Capsule Reviews of current and ongoing movies 

Opening this Week

Angels & Demons (PG-13) See review.

Is Anyone There? (PG-13) See review.

Management (R) Steve Zahn stars in this offbeat romantic comedy about a mild-manned motel clerk in love with Jennifer Aniston, who plays a traveling saleswoman ruing the day she decided to play cougar with the clerk. Also stars Woody Harrelson. Directed by Stephen Belber (Tape).

Critical Capsules

17 Again (PG-13) Seeing how the very first scene in 17 Again is Zac Efron shirtless and sweaty, and that the next scene is Efron dancing, it's not difficult to see what purpose this movie is supposed to serve. Namely, it's here to please his tween fans by parading around his heartthrobiness for 100 minutes while occasionally showing off his unique talents (and yes, being shirtless counts as talent in some corners). The movie is one of those family friendly fantasies that crop up here and there, where an adult is transformed into a teen and sent off to learn important life lessons — think either version of Freaky Friday or pre-Christian Soldier Kirk Cameron and Arthur 2-era Dudley Moore in Like Father Like Son. In this case, it's an exhausted looking Matthew Perry. This take offers nothing new, though a couple scenes are a little creepier than usual. It's strictly for fans of Efron, who may actually be young enough to find it fresh. —Justin Souther

Fast & Furious (PG-13) On the plus side, at least some of the action scenes are put together in a coherent manner (an increasingly rare phenomenon). Also, Paul Walker no longer looks like he's waiting for the director to tell him what to do next. What else can be said? Well, it's not nearly as funny as Vin Diesel's last picture, Babylon A.D., but whether that's in the movie's favor is as personal a call as deciding whether Mr. Diesel's second chin is really getting that obvious, or if director Justin Lin just shoots him in profile way too often. As a mindless — verging on incompehensible — action flick, Fast & Furious probably scales the heights of adequacy. That's to say people drive fast, perform improbable stunts, things blow up, and the leads glare at each other a lot. Neither the plot nor individual set-pieces, however, survive even cursory scrutiny. All you need to know — not that there's much more to know — is that Diesel and Walker are out to bring down a Mexican drug lord, who was responsible for the death of Diesel's girlfriend (Michelle Rodriguez). If that — and watching people drive fast — appeals to you, so might the movie. Ken Hanke

Fighting (PG-13) If ever a movie deserved the largely meaningless assessment of "it is what it is," Dito Montiel's Fighting is that movie. It is exactly what you think it is — a fairly dumb fight drama of the sort that Hollywood's been knocking out since Kid Galahad in 1937. In fact, this pretty much is an uncredited rehash of Kid Galahad with a slight modern varnish job. It's still the story of a promoter spotting raw fighting talent in a kid and helping to turn him into a star fighter. That it's on some vaguely defined underground bare-knuckle circuit changes very little, nor does it make it any less hokey. The point is that's what Fighting offers you, and if that appeals to you, so might the movie. Unforunately, Montiel thinks he's in deeper territory than the B-movie realm the film actually inhabits — and he tries to make that point by throwing more and more cliches into the mix, which only gooses the kitsch quotient and pads the running time. Strictly for viewers who want to see shirtless Channing Tatum. —Ken Hanke

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (PG-13) Undoubtedly, you can guess by the title that this is a modernized knock-off of Mr. Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol — something the characters of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past must be totally unfamilar with. The idea is that Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey) is a sleazeball, womanizing photographer who will learn the error of his ways on the eve of the wedding of his brain-dead brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer), to the shrill and unlikeable Sandra (Lacey Chabert). Assuming that we're familiar with the original, there's not much chance we don't know where this is going. Throw in the one girl he ever truly loved, Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner), and there's no chance at all. The film's decision to make the already unctuous McConaughey über-sleazy works against whatever merit it might have had. What's left is an unbelievable reformation, cheesy special effects, not very funny comedy, and zero romance. —Ken Hanke

Monsters vs. Aliens (PG) The basic idea of making a spoof of 1950s science fiction movies using the quintessential 1950s gimmick of 3-D is in itself inspired. The idea of filling it with cross-references to 1950s-'60s sci-fi movies from the well-known — The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Fly — to the culty — Attack of the 50 Foot Woman — to the esoteric awful — The Amazing Colossal Man — is a nice nod to film and SF nerds. There's even something sweetly nostalgic about the idea that the government has had all these out-of-date monsters locked away for about 50 years. The voice casting is surprisingly good, especially Rainn Wilson as the evil Gallaxhar. The results of all this, though, are rarely more than pleasant. The individual components suggest it should be better. It's less a case of anything being actually wrong than it simply being no more than OK. The idea basically finds the earth invaded by aliens and calls on their stash of homegrown monsters to save the day. Apart from the personal stories used to flesh this out, that's the plot and it works fine for what it is. At bottom, I liked it well enough. I found it consistently clever and that it maintained a pleasantly giddy sense of fun. In a year, I'll have only the vaguest sense of ever having seen it. Ken Hanke

Next Day Air (R) I'd held out some hope for this movie. The cast was full of likable performers; the director, Benny Boom, was an unknown commodity; and the trailer made the movie look like a clever Afro-American variation on a Guy Ritchie picture. Well, Guy Ritchie never made anything this bad and boring on the worst Madonna-influenced, crypto-Kabbalistic day of his life. If Ritchie swallowed a bottle of horse tranquilizers, he might approach this level of lameness. Maybe. The premise is fine. There's nothing wrong with the idea that a perpetually stoned delivery man, Leo (Donald Faison), might deliver a package containing 10 bricks of cocaine to the wrong address. That the address he delivers it to happens to belong to a pair of small-time crooks, Brody (Mike Epps) and Guch (Wood Harris), who think their ship has come in is good, too. They're portrayed as sufficiently lacking in grey matter that they might believe they can get away with making off with someone else's fortune in drugs. For that matter, the plot is generally workable all the way through. Unfortunately, no one knows what to do with it, and a dull, meandering, unfunny, and even unpleasant film is the result. —Ken Hanke

Obsessed (PG-13) I don't mind that TV director Steve Shill's theatrical film debut Obsessed is mindless, overheated, undercooked trash. I mind that it's boring mindless, overheated, undercooked trash. That's the one thing trash can't withstand. Unfortunately, it's also the one thing Obsessed has in abundance. Oh, it has other things — awful dialogue, hysterically obvious set-ups (the more forgiving among us may call this "foreshadowing"), laughably bad performances, a mentally defective storyline — but it's the boredom quotient that cooks the goose. The movie has about two minutes worth of plot — psycho blonde temp worker (Ali Larter) stalks and fantasizes a romance with her boss (Idris Elba), causing him no end of trouble and understandably earning the ire of his wife (Beyonce Knowles). It keeps going only because every character in the film behaves like an idiot. Yes, you'll finally get to the big Beyonce-Ali Larter catfight, but it's not that big and not that good. —Ken Hanke

The Soloist (PG-13) Now that Joe Wright's failed Oscar-bait, The Soloist, has also fared poorly at the box office, maybe Mr. Wright will get back to the business of making the movies his 2005 debut feature Pride and Prejudice suggested he had in him. This isn't to say that The Soloist is a bad movie, but the best that can be said of it is that it qualifies as an honorable failure. Finally seeing the film, there's no longer much mystery as to why the studio pulled it from awards season. Despite worthy performances from Robert Downey Jr. as LA Times columnist Steve Lopez and Jamie Foxx as the schizophrenic homeless man who was once a musical prodigy and whom Lopez befriends, the movie's mostly a mess with bizarre extraneous scenes filling up the gaps left by a narrative arc that doesn't exist. Strangely, the film itself recognizes this very problem when Lopez says he doesn't want to turn his articles on his friend into a book, because there's no ending. The film can't find one either, so it merely stops at a certain point with a bit of simplistic moralizing and a tepid stab at a "feel good" wrap-up. —Ken Hanke

Star Trek (PG-13) J.J. Abrams' Star Trek has arrived on the scene to stake its claim as the big movie of the summer. It just might win that accolade, too, because it's a surprisingly pleasing work that doesn't require being a certified Trekkie (or Trekker, if you must) to enjoy. Of course, it helps that Star Trek is such a part of collective pop culture consciousness that nearly everyone knows the main characters and basic set-up of the original 1960s TV series. The film works because it takes itself seriously without taking itself too seriously. It's not slated to become one of the "great movies." It has some significant flaws and missteps, but on its own merits it's entertaining. The whole origins story idea comes with a set of built-in pitfalls and Star Trek stumbles into a few of them. There's an inescapable sense of watching kids playing dress-up to the whole thing — a kind of Muppet Babies aura. It's hard not to imagine these young Trekkers arguing over who gets to play whom, which is echoed by the musical chairs business of who gets to command the ship at various points in the narrative. The business of jamming all the characters into Starfleet Academy at the same time is simply awkward. But it scores most of the time — and shows true genius in bringing Leonard Nimoy in to play Spock — or Spock Prime. Nimoy has just the right gravity to lend the film authenticity and an emotional resonance it would otherwise lack. —Ken Hanke

Sunshine Cleaning (R) Amy Adams' Rose Lorkowski is struggling in a way that many women will recognize: She's raising a child on her own, with the occasional help of her unreliable sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), and their slightly wacky dad, Joe (Alan Arkin). She's in love with a totally inappropriate man, Mac (Steve Zahn), once her high-school sweetheart and now married to someone else. She's coping, but she's frustrated, and she's just one misfortune away from a meltdown. Which comes, of course, when her son, Oscar (Jason Spevack), gets kicked out his elementary school. The school wants to Ritalin him into submission, but Rose won't have it — she'll figure out a way to pay for the private school that will give Oscar the attention he deserves. So Rose gets a job cleaning up crime scenes, and it turns out mopping up blood and brains actually gets some respect. —MaryAnn Johanson

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (PG-13) It appears I'm supposed to have hated this movie, but I have to say I didn't. It's not a great movie, and I doubt I'll ever feel compelled to see it again, but I enjoyed it well enough while it was onscreen. Is it profound? No. It doesn't pretend to be weighty, which means that it isn't pompous like Watchmen or The Dark Knight. To me, that's a plus. I find it interesting and more than a little disheartening that the idea of quality in a comic book movie has become synonymous with "depressing." The charge that the story isn't realistic strikes me as peculiar to say the least. Uh, guys, we're talking about a main character who, for all intents and purposes, is indestructible and who sprouts blades out of his hands. If the film then wants me to believe that he and his half-brother, Victor, stop aging at the time of the Civil War, and that that happens to coincide with the current ages of stars Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber, I'm cool with it. It seems an easy enough leap to make. It has the basic problem of all origins stories — namely that you know where it's going — but it strikes a nice balance between a respect for the character and not taking itself too seriously. —Ken Hanke


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