New in theaters
Director: Timur Bekmambetov. With Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov. (114 min.)
It was inevitable that as Russia becomes more Westernized, so do its movies. Timur Bekmambetov's "Night Watch," the first of a trilogy, is the most financially successful Russian movie ever made, and it's easy to see why: As opposed to the dreary domestic dramas that are its cinema's stock in trade, this one is a full-stops-out fantasia that is often disgustingly gloppy and looks as if it was birthed by the Wachowski brothers and Quentin Tarantino (who is on record as calling the film a masterpiece - taste is not his strong suit). The plot has something to do with the primordial battle between light and dark forces in the universe, and though several critics have written that it contains everything but the kitchen sink, I beg to differ. I saw a kitchen sink spinning around in there, too. Grade: B
- Peter Rainer
Director: Gavin Hood. With Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto, Israel Makoe. (94 min.)
The word "tsotsi" means thug in the street language of the South African townships where this film takes place. It is also the name adopted by the film's main character (Chweneyagae), a petty tyrant who carjacks a BMW one night only to discover a baby boy in the back seat. He reluctantly takes the infant back to his hovel and at gunpoint forces a young mother (Terry Pheto) to care for him as the police manhunt closes in. Director Gavin Hood, adapting a little-known novel by Athol Fugard, has a flashy style that repeatedly undercuts the gravity of this story. Tsotsi never comes across as anything but a brutal cipher, and serious issues such as black-on-black crime in the townships are left unexplored. Nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film. Grade: C
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes, including brief nudity. Violence: 10 instances of violence, including a brutal murder. Language: 45 expressions. Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: 4 instances of smoking, 7 instances of drinking, 1 scene with marijuana.
"Madea's Family Reunion," which opens Friday, was not screened for critics.
Directors: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer. With Alyson Hannigan, Adam Campbell. (83 min.)
Julia Jones (Hannigan) waits tables in her African-American-Indian-Japanese-Jewish family's Greek cafe, doubting she'll ever find her Prince Charming. But she does. And he still loves her after she sheds 270 lbs. in a makeover. Hannigan's spirited performance is one bright spot in this tasteless and sophomoric spoof of more than a dozen movies, which also features Jennifer Coolidge's brief spot-on impersonation of Barbra Streisand in a "Meet the Parents" bit, and Valery Ortiz as a wedding planner named Jell-O. Some of the nonstop gags actually work. Grade: D+
- M.K. Terrell