- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

OPENING

• Barnyard (2006) (PG) — A computer-animated farce about a group of fun-loving barnyard animals who party all night long after the farmer goes to bed. Their ringleader is an incongruously masculine cow named Otis, dubbed by Kevin James. His vocal co-stars are Courteney Cox, Sam Elliott, Danny Glover, Wanda Sykes and Andie MacDowell.

• Brothers of the Head (2006) (R) — An independent fictional feature from the team of Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, who debuted with a documentary about Terry Gilliam’s filmmaking woes, “Lost in La Mancha.” Their subject is again show biz weirdness: the saga of conjoined twins who are groomed as a punk rock act in the 1970s. Tony Grisoni’s screenplay is based on a novel by Brian Aldiss. Not reviewed.

• The Descent (2006) (R) — A horror thriller about the dilemma of spelunkers who become lost and entombed during the exploration of an Appalachian cave system. They face hideous deaths from a tribe of subterranean humanoids. Written and directed by Neil Marshall.

• Little Miss Sunshine (2006) (R) — The most popular entry at the last Sundance Film Festival, a semi-ornery but eventually affirmative family comedy about an Albuquerque, N.M. clan that weathers several obstacles while driving to a pageant for little girls in Redondo Beach, Calif. With Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette as the parents, Alan Arkin as an irascible gramps, Steve Carell as a traumatized brother-in-law and Abigail Breslin and Paul Dano as the kids.

• My Country, My Country (2006) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter) — A semi-documentary feature about the travails of a Sunni physician in Iraq, compiled during a stay in the country by Laura Poitras. Some dialogue in Arabic and Kurdish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• The Night Listener (2006) (R) — A psychological suspense melodrama starring Robin Williams as a late-night radio host who becomes emotionally involved in the plight of a young listener (Rory Culkin) and the boy’s mother (Toni Collette again). The cast also includes Sandra Oh, Joe Morton and Bobby Cannavale.

• The Oh in Ohio (2006) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter). A romantic comedy starring Parker Posey as a wife recovering from the shock of marital collapse. Her husband, Paul Rudd, has fallen for one of his high school students. With Liza Minnelli and Danny DeVito in supporting roles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) (PG-13: Crude and sexual humor, language, drug references and brief comic violence). Will Ferrell is Ricky Bobby, a NASCAR legend trying to fend off a challenge from a French racing phenom (Sacha Baron Cohen). Co-stars John C. Reilly, Gary Cole and Jane Lynch.

• World Trade Center (2006) (PG-13) — Oliver Stone’s dramatization of the September 11 survival story of two Port Authority policemen who were trapped in the rubble of the Trade Center towers. With Nicholas Cage and Michael Pena as the imperiled officers and Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal as their wives. Opens Wednesday.

NOW SHOWING

• The Ant Bully (2006) (PG) — **1/2. A computer-animated feature derived from a children’s book by John Nickle, who envisioned the incredible misadventures of a 10-year-old boy who learns lessons in humility when reduced to insect size and enslaved by the backyard ant colony he has stomped routinely. It’s a nice morality tale about the pitfalls of transferring aggression and the pluses of teamwork, and children will find the computer-animated film both entertaining and visually pleasing. Reviewed by Jenny Mayo.

• Cavite (2006) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter and treatment). An independent feature about a young Filipino-American (Ian Gamazon) who is targeted for terrorist exploitation while attending the funeral of his father in the Philippines. Mr. Gamazon also collaborated on the screenplay and direction with Neill Dela Llana. Some dialogue in Tagalog with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Clerks II (2006) (R: Crude language, partial nudity, disturbing themes and comic violence) — ***. The slackers from Kevin Smith’s 1994 comedy are back and bawdier than ever. Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) are working at a McDonald’s-style restaurant, but Dante’s pending move sets a comical series of events in motion. The sequel is as rude as the original, but the gags still work, and there’s a modest amount of maturity to keep viewers off balance. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Devil Wears Prada (2006) (PG-13) — ***. A movie version of the Lauren Weisberger best-seller of 2003 about a young college grad, played by Anne Hathaway, who lands a seemingly enviable job as assistant to Meryl Streep, the editor of a fashion magazine. Before long, her boss’s tyrannical streak proves intolerable. The novel was presumed to be a thinly fictionalized memoir of Miss Weisberger’s post-collegiate sojourn at Vogue. The cast also includes Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Emily Blunt and Adrian Grenier. A surprisingly thoughtful look at an industry about which there is much to love and, deliciously, much to hate. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• John Tucker Must Die (2006) (PG-13) — A high school romantic comedy about three disgruntled coeds (Arielle Kebbel, Ashanti and Sophia Bush) who conspire to get even with an athletic star named John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe), who supposedly has trifled with their affections. The instrument of revenge is a newcomer played by Brittany Snow, who proves a reluctant recruit. Directed by Betty Thomas from a screenplay by Jeff Lowell. Not reviewed.

• Lady in the Water (2006) (PG-13) — **1/2. A new supernatural mystery thriller from M. Night Shyamalan, who recruits Paul Giamatti to portray the manager of an apartment building where a mermaidlike creature, Bryce Dallas Howard, emerges from the swimming pool one stormy night. She needs his chivalrous assistance to evade creepy pursuers before returning to the amorphous region from which she came. If one can suspend disbelief along with the building’s tenants, the movie — beautifully shot by cinematographer Christopher Doyle — is as entertaining as anything else playing right now. It’s much funnier than any previous Shyamalan film. Yet it owes its success to the cast more than to Mr. Shyamalan’s message; Mr. Giamatti steals the show. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Little Man (2006) (PG-13:Crude and sexual humor, adultlanguage and brief drug references) — **. The creative team behind “White Chicks” returns with a sloppy, sophomoric comedy that defines bad taste. A vertically challenged criminal (Marlon Wayans, shrunk courtesy of computer effects) tries to hide out as the new adopted son of a young couple. The central gag, that of a grown man’s face plastered on a quasi-baby’s body, does lead to some laughter. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Miami Vice (2006) (R) — **1/2. Michael Mann’s update of his glitzy police detective TV series of the 1980s is darker and deeper than the NBC television show. As writer and director of the film, Mr. Mann has replaced the sun and pastels with dark nightclubs and shades of gray — in both color and morals. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx play the Miami narcs Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, respectively. Gong Li and Naomi Harris are their consorts. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Monster House (2006) (PG) — **1/2. A computer-animated farce about suburban youngsters exploring the neighborhood haunted house. The animation is built around performance-capture wizardry, but the figures rarely feel as grounded as in other animated movies, and the children’s faces look as if they were injected with Botox. Worse, “House” never gels into a bewitching story. That’s a shame because there are plenty of elements here that could have made this a thrill ride for all ages. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006) (PG-13) — *1/2. A live-action romantic farce that starts with a dirty joke and goes downhill from there. Luke Wilson, an unwary New York bachelor, blunders into a one-sided war of reprisal when he breaks up with girlfriend Uma Thurman, a resentful, Marvel-comic-style superhero Woman of Steel. It’s a somewhat creative twist on the typical “psycho-ex” plot but filled with the worst kind of juvenile humor — and anything but super. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos(2006) (PG-13: Partial nudity and adult language) — ****. Soccer’s incredible rise and fall stateside is depicted in this triumphant documentary. The film follows the late 1970s soccer scene, when names such as Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia stood tall alongside Reggie Jackson and Steve Garvey. “Lifetime” will delight soccer nuts and haters alike. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) (PG-13: Some intense action sequences, frightening imagery) — **.Capt. Jack Sparrow is back in the first of two sequels to the surprise 2003 smash. Capt. Jack (Johnny Depp) is reunited with Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) in a chase to capture the beating heart of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). The snap of the original is gone, replaced by complicated story lines and numbing action sequences. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• A Scanner Darkly (2006) (R: Drug and animated sexual content, language and a brief violent image) — ***. A movie version of a science-fiction novel by Philip K. Dick, who envisioned a futuristic underworld in which undercover narc Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) has several friends under surveillance. A perverse stroke of casting finds them portrayed by actors with conspicuous drug histories of their own: Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder. The live-action scenes are overlaid with an animation process called interpolated rotoscoping, similar to the methodology in director-screenwriter Richard Linklater’s 2001 film “Waking Life.” Mr. Linklater’s thoughtful movie is slow going at first; it takes a while to get to the payoff. When it does, though, this cautionary tale about the damage drugs can do turns into an oddly life-affirming film. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Scoop (2006) (PG-13) — ***1/2. Woody Allen matches Scarlett Johansson with Hugh Jackman in a romantic comedy-mystery about an American undergrad vacationing in England who blunders onto a potentially scandalous story. Being a journalism student, she naturally pursues it at her peril — with the help of Mr. Allen as a magician. In finding a fresh locale, a youthful partner and a new place for himself in front of the camera as mentor rather than lover, Mr. Allen has scored his best scoop in years, and his funniest film since 1998’s “Celebrity.” Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Strangers with Candy (2006) (R: Drug use, adult language and sexual themes) — **1/2. The cult Comedy Central series starring Amy Sedaris gets the big-screen treatment with often hilarious results. Miss Sedaris’ Jerri Blank tries to restart her life by returning to high school at the tender age of 47. “Candy” traffics in absurdist, politically incorrect humor for the first hour, but the laughs dry up during the home stretch. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Superman Returns (2006) (PG-13: Some intense action sequences) — ***. The Man of Steel is back in this serious-minded resurrection of the DC Comics franchise. Unknown Brandon Routh is Superman, who returns from a five-year sabbatical to find Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) back on the street and his girlfriend, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), in the arms of another man. Mr. Routh fills in nicely for the late Christopher Reeve, but this “Return” can’t top the original. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) (PG: Brief adult language) — ***. The life and untimely death of an environmentally sound car fuels this provocative documentary. The electric car seemed like the answer to the country’s oil dependency woes, so why did so many forces unite to stamp it out? “Car” lets the consumer off too easily, but otherwise, the film entertains while it simultaneously alarms. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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