Capsule Reviews of Current Movies 

Opening this week

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (R) One of the best reefer duos ever returns to smoke some Cubans.

Baby Mama (PG-13)

Critical Capsules

21 (PG-13) The fact that the source book changed the main character from the Asian Jeffrey Ma into the Anglicized Kevin Lewis perhaps excuses his further transformation from Kevin Lewis into Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess). Whether that also excuses the film's efforts to increase sympathy by turning him into a poor boy trying to get money to go to Harvard Medical School is another matter. Regardless, the story is barely serviceable, and the direction merely adequate. —Ken Hanke

88 Minutes (R) The mystery is over. It's now very clear why Jon Avnet's 88 Minutes gathered dust on a shelf for nearly two years. It only remains for someone to explain why it came out at all. Al Pacino — sporting what appears to be Frank Langella's hair from the 1979 Dracula — stars as a "forensic psychologist" whose testimony almost single-handedly puts a man (Neal McDonough) on death row as a serial killer. Nine years later — on the very eve of that man's execution — an idential murder (one of those showy, easy to spot murders) occurs, casting doubt on the man's guilt, and even implicates Pacino. Al's day gets worse when he receives a phone call telling him he has 88 minutes to live. Then the movie gets really silly. Pacino overacts with both fists, everyone gets his or her turn in the red herring barrel, and none of it makes any sense at all. —Ken Hanke

The Forbidden Kingdom (PG-13) The first ever teaming of martial arts film stars Jet Li and Jackie Chan, The Forbidden Kingdom is a perfectly fine piece of entertainment for what it is, but never does anything more than scale the heights of adequacy. The films follows a South Boston teen who's transported to an ancient, mystical kingdom where he must return an ancient weapon with the help of a monk and a drunken master in order to defeat a despotic warlord. This leads to a lot of the requisite fighting of waves of anonymous henchmen, though none of it — aside from the mid-film showdown between Li and Chan — is memorable, while the film itself is sufficiently slick and paced quickly enough that it's able to overcome its predictable, worn-out plot. —Justin Souther

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (R) Where many movie comedies clock in at around 90 minutes, those from Judd Apatow and his pals stretch out over a couple of hours of gag-filled dialogue. Even in his funniest films, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Apatow has shown himself to be less interested in storytelling than in creating situations in which his actors can do funny — often extremely funny — things. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, directed by Apatow's one-time Undeclared collaborator Nicholas Stoller and written by his Freaks & Geeks co-star Jason Segel, simply goes the extra mile. It's a sketch-comedy movie in which the standard plot-development questions — Will the guy get the girl? Will someone change for the better? — prove almost laughably irrelevant. —Scott Renshaw

Horton Hears a Who (G) This latest outburst of Seussian cinema is a reasonably faithful version of the book about an elephant, Horton (Jim Carrey), finding himself the savior of a speck of dust that just happens to contain the miscroscopic world of Whoville. The problem is that it's too slight for a feature and the padding required to flesh it out is rarely inspired and all too often leans on snarky post-modern pop culture references. —Ken Hanke

In Bruges (R) Imagine if Laurel and Hardy were Irish hitmen caught in a web of existential angst. That's what In Bruges is: intellectual slapstick, a ticklish combination of comic torment, a brutal grasping of life's fickleness, and sheer bloody violence that's like a shout in the dark. It makes you laugh, however shallowly, because what else can you do? It makes no goddamn sense at all. This is not an uplifting movie. Just so's you know. Don't expect kittens and balloons. —MaryAnn Johanson

Leatherheads (PG-13) George Clooney stars as Dodge Connelly, a 45-year-old pro football player in 1925. When his rag-tag team runs out of teams to play and the money to play with, he hits on the idea of recruiting the hottest college player in the country, Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski). Not only is Rutherford the biggest name in college football, but he's a war hero in the bargain. There's only one catch. Ace Chicago reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) has been sent by her paper to dig up the dirt on Rutherford's heroism and discredit him. It all neatly follows the formula of the screwball comedy, even if it sometimes misses the manic intensity it aims for. —Ken Hanke

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (PG-13) Miss Pettigrew is played by the goddess-like Frances McDormand, who refuses to make the at-first frumpy, seemingly stodgy Pettigrew into a caricature, as tempting as that may have been, and even as funny as that may have been. The same goes for Amy Adams, who plays a performer on the London stage in 1939. For all the roller coaster emotions — I was in tears by the end, and they were tears of both happiness and sadness — Miss Pettigrew does not hit a single wrong note. This could not be a more perfect movie. —MaryAnn Johanson

Never Back Down (PG-13) The story of the new kid at school (Sean Faris) who finds himself in the world of underground martial arts and must learn to fight for what he believes in. Aimed squarely at the most undemanding of teen audiences, this film is a cheesy, melodramatic look at rich kids and martial arts. It's that perfect mix of accidental ineptitude and all-around stupidity that makes it somewhat engaging on a "What were they thinking?" level. —Justin Souther

Nim's Island (PG) Nim's Island is a poorly paced, anti-climactic family film full of shoddy direction and loose ends. It will be fine for the younger set, but it's lacking for adults. With a screenplay by a whopping four screenwriters (and then directed by two of them) with credits like Wimbledon and one episode of Growing Pains, the movie is a case of not just too many fingers in the pie, but too many fingers that belong to people who really have no reason making a pie in the first place. —Justin Souther

Prom Night (PG-13) They say it's not a remake of the 1980 opus. Well, it has a psychotic killer offing meat-on-the-hoof teens at a high school prom, but the storyline is different — like that matters to its teen demographic. They're primarily there for the splatter of bright red Karo syrup blood — and the off-chance of airborne viscera. But since this is PG-13, the aerodynamic properties of intestines are not explored and there's very little blood. The results are about on par with having sex through a blanket. It's just a lot of low-wattage slashing, silly scripting (kids do the darndest things to get themselves killed), and police ineptitude as mad killer Johnathon Schaech pursues the object of his obsession, Brittany Snow, to a predictable conclusion. —Ken Hanke

The Ruins (R) In all fairness the flowers on this kudzu of Satan do vibrate and make noises various and sundry that often sound a lot like the little singing Japanese girls in the Mothra movies in need of a lyricist. This nonsense involving hapless tourists being held captive by Mexican Indians atop a Mayan temple until Lucifer's wisteria eats them might have been campy fun. Unfortunately, The Ruins takes itself very seriously, an attitude that manifests itself by loading the movie down with images — amputations, operations, self-mutilations — that aren't so much scary as merely unpleasant. —Ken Hanke

Shine a Light (PG-13) Shine a Light is Scorsese's documentary on an eternal rock band whose music has often papered his own films. Scorsese's second feature, Mean Streets used the Stones to add a luster of bad-boy sexual braggadocio to his penny-ante punks. The Stones have continued to serve Scorsese well, their music backmasking his dark tales of machismo run amok and the dark allure of crime. Though in essence a concert film, Shine a Light opens behind the scenes as Scorsese frets the details of the Stones' concert play list. Unfazed by Scorsese's panicky energy, the Stones rehearse for a 2006 concert at the 1929 Beacon Theatre, a setting that is its own shout-out to old school. —Felicia Feaster

Shutter (PG-13) It's the standard Hollywood bout of turning an Asian horror picture into a PG-13 spook-fest for teenagers — and, as usual, filling it with blandly uninteresting refugees from teen-centric TV shows in search of a movie career. In this round, we have yet another vengeance-driven ghost making herself a pain in the neck (literally, in fact) to those concerned. The spirit in question announces her presence via her penchant for ruining photographic emulsion (think of it as ghost grafitti), which is more annoying than scary. The same is true of the film — even if it is the only movie I can think of with a ghost that goes around on piggy-back. —Ken Hanke

Smart People (R) Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is an archetypal movie academic, a middle-aged sadsack in a corduroy blazer with a soft, sagging middle who harbors a profound disdain for the students he teaches. His meetings with fellow academics resemble a quorum of undertakers more than anything: a group of pasty, joyless scolds who rail about "the subjugation of women" and seethe with professional jealousy. But there is no spark of life to these scenes in the Academy; nothing to suggest these are real people with real problems. Intelligence is a liability in Smart People, because it keeps these people locked in their heads unable to experience joy. Screenwriter Mark Poirier overcooks his story with a tendency to throw in every plot twist and bit of slapstick he can get his hands on, turning the proceedings into a gooey mess. —Felicia Feaster

Street Kings (R) Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is bad news; we know this in the first minute of Street Kings, because he wakes up and grabs his gun before he even takes a piss. Give Street Kings just a few minutes more, and you'll know pretty much everything else there is to know about the rule-breaking Los Angeles vice detective — because this is a movie that assumes everyone who's watching is a complete moron. —Scott Renshaw

Stop-Loss (R) Stop-Loss doesn't join the ranks of films like Full Metal Jacket or The Best Years of Our Lives made by directors less chastened by ugly red-and-blue divides. Instead, it's a film of conciliation that strives to unite its audience in the unquestionable mission of supporting our troops. A kind of Coming Home for the YouTube set, Stop-Loss is defined by the technology-obsessed generation fighting in Iraq. It's war filtered through Toby Keith songs and crafted into home movies full of explosions and tributes to fallen soldiers. Director Kimberly Peirce emphasizes a point of view from the beginning that feels suspiciously like a court-the-middle agenda different from more divisive Iraq War films like Lions for Lambs or Redacted. —Felicia Feaster


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