Capsule Reviews of current and ongoing movies 

Opening this Week

Transporter 3 (PG-13) Jason Statham is a former mercenary trying to be good, but he just can't help himself. Also stars François Berléand and Robert Knepper.

Australia (PG-13) See review.

Four Christmases (PG-13) Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon star in a comedy about two West Coast sophisticates forced to spend time with their families, all four of them, on Christmas Day. Also stars Sissy Spacek, Robert Duvall, and Jon Voight.

Critical Capsules

Body of Lies (R) Throughout David Ignatius' 2007 novel Body of Lies, you can feel the potential for creating something ... deeper. While the surface markings were those of an age-of-terrorism espionage thriller, there were also hints of Mystic River author Dennis Lehane — the portrayal of a world in which moral decision-making was virtually impossible, and the best a soul could hope for was to make the least immoral decision. But whenever these ideas seemed ready to bubble over into something seriously probing, Ignatius would fall back on over-plotted genre convention. Director Ridley Scott's adaptation — working from a script by William Monahan (The Departed) — at times teases with the same promise of piercing insight into a no-win situation. While the film strips away much of the fat from Ignatius' storytelling, it also winds up frustratingly superficial. It's a nuts-and-bolts action drama putting on the undercover persona of something with a message. —­Scott Renshaw

Bolt (PG) About the most enthusiasm I can muster for Disney Studio's newest entrant in capturing the hearts and minds of children (and the pocket books of their parents), Bolt, is that it exists. Beyond that, there isn't much more to say about this film. It's an innocuous, bland little animated movie with more formula than a chemistry book, but since Bolt never tries to be anything more, it'll be perfectly satisfactory for youngsters and consummately dull for parents. John Travolta voices Bolt, who plays a heroic, super-powered canine on a TV show, where he runs around saving young Penny (Miley Cyrus) from the clutches of the nefarious Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell). The problem is that Bolt doesn't realize his life is primetime programming, so when he escapes into the real world, yes, he thinks he has super powers. The film becomes a PG-rated story of animated self-discovery, as Bolt realizes the fraudulence of his life up to this point (how existential!) before, of course, overcoming all this in the final act. Standard fare all around, enlivened at some theaters by being in 3-D. —Justin Souther

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (PG-13) Mark Herman's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a classic case of a filmmaker mistaking the importance of his subject for the importance of his film. Sure, the movie's goal of viewing the Holocaust through the wide-eyed wonder and innocence of an eight-year-old German is heavy stuff to begin with, and a fresh enough take on the subject on its own. But Herman has decided that this simply isn't enough, as he's gummed up the works in breast-beating histrionics and a contrived final act, all of which continually makes the movie feel phony and undermines any emotional resonance it might've had. The basic premise — the inevitably tragic friendship between the son (Asa Butterfield) of the Nazi officer (David Thewlis) in charge of a concentration camp and a little Jewish boy (Jack Scanlon) imprisoned in that camp — is strong, but the execution falls far short of its potential. —Justin Souther

Changeling (R) Christine (Angelina Jolie) is a flinty single mother who works as a telephone switchboard supervisor and takes responsibility for nine-year-old son Walter (Gattlin Griffith), whose deadbeat father abandoned him at birth. She is, in other words, a type: a noble, suffering, hard-working Madonna from the Gish sisters school who's about to have her trial by fire. That trial is too bizarre to be anything but true and centers on the disappearance of Walter when Christine is kept late at work. After months of waiting, the scandal-plagued Los Angeles Police Department tries for a not especially well-thought-out PR gambit: They hand Christine a boy roughly her son's age and claim they've reunited mother and child. But Christine will have none of the switcheroo. Few genres are left untouched, as director Clint Eastwood dips into horror and a sordid fixation on sex crimes. In moments that test the limits of good taste, Eastwood can't simply tell us that children suffer, but also sensationalizes that suffering. And yet, for all the blood, Changeling is a remarkably lifeless affair. —Felicia Feaster

The Duchess (PG-13) Yes, The Duchess has a certain air of Masterpiece Theatre-itis about it, and there's no getting away from it. It's a little too genteel, a little too mannered. It has that peculiar air of characters who say things as if they knew all along that someday someone would make a film about them. But this somewhat fictionalized tale of the Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley) is also notable for a degree of wit and intelligence not seen much in theaters right now. The performances are top flight with Knightley proving once more that she can carry a movie. The real star, though, may be Ralph Fiennes as the Duke, since he manages to make a pretty unlikable character at least understandable. There's a cheerfully amoral tone to it all that lends an air of sophistication. Meanwhile, director Saul Dibb shows himself to be very adept with the moving camera. Unless costume pictures just aren't your thing, this is well worth your time. —Ken Hanke

Fireproof (PG) This isn't aimed at people who care about movies. It's aimed at people interested in religion — or religion as viewed by director Alex Kendrick and the Sherwood Baptist Church. It's aimed at the people who liked Kendrick's Facing the Giants and found its moralizing uplifting. Kirk Cameron plays Caleb Holt, a fireman with a crew of sitcom-styled goof-offs and one earnest Christian. When it looks like Caleb is headed for divorce, Caleb's father (Harris Malcom) steps in with a handwritten book that outlines a 40-day (get it?) program for restoring marriage. But it doesn't seem to be working. Personally, I think this is because Caleb is such a jerk, but the film has it that it's all because Caleb isn't a Christian. A talk with dad changes all that and Caleb — somewhat unpersuasively — decides to be a Christian. It's as simple as that. If you're predisposed to the film's messages, chances are you'll overlook the bad writing, rudimentary filmmaking, awkward performances, and lame attempts at comedy. If you're not so predisposed, I can't imagine any earthly reason to subject yourself to this movie in the first place. —Ken Hanke

Happy-Go-Lucky (R) Maybe it's a sign of the jaded times we live in, but I kept waiting for the ax to fall in Mike Leigh's comedy Happy-Go-Lucky. In another film, especially one of Leigh's own consistently downbeat tracts, an irrepressibly silly, upbeat woman like Poppy Cross (Sally Hawkins) would turn out to be a victim ... or maybe a murderess. But, surprise, surprise, not Leigh's Poppy. In many ways, bright and chipper Poppy is the sunny-side-of-the-street bookend to the splenetic, scabrous antihero of Leigh's 1993 Naked. It's hard to take Poppy seriously at first glance, as she traipses to the discotheque with her posse of cross-eyed drunk chums. Quite literally testifying to her flightiness, Poppy's exercise regimen is jumping on a trampoline, which Leigh captures several times over the course of the film, the ebullient, joy-filled woman rising and falling like a helium balloon. But Poppy is, contrary to Leigh's initial suggestion, not just a directionless flake. She's a teacher. And a good one at that, who snaps out of her frilly reverie when she sees one of her young students bullying another one. Poppy is a palliative who wants to heal the troubles around her, from the schizophrenic homeless man she visits one night to the misanthropic, racist driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan) who she meets every Saturday for lessons. —Felicia Feaster

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (G) As plastic as a Tupperware convention, the big-screen incarnation of the Disney-ific High School Musical has stolen the Halloween season box office from Saw V, which is in itself something, though by the 30-minute mark of High School Musical 3: Senior Year, I'd have been overjoyed to see all these shiny, perky, squeaky-clean kids stumble into a Saw movie. I suppose it all depends on whether you're a fan of the TV films, but really this is little more than a collection of improbably pretty people energetically performing blandly photographed production numbers of incredibly unmemorable songs — smiling for all they're worth. What dramatic tension there is seems to center on whether Zac Efron will choose his love of basketball or his love of theater (though the latter is scarcely conveyed). If that's not enough, you can bite your nails over whether the fuel pump on his junker truck will hold out. That's about as exciting as it gets. Fans will feel differently. Its popularity probably assures us a series that might well end up in grad school. —Ken Hanke

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (PG) Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa may seem a little dubious, since the island of Madagascar belongs to Africa, but then it doesn't seem like a whole lot of deep thinking went into this inevitable sequel to the popular Madagascar. Indeed, the film seems less like a sequel than a retread of the original, relying very heavily on reproducing what made the first movie a box office hit. On that score, the new film obviously works. In other words, if you liked the first picture and want exactly more of the same, you'll find what you want here in this tale of our heroes (and their pricey voice actors) trying to get back to civilization in a makeshift plane (courtesy of the popular Madagascar penguins) and crashing on the continent. It's pleasant enough, and fans of voice actors Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Sacha Baron Cohen, et al. will be happy with it, as will kids and people who liked the first outing. —Justin Souther

Quantum of Solace (PG-13) Casino Royale was widely hailed as a revitalizing tonic to the often static Bond brand, adding a meaty new dimension to a personality we thought we knew, and the possibility for a more soulful metrosexual spy. Fans of Casino Royale held out hope that Quantum of Solace would be another foray into the brooding Bond. For this Bond, Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland, and The Kite Runner) would be at the helm. Quantum's mission feels quite different: to inject real-world issues courtesy of a screenplay by Paul Haggis (Crash) and Neal Purvis. The resulting Syriana-esque willingness of former good guys like Britain and America to do business with bad guys for the love of oil makes for a more topical, though not necessarily more thrilling, or engaging, Bond. —Felicia Feaster

Rachel Getting Married (R) There's a bitter irony to the title of Rachel Getting Married, the beautifully painful family drama from director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Jenny Lumet. Yes, the weekend that the film captures should belong to Rachel Buckman (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her wedding to fiancé Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe) at the family home in suburban Connecticut. But because Rachel's sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) is getting a weekend pass from her latest court-mandated stint in rehab, it's really going to be all about Kym. Because for more than a decade within this sad, bent-but-not-entirely-broken family, it has always been all about Kym and her addictions and her relapses and her dramas. As it turns out, there's a second layer of irony built into that title. You'll see plenty of awards-season attention steered toward Hathaway's performance as Kym, which likely means that DeWitt's Rachel will take a back seat. And that's a damned shame, because Rosemarie DeWitt — please remember that name, American movie-going public — turns in one of the most quietly spectacular pieces of film acting you'll see this year. As good as Hathaway is, DeWitt is better. She never gets a single showy moment like Kym's cringe-inducing speech at the rehearsal dinner, forcing her instead to convey Rachel's conflicting emotions in smaller ways. Everything DeWitt does captures a long-standing role as family keeper-of-the-peace, even as Rachel's resentment simmers over living forever in the shadow of Kym's tragedies. —Scott Renshaw

Role Models (R) It would be easy to dismiss David Wain's Role Models as a Judd Apatow knock-off. In fact, star Seann William Scott has said as much in TV interviews. However, Wain's film has its own vibe going, is more tightly structured, and leaves a sweeter after-taste. It clearly follows the formula of mixing raunchy comedy and nudity with a feel-good storyline, though its main characters are at least a step up from Apatow's man-boys in that they at least have fairly lucrative, if deliberately silly, jobs. Scott and Paul Rudd star as reps for an energy drink that they hawk at schools as part of an anti-drug campaign. Scott likes the job (even if he has to dress up on a Minotaur costume), but Rudd doesn't, which leads to a freakout on his part and a good bit of property damage that lands them with community service sentences involving mentoring trouble youths — an über-nerd (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad's McLovin) and a foul-mouthed black kid of 10 (Bobb'e J. Thompson), who's obsessed with "boobies" and equates all white guys with Ben Affleck. It's all surprisingly funny, clever, and pleasantly entertaining. —Ken Hanke

Saw V (R) The ad campaign assures the viewer, "You won't believe how it ends." This is true, because you won't believe it could possibly be this lame, even though it is. Even granting that the Saw pictures have always been the no-frills franchise of fear flicks — they're as generic as Chicago album titles; just number the damn things and ship 'em — Saw V is notably threadbare. Its story centers on Jigsaw's previously unknown other protégé, who carries on his mentor's work. This is intertwined with FBI agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) trying to uncover the truth of it all. There's also some red herringness involving Mr. Saw's widow (Betsy Russell), who inherits a never-revealed mysterious box (I'm voting for a collection of sex toys) from her late husband. Pass. —Ken Hanke

Secret Life of Bees (PG-13) When Rosaleen Daise (Jennifer Hudson) dares to talk in a way less than 100 percent deferential to a white man in rural South Carolina, she is made to pay for it, to the horror of her adolescent charge, Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), and this becomes the last straw in Lily's own personal upset. Haunted by memories of her long-dead mother and desperate to find out more about her — as well as to get away from her father, T. Ray (Paul Bettany), who has turned his misery on his daughter — Lily hits the road, dragging Rosaleen along, to another town she has reason to believe may hold some answers. If Bees feels as if it's dragging its feet just a bit in the beginning, that's all forgotten when Lily and Rosaleen meet the spirited Boatwright sisters, who run their own little honeymaking business, enjoy a cultured lifestyle the likes of which neither Lily nor Rosaleen has even been exposed to before, and accept the young woman and the young girl into their home with open arms and open hearts. —MaryAnn Johanson

Soul Men (R) Malcolm D. Lee's Soul Men is a monument to the difference that onscreen talent can make for a movie. For all intents and purposes, Soul Men is a humdrum, forgettable R-rated comedy that's yanked up to the ranks of entertaining mediocrity simply by the undeniable magnetism of leads Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac. The plot itself is a sturdy enough foundation, with the duo playing Louis (Jackson) and Floyd (Mac), a couple of washed up, estranged back-up singers who grabbed some acclaim while a part of the soul group Marcus Hooks and the Real Deal. But it seems after their early success, frontman Marcus (musician John Legend) left the group to pursue a lucrative solo career while Louis and Floyd were left to slowly fade into obscurity. This changes when Marcus dies and the now-embattled pair are reunited for a memorial show at the Apollo. Much bickering ensues, but it's bickering that works on the strength of the stars' combined charisma and ability to swear with more amusing aplomb than anyone with the possible exception of R. Lee Ermey. The results are moderately entertaining, but make for a sorry farewell to Mac and Isaac Hayes (playing himself), both of whom passed away shortly after shooting. —Justin Souther

Twilight (PG-13) It's critic-proof, has a pre-sold fanbase, and since it appears to reproduce the goopy smoldering teen romance of the books in all its madly purple glory, it will likely find ready favor with that fanbase. In every other capacity, it's a dreadful movie that compounds its dreadfulness by being remarkably boring. Calling it a horror movie is an overstatement, since it's really all about raging teen hormones (nevermind that one of the teens is really about 108 years old). The plot involves Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a quasi-goth girl of unnatural pallor who moves to the rain-swept Pacific Northwest where she meets hunky vampire boy Edward (Robert Pattinson). If Lord Byron had been the love child of James Van Der Beek and Jack Elam and shopped at Hot Topic, he'd have looked a lot like Edward. This — and the fact that Edward glowers at the camera with the intensity of a mopey twink — means that Bella is immediately smitten. They stare at each other for what seems like hours until the film takes a U-turn to become a pretty dull thriller in which Edward has to save Bella from a bad vampire (Cam Gigandet). Fans will love it. Everyone else can shiver with dread that the sequel is already in the works. —Kan Hanke

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (R) It's almost mind-boggling that it took director Kevin Smith this long to set a story in the world of adult movies. The guy practically invented "comedy porn." The strange, almost innocent thing about Zack and Miri Make a Porno is that it seems to be an idea as old as Clerks, at least if one is to judge from the premise. Our titular protagonists, Zack Brown (Seth Rogen) and Miri Linky (Elizabeth Banks), are lifelong platonic pals sharing a Pittsburgh apartment that they can barely afford on their service-sector incomes. It's clear, however, that Smith is just looking for a thin, naughty excuse on which to hang a tale of two friends who figure out they love each other — sort of a When Harry Fucked Sally on Camera for Money. In so doing, he ventures into the territory where he always has the most difficulty: capturing actual emotion. —Scott Renshaw


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