Film Reviews

Akeelah and the Bee (PG, 112 minutes) In case you hadn’t noticed, Hollywood is in the midst of a red-hot spelling bee craze. In the wake of Spellbound and… um, Bee Season, comes this drama about an 11-year-old girl from South Los Angeles who tries to make it to the National Spelling Bee. The story is, as expected, cute and inspirational. It’s also predictable, emotionally simplified and filled with clichés. Think The Karate Kid with a little girl taking over for Ralph Macchio, Laurence Fishburn doing the Mr. Miyagi thing, and words instead of crane kicks to the head. (Devin O’Leary) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

An American Haunting (PG-13, 90 minutes) Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek star in this historical horror film about the Bell Witch, the very same rural legend that gave birth to The Blair Witch Project. Sutherland and Spacek are a pair of landowning parents in 1817 Tennessee who find themselves besieged by a nasty poltergeist. The film looks classy and has a few lightweight scares, but director Courtney Soloman (Dungeons & Dragons) doesn’t know quite how to take full advantage of his fine cast. Like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, this one feels more like a made-for-TV drama than a full-on horror story. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Art School Confidential (R, 102 minutes) Director Terry Zwigoff and comic book creator Dan Clowes reunite once again (after the indelible Ghost World) for this colorful graphic novel adaptation. The film introduces us to a cast of oddball characters, all inhabiting the titular world of art school. Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, Jim Broadbent, Anjelica Huston, Ethan Suplee, Steve Buscemi and John Malkovich certainly make for a stand-out indie cast. Unfortunately, the broad and ultimately insubstantial script is so busy snidely lampooning college-age poseurs, artistes and druggies (plus throwing in a random serial killer for good measure) that it doesn’t offer many likable characters to root for. (D.O.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

The Da Vinci Code (PG-13) What do you want from me? Dan Brown’s book has sold slightly less than the Bible. This is the most eagerly awaited film of the year. Nothing I say is gonna make dollar one difference. Personally, I think the book is silly and director Ron Howard (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Edtv, Willow) is often a mediocre filmmaker. That said, the film does make Brown’s talky book quite a bit more action-filled. Plus, the cast (Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, Paul Bettany) is worth watching. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Hoot (PG) Hollywood finally gets around to following up Carl Hiassen’s infamous novel-to-movie Striptease with, oddly enough, this adaptation of the writer’s award-winning kids’ book. A young boy (Logan Lerman from “Jack & Bobby”) moves from Montana to Florida where he joins forces with a few other kids to stop an evil land developer (Tim Blake Nelson) from destroying the habitat of some endangered owls. Luke Wilson shows up as the clueless but good-natured sheriff. Sun-damaged crooner Jimmy Buffet (who produced this film) also makes an appearance. The film has a good ecological message, but isn’t much fun for the adults. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Inside Man (R, 129 minutes) Spike Lee tries his hand at a more mainstream thriller with this intermittently successful heist drama. A gang of bank robbers led by Clive Owen takes over a bank in Manhattan. Hostage negotiator Denzel Washington is called in to handle the situation. Naturally, there are lots of twists and turns along the way as the bank robbers scheme to get out with the dough. Do they have a secret plan? Will it be patently obvious to most viewers? Washington does good work (and Jodie Foster drops by for a short time), but Lee isn’t quite prepared for this sort of adrenaline-filled cinema. At least he avoids some of the more egregious genre clichés. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Just My Luck (PG-13) Lindsay Lohan, backsliding to her lame Disney days, stars in this juvenile romantic comedy about a Manhattan girl with the greatest luck in the world. After a chance encounter with a cute but down-and-out young man (Chris Pine, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement), she realizes that she’s swapped her fortune for his. From the director of Mystic Pizza, Miss Congeniality and My Favorite Martian. If you’re 14 and female, this will be a very profound movie experience. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Mission: Impossible III (PG-13, 126 minutes) J.J. Abrams (the guy behind “Alias” and “Lost”) takes over as director for this third outing. Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Laurence Fishburne, Keri Russell, Billy Crudup and Philip Seymour Hoffman (doing bad guy duty) make up the impressive cast list. Unfortunately, it’s scripted by the guys who wrote The Island. As in previous Impossible outings, the plot is baroque to the point of nonsensical. The explosions look pretty, though. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Munich (R, 164 minutes) After a PLO offshoot murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the Israeli government created a secret hit squad that set about assassinating anybody who’d been involved in the massacre; director Steven Spielberg examines the question of whether counterterrorism does anything other than breed more terrorism.  The movie is often as serious as a heart attack but also thoroughly entertaining. (Kent Williams) Playing through Thursday at Jefferson Theater

Over the Hedge (NR, 96 minutes) An all-star voice cast (Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Wanda Sykes, William Shatner, Nick Nolte) lends its talents to this CGI toon adaptation of the popular newspaper comic strip. Willis plays a mischievous raccoon who helps his forest buddies adapt to the encroaching sprawl of suburbia. The animation is fluid and the writing has a bit more spark than most of the recent computer toons we’ve been subjected to (The Wild). From the director of Antz. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Poseidon (PG-13) Mere months after the TV movie remake of The Poseidon Adventure (starring Steve Guttenberg) comes this big-budget theatrical remake. This one tries to match the B-list starpower of the 1972 original. But Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell and Richard Dreyfus aren’t enough to make up for the loss of Shelly Winters and Ernest Borgnine. Still, director Wolfgang Peterson (Das Boot) knows his way around underwater and manages to craft a respectable, tension-filled disaster flick. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Pride & Prejudice (PG, 127 minutes) Keira Knightley stars in this umpteenth version of Jane Austen’s marriage-minded romance. The film looks sumptous and the cast members—including Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn and Judi Dench—all fit their roles as if tailor-made. Still, how many times can swooning Jane Austen fans fret over whether or not spunky young Elizabeth Bennet falls for snobby Mr. Darcy. (D.O.) Playing through Thursday at Jefferson Theater

RV (PG) Steve Martin must have been busy, because it’s fallen to Robin Williams to star in this pathetic, plotless excuse for a “family” comedy. Williams stars as a hapless dad who tries to pass off a business trip to Colorado as a family vacation. Along the way, the annoying clan has lots of wacky misadventures in a rented RV. That’s it, folks. Williams was starting to get annoying on screen, now he’s just sad. Go rent National Lampoon’s Vacation instead. It’s pretty much the same movie, only 20 times funnier. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Scary Movie 4 (PG-13) David Zucker (who pioneered this sort of spoofy genre back in 1980 with Airplane!) returns for yet another outing in the Scary Movie franchise. Anna Faris returns as well as the intrepid reporter trying to find out why so many wacky things are happening. There are send-ups of Saw, The Grudge, War of the Worlds, and others too numerous to count. Expect plenty of cameos as well, including a fairly clever sequence involving Shaquille O’Neal and Dr. Phil. The rest revolves around the usual lowbrow sex and potty humor that the kids so dearly love. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

See No Evil (R) Porn king Gregory Dark (New Wave Hookers, Let Me Tell Ya ’Bout White Chicks) tries his hand at directing a mainstream horror film. Naturally, he hooks up with professional wrestler Kane (who used to grapple under the name Dr. Isaac Yankem DDS). The story (such as it is) concerns a group of troubled teens (nobody you’ve ever heard of) who are assigned to clean up an old hotel. Wouldn’t you know it: There’s a serial killer living there. It’s produced by World Wrestling Entertainment Films. My work here is done. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

The Sentinel (PG-13) Kiefer Sutherland, taking time off from his TV gig as a government agent in a frantic race to save the president from assassination, signs on for this theatrical thriller as a government agent in a frantic race to save the president from assassination. Michael Douglas is Sutherland’s foil and former mentor, a disgraced special agent to the White House, who is being framed in the murderous conspiracy (or is he?). Eva Longoria (“Desperate Housewives”) tags along for eye candy. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Silent Hill (R) For those of you who already have BloodRayne and Doom on DVD (or, more likely, PSP), here’s the latest videogame to make the leap to the silver screen. Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black) stars as a woman searching for her sick daughter in the creepy, fog-enshrouded environs of a mysteriously deserted town. (Deserted, of course, except for all the demons, monsters, ghosts and what-have-you.) At least Uwe Boll (Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead, BloodRayne) is not involved. French director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) lends some polish to the rather predictable goings on. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Stick It (PG-13, 103 minutes) The rather rude title is meant to lead a certain air of attitude to this film’s subject, the world of competitive gymnastics. Seems we’ve got a rebellious teen (“Life As We Know It”’s Missy Peregrym) who gets herself enrolled in an elite gymnastics program run by legendary trainer Jeff Bridges. Naturally, our gal brings some of her street-smart ‘tude to the balance beam, making this the Bring It On of gymnastics movies. Unfortunately, it’s already been brought. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Thank You for Smoking (R, 92 minutes) Based on Christopher Buckley’s satiric novel about a tobacco-industry lobbyist (Aaron Eckhart) who seems to feel good about what he does for a living, Jason Reitman’s refreshingly un-PC film lets both sides of the smoking/anti-smoking debate have it with both barrels. Encompassing a trip to Hollywood as well as a kidnapping, the movie gives off a caffeinated buzz, capturing the book’s slightly giddy tone. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

United 93 (R, 90 minutes) Whether people are actually ready to watch dramas about the events of 9/11 remains to be seen. Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) keeps it pretty close to the vest with this film about the doomed passengers of United flight No. 93 (the ones who provided Bush with his “Let’s roll!” catchphrase). A cast of unknowns dutifully acts out the events of that tragic day in real time, providing not so much dramatic insight as unflinching recreation. You witnessed it on the news, you relived it in the TV movie “Flight 93”. Now, you can see it some more. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Wild (G, 94 minutes) Despite the fact that this computer-animated toon features a group of animals (including a lion and a giraffe) escaping from the New York City Zoo and making a madcap trek to the wilds of Africa, Disney would like to inform you that this is nothing like last year’s Madagascar. Which, of course, it is. The voice cast (including Kiefer Sutherland, Janeane Garofalo, Eddie Izzard and William Shatner) has fun at least, and there are enough fart jokes to keep the kids laughing. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

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