New in theaters The Kite Runner (PG-13)
Director: Marc Forster. With Shaun Toub, Khalid Abdalla. (122 min.)
Based on the best-selling English-language novel by the Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini, "The Kite Runner" is about a well-to-do Afghan boy, Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi), who betrays his best friend Hassan (the marvelous Ahamd Khan Mahmoodzada), the son of the family servant, and only as an adult achieves redemption. The film's scope is epic, taking in Afghanistan during both the Soviet invasion and the Taliban eras, but Marc Forster's direction is often underpowered, and the bland scenes with the mature Amir (Khalid Abdalla) in America do not contrast well with the childhood ones in Afghanistan. None of this may matter much in the end, since this is one of those stories that, on some primal level, goes straight to the heart. Be aware that the film features a child rape scene. Grade: B – Peter Rainer
National Treasure: Book of Secrets (PG)
Director: Jon Turtletaub. With Nicolas Cage, Helen Mirren, Jon Voight. (124 min.)
This second Jerry Bruckheimer "National Treasure" adventure, feebly directed by Jon Turtletaub, is no better than the first – which means it will probably be creamed by critics and make a jillion dollars. But really, standards are standards. Nicolas Cage returns as treasure hunter – excuse me, treasure protector – Ben Gates, along with Jon Voight as Ben's semidoddering dad. It seems the lost pages from John Wilkes Booth's diary have turned up, and they implicate Ben's ancestor Thomas Gates as a coconspirator in the Lincoln assassination. But since we know from the opening flashback scene that Thomas is innocent, there's no suspense, and, in general, the plotting is so diffuse that we are never allowed to puzzle out anything for ourselves. Helen Mirren has an amusing cameo as Ben's mom. Grade: C – P.R.