FILM ‌ Capsule Reviews 

opening this week

The Benchwarmers (PG-13) In an attempt to right things from their respective childhoods, Ritchie (David Spade), Clark (Jon Heder), and Gus (Rob Schneider) form a three-player baseball team to compete against standard little league squads.

Lucky Number Slevin (R) A case of mistaken identity lands a man (Josh Hartnett) in the middle of a murder being plotted by two of the city's rival crime bosses: The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) and The Boss (Morgan Freeman). Adding more tension to his situation is the presence of a relentless detective (Stanley Tucci) and an assassin (Bruce Willis) who are both out to get him.

Phat Girlz (PG-13) An aspiring plus-size fashion designer (Mo'Nique) struggles to find love and acceptance.

Take the Lead (PG-13) A former professional dancer (Antonio Banderas) volunteers to teach dance in the New York public school system. While his background first clashes with his students' tastes, together they create a completely new style of dance.

critical capsules

ATL (PG-13) First-time director and MTV style filmmaker Chris Robinson brings this combination of inner-city youth melodrama, hip-hop, roller skating, and culture clash to the screen with the aid of some fresh-faced talent (mostly from the music world). The storyline is basic after-school special with trimmings. With their parents dead, 17-year-old Rashad (played by 25-year-old T.I.) and 14 year old Anton (played by 17-year-old Evan Ross Naess) are living with their uncle (Mykelti Williamson). Rashad works to get his brother an education. Aton sees a quicker way out of their low-class neighborhood -- selling drugs. One guess what the moral of the story is. Spirited and innocuous, but of little interest outside its target audience. --Ken Hanke

Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction (R) Unlike its predecessor, there is nothing of gynecological import in Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction. Perhaps that's the "risk" of the title: certainly the lack of the anticipated shot that caused such a stir in the original is the only risky thing about this fantastically botched attempt to revive Sharon Stone's sagging career. The idea of waiting 14 years to take up the story of the previously bisexual (that seems to have gone south), homicidal Catherine Trammell (Stone) was unwise -- even if time and cosmetic surgery have been kind to the 48-year-old actress -- but even more unwise was to treat such overheated trash as if it is important. Stone is campy, but the film is just tedious, and not sexy in the least. --KH

Deep Sea 3D (Unrated) Directed by renowned underwater cinematographer Howard Hall, Deep Sea 3D takes viewers through a pastiche of some of the ocean's oddest creatures, many of which we've seen before in superior documentaries like the BBC's Blue Planet. Still, with the underwater vistas leaping out from a five-story-tall IMAX screen, it really is remarkably like being underwater. Perhaps the best thing about the film is the narration from Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet and the music of frequent Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman; when a small anemone extends a series of seemingly never-ending branch-like arms accompanied by a jaunty Elfman ditty, one can't help but wonder, just for a second, if it's real or animation. --Sara Miller 

Failure to Launch (PG-13) This somewhat repellent romantic comedy is about a woman (Sarah Jessica Parker) who specializes in duping 30-somethings still living at home by pretending to fall in love with them -- thereby making them want to strike out on their own and get a house with an attic and a cookie jar, a wife, and 2.3 children. Since this is rom-com world, we aren't supposed to wonder what happens when she dumps them, but merely be charmed when her scheme backfires and she falls for one of her subjects (Matthew McConaughey). It's frankly not funny, romantic, or even remotely charming. --KH

Ice Age: The Meltdown (PG) It's the last days of the ice age, and the cold-weather animals that have for thousands of years frolicked on earth's frozen surface are blissfully unaware of the warm-up that's coming. It's the end of the world as they know it, and they feel fine. Meltdown is a big step up from the original Ice Age. The story is sharper, smarter, and funnier. It helps that there's no time wasted with cavemen in this one, allowing the film to focus entirely on its animal characters. But the script is just flat-out funnier and the animation is better, too. It's still of considerably lower quality than the work of Pixar or DreamWorks, but Fox's Blue Sky animation department seems content to be third best. --Joshua Tyler

Inside Man (R) Spike Lee's new film may not be the incendiary filmmaker's best work, but it just might be his most purely enjoyable and sophisticated. Clive Owen stars as a bank robber who holds a bankful of people hostage while he matches wits with hostage negotiation specialist Denzel Washington. At the same time, powerful forces far above them -- embodied by the bank's owner (Christopher Plummer) and a high-priced "fixer" and damage-control expert (Jodie Foster) -- try to keep a secret locked away in the bank from coming to light. Stylish to a fault and very entertaining (thanks in part to a sharply sarcastic script from newcomer Russell Gerwitz), it's the most wholly satisfying film so far of 2006. --KH

Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (PG-13) The very existence of Larry the Cable Guy would seem like a pretty good argument against the concept of Intelligent Design. Larry is the alter ego of comedian Dan Whitney, and here emerges as the "hero" of a movie where he plays a health inspector (though still called "the cable guy"). It's even worse than you probably think. This film almost redefines bad movies. Tasteless and tedious, it's the sort of thing that makes you long for the Ernest movies of Jim Varney. --KH

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (Unrated) Simple-minded but sweet, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is an old-age tribute that doesn't press as hard on your gag reflex as The World's Fastest Indian. It's a romantic fantasy for seniors in which the grand prize isn't a world land-speed record or enough easily obtained sex to push a pacemaker to its limits, but a final chance to enjoy a real and satisfying friendship with a younger person. Joan Plowright and Rupert Friend acknowledge their similarity to Harold and Maude, then thankfully bypass the funny business to explore a platonic relationship that finds its currency in impromptu serenades and tales of the good old days. -- Steve Schneider

Roving Mars (Unrated) Director George Butler, whose previous IMAX outing took him to Antarctica, delivers an eye-popping mix of people and machine, of genuine images and computer-assisted animations based on real pictures from NASA's two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity -- all of it accompanied by a magnificently ethereal score from composer Philip Glass. This is space-geek nirvana. I didn't think it was possible for me to be any more in love with the idea of Mars -- of going there, of exploring the planet, of seeing the Martian sights. But after seeing Roving Mars, I am. --MaryAnn Johansen

Shaggy Dog (PG) Any movie that still thinks it's funny to slap "Who Let the Dogs Out?" on its soundtrack -- whether in reference to literal or figurative canines -- is so creatively and comedically bankrupt that it's beneath any kind of serious discussion. With The Shaggy Dog -- a combined remake of the 1959 Disney film of the same name and its lame 1976 sequel, The Shaggy D.A. (thereby offering two crummy remakes for the price of one) -- this is only the tip of the iceberg of the crimes against taste. Another witless family film about a neglectful father who learns the error of his ways -- only this time by turning into a dog. For people who want to see Tim Allen hike his leg to use a urinal only. --KH

She's the Man (PG-13) Oh ho and oh hum, this teen comedy is, to put it bluntly, kind of a drag. Someone somewhere thought it would be a hoot to borrow a little -- a very little -- Shakespeare (in this case, Twelfth Night) and a lot more Just One of the Guys and have Amanda Bynes (What Every Girl Wants) masquerade as a boy at a prep school. The results were supposed to be the next Mean Girls. They aren't. It turns into lame farce with cardboard characters -- and Bynes with her chipmunk cheeks looks about as much like a boy as Mae West did. Maybe less so. --KH

Slither (R) James Gunn gained some horror cred with the screenplay for the classy '04 remake of Dawn of the Dead and has now parlayed it into this engaging directorial debut about a parasitic alien that turns the entire town of Wheelsy, S.C. (played by British Columbia, natch) into a mass of mutants and shambling zombies. The film is gleefully filled with R-rated splatter, but is blessedly free of the repellent sadism and torture that's increasingly mistaken for "horror" these days. This is partly due to the fact that the film is intentionally funny -- rarely attempting anything that's actually intended to work on an actual fright level. It might gross out the squeamish, but for genre fans it's a treat to be savored. --KH

Stay Alive (PG-13) There's something almost charming -- certainly brave and a little bit loopy -- about trying to craft a film for the videogame set, particularly when you up the stakes with a trailer that tells them that one in four of them is addicted to gaming. If there's a more persnicketty cross-section of humanity, I've yet to meet them. Gamers will tell you exactly what's wrong with any film adaptation of any videogame in great detail and then spend an hour detailing all the inhospitable things they'd like to do to Uwe Boll. Here we have a made-up game in which the players die in real life exactly as they do in the game. It's silly imitation Ring rubbish, but harmless fun if you're in the mood. --KH

Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion (PG-13) For anyone still unfamiliar with Tyler Perry's Madea franchise, there's one important thing to keep in mind: Madea may be a big momma, but she's no Big Momma. What a surprise, then, to find genuine humor in Madea's Family Reunion, the sequel to Perry's 2005 hit, Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Considering the inoffensive lightweight sermonizing that runs through the whole of Perry's film, it would seem the perfect antidote to harried parents in need of some quality cinema time with their own offspring. But, of course, there're the flatulence and sex jokes to bring Perry's ultimately noble attempt down to a more pedestrian level. That's too bad. --MS

V for Vendetta (R) The Wachowski brothers' adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel -- about a dystopian future U.K. crushed under a faith-based totalitarian government -- and James McTeigue's treatment of it, is fearless. It never shirks from the gleefully obvious (a fat, pill-popping asshole talk radio host) the utterly horrific (a Dachau-like government atrocity leading to hundreds of lime-coated bodies dumped into a pit) or Goon Show-style absurdity. While certainly not perfect, V for Vendetta is a feast of ideas, a furious Molotov cocktail of a tale, a valentine to the idea that art and information can change things, and the first genuinely relevant film of this bad new century. --Ian Grey

The White Countess (PG-13) Ralph Fiennes has been sadly overlooked this year, not just for his remarkable turn in The Constant Gardener but for The White Countess, too -- and Fiennes' performance here may well be even better than his turn in Gardener. In Countess, Fiennes is Jackson, a recently blinded American in Shanghai in the late 1930s, a man who affects detachment, who lets casual insouciance become shorthand for the sophistication he wishes to project. He meets sad Sofia (the wonderfully regal Natasha Richardson), a Russian aristocrat down on her luck and working as a taxi dancer in Shanghai. In standard Merchant Ivory form, what follows is all about repression and the price one pays for insisting on being a unemotional prick. --MJ

Wild Safari 3D: A South African Adventure (Unrated) The Charleston IMAX reaches back to 2005 for a kid-friendly 3D tour through South Africa's national parks in search of the world's top five big game animals: the elephant, the Cape buffalo, the rhinoceros, the leopard, and the lion. It's mostly a film for the 12-and-under set, as the pacing moves at Teletubbie speed. The film rolls as if the audience is seated in the back of a topless Range Rover; it's supposed to make one feel in the middle of the action, but the only action you're likely to feel is car sickness. As with most IMAX films, the entertainment quotient is at least matched by the fun-fact-and-educational quotient. But for those not toting tots, consider passing on this one and taking in the remarkable Roving Mars instead. --Kinsey Labberton


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