Queen to Play (NR) Caroline Bottaro’s comedy stars Sandrine Bonnaire as a French chambermaid who escapes her life of poverty when she takes chess lessons from an American expat (Kevin Kline). Also with Valérie Lagrange, Francis Renaud, Alexandra Gentil, Alice Pol, and Jennifer Beals. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Buck (PG) Cindy Meehl’s documentary profile of Buck Brannaman, the horse trainer who inspired The Horse Whisperer. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Larry Crowne (PG-13) Tom Hanks directs, co-writes, and stars in this comedy as a downsized retail employee who goes back to school at a community college with a burned-out teacher (Julia Roberts). Also with Taraji P. Henson, Cedric the Entertainer, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Rita Wilson, Nia Vardalos, Ian Gomez, George Takei, Bryan Cranston, and Pam Grier. (Opens Friday)
Monte Carlo (PG) Selena Gomez stars in this comedy as an American vacationing in Paris who’s mistaken for a notorious British party-girl heiress. Also with Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy, Cory Monteith, Brett Cullen, Valérie Lemercier, Pierre Boulanger, and Andie MacDowell. (Opens Friday)
Bad Teacher (R) A nihilistic satire that doesn’t have the courage of its convictions. Cameron Diaz stars as a cynical, gold-digging, pot-smoking, unmotivated middle-school teacher who’s inspired to start actually teaching her class so she can snag an idealistic, independently wealthy substitute teacher (Justin Timberlake). The script and Diaz are great at presenting the main character as actively hateful, but they both fall down in the last third of the movie, when she’s supposed to become sympathetic. The supporting cast is tasty (especially Phyllis Smith as a weak-willed fellow teacher and Lucy Punch as a perky busybody), and comic highlights include a totally gross fully clothed sex scene and a musical interlude with Timberlake singing a horrible folk song. All in all a B/B- effort. Also with Jason Segel, John Michael Higgins, Eric Stonestreet, Thomas Lennon, David Paymer, and Molly Shannon.
Bridesmaids (R) A treasure. Kristen Wiig co-writes and stars in this comedy as a woman enduring a rough time when her best friend (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged. This is not a romance, nor is this a female version of The Hangover, despite a few uproariously raunchy set pieces. It’s one of the best movies ever about female friendship, and it would still work even if you took the jokes out, though why would you want to? Wiig gives a compelling performance as someone self-destructing as a richer, more glamorous, condescending new friend (Rose Byrne) seems to be stealing away her old pal. An intelligent and moving film, as well as a hilarious one. The supporting cast is stellar, but watch for Melissa McCarthy, stealing laughs everywhere as a foul-mouthed, intense, deadly serious bridesmaid. Also with Chris O’Dowd, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Matt Lucas, Rebel Wilson, Michael Hitchcock, Ben Falcone, Terry Crews, an uncredited Jon Hamm, and the late Jill Clayburgh.
Cars 2 (G) Better than its rep. Pixar’s sequel to its 2006 hit has Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) competing in a grand prix race around the world while Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) is caught up in an international spy plot when two British secret agents (voiced by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer) mistake him for an operative. The thriller plot is grafted onto Pixar’s customary character-based drama, and the combination doesn’t always work. Still, the animation is beautiful and finely detailed as always, the action sequences are neatly done, and the choice of villains (a bunch of outdated lemon cars who work for Big Oil and are trying to discredit alternative fuels) is pretty clever. For pure escapism, you could do a lot worse. Additional voices by Eddie Izzard, Joe Mantegna, John Turturro, Thomas Kretschmann, Bonnie Hunt, Franco Nero, Tony Shalhoub, Jeff Garlin, Jason Isaacs, Bruce Campbell, Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger, and Vanessa Redgrave.
Fast Five (PG-13) This fifth installment of the Fast and the Furious series takes place in Brazil, where our band of outlaws (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Jordana Brewster) lie low, though their idea of lying low seems to involve huge car chases and shootouts with both a Brazilian slumlord (Joaquim de Almeida) and a DEA agent (Dwayne Johnson). The attempts at humor are regrettable, and the movie gets soggy trying to portray the outlaws as some sort of family. But the climactic chase scene with two muscle cars towing a giant steel vault is nicely done. Also with Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang, Matt Schulze, Gal Gadot, and Elsa Pataky.
Green Lantern (PG-13) Ryan Reynolds’ brisk, self-deprecating wit is the only redeeming human feature in this scattered, incomprehensible, and generally awful superhero movie. He portrays a test pilot who’s inducted into an order of intergalactic enforcers and given a ring of power that can turn whatever he imagines into reality. Director Martin Campbell gets lost amid the multitude of plot threads and fails utterly to evoke any sense of wonder at the hero’s new superpowers and his brotherhood of alien warriors. The action sequences are undistinguished, and the characters are so dull that you don’t miss them when they disappear from the movie for long stretches. All the failure here makes this a gruesome spectacle. Also with Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Temuera Morrison, Jon Tenney, Angela Bassett, and Tim Robbins. Voices by Michael Clarke Duncan, Clancy Brown, and Geoffrey Rush.
The Hangover Part II (R) The sequel gleefully plays the same notes that made the original such a hit. The same buddies (Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms) reunite for another pre-wedding bash, this time in Thailand, and they wake up the next morning with no memory of what happened the previous night. They have to track down the whereabouts of a 16-year-old Stanford freshman (Mason Lee) left in their care. A capuchin monkey is involved. So is the fey Asian gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong). The movie loses steam just as it comes to a head but picks back up in the big reveal at the very end. Also with Justin Bartha, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Tambor, Jamie Chung, Sasha Barrese, Gillian Vigman, and Mike Tyson. — Steve Steward
Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (PG) The cinematic equivalent of cola and Pop Rocks — it won’t kill you, it’ll just upset your stomach. Based on Megan McDonald’s series of children’s books, this comedy stars Australian newcomer Jordana Beatty as a third-grader who tries to have a better summer than everyone else when her parents leave her in the care of her cool aunt (Heather Graham). The narrative bounces around furiously as Judy seeks thrills, but too much is about Judy pouting about how boring summer is. Much like its main character, the movie is high-energy but lacking in charm. This thing tells you that summer fun should be spontaneous and unplanned. There isn’t a single moment here that feels spontaneous. Also with Preston Bailey, Parris Mosteller, Janet Varney, Kristoffer Winters, and Jaleel White.
Kung Fu Panda 2 (PG) All the things that made the 2008 original film a hit are in evidence in this sequel that involves Po the panda (voiced by Jack Black) trying to stop a villainous peacock (voiced by Gary Oldman) who wants to take over China. The stunning martial-arts set pieces are fluidly choreographed without being hyperactive, and the 3-D rendition of China is majestic and gorgeous, with its sweeping mountainscapes and rippling pools. The stellar supporting cast is once again underused, but this is still the next step in a series that may turn out to be a classic. Additional voices by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, David Cross, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Danny McBride, Dennis Haysbert, Victor Garber, Dustin Hoffman, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. — Steve Steward
The Lincoln Lawyer (R) Matthew McConaughey is back in his sweet spot as a smooth-talking, morally shifty L.A. attorney who works out of his chauffeured luxury car in this throwback legal thriller based on Michael Connelly’s novel. The story revolves around the lawyer defending a wealthy client accused of sexual assault (Ryan Philippe), only to discover that the guy is guilty of far worse. The dense, knotty plot takes in a huge array of characters played by actors who relish their material. McConaughey comfortably holds the center, and first-time writer-director Brad Furman does a superb job laying out all the plot twists. Also with Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Laurence Mason, Michael Peña, Bob Gunton, Frances Fisher, Margarita Levieva, Pell James, Shea Whigham, Katherine Moennig, Michael Paré, Trace Adkins, and Bryan Cranston.
Midnight in Paris (PG-13) Woody Allen’s charming paean to the City of Lights stars Owen Wilson as an aspiring writer who’s magically transported from present-day Paris to the city in the 1920s, where he gets to rub shoulders with Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The contemporary characters like the writer’s shrewish fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her phony ex (Michael Sheen) don’t add much, but the movie kicks into gear whenever it takes place in Lost Generation Paris, with frequent laughs and a breezy tone. Watch for Corey Stroll’s amusingly brusque performance as Ernest Hemingway. Also with Marion Cotillard, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Léa Seydoux, Gad Elmaleh, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, and Carla Bruni. — Cole Williams
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (PG-13) By now, you can practically predict when Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) will grab a rope and sail through the air. This fourth film in the series listlessly hits the same tired notes as Captain Jack searches for the Fountain of Youth. Ian McShane’s measured menace as Blackbeard is entertaining to watch, but he and everyone else are swallowed up by the distinctly non-magical effects. Oddly enough, the movie is inspired by Tim Powers’ 1987 fantasy novel On Stranger Tides. Also with Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Anton Lesser, Roger Allam, Judi Dench, and Keith Richards. — Steve Steward
Something Borrowed (PG-13) Like the Emily Giffin novel that it’s based on, this movie starts with its main character (Ginnifer Goodwin) sleeping with her best friend’s fiancé and not feeling terribly guilty about it. That’s an interesting place for a romantic comedy to start, but this one goes nowhere. The heroine is such a doormat that we can’t sympathize with her, and though the best friend (Kate Hudson) is a narcissistic attention hog, she’s not hateable enough to make us think she deserves the betrayal. The fiancé (Colin Egglesfield) is pretty weak, too. Backstory and character motivation are removed or tampered with, and John Krasinski struggles manfully with a supporting role that makes no sense at all. You may not know who to root for, but you’ll know this is bad. Also with Steve Howey, Ashley Williams, Geoff Pierson, and Jill Eikenberry.
Super 8 (PG-13) J.J. Abrams’ remarkable yet unmoving sci-fi thriller stars Joel Courtney as a 13-year-old boy in 1979 who uncovers evidence of a space alien running loose after a U.S. Air Force train derails near his small town. This is a great showcase for Abrams’ marvelous visual talents, with the monster being skilfully hidden and cinematographer Larry Fong creating all sorts of memorable visuals with the night sky lit up by klieg lights. Yet the story beats are too predictable, and though Abrams keeps mawkishness at bay, his sentimental excesses get the better of him. This is a superb technical accomplishment that doesn’t leave you feeling that that’s all it is. It simply doesn’t soar. Also with Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills, Kyle Chandler, Noah Emmerich, AJ Michalka, Ron Eldard, Glynn Turman, Dan Castellaneta, and Greg Grunberg.
Thor (PG-13) Not as good as the Iron Man films but better than The Incredible Hulk and a worthy entry into the Avengers series. Chris Hemsworth stars as a Norse god whose arrogance and hotheadedness get him cast out of Asgard onto Earth, where he falls for an astronomer (Natalie Portman) who believes his stories about another realm. The romance is flat, the human storylines are botched, and Portman looks lost. The Oedipal drama in Asgard is much better handled, with Tom Hiddleston as a scheming Loki and Anthony Hopkins (who seems rejuvenated by the presence of director Kenneth Branagh) as Odin. Branagh’s comic touch remains as subtle as Thor’s hammer, but his zest for the material carries the movie over its rough patches. Also with Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Colm Feore, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Josh Dallas, Rene Russo, and uncredited cameos by Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Renner.
Water for Elephants (PG-13) Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel becomes this intelligent but emotionally distant period drama starring Robert Pattinson as an orphaned veterinary student who joins a traveling circus in 1931 and falls dangerously for the star performer (Reese Witherspoon), who’s married to the circus’ cruel, capricious owner and ringmaster (Christoph Waltz). Director Francis Lawrence keeps this from dragging, and Waltz gives a terrific performance as a self-loathing, self-destructive dictator. Still, the chemistry between the romantic leads is all wet, and the movie never attains the grandeur and power that it aspires to. Also with Paul Schneider, Jim Norton, Mark Povinelli, and Hal Holbrook.
X-Men: First Class (PG-13) All the more disappointing for the parts of this movie that really works. The superhero series goes back to its origins, taking in the first meeting of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) in 1962. The movie gets off to a flying start, with an interesting new group of actors and a haunting subplot involving a shy, nerdy scientist (Nicholas Hoult). Yet the action sequences are done without much sense of terror or wonder, the emotional beats in the stories are often skipped, the movie is overstuffed with plots, and the theme about the superheroes being an oppressed minority is handled clumsily. There are enough flashes of inspiration to make you think director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn could make the next movie much better. Also with Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Jason Flemyng, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Till, Zoë Kravitz, Álex González, Edi Gathegi, Matt Craven, James Remar, Oliver Platt, Rade Serbedzija, Olek Krupa, Michael Ironside, and uncredited cameos by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Hugh Jackman.
Beginners (R) This autobiographical drama by Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) stars Ewan McGregor as a man who’s shocked when his terminally ill, recently widowed father (Christopher Plummer) comes out of the closet. Also with Mélanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, China Shavers, and Lou Taylor Pucci.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (NR) Werner Herzog’s latest documentary looks at the oldest drawn pictures of humans in the Chauvet caves of southern France.
The Double Hour (NR) Giuseppe Capotondi’s psychological thriller stars Filippo Timi as an Italian ex-cop whose speed date with a Slovenian hotel chambermaid (Ksenia Rappoport) takes an unexpectedly violent turn. Also with Antonio Truppo, Gaetano Bruno, Michele Di Mauro, and Fausto Russo Alesi.
The Tree of Life (PG-13) Terrence Malick’s drama is about a present-day man (Sean Penn) contemplating the loss of his innocence growing up in the 1950s. Also with Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, and Fiona Shaw.
The Trip (NR) Based on a British TV series, this comedy reunites director Michael Winterbottom and star Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story) in a story about a comedian touring Britain’s finest restaurants with a camera crew. Also with Rob Brydon, Claire Keelan, Margo Stilley, Rebecca Johnson, and Paul Popplewell.