Animal Kingdom (R) David Michôd’s crime thriller stars James Frecheville as a 17-year-old Australian boy trying to go straight while his entire family steers him toward a life of violent crime. Also with Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Jacki Weaver, Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton, and Guy Pearce. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Avatar (PG-13) James Cameron’s first film in 12 years displays all his strengths and his flaws. Set in the 22nd century on a distant planet, the film stars Sam Worthington as a paraplegic Marine who hooks up his brain to the engineered body of a native in order to infiltrate the locals and learn about their culture. The first hour or so is dazzling stuff indeed, with the alien planet presented as a fully imagined world with gloriously realized flora and fauna — this movie is a cryptozoologist’s dream come true. Yet the romance is bland and riddled with bad dialogue, and both the Earthling villains and the nature-worshipping natives are simplistic caricatures. The film uses the latest in special-effects technology, but the stale story makes it feel like a relic of a bygone era. Also with Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso, Dileep Rao, and Sigourney Weaver. (Re-opens Friday)
Centurion (R) The latest film by Neil Marshall (The Descent) stars Michael Fassbender as an ancient Roman soldier who finds himself trapped behind enemy lines in a war with a Celtic tribe. Also with Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, David Morrissey, Ulrich Thomsen, JJ Feild, and Imogen Poots. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Mao’s Last Dancer (PG) Bruce Beresford’s adaptation of Li Cunxin’s autobiography tells the story of the poor Chinese villager-turned-ballet star (Cao Chi) who defected to the United States in the 1970s after falling in love with an American woman. Also with Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan, Amanda Schull, Guo Chengwu, Huang Wen Bin, and Joan Chen. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Mesrine: Killer Instinct (R) The first part of a two-film crime saga, this biography stars Vincent Cassel as Jacques Mesrine, the middle-class Frenchman who embarked on a spree of kidnapping, robbery, and murder in the 1960s. Also with Cécile de France, Gilles Lellouche, Roy Dupuis, Elena Anaya, Ludivine Sagnier, Michel Duchaussoy, and Gérard Depardieu. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Takers (PG-13) Idris Elba stars in this heist film as the leader of a group of bank robbers whose next and biggest job might be their last. Also with Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Zoe Saldana, Michael Ealy, T.I., Chris Brown, Jay Hernandez, Johnathon Schaech, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Nick Turturro, and Steve Harris. (Opens Friday)
Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (PG) Sequel to the 2001 kids’ flick finds feline and canine spy agencies cooperating to stop a vengeance-obsessed cat (voiced by Bette Midler) who plans to drive every dog in the world insane. Like a James Bond movie for kids, it’s surprisingly tolerable, with decent action scenes and a story that zips along. Most importantly for parents, it doesn’t make you want to end your life. The CGI talking-animal effects are far from perfect, though, and my 10-year-old cousin only liked it but didn’t go crazy for it. Considering the cost of taking the family to the movies, this is probably best saved as a rental, but it’s far from a bad one. Additional voices by Sean Hayes, Neil Patrick Harris, Christina Applegate, James Marsden, Katt Williams, J.K. Simmons, Wallace Shawn, Joe Pantoliano, Michael Clarke Duncan, Roger Moore, and Nick Nolte. Also with Chris O’Donnell and Jack McBrayer. — Cole Williams
Despicable Me (PG) Slight but agreeable animated film features Steve Carell voicing a wannabe supervillain named Gru who adopts three unwanted girls from an orphanage (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher, and Dana Gaier) to help him gain access to a rival villain and ultimately steal the moon from the sky. The girls help Gru get in touch with his feelings, and it’s thankfully not anywhere near as mushy as it could have been. Gru’s chattering yellow minions are a terrific comic creation, but there’s not enough good material to go around them and a great supporting voice cast. The closing credit sequence uses 3-D better than any other recent film. Additional voices by Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett, Danny McBride, Jack McBrayer, Mindy Kaling, and Julie Andrews.
Dinner for Schmucks (PG-13) The remake of Francis Veber’s 1999 French farce The Dinner Game stars Paul Rudd as a financial analyst who tries to win a promotion by bringing an eccentric IRS worker (Steve Carell) to a business dinner so that his firm’s executives can make fun of him. The American version makes the main character much less of a bastard, which does Rudd no favors, and puts us in the weird position of laughing at the idiots while condemning the businessmen in the movie for doing the same thing. The trump card is Carell, who wreaks havoc with wide-eyed wonder, spews malapropisms, and gets into a slapstick contretemps with a demented stalker (Lucy Punch). His inspired idiocy rescues the film. Also with Stephanie Szostak, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Bruce Greenwood, David Walliams, Ron Livingston, Kristen Schaal, Chris O’Dowd, Octavia Spencer, and Jeff Dunham.
The Expendables (R) Delivers exactly what you expect: terrible dialogue, macho posturing, shootouts and explosions, and enough testosterone flying around on screen to spatter audience members in the first few rows. Sylvester Stallone directs, co-writes, and stars in this throwback thriller as the leader of a multinational team of soldiers for hire sent to overthrow the dictator of a Latin American banana republic. The director does better with explosions than hand-to-hand combat, but the audience for this film is in it for the nostalgia and the ass-kicking by its older stars with a minimum of fuss. Also with Jason Statham, Giselle Itié, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Charisma Carpenter, Eric Roberts, David Zayas, Gary Daniels, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Inception (PG-13) One of the trippiest summer blockbusters in recent memory, this big brain-teaser stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the leader of a team of corporate spies who have to plant a self-destructive idea in the head of an heir (Cillian Murphy) by breaking into his dreams. Writer-director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) enhances the movie’s dreamscapes by twisting real locations into M.C. Escher-like tableaux, while cinematographer Wally Pfister and production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas make it all look elegant and beautiful. Nolan may have outsmarted himself here — the hero’s struggles to let go of his dead wife (Marion Cotillard) don’t pull the emotional weight that they should. Nevertheless, the movie sends you tumbling down a fascinating rabbit hole. Also with Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, Lukas Haas, Pete Postlethwaite, and Michael Caine.
Lottery Ticket (PG-13) Rap star Bow Wow stars in this comedy as a young man from the projects who draws a lottery ticket worth $370 million and then has to spend three days fending off neighbors and thugs before he claims the money. There’s not much memorable here, just some preachiness about how the main character should be doing something worthy with the money that moderately harshes the comedy buzz, and one well-played blow-up with his best friend (Brandon T. Jackson) over the stress. All in all, the entertainment here offers slightly better value than scratch-off tickets. Also with Loretta Devine, Naturi Naughton, Keith David, Terry Crews, Charlie Murphy, Mike Epps, Bill Bellamy, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Ice Cube, and an uncredited T-Pain.
Nanny McPhee Returns (PG) And her sequel is about a thousand times worse than the original. Emma Thompson reprises her role as the magically empowered British nanny, who pops up to help an overwhelmed young mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) keep her farm while the husband is off fighting in World War II, leaving her to raise her three kids plus a city-bred nephew and niece. The overacting is pretty ferocious here, with the adult performers worse offenders than the kids. The scenes take place in no particular order, switching haphazardly between grim pathos involving the war and cutesy comedy like a synchronized swimming scene with pigs. It’s all horribly offensive. Also with Oscar Steer, Asa Butterfield, Lil Woods, Eros Vlahos, Rosie Taylor-Ritson, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, and Ewan McGregor.
The Other Guys (PG-13) On a scale of Will Ferrell-Adam McKay comedies, this isn’t as good as Talladega Nights, but it’s way better than Step Brothers. Ferrell plays a forensic accountant who teams up with a disgraced NYPD detective (Mark Wahlberg) to solve a series of murders connected with financial fraud. The laughs fall off considerably in the second half, but neither Wahlberg nor Eva Mendes (as the accountant’s improbably hot wife) have ever been funnier onscreen, and there are some great set pieces like a brawl conducted in whispers and an exchange about the winner of a hypothetical lion vs. tuna fight. Stay for the closing credits, which feature animated graphics explaining the 2008 financial crisis. Also with Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Coogan, Damon Wayans Jr., Rob Riggle, Bobby Cannavale, Lindsay Sloane, Ray Stevenson, Michael Keaton, and an uncredited Anne Heche.
Piranha 3D (R) A monstrous species of piranha runs rampant in Lake Victoria during spring break in this remake of the ’70s-era Joe Dante-directed Jaws ripoff. It starts well, with fun kills, campy humor, and plenty of gratuitous nudity. Then the pacing slows everything to a standstill, cutting between a carnage free-for-all that throws a lot at the audience but just doesn’t excite and a laborious rescue scene aboard a sinking ship. Though there is some inventive 3D gore and a Kelly Brook/Riley Steele nude underwater scene, the movie captures only the content of the best B-movies but not the spirit. Also with Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O’Connell, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Steven R. McQueen, Adam Scott, Dina Meyer, Ricardo Chavira, Eli Roth, Christopher Lloyd, and Richard Dreyfuss. — Cole Williams
Ramona and Beezus (G) Beverly Cleary’s beloved series of kids’ books finally comes to the big screen, in a movie that’s somewhat more interesting than most others of its type. Joey King plays the famously imaginative troublemaker, who faces some serious economic hardship after her dad (a marvelously light John Corbett) loses his job. Director Elizabeth Allen ventures into some regrettably amateurish fantasy sequences to depict Ramona’s imagination, but the writing is reasonably sharp and there’s even a well-played romantic subplot between Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Howie Kemp’s Uncle Hobart (Josh Duhamel). A sequel wouldn’t be the worst thing. Also with Selena Gomez, Bridget Moynahan, Jason Spevack, Hutch Dano, and Sandra Oh.
Salt (PG-13) This implausible but stylish and highly enjoyable potboiler gets Angelina Jolie back to doing what she was made for: Kicking large amounts of ass. She plays a CIA officer who’s fingered by a Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski) as a Soviet double agent who will assassinate the Russian prime minister on U.S. soil. She then spends the rest of the movie running from her colleagues, while the script’s many plot twists leave us in suspense as to whether she’s actually who she claims to be. The story doesn’t hold up, but who cares when Jolie is taking down rooms full of armed guys and building a rocket launcher out of an office chair and cleaning supplies? Director Phillip Noyce makes it all into good old-fashioned spy fun. Also with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Liev Schreiber, August Diehl, Olek Krupa, Hunt Block, and Andre Braugher.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (PG-13) Edgar Wright’s brilliant, exhausting adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels stars Michael Cera as a Toronto bass player who finds that to win his new girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he must defeat her seven evil exes in combat, all of whom have superpowers. Wright loses the comic books’ easygoing rhythm, botches the ending, and flattens out many of the supporting characters. Yet the fight sequences are spectacular (featuring actors not known for martial arts), Wright’s flair for action and comedy are everywhere in evidence, and the ridiculously cool cast overacts to great comic effect. Bonus points for original songs by Beck and for the dance-off with flying demon hipster chicks. Also with Ellen Wong, Mark Webber, Alison Pill, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Brie Larson, Mae Whitman, Satya Bhabha, Jason Schwartzman, Anna Kendrick, and uncredited cameos by Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins Jr.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (PG) Nicolas Cage re-teams with Jon Turteltaub, who directed him in those dopey National Treasure movies, to make this ultra-lite fantasy-adventure. Cage plays a centuries-old disciple of Merlin who discovers that a geeky NYU physics grad student (Jay Baruchel) is the chosen one whose untapped magical powers can prevent a similarly aged evil wizard (Alfred Molina) from raising the dead and taking over the world. The special effects look really good here, but the writing is lame, and Baruchel — who can be a terrific supporting actor, especially in comedies — doesn’t have the charisma to carry a movie. Despite an homage to Fantasia, this movie feels distinctly un-magical. Also with Teresa Palmer, Toby Kebbell, Omar Benson Miller, Jake Cherry, Alice Krige, and Monica Bellucci.
Step Up 3D (PG-13) The idea of a dance movie in 3-D is fantastic, yet this movie makes underwhelming use of the technology. Adam G. Sevani reprises his role from the second film as an NYU freshman who falls in with a dance group that needs to win a hip-hop dance contest to save their rehearsal space. The movie does have a cotillion dance sequence set to “Bust Your Windows” and a charming duet for Sevani and Alyson Stoner. But the dancers are indistinguishable from one another in the contest sequences, and the team of five choreographers fails to come up with anything memorable. Also with Rick Malambri, Sharni Vinson, Keith Stallworth, Kendra Andrews, Stephen Boss, Facundo and Martín Lombard, Mari Koda, and Joe Slaughter.
The Switch (PG-13) Actually worse than you’d think. Jason Bateman plays a neurotic bachelor who drunkenly ruins the sperm sample that his best friend (Jennifer Aniston) wanted to use to get pregnant, secretly substitutes his own sperm for the sample, and then forgets about it until seven years later, when she drops back into his life with their son (Thomas Robinson), who now exhibits all of his dad’s neuroses. The two leads play the material flawlessly, which only points out the weakness of the material and the myriad implications in the premise that haven’t been thought through. Hard to believe this is based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides. Also with Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Todd Louiso, and Juliette Lewis.
Toy Story 3 (G) Yet another fantastic piece of work from Pixar. When their now-grown owner heads off to college, Woody and Buzz (voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen) and the other toys are accidentally shipped off to a local day care center, where the toys are run by a strawberry-scented teddy bear (voiced by Ned Beatty) who acts like a cruel warden. The filmmakers turn this into a prison-break movie but cut the action with just the right amount of cutesy humor. Esoteric references abound, and the script includes a deliriously funny encounter between Barbie (voiced by Jodi Benson) and a morally shady clotheshorse Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton) among its wealth of rich comic material. Additional voices by Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Blake Clark, Teddy Newton, Bud Luckey, Javier Fernández Peña, Kristen Schaal, Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Timothy Dalton, Whoopi Goldberg, and R. Lee Ermey.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (PG-13) The best one so far, for what that’s worth. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is targeted by a vengeful vampire (Bryce Dallas Howard) with an army of new vampires, so her two boyfriends (Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner) have to team up to save her. There’s less static here than in the previous Twilight films, but there’s still too much, and the romance stubbornly refuses to spark. Still, the script has its moments of insight and wit, and the movie is blessedly unafraid to lighten up every once in a while. The series still needs improvement, but it’s headed in an encouraging direction. Also with Xavier Samuel, Billy Burke, Jackson Rathbone, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Kellan Lutz, Elizabeth Reaser, Peter Facinelli, Julia Jones, Gil Birmingham, Jodelle Ferland, Cameron Bright, Dakota Fanning, and Anna Kendrick.
Vampires Suck (PG-13) From the writers/directors of Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie. What, you need more reasons not to see it? OK then. This parody of the Twilight flicks follows awkward new girl Becca (Jenn Proske) falling for vampire Edward Sullen (Matt Lanter). Yes, the joke is that his name is “Sullen” instead of “Cullen.” The rest of the movie is about as funny, with maybe five good laughs. The best thing I can say is that despite 99 percent of the jokes failing, at least they weren’t so awful that I wanted to hurt myself. Or someone else. Also with Chris Riggi, Anneliese van der Pol, Crista Flanagan, Kelsey Ford, and Ken Jeong. — Cole Williams
Breathless (NR) Fiftieth anniversary re-release of Jean-Luc Godard’s French New Wave classic about two young outlaws (Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg) on a crime spree. Also with Daniel Boulanger, Jean-Pierre Melville, Henri-Jacques Huet, and Claude Mansard.
Cairo Time (PG) Patricia Clarkson stars as a magazine editor who falls in love with a retired cop (Alexander Siddig) while waiting for her husband to show up in Egypt. Also with Elena Anaya, Tom McCamus, and Amina Annabi.
The Concert (PG-13) Radu Mihaileanu’s comedy about a former Russian symphony conductor-turned-janitor (Alexei Guskov) who gathers his old musicians together to accept an invitation to play in Paris. Also with Mélanie Laurent, Dmitri Nazarov, François Berléand, Alexander Komissarov, and Miou-Miou.
Farewell (NR) Christian Carion (Joyeux Noel) directs this spy thriller starring Emir Kusturica as the real-life Soviet general who passed along state secrets to the West to hasten the end of the Cold War. Also with Guillaume Canet, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Dina Korzun, Niels Arestrup, Philippe Magnan, Fred Ward, Benno Fürmann, David Soul, Willem Dafoe, and Diane Kruger.
The Girl Who Played With Fire (R) The sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo stars Michael Nyqvist as a Swedish journalist who finds his investigative partner (Noomi Rapace) the accused party in a high-profile murder case. Also with Lena Endre, Sofia Ledarp, Peter Andersson, Georgi Staykov, Yasmine Garbi, Mikael Spreitz, Tehilla Blad, and Michalis Koutsogiannakis.
Winnebago Man (NR) Ben Steinbauer’s documentary about his search for Jack Rebney, whose profanity-filled appearance in a 1989 RV commercial made him an internet sensation two decades later.