- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

OPENING

• Akeelah and the Bee (2006) (PG: Mildly questionable language). A young South Central girl catches the National Spelling Bee championships on ESPN and is hooked. She studies hard and sets her sights on winning the next year’s competition. Angela Bassett plays the girl’s mother and Laurence Fishburne is a helpful professor. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Devil and Daniel Johnstone (2006) (PG-13) — A documentary feature about the struggle of a songwriter to function despite severe manic-depressive tendencies. Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig.

• Hard Candy (2006) (R) — A psychological suspense melodrama about a teenage girl, Ellen Page, who begins to suspect the worst of an attractive man, Patrick Wilson, who appears intent on seduction. Directed by David Slade from a screenplay by Brian Nelson.

• Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (2006) (PG) — A sentimental comedy about the friendship that evolves between an elderly Scottish woman, Joan Plowright, and a young writer, Rupert Friend, who meet in London. Directed by Dan Ireland from a screenplay by Ruth Sacks.

• R.V. (2006) (PG) — A road comedyA starring Robin Williams as a dad who conceals troubles at work by promoting a vacation trip in a rented recreational vehicle. His itinerary puzzles wife Cheryl Hines and their two adolescent kids. While on the road they meet a seasoned RV family headed by Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld from a screenplay by Geoff Rodkey, also responsible for “Daddy Day Care” and the recent remake of “The Shaggy Dog.”

• Stick It (2006) (PG-13) — The feature directing debut of Jessica Bendinger, a former model who broke through belatedly as a screenwriter with the exuberant “Bring It On.” This variant, also written by Miss Bendinger, revolves around Missy Peregrym as a high school rebel who suddenly emerges as a gymnastics prodigy. With Jeff Bridges as her coach, Jon Gries as her dad and Vanessa Lengies, Nikki Soohoo and Maddy Curley as teammates who have to deal with her attitude.

• Three Times (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). An acclaimed romantic triptych from the Taiwan filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien, who casts Shu Qi and Chang Chen as characters attracted to each other in scattered time frames: 1966, 1911 and 2005. In Mandarin and a Taiwanese dialect with English subtitles. One week only, exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre.

• United 93 (2006) (R: Mature themes, adult language and bloody violence). The fateful flight that missed its target on September 11 is the subject of this harrowing thriller. A cast of unknowns play the passengers of United 93, who find themselves on the front lines of the war on terror when their plane is hijacked by terrorists. Writer-director Paul Greengrass based his vision on flight transcripts and interviews with the passengers of loved ones.

NOW SHOWING

• American Dreamz (2006) (PG-13: Disturbing themes, sexual situations and adult language) — **1/2. Hugh Grant is the Simon Cowell-esque host of the country’s most popular television show. President Staton (Dennis Quaid) hopes to boost his poll numbers by appearing on the program, while a terrorist group sees the singing show as a platform for its next murderous act. Writer-director Paul Weitz of “About a Boy” fame wrings some laughs out of touchy material but too much of the satire only skims the surface. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Benchwarmers (2006) (PG-13) — A sports farce from Adam Sandler’s production company, which reunites with the director of “Happy Gilmore,” Dennis Dugan, and a pair of Sandler cronies, Rob Schneider and David Spade, who are cast as pivotal members of a short-handed amateur baseball team organized by a billionaire with a grievance, Jon Lovitz. He seeks to humble an assortment of cutthroat Little Leaguers who have bullied his own kid. Not reviewed.

• Brick (2006) (R) — *** — An homage to film noir that won a special jury prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Writer-director Rian Johnson attempts to interweave the conventions of vintage private eye movies with a suburban high school setting in Southern California. The film has the raw feel of a first effort but is suffused with love of both filmmaking and the incredible variety of American personality. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is cast as the teenage sleuth, who encounters various sinister types while searching for a missing girlfriend. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Don’t Come Knocking (2006) (R) — ***. The latest in a series of small, understated movies about the late-life crises of disconnected men. Directed by Wim Wenders from a script by playwright Sam Shepard (who also stars), it’s an ornery sibling to most male-angst movies, in which supposedly successful men must come to grips with the disappointments of their lives. But where those films pondered life’s uncertainties and found little in the way of hope, “Don’t Come Knocking” offers a vision of home and family as truly satisfying alternatives to the empty fantasies of mainstream success. Reviewed by Peter Suderman.

• L’Enfant (2005) (R) — ***. The year-after arrival of the Golden Palm winner at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. An intimate but oppressive study of anomie among the Belgian dispossessed by the fraternal team of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the movie revolves around Jeremie Renier as the young boss of a gang of petty thieves in the industrial city of Seraing. He experiences a sudden change of heart after shocking his teenage girlfriend by arranging to sell their new baby on the black market. The simplicity of the film belies its emotional impact. In French with English subtitles. Reviewed by Adam Mazmanian.

• Friends with Money (2006) (R: Adult language, sexual situations and brief drug use) — ***. Jennifer Aniston joins an ensemble cast to explore the cultural divide separating the haves from the have nots. The “Friends” star plays a broke single woman supported by three close friends and their spouses. The serio-comedy showcases writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s knack for crafting beautifully real characters. It’s a lovely script with wonderful subtleties and clever wordplay made even better by outstanding performances. Reviewed by Jenny Mayo.

• Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006) (PG) — ** 1/2. Manfred the mammoth (Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) return and hit the road again in this follow-up to 2002’s computer-animated hit “Ice Age.” Now they (and Scrat the squirrel) head for a boat to escape the rising waters as the polar ice caps melt. Queen Latifah joins the troupe as the voice of a somewhat confused she-mammoth named Ellie. The film delivers a solid, entertaining story for all ages, but has too many characters, all running amok — and vying for our attention. Reviewed by Jenny Mayo.

• The Inside Man (2006) (R: Violent sequences, sexual situations and adult language) — ***. Spike Lee rebounds from his recent clunkers with a thriller that compares favorably to “Dog Day Afternoon.” Denzel Washington plays a hostage negotiator trying to deal with a savvy bank robber (Clive Owen) who appears to have pulled off the perfect crime. The strong cast is matched by a smart screenplay and more than a few satisfying twists. “Inside Man” also stars Jodie Foster and Christopher Plummer. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Kinky Boots (2006) (PG-13) — A British social comedy about the rejuvenation of a failing shoe factory in Northampton. Joel Edgerton plays the son of the recently deceased founder; the burden of an unwanted inheritance lightens when he meets a jovial female impersonator, Chiwetel Ejiofor, who suggests changing the company’s line of merchandise from dull, sturdy footwear to the most provocative of high heels. Directed by Julian Jarrold. Not reviewed.

• Lucky Number Slevin (2006) (R: Sexual situations, graphic violence, adult language and mature themes) — **1/2. Josh Hartnett is Slevin, a young man with a mistaken identity problem. Dueling mob lords think he’s someone else, someone who owes them both a great deal of cash. Sir Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman play the mobsters, and Bruce Willis appears as a hit man whose loyalties are as complex as the rest of this comic thriller. The crackling supporting cast can’t camouflage the story’s insincerity or Mr. Hartnett’s bland presence. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School (2006) (PG-13: Adult subject matter) — A romantic melodrama about a widower (Robert Carlyle) who is inspired by the dying confidences of an accident victim to visit a dance academy, where he meets and falls in love with an instructor played by Marisa Tomei. The cast also includes John Goodman, Mary Steenburgen, Sean Astin, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny DeVito. Directed by Randall Miller from a screenplay by himself and spouse Jody Savin, expanding on a dramatic short made several years ago. Not reviewed.

• Mountain Patrol (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A Chinese adventure melodrama about game wardens imperiled by antelope poachers in the mountains of Tibet. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• The Notorious Bettie Page (2006) (R) — A biographical drama about the legendary checkered career of a popular pin-up model and stag film performer of the 1950s. Gretchen Mol gets the title role; the supporting cast includes Lili Taylor, David Strathairn, Cara Seymour and Tara Subkoff. Directed by Mary Harron from a screenplay by herself and Guinevere Turner. Not reviewed.

• On a Clear Day (2006) (PG-13) — A British saga about an unemployed Glasgow shipbuilder, played by Peter Mullan, who restores his sagging morale by secretly training for a swim across the English Channel. Challenge to aspiring screenwriters: Can you top this as an inspirational brainstorm? With Brenda Blethyn in a principal role. Not reviewed.

• Scary Movie 4 (2006) (PG-13: Crude sexual humor, violence and mature language) — . The “Scary Movie” franchise celebrates its fourth film by poking fun at “War of the Worlds,” “The Village” and “The Grudge,” as well as non-horror movies like “Brokeback Mountain.” Anna Faris returns as Cindy, the addled heroine trying to find love again after her boyfriend’s death. But that storyline exists merely to connect the various parodies. A few of “Scary’s” jokes connect, but too many fall embarrassingly flat for this parody to nail its targets. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Sentinel (2006) (PG-13: Violent action sequences and a scene of sensuality) — **. Kiefer Sutherland of “24” fame plays a Secret Service agent out to stop a plot against the president. The prime suspect is a former agent (Michael Douglas) who taught Mr. Sutherland’s character everything he knows about law enforcement. The thriller, whichco-stars Kim Basinger and Eva Longoria of “Desperate Housewives” fame, paints a descriptive picture of the secret service but its conspiracy plot is nowhere near as intriguing. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• She’s the Man (2006) (PG-13) — A high school romantic comedy that uses Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” as its model. The principal screenwriters, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, did a similar revamp on “The Taming of the Shrew” a few years ago, resulting in the breezy “10 Things I Hate About You.” Amanda Bynes plays the heroine, Viola, who enters a boarding school posing as her twin brother Sebastian (James Kirk), delayed by a rock music gig in London. Viola falls for her unsuspecting roomie Duke (Channing Tatum), a soccer star, who is already smitten with classmate Olivia (Laura Ramsey), who then develops a crush on the masquerading Viola. Not reviewed.

• Silent Hill (2006) (R) — A demonic thriller, derived from a video game, in which Radha Mitchell plays the distraught mother of a young girl diagnosed as a potential psychotic. Preferring flight to further medical advice, the heroine departs with her child, played by Jodelle Ferland, and chooses a strange hideaway, a fog-shrouded ghost town where sinister beings hover and beckon. Directed by Christophe Gans, the Frenchman responsible for the terminally heavy-handed “Brotherhood of the Wolf” a few years ago. The supporting cast includes Sean Bean and Deborah Kara Unger. The screenplay is credited to Quentin Tarantino’s crony Roger Avary. Not reviewed.

• Thank You for Smoking (2006) (R: Adult language, sexual situations and partial nudity) — ***1/2. Christopher Buckley’s scathing satire on political spin cycles is brought to the screen with all of its wit and intelligence intact by writer-director Jason Reitman (son of Ivan Reitman). Aaron Eckhart plays a sleazy tobacco lobbyist who dreams of a new way to get cigarettes in the mouths of men and women everywhere. The movie’s nod toward personal responsibility is refreshing, but so, too, are its hilarious supporting characters. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Tsotsi (2006) (R: Violence, a disturbing kidnapping and adult language) — ***1/2. The 2005 Oscar winner for best foreign language film follows a young South African gang leader who finds redemption when he accidentally kidnaps a small child. Writer-director Gavin Hood brilliantly captures the energy and danger in the Johannesburg environs where the movie is set. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Wild (2006) (G) — Disney’s computer-animated feature for the spring bears curious resemblances to DreamWorks’ “Madagascar” of last year. A group of resourceful New York zoo animals improvise a trek to Africa in order to retrieve a lion cub accidentally transported back to the wild. The voice leads are Kiefer Sutherland, William Shatner, Jim Belushi, Janeane Garofalo, Richard Kind and Eddie Izzard. Not reviewed.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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