- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

“Hop” _ Russell Brand’s Easter romp has one of the cutest bunnies you’ll ever see and plenty of other eye candy among its computer-generated visuals, yet there’s not much bounce to the story behind this inter-species buddy comedy. Letting bad-boy Brand supply the voice of the Easter bunny sounds like a promising way to add spice to a warm and fuzzy family flick. Too bad the movie winds up about as bland as carrot-flavored jelly beans. Its gooey sentiment and hare-brained gags are likely to appeal only to very young kids. Director Tim Hill trips up on his scattered attempts to inject some hipness for older children and parents. Blending live action and digital animation, the movie features James Marsden as the unwilling human escort for Brand’s screwy rabbit, who has run away from home because he doesn’t want to follow his dad into the family business as the new Easter bunny. The animation is the movie’s strong point, presenting a rainbow-colored world that should satisfy young children’s cinematic sweet tooth, even if the action is sour. PG for some mild rude humor. 94 minutes. Two stars out of four.

_ David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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“In a Better World” _ Danish director Susanne Bier demonstrates her supreme gift at telling the gloomiest of stories that, while not exactly winding up in feel-good territory, at least finish with a strong affirmation of the decent things in life. Last month’s Academy Award winner for foreign-language film, this is a provocative drama though not really Bier’s best work (her 2004 family saga “Brothers” and her 2006 Oscar nominee “After the Wedding” are superior films). Still, it’s a beautifully performed and meticulously constructed chronicle of two families caught up in distressing moral choices. The film flits too conveniently between violence at an African refugee camp and the supposedly more restrained, civilized conflict resolution at a tranquil town in Denmark, where two misfit boys (Markus Rygaard and William Johnk Nielsen) escalate a campaign against bullies and brutes to a harrowing level. Bier aims to show that the beast lurks even in the most serene settings, yet the parallels between the film’s two worlds grow heavy-handed. The superb adult cast is led by Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thomsen. R for violent and disturbing content, some involving pre-teens, and for language. 118 minutes. Three stars out of four.

_ David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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“Insidious” _ This is the kind of movie you could watch with your eyes closed and still feel engrossed by it. It’s a haunted-house thriller filled with all the usual creaking doors, groaning floors and things that go bump in the night, but it’ll also grab you with some disturbing, raspy whispers on a baby monitor, some melancholy piano plunkings and the panicky bleating of an alarm as a front door is flung open in the middle of the night. The grandfather clock in the hall tick-tocks in time to the dripping water in the kitchen faucet, and the cumulative cacophony is unsettling on a level you may not even actively recognize. But director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, who originated the “Saw” series, also use silence quite skillfully to build real fear and suspense. They don’t offer anything you haven’t experienced before in the genre _ and it doesn’t take too long to figure out this is their version of “Poltergeist” _ but they put the pieces together effectively. You know the scares are coming, and yet you hold your breath waiting for them to happen. It certainly helps to have a cast led by actors who can actually act. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne star as Josh and Renai, a husband and wife who’ve just moved into a charming, old craftsman with their two young sons and an infant daughter. The long, slow build establishes that things aren’t quite right with this place, but maybe they weren’t quite right with this family either. PG-13 for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language. 102 minutes. Three stars out of four.

_ Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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“Source Code” _ Duncan Jones’ first film, the mesmerizing, sci-fi character drama “Moon” from 2009, was a marvel of efficiency, tension and pacing. “Source Code” represents his evolution as a filmmaker, now that he has a bigger cast and more expensive toys to play with. It’s swifter, glossier, more ambitious. And for a long time, it’s a thrilling and challenging puzzle based on a clever idea _ until it pushes its central gimmick and gets too greedy at the end. It’ll make your brain hurt (in a good way) trying to determine whether it all makes sense _ until it frustratingly doesn’t make sense anymore. But maybe we’re nitpicking needlessly and should just let ourselves go with it. Based on a script by Ben Ripley, “Source Code” keeps us as consistently confused and off-guard from the start as its central character, U.S. Army Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal). A decorated soldier from the battle in Afghanistan, Colter wakes up one morning, disoriented, on a commuter train heading toward Chicago. Across from him is a beautiful woman (Michelle Monaghan) he’s never met before, yet she’s talking to him with the familiarity of a friend. Within minutes, the train has blown up, killing everyone on board _but Colter finds himself alive and strapped into a crude metal pod. Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright co-star. PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images, and for language. 93 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

_ Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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“Super” _ Writer-director James Gunn’s latest film is reminiscent of “Shaun of the Dead,” which began life as a funny, loving homage to zombie flicks, then slowly, steadily became a really tense, and really violent, zombie flick in its own right. “Super” starts out darkly toying with the idea of the self-made vigilante superhero, someone with no special powers who nonetheless feels the need to fight crime. But by the end, Gunn’s film has morphed into an intense and bloody exploration of a man on a quest, with a perky little pixie by his side. Rainn Wilson plays it deadly straight _ which is extremely funny _ as a mild-mannered short-order cook who snaps when his wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). Meanwhile, Ellen Page just goes gonzo as his not-so-trusty sidekick, and steals the show. She is a complete joy, albeit in a dangerously volatile way, and it’s so much fun to see her in such a different kind of role. She’s not the coolest girl in the room, just doesn’t have all the answers or just the right, snappy zinger. She’s a geek and a goofball, and unabashedly so. But she’s such a cute little thing, you can’t help but adore her, even as she’s reveling in the carnage she’s created. Unrated but contains violence, language and drug use. 96 minutes. Three stars out of four.

_ Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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