up — is a restless lad pining for a seemingly inaccessible girl (Sienna Miller). Only after his father tells him that his mother is from the other side of the wall does Tristan begin a quest to bring his love a fallen star — even if that star takes the human form of a woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes). Tristan's search for his family history and accompanying romantic rendezvous are familiar enough stuff, but director Matthew Vaughn's choices make everything feel even more like a mash-up of other movies, stories, and even amusement park rides. When it comes to the fundamentals of the narrative, Stardust feels like a perfunctory stab at transcendent, magical storytelling. Like Frankenstein's monster, it's something sewn together from spare parts — but without that spark of lightning that would bring it to life. —Scott Renshaw

Superbad (R) There is a thin line between smart juvenilia and stuff that's just plain silly — and Superbad keeps weaving back and forth across that line like Lindsay Lohan at a traffic stop. Produced by Judd Apatow (of 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up fame), it marks the first script by Seth Rogen (Knocked Up star) and Evan Goldberg (Rogen's childhood friend from Vancouver). So it's not hard to see a bit of autobiography — or at least wish-fulfillment — in the story of high school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Arrested Development's Michael Cera). Soon to be attending separate colleges, the two best friends are looking for one last hurrah by supplying alcohol to an end-of-year party hosted by one of their school's cool girls (Emma Stone). And as they see it, liquor — to be obtained by their geeky pal Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and his brand-new fake ID with the nom de stud "McLovin" — is just the lubricant they need to speed their trip down the road to lost virginity. Thus begins an odyssey that plays like a cross-breeding of all-night travelogue, end-of-school reminiscence, and cherry-popping quest. —Scott Renshaw

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