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Critical Capsule

Capsule reviews of current movies


Opening this Week

WALL-E (G) See review on page 59.

Wanted (R) It can't possibly be as good as the comic but we can always hope. Stars Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman.

Mongol (R) Director Sergei Bodrov illuminates the life and legend of Genghis Khan.

Before the Rains (NR) See review on page 62.

Critical Capsules

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

Get Smart (PG-13) When he was created in 1965 by Buck Henry and Mel Brooks, Agent 86, a.k.a. Maxwell Smart, was just a television bumbler who spoofed the smooth-as-butter spy movie hero and commented upon Cold War insecurity. But in 2008, a spy who speaks into his shoe dwells in a more complicated comic landscape, one where America's domestic and international bungling have become a larger slice of the comic pie. In this Get Smart for the big screen, homeland security is a joke, a bureaucratic call-line where terrorists have to direct their threats to the proper channels. Times have changed for Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell). Yes, he worries about "profiling" criminals, but the character is also a throwback to the sexist beliefs of yesteryear — he's threatened by his career-focused female partner Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway). In fact, he warns 99 that her eggs may dry up and her ovaries may turn to dust if she waits too long to reproduce. Get Smart's globe-trotting plot is as forgettable as the wrapper you shuck to get to the candy bar. However, Get Smart manages to escape from its mediocre, second-generation comedy conventions in the moments of demented slapstick which rely more on the contrast of Carell's stoic woodenness and manic pratfalls than on writer Tom Astle and Matt Ember's wan riffs on the old television show. —Felicia Feaster

The Happening (R) The trailer was awful. The rumors concerning the storyline were worse. The attempt to tantalize the viewer with the fact that this was Shyamalan's "first R-rated movie" smacked of desperation. The movie itself lives up to the pre-release indications and then some. The best thing I can say about M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening is that it's not The Village. This is Shyamalan's attempt at ecological horror, and you'll quickly realize why secrecy surrounded the plot — not because there's a clever twist, but because this is a dumb movie with dumb dialogue, dumb ideas, and dumber characters. Don't blame the actors. No one could go best two falls out of three with Shyamalan's dialogue and win. —Ken Hanke

The Incredible Hulk (PG-13) The climactic showdown between the Abomination and the Hulk in the streets of Harlem is a truly punishing, visceral battle, full of thunderous punches and pavement-crunching falls. So if you're coming to The Incredible Hulk primarily to see the jade giant make with the mayhem, you may very well walk away happy. While plenty of recent superhero movies, including Iron Man, have provided compelling storytelling between the showpiece battles, The Incredible Hulk just kind of sits there for long stretches until the editors check their watches and realize it's time for a transformation. —Scott Renshaw

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

Kung Fu Panda (PG) It's the story of Po (Jack Black), a portly panda who works in his dad's (James Hong) noodle shop in China. Po dreams (literally, and hilariously) about being a great martial arts hero like his idols the Furious Five, but doesn't think there's any way his lumbering body can become a feared weapon of awesomeness. That's before he stumbles into a tournament at the legendary Jade Palace to determine the great Dragon Warrior and finds the old master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) giving Po that high honor. The predictable complications ensue, as the Furious Five's skeptical master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) tries to push Po to give up his training and surrender the honor to one of the more experienced students. A vicious villain looms on the horizon, and there's no way this fuzzy, cuddly lump of a would-be Dragon Warrior could ever rise to the challenge. Right? Wrong. It's the journey toward that perhaps-inevitable resolution that provides so much simple satisfaction. —Scott Renshaw

The Love Guru (PG-13) The early word on Mike Myers' The Love Guru had been that it's the early frontrunner for worst film of the year, so imagine my dismay when I actually watch the movie and find out it isn't cripplingly terrible. That doesn't mean this tiresome vanity project is any good, it's just not as bad as it's been made out to be. It's an obvious attempt to create another Austin Powers franchise, but it plays like the work of a comedian who has started losing touch with his audience. His new character, the Guru Pitka, lacks the appeal of Austin Powers (not to mention ancillary characters like Dr. Evil and Fat Bastard), and the non-stop parade of penis jokes and bathroom humor are a poor substitute. Worse, nearly every gag is followed with Myers grinning or winking at the camera, showing that the man's way too pleased with himself — or else he doesn't trust his audience to realize there's a punch line being delivered. —Justin Souther

Sex and the City (R) Sex and the City: The Movie is all about Carrie, and whether she will marry Big (Chris Noth), and all the wedding porn that surrounds that. Not marriage porn: it's not about fantasizing about being married to some particular man that you're crazy about. It's about the wedding, the fairy-tale event that every woman is supposed to want, never mind whom a gal is marrying. And, to be fair, Sex and the City: The Movie doesn't ignore that irony, either. In getting there, it seems to miss the point that a women who is 40 years old might have realized this at some point sooner. Maybe it's a blow for gender equality that women are now allowed to extend adolescence into the years once considered "middle-aged." Carrie's cell phone is covered in pink glitter, after all. —MaryAnn Johanson

Surfwise (R) A Stanford-educated doctor who grew tired of the material life, Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz left behind a lucrative position and the respect of his community to become a surf bum. Though he seemed to have everything, Paskowitz admits, "It was the lowest point of my life." As documented in the wonderful, captivating documentary, Surfwise, Paskowitz created his own alternative lifestyle based on healthy eating and the pursuit of freedom instead of money. Paskowitz's radical philosophy included a family of nine children that he and Juliette raised in a 24-foot camper in a nomadic lifestyle that crisscrossed the United States and South America. "We were born, because dad wanted to repopulate the world with Jews," muses son Josh of his father's radical approach to Jewish-identity and child-rearing. "That's fucking hardcore man." —Felicia Feaster

You Don't Mess with the Zohan (PG-13) It's your standard issue Adam Sandler picture. Very little that happens in this story of a super Mossad agent who wants to be a hairdresser is all that funny. There must be 20 or so gags involving hummus, and these must have had Sandler and the boys in stitches, but the audience I saw it with laughed once. There are several interesting aspects to the movie in terms of its theme and Sandler foisting uncomfortable ideas (pro-gay attitudes and scenes involving sex with elderly women) on his fanbase, but they're all housed in a pretty crummy movie. —Ken Hanke

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