The FP (R) Brandon and Jason Trost’s black comedy is about two rival street gangs who stage lethal turf battles with each other by playing a dance video game. Starring Jason Trost, Lee Valmassy, Art Hsu, Caker Folley, Dash Mihok, and Clifton Collins Jr. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Let the Bullets Fly (NR) The highest-earning Chinese film in history is Jiang Wen’s satirical black comedy about a bandit (Chow Yun-Fat) who poses as the new mayor of a backwater 1920s town and battles local corruption. Also with Feng Xiaogang, Carina Lau, Ge You, Chen Kun, Hu Jun, Jiang Wu, and Zhou Yun. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
October Baby (PG-13) What should be the stuff of painful drama instead becomes painfully boring to sit through. Newcomer Rachel Hendrix (pretty but not wildly talented) plays a college freshman who discovers all at once that she’s adopted and that her current health problems are related to her birth mother having tried to abort her. Director/co-writers Andrew and Jon Erwin try to dig into their main character’s feelings of betrayal, but their messages about forgiveness only manage to reduce this dramatically loaded situation to so much uninspiring inspirational porridge. Also with Jason Burkey, Jennifer Price, Carl Maguire, John Schneider, and Jasmine Guy. (Opens Friday)
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (PG-13) Lasse Hallström adapts Paul Torday’s novel about an Arab sheik (Amr Waked) who enlists a British fishing expert (Ewan McGregor) to help him realize his dream of making fly-fishing possible in the wadis of Yemen. Also with Emily Blunt, Rachael Stirling, Catherine Steadman, and Kristin Scott Thomas. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Act of Valor (R) The makers of a film about the Navy SEALs, starring Navy SEALs, have two things on their side: unparalleled realism and an audience curious about the elite force that took down Osama bin Laden last year. Directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh (both former stuntmen) do little, however, to elevate their work into meaningful art or even entertainment. The film follows the SEALs as they rescue an undercover CIA agent (Roselyn Sanchez) and thwart an international Chechen-jihadi terror plot that culminates in a battle south of the border with a Mexican drug cartel. (There are Filipinos and a self-interested Russian Jew for good measure.) However convoluted the network of villains, the thriller itself is rather simplistic and the acting stilted. Taking for granted the heroism of these men, the film is more an exercise in badass action sequences and military propaganda than in conveying any deeper political or emotional purpose. Also with Jason Cottle, Nestor Serrano, Alex Veadov, and Emilio Rivera. — Zack Shlacter
Casa de mi Padre (R) Will Ferrell enters the baroque phase of his career with this Spanish-language comedy. He plays the son of a Mexican cattle rancher (the late Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) who must take up arms to protect his family and his father’s house from a drug kingpin (Gael García Bernal). The movie parodies old-style Mexican films, with bargain-basement production values and deliberately bad Spanish dialogue. Some of the jokes hit home, and the musical interludes are tasty (check the ranchera song “Yo No Sé”), but the movie never finds a consistent groove, and some of the higher-profile cast members don’t look comfortable sending up the material. Ferrell is still casting about for fresh comic ideas, but this movie doesn’t have much to recommend it outside its novelty value. Also with Diego Luna, Genesis Rodriguez, Efren Ramirez, Adrian Martinez, Manuel Urrego, Nick Offerman, and Molly Shannon.
Chronicle (PG-13) Truly something we haven’t seen before: a vérité superhero flick. Josh Trank’s film stars Dane DeHaan as a high-school nerd who films his life to protect himself from his abusive dad but instead winds up documenting how he, his cousin (Alex Russell), and the BMOC (Michael B. Jordan) develop the power to move things with their minds. The cheap video look and the pricey special effects make this sci-fi story credible, give rise to some funny bits, and compensate for the last third of the film, when the movie’s storytelling turns too smooth. This may just be the same old superhero flick in a new wrapper, but the wrapper sure is eye-catching. Also with Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw, Bo Petersen, and Anna Wood.
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (PG) This travesty of the much-loved book turns a crepuscular, unsettling cautionary tale into a cheerful, upbeat kiddie flick that loses its message. Like other big-screen Dr. Seuss adaptations, this one is padded out with extra story about a boy (voiced by Zac Efron) and the girl he has a crush on (voiced by Taylor Swift) trying to reverse the environmental damage done by the Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms). The violent slapstick gags in the background are the best thing here, but the movie is all over the place, lurching from social satire to action picture to musical (with some unmemorable, tacked-on numbers) without ever settling into a groove. This is nowhere near as painful to sit through as The Cat in the Hat, but you’ll find much better family entertainment in a lot of other places. Additional voices by Danny DeVito, Rob Riggle, Nasim Pedrad, Jenny Slate, and Betty White.
Friends With Kids (R) Though half the cast of Bridesmaids is in this comedy, it has a sharp, intellectual New York sensibility of its own, and it’s almost as good. Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt play single platonic friends who observe their college pals’ curdled marriages and decide to have a child together without getting romantically involved. Westfeldt also makes her directing debut here, and she is a filmmaker to be reckoned with, leavening her urbane wit with a few scatological jokes, polishing her narrative to a high finish, and directing a superb, finely tuned ensemble of actors. (Scott is particularly good in the male lead.) It’s disappointing that she can’t think of a creative resolution to the complex issues in this unorthodox setup. Instead of a subversive comic masterpiece, this is just a funny, well-made movie. Also with Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Lee Bryant, Bryan D’Arcy James, Edward Burns, and Megan Fox.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (PG-13) “I made a lot of mistakes, but Danny is the one good thing I ever did.” “That being the case, we’d better make sure he doesn’t turn out to be the Antichrist.” The directing team of Neveldine/Taylor (the Crank movies) takes over the 2007 hit’s sequel and makes it as ridiculous as possible. Nicolas Cage is only too happy to play along. The result is actually rather enjoyable in the way that bad movies sometimes are, with Cage’s rider fighting the Devil (Ciarán Hinds) for the soul of a boy (Fergus Riordan) when he’s not busy urinating fire or delivering his lines with the intensity of a man about to spontaneously combust. It’s all positively crap-tastic. Also with Violante Placido, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth, Anthony Head, and Christopher Lambert.
Good Deeds (PG-13) Multi-hyphenated artist/hack Tyler Perry returns with a drama about a successful yet unfulfilled businessman finally pushed to follow his heart. As his father’s successor in a job he doesn’t particularly like, and as a crutch to his unstable brother, Wesley Deeds (Perry) is so accustomed to doing what’s expected of him that even his fiancée (Gabrielle Union) finds him boringly predictable. Unfortunately, Deeds’ mission to make his life more unpredictable — falling in love with his office’s night janitor (Thandie Newton), a straight-talking single mother on the verge of losing everything — is about as formulaic as it gets. And just in case you miss the characters’ emotional subtext, the dialogue gets awkwardly literal in places. While the film thankfully isn’t manipulative with this material, Perry’s latest effort suffers a trite plot and one-dimensional protagonists that pander to, instead of resonating with, the audience. Also with Eddie Cibrian, Brian J. White, Phylicia Rashad, Beverly Johnson, Jamie Kennedy, and Rebecca Romijn. — Z.S.
The Grey (R) This Gloomy Gus of a thriller stars Liam Neeson as a suicidal Gloomy Gus of a professional wolf killer on an Alaskan oil-drilling site who takes charge of the survivors after his plane crashes in the middle of the wilderness. The characters succumb variously to cold, wolves, and the hazards of navigating the terrain, but none of them do or say anything interesting. Director Joe Carnahan mistakes moroseness for seriousness, as he too often does, and his leading man follows him right down the path. If you’re up for some pointless woe, here’s your movie. Also with Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo, Nonso Anonzie, James Badge Dale, and Joe Anderson.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (R) This quietly miraculous comedy stars Jason Segel as a jobless slacker who spends a life-changing afternoon with his marginally more functional older brother (Ed Helms), who suspects that his wife (Judy Greer) is cheating on him. Writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus, The Puffy Chair) know their way around guys flailing helplessly for direction, and Segel does a memorable job as a pothead who thinks he can divine a mysterious cosmic order. There’s also a piquant subplot with the brothers’ widowed mom (Susan Sarandon) receiving IMs at work from a secret admirer. The ending that brings all the characters together may strike some as too neat, but the way Jeff finds a direction in life is near-mystical in its power. Also with Rae Dawn Chong, Steve Zissis, Evan Ross, Matt Malloy, and Katie Aselton.
John Carter (PG-13) The 100-year-old novel that influenced everything from Star Wars to Avatar finally comes to the big screen from WALL-E director Andrew Stanton. A Civil War veteran (Taylor Kitsch) finds himself transported to Mars, falls in love with a princess (Lynn Collins), befriends a four-armed green Martian (a Gollum-style motion captured Willem Dafoe), and fights a dictator (Dominic West). Despite a slow middle and a too long run time, a game cast, passionate direction, and exciting action scenes help create the kind of pure concentrated fun that makes a trip to the theater worthwhile. Also with Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, James Purefoy, Polly Walker, Daryl Sabara, and Bryan Cranston. — Cole Williams
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (PG) When it comes to the 3D effects, this is miles better than the 2008 original. As far as the story goes, it’s still crap. The only holdover left from the original, Josh Hutcherson, stars as a teenager who receives a radio transmission from a lost island and goes off with his stepdad (Dwayne Johnson) to find the place. This chintzy amusement park ride of a film is so obsessed with special effects that the characters make no sense. No wonder the actors all look lost. The lack of magic here is depressing. Also with Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzmán, and Michael Caine.
One for the Money (PG-13) The first of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels becomes this surprisingly watchable comic thriller starring Katherine Heigl as the tough-talking Jersey girl who responds to a dire financial situation by taking up bounty hunting. The movie goes a bit far depicting Stephanie making rookie mistakes in her new job, and her romance with an ex she’s supposed to bring in (Jason O’Mara) is tepid. Still, director Julie Anne Robinson manages a sprawling plot pretty well and Heigl is much more likable when she’s not trying so damn hard. A sequel with Stephanie’s further adventures wouldn’t be the worst thing. Also with John Leguizamo, Daniel Sunjata, Sherri Shepherd, Debra Monk, Ana Reeder, Leonardo Nam, Fisher Stevens, and Debbie Reynolds.
Project X (R) Exactly two things distinguish this “wild teenage party” movie from all the others. One: Director Nima Nourizadeh films this in a vérité style, which doesn’t accomplish anything that a conventional treatment wouldn’t have. The other is more significant: The sheer scale of destruction in the last 15 minutes or so indeed dwarfs anything in any similar film. That’s notable, but the overall effect of this movie is wearying rather than liberating or frightening. It certainly isn’t funny. A movie about an out-of-control party should be more fun than this. Starring Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Dax Flame, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Brady Hender, Nick Nervies, Alexis Knapp, and Miles Teller.
Safe House (R) This effective anti-recruitment video for the CIA would have you believe that a) the agency’s bosses are willing to kill their underlings and colleagues and sell out their country to protect themselves and b) in South Africa, you can shoot up public places and kill civilians and cops without any consequences. Ryan Reynolds plays an agent in charge of a safe house in Cape Town who’s called upon to protect a notorious traitor (Denzel Washington) after the house is attacked. Daniel Espinosa’s direction is appropriately grimy, but he worsens the ham-handed and predictable turns in the script. The result is really loud and dull. Also with Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Rubén Blades, Robert Patrick, Nora Arnezeder, Fares Fares, Liam Cunningham, Joel Kinnaman, and Sam Shepard.
Seeking Justice (R) Nicolas Cage stars in this totally unbelievable, tension-free thriller as a New Orleans schoolteacher who takes up an offer from a mysterious stranger (Guy Pearce) to hunt down and kill his wife’s rapist, only to discover after the fact that the stranger wants him to assassinate someone in return. The plot twists grow steadily less plausible after that, and director Roger Donaldson somehow manages to make New Orleans look like a grim and joyless place. If you’re seeking fun, look elsewhere. Also with January Jones, Jennifer Carpenter, Xander Berkeley, and Harold Perrineau.
Silent House (R) A long, dark hallway to a dead end. This horror flick is a remake of an Uruguayan film called La Casa Muda, and it goes well for the first half or so before it runs out of shifting lights and sudden weird sound effects. Elizabeth Olsen plays a young woman helping her dad (Adam Trese) clean up a lakeside family vacation home. Olsen is great at calibrating her character’s increasing sense of terror, but the directing team of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) can’t transcend their self-imposed technical limitations, and the big twist is arbitrary and exploitative. Even fans of subtle, arty horror are likely to hit a wall with this. Also with Eric Sheffer Stevens and Julia Taylor Ross. — Jimmy Fowler
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (PG) The first in a planned series of three Star Wars prequels is abundantly stuffed with visual splendors, exciting action sequences, and state-of-the-art special effects. Obviously, George Lucas has tried to give his loyal audience maximum bang for their box-office bucks. As a storyteller, however, he has grown rusty. During long stretches of The Phantom Menace, he permits the pace to slacken while key scenes dawdle aimlessly, then end abruptly. The continuity is spotty, the acting is wildly uneven, and integration of live actors with computer-generated co-stars isn’t always totally convincing. By turns simplistic and confusing, the movie trips over itself while trying to cover too many bases and plays too obviously like an opening chapter rather than a self-contained narrative. — Joe Leydon
This Means War (PG-13) There are no grown-ups in this wet firecracker of a comic thriller that stars Tom Hardy and Chris Pine as CIA agents and best buds who discover that they’re dating the same woman (Reese Witherspoon) and try to sabotage each other’s dates with her without telling her that they know each other. The immature behavior would be tolerable if the actors were fun to be around, but only the loose-limbed Pine delivers on that score. Witherspoon, meanwhile, is reduced to playing a collection of neurotic single-gal clichés. McG directs it all like a birthday party clown trying to amp up some bored kids by asking them, “Isn’t this fun?” The filmmakers should have gone Spy Kids on us and cast 13-year-olds in these roles. Then these characters’ antics would make sense. Also with Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler, Rosemary Harris, Natassia Malthe, Laura Vandervoort, and Angela Bassett.
A Thousand Words (PG-13) Eddie Murphy stars as a compulsive liar of a literary agent who falls under a curse that leaves him with 1,000 words left to speak before he dies. Also with Kerry Washington, Cliff Curtis, Clark Duke, Allison Janney, Jack McBrayer, and Ruby Dee.
21 Jump Street (R) They finally found something Channing Tatum is good at: silly slapstick comedy. He and Jonah Hill make a well-matched comedy team in this big-screen present-day update of the 1980s TV show as two rookie cops who go undercover as high-school students to break up a drug ring. The indifferent characterizations give the film a slightly impersonal feel, but writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) deliver enough funny gags to offset that. If you’re looking for a movie that blends laughs with action and thrills, this is your best bet right now. Also with Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, DeRay Davis, Chris Parnell, Ellie Kemper, Nick Offerman, Caroline Aaron, Joe Chrest, Dakota Johnson, Jake M. Johnson, Holly Robinson Peete, and an uncredited Johnny Depp
The Vow (PG-13) It’s like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, except that it sucks. Channing Tatum plays a man who must woo his wife (Rachel McAdams) again after she loses her memory in a car accident. What follows is a relentlessly prettified story where he fights for her against her snobby rich parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) who see a chance to get her to give up her artistic career and go back to law school. It all plays out exactly as you’d think, and McAdams’ overacting makes it annoying. When Channing Tatum is the best thing in your movie, that’s not good. Also with Wendy Crewson, Jessica McNamee, and Scott Speedman.
Wanderlust (R) Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston star in this fitfully enjoyable comedy as two downsized New York professionals who try living at a Georgia commune. Director/co-writer David Wain tries to do for hippies what he did for LARPers in his last comedy, Role Models, only this time he doesn’t strike the right balance of satire and respect. He’s smart to recognize that petty power games go on even at such communities, but the mendacity and hypocrisy are too neatly embodied in the commune’s spiritual leader (Justin Theroux). The rampant ad-libbing from the cast results in some very funny lines, and some sequences that go on way too long. It’s all charming in a minor sort of way. Also with Alan Alda, Malin Akerman, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Kathryn Hahn, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Michaela Watkins, Jessica St. Clair, Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, Lauren Ambrose, and Linda Lavin.
Being Flynn (R) Paul Weitz’ adaptation of Nick Flynn’s memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City stars Paul Dano as a struggling writer who finds his long-lost father (Robert De Niro) while working in a homeless shelter. Also with Julianne Moore, Olivia Thirlby, Eddie Rouse, Steve Cirbus, Victor Rasuk, Wes Studi, and Lili Taylor.
Chico & Rita (NR) A surprise nominee for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, Fernando Trueba’s musical is about a Cuban jazz pianist (voiced by Eman Xor Oña) and a singer (voiced by Limara Meneses) whose tortured affair takes them through three decades of music and political history in the mid 20th-century. Additional voices by Mario Guerra, Jon Adams, Blanca Rosa Blanco, and Jakie de la Nuez.
Crazy Horse (NR) The latest documentary by Frederick Wiseman (Titicut Follies, High School) looks at life in a legendary Paris nude dancing club.
Delicacy (NR) Audrey Tautou stars in this drama as a French widow hesitating about the romantic interest of a Swedish co-worker (François Damiens). Also with Bruno Todeschini, Mélanie Bernier, Joséphine de Meaux, Pio Marmaï, and Monique Chamette.
In Darkness (R) Nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, this drama by Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa) stars Robert Wieckiewicz as a real-life Polish career criminal who hid 14 Jews from the Nazis in the city of Lvov during World War II. Also with Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Herbert Knaup, Marcin Bosak, and Maria Schrader.
A Separation (PG-13) An Oscar nominee for both Best Foreign Film and Best Original Screenplay, Asghar Farhadi’s drama stars Peyman Moadi and Leila Hatami as an Iranian married couple whose attempts to resolve their differences result in tragedy. Also with Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi, Kimia Hosseini, and Babak Karimi.
Undefeated (PG-13) The winner of the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s film profiles a poor inner-city Memphis high-school football team looking to win its first playoff game in 110 years.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (R) Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar) adapts Lionel Shriver’s novel about a New York mother (Tilda Swinton) coping with the aftermath of her son (Ezra Miller) committing a mass murder at his school. Also with John C. Reilly, Ashley Gerasimovich, and Siobhan Fallon Hogan.