Short film review

Short film review

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

The Break-Up (PG-13, 106 minutes) Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn (who, yes, are a couple in real life; can we please get over that now?) star as a boyfriend and girlfriend who break up, but refuse to vacate the gorgeous condo they have rebuilt together. On the advice of friends (and a few strangers) the two begin a psychological war, which could be described as the cute version of War of the Roses. The film doesn’t add any totally unexpected twists to the romantic comedy formula, but Aniston and Vaughn work well together and the humor segues into feel-good territory without ever feeling strained. Kudos for salting the supporting cast with the likes of Ann-Margret, Jason Bateman, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Favreau, Peter Billingsley and Joey Lauren Adams. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Cars (G, 116 minutes) Now that Pixar and Disney are playing nice, the never-miss computer animation firm revs up the engine on its latest family outing. We’ve got a cocky stock car (voiced by Owen Wilson) who gets sidetracked on the way to a big race and ends up in tiny Radiator Springs. Busted for speeding, he’s sentenced to community service, and soon learns the meaning of friendship and respect. The premise sounds like Pixar’s weakest, but director John Lasseter (Toy Story) keeps things bouncy, fun and sweetly nostalgic. All-star voice cast includes George Carlin, Bob Costas, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Keaton, Paul Newman and larry the Cable Guy. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

The Da Vinci Code (PG-13, 149 minutes) Ron Howard’s movie version of Dan Brown’s religious-mystery novel, in which a Harvard professor (Tom Hanks) and a Parisian cryptographer (Audrey Tautou) try to track down the Holy Grail while being pursued by a crazed albino monk (Paul Bettany), fails to get a decent spook going, à la The Exorcist or The Omen. Howard has illustrated the book beautifully, but he hasn’t wrestled with it, made it his own. (Kent Williams) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

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
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Oliver Twist (PG-13, 130 minutes) Roman Polanski (Chinatown) takes a crack at Charles Dickens’ classic tale of resourceful orphan boys and opportunistic thieves. Polanski remains faithful to the original novel, but adds little flavor to it, cramming as many characters and incidents as he can into the film’s 130-minute run time. The result is occasionally impressive (the visuals are spot-on, Sir Ben Kingsley does a mean Fagin), but a bit too formal. (D.O.) Playing through Thursday at Jefferson Theater

The Omen (NR, 95 minutes) The 1976 shocker The Omen is really just a slasher film dolled up in Biblical raiment. But it’s still a damnably entertaining movie. Naturally, we required no remake; but we’ve got one anyway, once again documenting a clueless Washington family who seems to have given birth to the Antichrist. The cast (including Liev Schreiber, Julia Styles, Mia Farrow and Pete Postlethwaite) takes things seriously, and the direction is notably slick. Still, the script apes the original almost note for note, making this feel like a cover album of your favorite band—good if only for of the familiarity, but not nearly as memorable as the original. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

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.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Poseidon (PG-13) Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas and Richard Dreyfuss star in a big-budget remake of 1972 shipwreck movie The Poseidon Adventure, combining our fear of drowning with our fear of tight spaces. Director Wolfgang Petersen’s in too much of a hurry, keeping all the deaths at a distance. (K.W.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

A Prairie Home Companion (PG-13, 105 minutes) Legendary director Robert Altman (M*A*S*H*, Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts) assembles another jaw-dropping ensemble cast (let’s see … Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Meryl Streep and Lilly Tomlin) to interpret Garrison Keillor’s folksy radio show. Rather than a literal translation, the film looks at the backstage antics behind the “final broadcast” of the Keillor’s “fictional” radio show. Funny, genial and full-to-bursting with great little character moments, Altman and Keillor have assembled an oddly likable, resolutely old-fashioned showbiz comedy. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

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 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.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Stay (R, 98 minutes) Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) directs a script by Eric Benioff (The 25th Hour). Ewan McGregor (still working way too hard) plays a New York City psychiatrist who tries to prevent an unusual young patient (Ryan Gosling, The Notebook) from committing suicide on his 21st birthday. This bizarre psychological thriller presents us with dreams, mysteries, miracles and increasingly surreal encounters that all lead up to (what else?) a twist ending. The cast is great, but the whole “twist ending” thing has been done to death. (D.O.) Playing through Thursday at Jefferson Theater

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

Water (PG-13, 117 minutes) Set in the ‘30s during India’s struggles against British colonial rule, this melodramatic drama/romance examines the plight of an 8-year-old girl, forced into poverty at a temple in the holy city of Varanasi after her husband from an arranged marriage dies. Due to cultural mores, she’s expected to remain faithful to her husband for the rest of her life. There she interacts with a group of widows, all nursing their own secret backstories. Beautiful, occasionally tear-inducing, but not as deep as filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s earlier work (Earth, Fire, Bollywood/Hollywood). In Hindi with English subtitles. (D.O.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

X-Men: The Last Stand (PG-13, 104 minutes) Reviewed on page 40. Playing at Carmike
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