New in Theaters
Director: Roger Kumble. With Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris. (96 min.)
"Just Friends" reeks of low-expectations but delivers big returns. Chris, a former fat kid who blossoms into a handsome music executive, returns to "Jersey" to woo his dream girl. On the way, the story breathes new life into tired topics such as high school sweethearts, sibling rivalries, and ditsy celebs. With Reynolds in the lead role, supported by a frenetic cast, director Roger Kumble wisely picks a brisk tempo from the get-go and never breaks cadence for long gags or gushiness. Reynolds's unfailing deadpan makes him the Chevy Chase for a new generation of National Lampoons. Grade: A
- Matt Bradley
Sex/Nudity: 12 scenes of innuendo and frank talk about sex. Violence: 1s slapstick scenes. Profanity: 69 expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes with drinking.
Director: Laurence Dunmore. With Johnny Depp, John Malkovich. (130 min.)
The advance word on "The Libertine" was so bad that I was rather surprised to find it - unterrible. As the depraved John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, Johnny Depp adds yet another sly sleazoid to his burgeoning portrait gallery. The 17th century Wilmot was like a junior-league Casanova, and his descent here from raunchy fop to syphilitic wastrel is lovingly detailed by Dunmore. That detail, however, is obscured by some of the darkest tableaux this side of the Bat Cave. Grade: B-
- Peter Rainer
Director: Chris Columbus. With Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs. (135 min.)
The musical "Rent" won just about every award known to man, and its tortuous route to Hollywood has been well documented. Now that it is at last on screen, my reaction is ... what's all the fuss? As directed by Columbus, Jonathan Larson's East Village reworking of "La Bohème" in the age of AIDS retains its calisthenic pathos, as well as most of its original cast, but you'd have to be a real Rent-Head (apparently their numbers are legion) to envisage Academy Awards in its future. As a new addition to the corps, Dawson is like a human Slinky. This is meant as a compliment. Grade: B-
Yours, Mine, & Ours (PG)
Director: Raja Gosnell. With Dennis Quaid, Rene Russo. (90 min.)
"Yours, Mine & Ours" is a remake of a 1968 movie of the same title, starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball. But for audiences, the film's slapdash writing and slapstick performances by Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo look more like a faithful mimicry of every other "big family" family comedy, from "The Sound of Music" to "Cheaper by the Dozen." That's not to say that kids won't have a blast. True to its Nickelodeon roots, each scene oozes with sight gags, oddly astute pets, and gallons of goo. For adults, the films offers a bloated "Brady Bunch" covered in slop. Grade: C
Directors: Scott McGehee, David Siegel. With Richard Gere, Flora Cross. (104 min.)
Eliza (Cross) is an 11-year-old spelling prodigy. Her father, Saul (Gere), believes she communicates with God according to the precepts of Kabbalah, which hold that the alphabet contains the secrets of the universe. As Eliza advances to the National Spelling Bee championship, her mother becomes unhinged and her brother rebels by joining the Hare Krishnas. Saul is stocked with inner demons but, as is often the case with Gere, he seems to draw all his energies from the surface. "Bee Season," at its core, is about the ways in which family members wreak destruction on each other with the best of intentions. Grade:B
Director: Mark Dindal. With the voices of Zach Braff, Joan Cusack. (77 min.)
It's finally happened. The Walt Disney Studio, which pioneered hand-drawn animation, has made its first fully animated computer feature, "Chicken Little." Is the sky falling? No tears need be shed: This fast and funny comedy, which will be shown in digital 3-D in select theaters, demonstrates that Disney can survive quite well without Pixar. The visuals are irrepressibly witty and so is the script, which morphs from the classic fable into a spoof on "War of the Worlds." I prefer this version to Spielberg's. Grade: A-
Director: Mikhal Håfström. With Jennifer Aniston, Clive Owen. (100 min.)
"Derailed" is a penny dreadful with A-list stars. Clive Owen, who really should have tried harder to be cast as the next James Bond, plays a Chicago ad executive who meets a magnetically friendly commuter, played by Jennifer Aniston, on the morning train to work. Though both are married with children, they soon find themselves booking a seedy hotel room. Enter Vincent Cassel, who one might think had his fill of this kind of thing after starring in "Irréversible." What happens next shall remain a secret, but here's a hint: Retribution awaits. Here's another: Stay home. Grade: C
Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes. Violence: 10 scenes including rape. Profanity: 86 harsh expressions. Drugs: 8 scenes with smoking. 9 scenes with drinking.
Director: Jim Sheridan. With 50 Cent, Joy Bryant, Terrence Howard. (134 min.)
Lightning didn't strike twice. Eminem made an improbably strong movie debut in "8 Mile" but now there's "Get Rich or Die Tryin'", which stars his rapper protégé Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. I had high hopes - its director is Jim Sheridan ("My Left Foot," "In America"); and Terence Howard, who's on a roll, has a meaty part in it. But this thinly autobiographical gangsta odyssey never achieves liftoff, and Jackson is unconvincing. Even if you are playing (essentially) yourself, it helps if you're an actor first. Grade: C-
Sex/Nudity: 11 scenes including nudity and sex Violence: 19 scenes, including torture. Profanity: 295 harsh expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes with drinking, 7 scenes with smoking, and 11 scenes with drug use or selling.
Director: Joe Wright. With Keira Knightley, Judi Dench, Matthew Macfadyen. (135 min.)
One of the great romances in the canon, Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" has been adapted for TV five times but only once before as a movie. If young audiences respond to director Wright's version, set in the late 18th century, it will be because he has brought out the vigor in Austen's romance in a way that the other adaptations never quite accomplished. Keira Knightley triumphantly comes into her own as Elizabeth, the heroine. Grade: A
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of mild innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: None. Drugs: 8 scenes with drinking. 1 scene with smoking.
Director: Martin Campbell. With Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones. (100 min.)
"The Legend of Zorro" made me long to re-watch "Zorro the Gay Blade," the spoof starring George Hamilton. In that film, the Spanish accents sound deliberately fake. Here, even Banderas has a hard time sounding authentic. Zorro's nemesis, a French aristocrat, plans to blow up America. He seems to be under the misapprehension that Zorro is James Bond. Grade: C-
Director: Jon Favreau. With Tim Robbins, Frank Oz, Jonah Bobo. (113 min.)
Two squabbling brothers, home alone for a few minutes, find an old board game in the basement with mysterious, not to mention dangerous, properties. Once the duo sets the game in motion, they not only find their home adrift in outer space, but also have to learn teamwork to cope with a demented robot and attacks by Zorgons (meat-eating, pyromaniac lizard-men). Here, appropriately retro effects and family values outweigh an episodic script. After the screening, a preteen next to this critic asked his mom, "Why did you think I wouldn't like this?" There's your endorsement. Grade: B-
- M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of mild innuendo. Violence: 15 scenes. Profanity: 5 mild expressions. Drugs: None.