- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

OPENING

• 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 now working at a McDonald’s-style restaurant, but Dante’s pending move sets a comical series of events in motion.

• Lady in the Water (2006) (PG-13). A new supernatural mystery thriller from the supremely overrated M. Night Shyamalan, who recruits Paul Giamatti to portray the manager of an apartment building where a mermaid-like creature, Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of Ron 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.

• Mongolian Ping Pong (2005) (No MPAA rating). A whimsical import about three lads from the grasslands of Mongolia who discover a ping pong ball and set out to discover its purpose and origins. Written and directed by Ning Hao. In Chinese and Mongolian dialects with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Monster House (2006) (PG). A computer-animated farce about suburban kids exploring the neighborhood haunted house. Directed by Gil Kennan from a screenplay by Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab and Pamela Pettler. The soundtrack cast includes Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Kathleen Turner, Kevin James, Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard.

• My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006) (PG-13). A live-action romantic farce that draws on aspects of Marvel comic books. 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 Woman of Steel. The supporting players include Anna Faris, Eddie Izzard and Rainn Wilson. Directed by Ivan Reitman from a screenplay by Don Payne.

• Shadowboxer(2006) (R: Sexual situations, nudity, violence, disturbing imagery and mature themes). Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren make the oddest of couples in this new thriller. He’s a disturbed hit man with a horrible family history. She’s his stepmother, partner in crime and part-time lover. Together they try to save the wife of a local crime lord (Stephen Dorff) targeted for death.

• Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) (PG: Brief adult language). The life and untimely death of an environmentally sound car fuels this new 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? Martin Sheen narrates a cautionary tale filled with the usual experts as well as devoted electric car owners.

• Wondrous Oblivion (2003) (No MPAA rating). The belated Washington debut of a British domestic-sporting yarn about a cricket-loving youngster, the son of a suburban draper in the 1960s, whose enthusiasm is reinforced by new Jamaican neighbors. The father of the family, Delroy Lindo, even installs a wicket in his backyard and improves the boy’s batting skills. The downside: growing evidence of racial prejudice from other neighbors. Written and directed by Paul Morrison. Exclusively at the Avalon.

NOW SHOWING

• Cars (2006) (G) — ***. The folks who brought us “The Incredibles” return with “Cars,” which follows a hotshot race car (voiced by Owen Wilson) who gets stranded in a small town en route to a big race. “Cars” is one long ride at nearly two hours but much of the time is well spent. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Click (2006) (PG-13: Some risque humor, crude jokes and sexual references) — **1/2.Adam Sandler returns as an addled husband and parent looking for a little relief. His salvation comes with a special remote control that lets him freeze, fast forward and rewind life around him. “Click” fuses the slapstick from Mr. Sandler’s early films with his recent, more warmhearted fare with mixed results. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005) (R ) — A satire about the shortcomings of socialized medicine in Romania, written and directed by Cristi Puiu. The title character is a solitary Bucharest pensioner who summons an ambulance after suffering from a severe headache and ends up victimized by institutional neglect and incompetence. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. In Romanian with English subtitles. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man (2006) (PG-13: Some profanity and some sexually suggestive material) — ***. Impressions of the 72-year-old Canadian poet-songwriter-mythomaniac, revolving around a concert held last year in Sydney, Australia, and augmented by interviews with the subject and other participating performers. The ensemble includes Martha Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave, Linda Thompson, Teddy Thompson, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, U2 and Julie Christensen. Directed by Lian Lunson. This film is a welcome chance to meet or become reacquainted with one of the towering and iconic songwriting talents of his era. Reviewed by Adam Mazmanian.

• 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.

• The Omen (2006) (R: Disturbing imagery, adult language and gore) — **1/2. The spooky 1976 thriller about a demon child named Damien is given a 21st-century facelift. Liev Schreiber plays the father of a young boy who, unbeknownst to him, is the spawn of Satan. “The Omen” is a step above the usual horror schlock but no match for the original. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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, a time when names like Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia stood tall alongside Reggie Jackson and Steve Garvey. “Lifetime” will delight soccer nuts and haters alike. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Peaceful Warrior (2006) (PG-13) — A movie version of an autobiographical novel by the mystically inclined gymnast Dan Millman. Portrayed by Scott Mechlowicz, he is drawn to a guru called Socrates, possibly an amusing opportunity for Nick Nolte. The hero credits Socrates and a mystery woman called Joy (Amy Smart) with hastening his recovery from injury and inspiring a serene outlook. Directed by Victor Salva, from a screenplay by himself and Kevin Bernhardt. Not reviewed.

• 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 storylines and numbing action sequences. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• A Prairie Home Companion (2006) (PG-13: Some risque humor) — ***. Director Robert Altman (“Nashville”) translates Garrison Keillor’s venerable radio show into a big-budget feature. The gaudy cast, which includes Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline and Woody Harrelson, portray folksy entertainers performing on their show’s final broadcast. 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. But when it does, this cautionary tale about the damage drugs can do turns into an oddly life-affirming film. 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.

• Wordplay (2006) (PG: Fleeting elements of sexual candor) — .***1/2. A deft and likable documentary feature about the appeal of crossword puzzles, revolving around the tenure of Will Shortz as the puzzle editor at the New York Times and his annual supervision of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Patrick Creadon’s chronicle incorporates portraits of several celebrity adepts as well as top contenders at the 2005 tournament in Stamford, Conn., a competition that incorporates more twists and surprises than one anticipates.

• You, Me and Dupree(2006) (PG-13: Adult humor, sexual situations and comic violence) — **1/2. Blissful newlyweds Carl (Matt Dillon) and Molly (Kate Hudson) find their honeymoon period spoiled by Carl’s ne’er-do-well buddy Dupree (Owen Wilson). “Dupree” works thanks to a smart story detour in the second act and Mr. Wilson’s winning man-child shtick. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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