opening this week
The Ant Bully (PG) Warner Bros. Pictures and the director of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius swing at what they hope will be another animated home run. After Lucas Nickle floods an ant colony with his water gun, he's shrunken down to insect size and sentenced to hard labor in the ruins. With the voices of Paul Giamatti, Nicolas Cage, and Julia Roberts.
John Tucker Must Die (PG-13) When three high school girls realize they're all dating the same guy (Jesse Metcalfe), they set out to ruin his life by coaxing a fourth girl into a plot to win his heart, then break it.
Miami Vice (R) Reviewed on page 38.
Scoop (PG-13) Woody Allen's follow-up to last year's critical win, Match Point, again featuring the lip-smackingly watchable Scarlett Johansson. A spirit visits a journalism student (Johansson) and provides her the scoop of a lifetime — a tip that convinces her to shine up to Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), an aristocrat who might just be the notorious Tarot Card Killer.
An Inconvenient Truth (PG) For a film consisting mostly of a middle-aged guy pointing to charts and lecturing about complex, controversial, and world-challenging ideas, An Inconvenient Truth makes for a more entertaining thriller than The Da Vinci Code. It also has the advantage of arguing a case that is authentic and terribly urgent. First-time director Davis Guggenheim combines Gore's anti-warming campaign with his own personal drama, making him a protagonist bouncing back from the 2000 Presidential election to go door-to-door to preach his environmental message and save the world. Some, especially those already sympathetic to the subject, will find his story inspiring. Others will snipe at it snidely, unfairly, and with ugly humor. It's no surprise that few or none of the film's debunkers have questioned its rigorously documented facts. Harder for naysayers to dismiss is the substance of the slide show itself. — Peter Keough
Cars (G) Though the big-eyed, childish looking characters of Cars might lead you to think otherwise, what the film really is, is a love letter to the heyday of the American road and the faded mystique of Route 66. What could have been Pixar's most simplistic, pre-teen limited film turns out to be one of their biggest and most mature, as it tackles larger themes that'll probably fly right over the heads of kids. It's the characters that really sell Cars, but even so, there are moments in this film where you'll forget you're looking at a cartoon. It's a stunning piece of work, a visual masterpiece, the kind of movie that would be a must-see even if the story weren't any good. —Joshua Tyler
Clerks II (R) Writer-director Kevin Smith comes back to the mythos of his Jay and Silent Bob movies following the box-office disaster of Smith's attempt at a "straight" film, Jersey Girl, and not a moment too soon. The resulting film is pretty darn good, utterly and honestly raunchy, a comedy with a heart like Minnie the Moocher's -— as big as a whale. The film centers on the fates of convenience store workers Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), who find themselves working at a Mooby's fast food joint when the Quick Stop burns down. Not surprisingly, Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) have taken their parking lot weed business up the street to Mooby's as well. The level of humor is decidedly R-rated (a central gag is built around a donkey act), meaning the film is not for everyone, but fans of Smith's lovable slackers will have no cause for complaint. —Ken Hanke
The Da Vinci Code (PG-13) First of all, anyone whose faith can be undermined by a Ron Howard picture is probably on pretty shaky ground belief-wise to start with. There's nothing very shocking about The DaVinci Code — except maybe for the mauling it's gotten from some critics. What were they expecting? A daring visionary work? It's a film version of a middlebrow pop novel made by the quintessential middlebrow pop director of our age. Howard delivered exactly the film I expected — a glossy, well-made, utterly impersonal work that questions the divinity of Christ for seven reels only to turn around in the eighth and conclude that belief in that divinity is essential. It's entertaining — especially when Ian McKellen is onscreen — but hardly substantial. —KH
The Devil Wears Prada (PG-13) The deliciously mean yet not totally heartless Prada makes an excellent show of demonstrating how even a cute preppie like Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) might get seduced into the shallow, selfish world of the stuck-up, anorexic fashionistas who work at a New York glamour magazine. And the predictable spiral Andy descends over the course of the film, selling herself out and alienating her charming boyfriend is, for all its inevitability, beautifully played and more than a tad touching. But the most wickedly entertaining thing about this flick is Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, the legendary queen bitch editor in chief of Runway and obvious stand-in for legendary queen bitch Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue magazine: pure seduction and pure evil all wrapped up in a fabulous wardrobe. —MaryAnn Johanson
Keeping Up With the Steins (PG-13) Director Scott Marshall's film, a Los Angelean battle of misplaced bar mitzvah one-upmanship, should, by all rights, be very funny and certainly kick out some genuine guffaws. It doesn't, sadly, though not because bar mitzvahs are not rife with comic potential. Keeping Up With the Steins isn't a bad film — it just devolves into the limp sort of schmaltzy conclusion you keep hoping it will avoid. Almost any episode of Freaks and Geeks captured both the high anxiety of young males, Jewish and otherwise, much more affectingly, and with a far better sense of where the borderline between childhood and not-childhood begins to blur. —Marc Savlov
Lady in the Water (PG-13) Is it too much of a spoiler if I reveal that, refreshingly, M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water does not have anything like a twist at its ending, and that, even if it did, there would still have been stuff to enjoy on the journey to that ending? Not that there aren't little twists along the way — though they are, alas, pretty foreseeable if you're even a halfway serious moviegoer who's familiar with the conventions of storytelling. That's not so bad, because the peculiar and oddly cerebral beauty of Lady is that it is about the concepts and conventions of storytelling, forever spiraling self-referentially in on itself. Still, it's easier to appreciate this film than it is to embrace it emotionally. I won't presume to guess what Shyamalan was thinking, but I suspect he's more concerned with telling an Important story than he is with merely telling a story. —MJ
Little Man (PG-13) Little Man isn't the worst movie of the summer. That's too generous. It may in fact be the worst movie ever made, though I'm hesitant to afford it that title because it's the kind of accolade that glorifies this crap-filled atrocity. A rip-off of a seven-minute Bugs Bunny cartoon, the Wayans' version casts Marlon Wayans as a midget gangster who passes himself off as a baby in order retrieve a stolen jewel he hid in a suburban woman's (Kerry Washington) handbag. I suppose the reason no one thought of this genius-level concept before was that special effects had not yet attained the requisite level to pull it off. Even so, the effects are painfully bad. If moviemaking were a limbo contest, the Wayans brothers would be the hands-down winners. No one has ever gone lower. —KH
Monster House (PG) It's 30 minutes in before Monster House wakes up and realizes it's an animated film. That's when the house first starts Hulking out, and it's the first time the film does anything that couldn't have been rather easily accomplished by a live-action movie with a capable preteen kid cast. There's an instantly classic family movie buried just below the surface of this film. Unfortunately, this great script has been brought to the screen using trendy computer animation instead of more appropriate big-budget effects mixed with realism. This story is too good to be killed by animating. But while Monster House may not be the classic it could have been, as a family film it's still pretty damn good. —Joshua Tyler
My Super Ex-Girlfriend (PG-13) An effort to turn stalking into rom-com fun. My Super Ex-Girlfriend is a flat-footed affair from director Ivan Reitman, who's still trying to find another Ghostbusters. The movie attempts to milk laughs out of the singularly unfunny premise of watching poor shnook Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson) being terrorized by psycho stalker ex-girlfriend Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman), who also happens to be a superhero known as G-Girl. Think Fatal Attraction played for laughs. One big problem is that Thurman's character is written and played far too straight. She's more creepy than funny. Wilson, meanwhile, is such a bland actor that it's like watching a battle of wits between Gore Vidal and Larry the Cable guy. There's not only no contest, it just seems cruel. —KH
Nacho Libre (PG) I don't know that it's fair to say that Jared Hess' new film, Nacho Libre, proves his Napoleon Dynamite was a fluke. In the end, Nacho Libre is pretty much the same film all over again. Oh, the plot — Mexican monk (Jack Black) sets out to become a wrestler — is different, but it's the same sort of deadpan, meandering narrative with the same lack of discernible structure. But Napoleon Dynamite offered the illusion of freshness wrapped up in a fairly mediocre movie. Here, Hess proves that even with a decent budget and a star, he can still scale the heights of mediocrity. Strictly for the "Vote for Pedro" T-shirt brigade and people with a burning desire to spend 100 minutes looking at Jack Black in spandex. —KH
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (PG-13) Pirates of the Caribbean returns to theaters for more summer swashbuckling, only they may have forgotten to buckle their swash. The sequel — the first of two — pits Johnny Depp's incomparable Captain Jack Sparrow against the owner of that chest, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). The film feels forced, as director Gore Verbinski struggles mightily to up the ante for his sequel, only to miss out on a lot of what made the original so fun in the first place. Where the last movie had piracy, fencing, gun battles, and drunken singing, Dead Man's Chest has CGI beasties and lots of screaming. Though the movie falls a little too in love with its big effects budget, at least the effects are rather good. Despite its flaws, a lot of people are probably going to quite enjoy Dead Man's Chest, and for those who don't, the good news is that Disney still has one more movie to get it right. —JT
Superman Returns (IMAX 3D) (PG-13) In director Bryan Singer's remake, the Man of Steel does indeed return, and he's flying in with a tidal wave of promotional tie-ins. Singer directs a cast full of boring heroes — Kate Bosworth does a dismal impression of a journalist as Lois Lane, and Brandon Routh, the relative unknown squeezed into Superman's tights, has all the expressiveness of a mannequin — and winning villains. Kevin Spacey crafts a far more malevolent Lex Luthor than Gene Hackman's goofy genius, and Parker Posey vamps deliciously as his idiotic sidekick Kitty Kowalski. The CGI is well-done and highly believable, and the 3D parts of the IMAX version, including a segment about Superman's adolescent discovery of his powers of flight, are stunning. It's a fun bit of mindless entertainment, but it doesn't hold a speeding bullet to either of Singer's X-Men efforts. —Sara Miller
X-Men: The Last Stand (PG-13) Compared to other comic book movies, the X-Men trilogy puts its social politics on its leather sleeves. No matter whether they're "good" X-Men, led by civilized Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), or the more militant "evil" mutants led by Magneto, the franchise's minority population of super-powered genetic aberrations stands in for any despised underclass. It would be great if all films lived up to their relevant themes or operatic aspirations. But The Last Stand features enough subplots for a bookcase full of graphic novels, including a teenage love triangle and the resurrection of a character from the previous film. With so many heroes, villains, henchmen, and political figures jockeying for screen time, everyone gets short shrift except for overreaching Magneto and anguished Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, the series' MVP). —Curt Holman
You, Me and Dupree (PG-13) Owen Wilson's Randy Dupree has a talent for turning loafing and mooching into something Zen. But only in the movies is that kind of thing adorable and charming. In reality, you'd kick him out of your life if you didn't actually kill him first, especially if he pulled any of the truly thoughtless and inconsiderate crap Dupree dumps on Carl (Matt Dillon) and his new wife, Molly (Kate Hudson), when he crashes at their lovely new home. What first-time screenwriter Mike LeSieur and directors Anthony and Joe Russo have made is Click for grownups: no fart jokes, no potty-mouthed kids wiseassing their elders, no fat suits, no pratfalls, just great humor in a story that's warm and natural and organic. —MJ