Capsule Reviews of Current Movies 

Opening this week

Halloween (R) After being committed for 17 years, Michael Myers is mistakenly released from the mental institution and he immediately returns home in search of his baby sister Laurie.

Balls of Fury (PG-13) Down-and-out former professional ping-pong phenom Randy Daytona is sucked into a maelstrom when an FBI agent recruits him for a secret mission. Randy is determined to bounce back and win, and to smoke out his father's killer, played by Christopher Walken.

Death Sentence (R) Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) is a mild-mannered executive with a perfect life, until one gruesome night he witnesses something that changes him forever. Transformed by grief, Hume eventually comes to the disturbing conclusion that no length is too great when protecting his family.

Critical Capsules

Becoming Jane (PG) Even though Becoming Jane is almost entirely invented, it captures both the aching romanticism and the cold, hard practicalities of Austen's fiction. And in a way, it even does Austen one better: it's laden with all of the angst and heartbreak and tears we've come to expect from a Sense & Sensibility or a Pride & Prejudice, but because it is adhering to the spirit of Austen's life — she never married, never enjoyed any kind of long-term romantic entanglements that posterity is aware of — it doesn't indulge in a happy ending. How can it? Spoiler alert! Anne Hathaway's charming and independent Jane does not end up happily ever after with James McAvoy's handsome and roguish lawyer Tom Lefroy. The movie works far better as a "fictional biography" — an enrapturing, spirited one with the foreknowledge of her bittersweet yet independent, unmarried life — than it does as a silly sitcom that hangs on the fulfillment of romantic dreams. —Maryann Johanson

The Bourne Ultimatum (PG-13) Bourne is back for a third and (supposedly) final adventure and nothing has changed in terms of quality, but nothing else is the same. Once again Greengrass and Damon deliver on a movie packed with more "holy shit!" moments than you can shake an Uzi at. Greengrass hasn't just topped the previous Bourne movies in every way, he's raised the bar for the spy and action genres for years to come, and he's done it in a movie with surpassingly little dialogue. If you're like me, your nails will be firmly buried in the arm of your chair throughout the film's 111 minutes. —Joshua Tyler

Daddy Day Camp (PG) The best thing I can say about this is that it doesn't attain the acute awfulness of last week's Bratz, but by the same token, it lacks the grim "end of civilization as we know it" fascination of that discharge of dumbness. The only holdover from the original Daddy Day Care is the writer — and that was unfortunate since he brought along ever summer camp cliché in existence and threw in projectile vomiting and a balloon full of urine. Are you laughing yet? —Ken Hanke

Hot Rod (PG-13) The story of an amateur stuntman (SNL's Andy Samberg) who must raise $50,000 to pay for his father's heart operation, thus getting the chance to beat him at hand-to-hand combat and gain his respect, Hot Rod is an idiotic comedy that mix and matches the stylings of Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and Napoleon Dynamite into one punishingly unfunny comedy. There's never any attempt at actually crafting an honest-to-goodness joke. Instead we get a lot of bogus, worn-out '80s nostalgia and phony random gags. It's not even a movie; it's a series of one-liners for high school kids to quote once classes start back up. —Justin Souther

The Invasion (R) German filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) was supposed to have his big English language debut with this fourth version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But Warner Bros. didn't like what he gave them, so they had the Wachowski Brothers tart it up, after which they had Wachowski protegé James MacTeigue (V for Vendetta) monkey with it some more. The result is a thoughtful film that used the basic premise — aliens from outer space replacing people with emotionless copies — to examine the high cost of being human with some pretty preposterous action sequences grafted on to it. It's a mess — often fascinating, but still a mess. Nicole Kidman is good; Daniel Craig, on the other hand, is as wasted as the opportunity. —Ken Hanke

The Last Legion (PG-13) This fair dose of campy entertainment is made all the more entertaining by virtue of the fact that no one involved seems to realize just how silly it all is. Its bubble-headed attempt to rewrite the origins of King Arthur in terms of ancient Rome and the "last ode to the Caesars," who in this case is a boy (Thomas Sangster, whom we've already seen in one of these dithering ancient world operas, Tristan + Isolde). He has to be protected by a noble Roman warrior (Colin Firth looking perplexed to find himself wearing leather and window curtains), a Turkish fighting woman (Aishwarya Rai), and a quasi magician (Ben Kingsley slicing the ham thickly). It's filled with unitentionally funny dialogue and smelly-looking gents in crepe beards clanging swords and saying, "Arrgh." —Ken Hanke

Mr. Bean's Holiday (G) Let's face it, Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean character is an acquired taste, and if it's a taste you've acquired you're very likely going to love Mr. Bean's Holiday. The plot such as it is follows Mr. Bean and the havoc he causes as he makes his way to a vacation in Cannes. Some of it works, some of it doesn't, but there's no denying the gags are cleverly constructed. —Ken Hanke

The Nanny Diaries (PG-13) No, it's not in the same league as Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's last film, American Splendor, but it seems unlikely this pleasant, but largely unremarkable, romantic comedy ever had such lofty goals. The story of Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) taking a job as a nanny for a snobbish Upper East Side Couple, Mr. and Mrs. X (Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti), isn't a lot more than a light-weight variant on The Devil Wears Prada. Directorially, it's a little more stylish, but it's also a good deal less funny. It's never more than a fairly pleasant entertainment, but neither is it ever anything less. —Ken Hanke

Resurrecting the Champ (PG-13) Rod Lurie's Resurrecting the Champ is a so-so movie with a frequently less than so-so screenplay that somehow comes off as better than it is thanks to a stunning performance from Samuel L. Jackson. Otherwise, this fact-based drama plays like a mawkish version of the old Carole Lombard-Fredric March comedy Nothing Sacred. The ever-bland Josh Hartnett plays a sportswriter who happens to rescue a homeless man from some frat boys, only to be told by the man that he's former heavyweight contender Bob Satterfield. Hartnett swallows this hook, line, and sinker, only to find out the truth is different — but not until he's published an article and turned them both into celebrities. It's ultimately preposterous and speechy, but nothing ever quite dispells the power of Jackson's performance. —Ken Hanke

September Dawn (PG-13) In the years since the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre — where 120 men, women, and children were slaughtered in cold blood in Utah after a four-day siege — opposing versions of the event have collided. On the one side, historical evidence suggests that leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ordered the execution of the members of a wagon train traveling through Utah from Arkansas. On the other side, there's the church's official stand that John D. Lee conducted an unsanctioned renegade operation. No movie could possibly reconcile the tangled politics, emotions, and beliefs. But this one, from director/co-writer Christopher Cain (Young Guns) doesn't even try. Instead, it cobbles together a weak Romeo-and-Juliet romance and pastes it onto something that manages somehow to be both unintentionally hilarious and borderline offensive. His operatic nonsense accomplishes something I don't think he intended: By treating the Mormons with such laughable contempt, he actually made me feel sorry for them. —Scott Renshaw

The Simpsons Movie (PG-13) Judging by its first weekend box office take, it was worth the 20 years it took The Simpsons Movie to make it to the big screen, and if you're a fan of the show, you'll probably agree. If you're not, this film version isn't likely to convert you. It's essentially little more than a 30-minute episode extended to 90 minutes, a concept that both sells it to the fans and undermines itself. The first third is good, moving at lightning speed and not afraid to be random while setting up the plot about Homer accidentally turning Springfield into a toxic waste blight. Unfortunately, the film's remainder becomes mired in the mechanics of that plot at the expense of the gags. For die-hard Simpsons addicts only. —Ken Hanke

Stardust (PG-13) In a prologue narrated by Ian McKellen in his most resonant Gandalf-ian tones, we learn of a magical world called Stormhold that exists in the middle of England, separated from our reality only by a stone wall. One young man managed to sneak through for a small adventure 150 years ago, only to have the infant result of that small adventure dropped on his doorstep nine months later. Flash forward 18 years, and Tristan (Charlie Cox) — that baby all grown up — is a restless lad pining for a seemingly inaccessible girl (Sienna Miller). Tristan's search for his family history and accompanying romantic rendezvous are familiar enough stuff, but director Matthew Vaughn's choices make everything feel even more like a mash-up of other movies, stories, and even amusement park rides. Like Frankenstein's monster, it's something sewn together from spare parts — but without that spark of lightning that would bring it to life. —Scott Renshaw

Superbad (R) There is a thin line between smart juvenilia and stuff that's just plain silly — and Superbad keeps weaving back and forth across that line like Lindsay Lohan at a traffic stop. Produced by Judd Apatow (of 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up fame), it marks the first script by Seth Rogen (Knocked Up star) and Evan Goldberg (Rogen's childhood friend from Vancouver). So it's not hard to see a bit of autobiography — or at least wish-fulfillment — in the story of high school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Arrested Development's Michael Cera). Soon to be attending separate colleges, the two best friends are looking for one last hurrah by supplying alcohol to an end-of-year party hosted by one of their school's cool girls. Thus begins an odyssey that plays like a cross-breeding of all-night travelogue, end-of-school reminiscence, and cherry-popping quest. —Scott Renshaw

War (R) Following an FBI agent (Jason Statham) who's attempting to take revenge on the mysterious assassin (Jet Li) who killed his partner, War is a convoluted action flick that suffers by taking itself way too seriously. Instead of realizing the shortcomings of its utterly ridiculous storyline or focusing on the action, the filmmakers take the exact opposite approach and skimp on the action, while overloading the movie with tons of silly plot. By the time you've slogged your way to the film's jaw-droppingly unbelievable conclusion, the best you can do is wonder how anyone past the age of eight thought this would work. War is just plain dull, the action is sparse, and when it does occur, uninspired. —Justin Souther


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