opening this week
Boynton Beach Club (PG) Lois, Harry, Marilyn, Sandy, and Jack live in an "active adult" community in Boynton Beach, Fla. Their lives intersect when they meet at a local Bereavement Club where they go to find emotional support after the loss of a loved one. For anyone who thinks that new love and romance end long before retirement, they're in for a reality check.
Facing the Giants (PG) A Christian sports drama from an all-volunteer cast and crew who share same church in Albany, Ga. The story: after six losing seasons, Grant Taylor (Alex Kendrick) realizes there's a plot to have him fired as coach of Shiloh Academy's football team. Relying on his faith, Taylor comes up with a new, winning plan for his life, and for his team.
The Guardian (PG-13) U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner), in mourning over the loss of his crew, dedicates himself to teaching, and soon finds a young man who needs mentoring, cocky swim champ Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher). Seeing his protégé through graduation, the two men head to work in Alaska, where Ben learns the true meaning of heroism and sacrifice during his first solo rescue in the Bering Sea.
Open Season (PG) After their underrated but excellent Monster House flopped earlier in the summer, Sony Pictures drops another animated effort: A deer buddies up with a domesticated grizzly bear when the two animals are alone in the woods during hunting season. Meanwhile, a forest ranger who raised the bear, embarks on a desperate search to find her friend.
School for Scoundrels (PG-13) An unlucky meter reader (Jon Heder) enrolls in confidence-building class with his sights set on winning over the girl of his dreams (Jacinda Barrett). It's a dream that becomes complicated when his instructor (Bill Bob Thornton) gets the same idea.
The Science of Sleep (R) Reviewed at left.
All the King's Men (PG-13) Director Steven Zaillian's film packs a cast of Oscar winners, nominees, and wannabes into a overly complicated, frightfully dense exploration of corruption and the political process, an adaptation of the 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from Robert Penn Warren, which was in turn loosely based on the life of Governor Huey Long of Louisiana. Sean Penn, as Willie Stark, dominates the film; this may be the best performance of his career. Unfortunately, the actors around him just aren't up to snuff. Jude Law's performance as reporter Jack Burden is as one-note as it gets. The supporting cast of top-grade actors (Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, James Gandolfini) fares little better. The most frustrating thing about All the King's Men is how good it could have been. —JT
The Black Dahlia (R) Novelist James Ellroy's world is a Hollywood where the glossy surface illusion hides all the ugliest parts of human nature. This is why there may be no worse choice to direct a James Ellroy adaptation than Brian DePalma, the uncontested master of the slick image. Here, the auteur takes on the lurid underworld of a true-life 1947 Los Angeles murder case, involving the discovery of the mutilated corpse of a beautiful woman, and turns it into a flourishy exercise in high-camp pseudo-noir. Unfortunately, nearly everything that's remotely interesting about The Black Dahlia ultimately comes from its stylized moments. —Scott Renshaw
Everyone's Hero (G) Here we have a very well-intetioned CGI-animated feature that recreates nicely the 1930s Depression era and the segregated world of baseball. But the boy-heavy story (only one girl character) never rises above its predictable storyline. This was the last project enbraced by the late Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana, and it reflects their "keep slugging no matter what the obstacles" philosophy of life. With some great animated train sequences, but an otherwise plodding story and oddly off-putting sidekicks (a talking baseball and bat). —MM
Fearless (PG-13) Is this really Jet Li's farewell to the martial arts film, or is it a gimmick to get viewers to go see a film that is otherwise largely unremarkable? The story's premise — that beating people to death isn't the path to enlightenment — requires Li to portray an utter jackass for nearly two-thirds of the film, at which point his egotistical butt-kicking comes home to roost, plunging him into near-suicidal despair. Salvation comes via a blind girl (Betty Sun) and a stint on a rice farm (doesn't it always?), whereupon Li returns to the world with his new belief in less drastic competition. Fine, but let's face it, the storyline about the cocky youth with the swollen head who learns his lesson and reforms had whiskers on it long before the the movies learned to talk. —KH
Flyboys (PG-13) Flyboys does not squander what instant drama it is handed in its premise: the short careers of the world's first fighter pilots in the skies over WWI France. By keeping just this side of the line, director Tony Bill invokes that old-fashioned Hollywood magic, the kind that sweeps you up and away. (Perhaps not surprising, since among the handful of screenwriters is David S. Ward, who wrote The Milagro Beanfield War and The Sting.) The cast of mostly unknowns (excepting the brilliant James Franco) bring a sense of character and importance that far too many of the young actors onscreen today can't. Flyboys is the kind of film that, when Hollywood gets it right, it does best — a grand yarn of adventure and catastrophe, of optimistic dreams settling into shattered certainty. —MJ
Gridiron Gang (PG) Almost exactly what you think it is: The Rock (aka: Dwayne Johnson) teaches a bunch of delinquents Self Respect and the meaning of Teamwork by turning them into a football team while they're in juvenile prison. In other words, it's another "true story" inspirational sports movie, and you pretty much know whether or not it's your brand of jock-strap from that fact alone. The only difference between this and other films of its type is that it stars The Rock. All the underdog-coming-from-behind moments are alive and intact, and so are the usual array of "feelgood" moments and hokey inspirational speeches. —KH
Hollywoodland (R) This fictional take on the mysterious real-life death of television's Superman manages to be fairly effective on a moment-to-moment basis, and frequent Sopranos director Allen Coulter spend a fair amount of time covering familiar ground about the schism between perceptions of fame and behind-the-scenes reality. Eventually, the tone starts to feel a little stale and obvious. There's a bit too much wallowing in the lurid business beneath glittering surfaces. Even so Hollywoodland has at least a little bit more on its mind than exposé, and enough flashes of humanity to make up for its strangely stylized storytelling. —SR
How To Eat Fried Worms (PG) New Line's adaptation of a 1972 children's book of the same name by Thomas Rockwell. The tale of standing up to a bully by eating 10 worms (prepared in various repellent ways) makes for thin stuff spread over 90 minutes. And it seems thinner still under the lackluster direction of Bob Dolman, who loads the film with bogus energy and a seemingly endless array of bland and uninteresting imagery, which he smothers in an annoying musical score by Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh. Kids may feel differently, but it's one of the most amateurish essays in excruciating tedium I've encountered in a year that's hardly lacked for tedium. —KH
The Illusionist (PG-13) There is magic in The Illusionist, and I don't mean merely the magic of stage conjurers, like the character this wonderfully mysterious and dreamy film turns on. Director Neil Burger creates a vision of Vienna at the turn of the 20th century that is half phantasm and half history, that plays with concepts of class distinction starting to disappear as an old world gives way to a new, that teases us by playing in a borderland between science and the supernatural as new modes of rational thinking were coming to the fore. Its greatest thrill may be that it finds a, well, magic middle ground where it could actually please everyone, where it's just strange enough to electrify fans of the bizarre and just effortless enough to satisfy those who merely seek a diverting entertainment. —MaryAnn Johanson
Invincible (PG-13) Based on the true story of walk-on Eagles receiver Vince Papale, Invincible approaches football from the perspective of individual achievement rather than team camaraderie. Some might complain that it takes too long to get to the football, but this film isn't as much a football movie as it is a character study; football is just a bonus. Sports movies are a dime a dozen, but this one raises itself beyond the genre to tell the simple, true story of a man beating the odds through sheer force of will. It's not perfect, but Invincible works well as an uplifting study in hard work, humility, and perseverance. —Joshua Tyler
Jackass: Number Two (R) This open sore of a cinematic affront, in which overgrown adolescents perform dangerous and/or disgusting stunts, is a crap-fest served up with a large bottle of weasel urine (which for a small fee, any one of the cast members would probably drink). Any fella who wants to festoon his member with a sock that looks like a mouse so that a "friend" of his can dangle it in front of a hungry snake deserves what he gets. —KH
The Last Kiss (R) This angst-driven whine-fest of a movie starring Zach Braff is no Garden State — and not just because it takes place in Wisconson. Braff playing a "normal guy" the same way he played his dysfunctional Garden State character is just an expressionless bore, excessive of nose and bereft of chin, living an ultra-priviliged life that he likes to bitch and moan about with his equally privileged buddies who, in turn, kvetch about their lives. I'm not sure why they're so miserable — except that they're facing their 30s and are in a movie scripted by Paul Haggis. The burning question is will he sleep with hot college girl (and potential stalker) Rachel Bilson or will he stick with pregnant girlfriend Jacinda Barrett. The real question is why anyone should care. —KH
Little Miss Sunshine (R) Hilarious and heartrending. A family of dysfuctional poster-people, in constant battle with one another over absolutely everything, climb into into a VW van for a drive of hundreds of miles in order to get young Olive (Abigail Breslin) to the Little Miss Sunshine competition, to which she has been invited at the last minute. What's more, they have to not kill one another in spite of the many disasters they encounter. Little Miss Sunshine is my favorite movie of the year for all the little touches along the literal and figurative road it takes to get there. Any absurdity — and there's plenty — is more than trumped by raw emotional power. —MJ
The Protector (R) At least four stars' worth of guilty pleasure. The Protector is delirious in its absurdity, remarkable in its preposterousness, ravishingly bad in its acting, astonishing in its feats of derring-do, spotty in its filmmaking technique, and utterly incoherent in its plotting. In other words, it's quite nearly perfect for what it is. Chinese gangsters from Australia make the mistake of going to Thailand and purloining Kham's (Tony Jaa) pachyderms, prompting our star to go to Sydney and unleash the wrath of Kham on them. It's nonstop action with amazing feats from Jaa. —KH