opening this week
Barnyard (PG) When Farmer Beady goes away, it's time for the animals to talk and sing and dance. But when elder statesman Ben the Cow (Sam Elliott) asks who will step up and protect their secrets, all eyes turn to his son, Otis (Kevin James), a carefree type who's more interested in pursuing Daisy (Courteney Cox), the cow of his dreams, than being responsible.
The Descent (R) A caving expedition goes horribly wrong for a group of women, as they become trapped, then pursued by a strange breed of predators.
The Night Listener (R) Radio show host Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams) sparks to a harrowing manuscript written by young Pete Logand (Rory Culkin). As a long-distance friendship develops between the two men, Gabriel begins to question the validity of the boy's story, and he travels from New York to Wisconsin to uncover the truth.
Strangers With Candy (R) Reviewed on page 45.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (PG-13) Reviewed at left.
The Ant Bully (PG) Thoroughly unnecessary, extremely loud, and occasionally distasteful — that latest animated product of the summer, this one from Warner Bros. For those who care, it's the story of Lucas Nickle (Zach Tyler), a lonely boy who is forever tormented by the neighborhood bully simply because the bully is bigger than he is. It follows that Lucas decides to torment ants on the same principle. However, one ant, Zoc (Nicolas Cage), who fancies himself a magician, has made a potion, which he pours into the sleeping boy's ear (shades of Hamlet?). The potion shrinks Lucas to ant size and he's forced to work in the colony to learn the value of teamwork and that it's wrong to pick on those smaller than yourself, yada, yada, yada. Pretty thin stuff for anyone over 10. —Ken Hanke
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. —KH
John Tucker Must Die (PG-13) The captain of the basketball team (Desperate Housewives' Jesse Metcalfe) is — surprise, surprise — an unfaithful cad. Using the new, ultra-innocent girl in school (Brittany Snow from Nip/Tuck) as their foil, three of his ex-girlfriends (Ashanti, Sophia Bush, Arielle Kebbel) hatch a clever plot to wreak revenge on him. She learns tried and true girlie techniques such as manipulation, sexual teasing, lies, and the power of red lace underwear. He learns his lesson. Girls become fast friends. No adults anywhere. Brainless but surprisingly enjoyable teen fluff. —Marcianne Miller
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
Miami Vice (R) There are no neon landscapes, girls prancing around in thong bikinis, sandy beaches, or South Beach in this Miami Vice, which is a dramatic upgrade from its glitzy, cheesy 1980s television show inspiration. Those expecting two hours of gunfights and car chases should know that this is a character-driven crime drama, not an action movie. What writer/director Michael Mann does give us is a film that strips the city of its glossy, superficial sheen and leaves a hot and stormy venue of espionage and intrigue, in which detectives Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) find themselves immersed after going undercover to infiltrate an international drug cartel. A few speed boat sequences (not chases), explosions, and an electrifying shootout do keep the tempo high, but this movie is really about drugs, betrayals, passion, and making sense of a corrupt world that ostensibly deserves no forgiveness. —Dan Hudak
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. —JT
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
Scoop (PG-13) Woody Allen's latest marks a return to typical — and top — form for the director-star, after a detour with 2005's uncharacteristicly jet-black thriller Match Point. Allen plays a cheesy London stage magician, Splendini, who gets suckered into helping an American journalism student (Scarlett Johansson) get the goods on a possible serial killer (Hugh Jackman) — all based on a tip she gets from the ghost of a legendary reporter (Ian McShane). Slight and silly, but very funny. For those who pass up this little gem of a movie based on the naysayers, you're cheating yourself out of one of the few adult pleasures of the summer. It might also be well to remember that Stardust Memories was greeted with hostility when it first appeared 26 years ago. —KH
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.