The Purge: Election Year (PG-13) Not terrible! The third sequel in the horror/action movie franchise sees Frank Grillo back as Leo Barnes, an ex-cop-turned-bodyguard in the employ of Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell of ABC’s Lost), who saw her entire family murdered 18 years prior during the annual American Purge Night, the federally permitted violence holiday designed to eliminate crime by allowing people to enact their basest urges for 12 hours every March. Roan’s election platform is built on eliminating the Purge, thereby setting herself up for the pro-purge party’s kidnapping/assassination attempt. As they flee, she and Barnes join forces with a deli owner (Mykelti Williamson) and his friends as they try to survive attacks from both “the crazies” and a white supremacist mercenary team contracted by the ruling elite. Plotwise, the movie feels a lot like John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, and its social commentary is mostly on point, though the next time James DeMonaco writes some minority characters, he should first run his dialogue past some black and Hispanic people. But for a moderately engaging action movie, its narrative beats are suitable enough to include in the ongoing conversation about America and its co-dependent relationship with violence. Also with Frank Grillo, Joseph Julian Soria, and Betty Gabriel. — S.S.
Cell (R) John Cusack stars in this apocalyptic thriller as a man trying to reunite with his son after a cell phone signal turns everyone into serial killers. Also with Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Clark Sarullo, Ethan Andrew Casto, Owen Teague, and Stacy Keach. (Opens Friday)
The Dog Lover (PG) Allison Paige stars in this drama as a young animal-rights lawyer who goes undercover to infiltrate a suspected puppy mill. Also with James Remar, Lea Thompson, Jayson Blair, Kathleen Willhoite, and Sherry Stringfield. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Fathers and Daughters (R) This drama stars Amanda Seyfried as the daughter of a Pulitzer Prize-winning author (Russell Crowe) after his mental breakdown. Also with Aaron Paul, Diane Kruger, Quvenzhané Wallis, Bruce Greenwood, Octavia Spencer, and Janet McTeer. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (PG-13) Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) writes, directs, and co-stars in this comedy about a national manhunt when a rebellious boy (Julian Dennison) and his foster uncle (Sam Neill) disappear together in the New Zealand bush. Also with Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Oscar Kightley, and Rhys Darby. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
My Love, Don’t Cross That River (NR) Jin Mo-young’s documentary about a married couple in rural South Korea facing the husband’s death and the end of their 76-year marriage. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Alice Through the Looking Glass (PG) Tim Burton has been replaced as director, but this Disney-meets-Lewis Carroll adaptation remains loud, incoherent, garish, and stubbornly unmagical. Mia Wasikowska returns as the heroine who returns to Wonderland to save the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) by traveling back through time. New director James Bobin (from the Muppets movies) engineers an ingenious opening sequence with Alice captaining a warship through a narrow strait, but he fails to find any resonance in either her relationship with the Hatter or the maudlin subplot with the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) making up with her sister (Anne Hathaway). Sacha Baron Cohen pilfers a few meager laughs as Time himself, but this is a CGI bore. Also with Rhys Ifans, Matt Lucas, Lindsay Duncan, Andrew Scott, and Richard Armitage. Voices by Timothy Spall, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Matt Vogel, and the late Alan Rickman.
The BFG (PG) A Hook-level disaster from Steven Spielberg. This fantasy film based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book stars Ruby Barnhill as a London orphan who’s whisked away by a big friendly giant (Mark Rylance) and helps him keep his fellow giants from eating children. Like too many other cinematic Dahl adaptations, this one becomes bloated and lumbering, missing the small-scale, homespun charm of the original. The giant’s home is rendered without any sense of wonder, as is Dream Country where he goes to catch dreams to give to children, and the proceedings really go downhill when the giant comes out of hiding and visits the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton). You expect better from Spielberg. Also with Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Jemaine Clement, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, and Bill Hader.
Captain America: Civil War (PG-13) People are saying this is the best of Marvel’s Avengers series, and they’re pretty much right. The group splits when Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) disagree over the need for U.N. oversight of the Avengers. Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) do incredible work just to fit 12 superheroes into this piece without losing track of anyone, and they introduce both Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) into the proceedings in ways that pop. The action sequences are well-managed, too, even if the 12-superhero smackdown feels as obligatory as the orgy that concludes a porno movie. The balance of action, humor, character, emotion, and intellectual debate make this a compendium of the best the Marvel movies have had to offer. Also with Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Emily VanCamp, Frank Grillo, Daniel Brühl, Marisa Tomei, Martin Freeman, Hope Davis, John Slattery, Alfre Woodard, and William Hurt.
Central Intelligence (PG-13) They had all the right ingredients in this comedy except a script. A high school loser-turned-CIA agent (Dwayne Johnson) has to team up with his school’s BMOC-turned-accountant (Kevin Hart) to foil an espionage plot. The casting works well and Johnson creates a funny character as an ass-kicker who’s into unicorn T-shirts and Twilight movies and is completely oblivious to the accountant’s objections to being dragged into danger. If only there had been some actual material instead of director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) staging action sequences while winking at the audience. Also with Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul, Ryan Hansen, Danielle Nicolet, Thomas Kretschmann, and an uncredited Melissa McCarthy.
The Conjuring 2 (R) James Wan directs this sequel to his 2013 horror film with more flair than you usually find in the genre, but underneath the trappings this is really just the same crappy scare-free flick as the others. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson portray the spiritualist who travel to London in 1978 when an 11-year-old girl (Madison Wolfe) starts making bad things happen to her family. Wan executes some dexterous tracking shots inside their house (unusually large for a working-class family’s), yet he doesn’t have the knack for inventing demons that haunt your soul. He should do more action movies. Also with Frances O’Connor, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Franka Potente, and Simon McBurney.
Finding Dory (PG) The advance hype has been adulatory for Pixar’s latest, and I just can’t join in, much as I’d like. In this sequel to Finding Nemo, sweetly forgetful blue tang Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) remembers something about her family and dashes across the Pacific with Marlin and Nemo (voiced by Albert Brooks and Hayden Rolence) in tow to make sure she doesn’t get lost. There’s a nicely ambivalent depiction of the California aquarium that they all become trapped in, but the plot machinery creaks audibly as it strives to separate Dory from everyone else who wants to help her. The story is supposed to be about Dory learning to survive on her own, and this isn’t accomplished in any convincing way. There’s much that’s genuinely entertaining here, but the slippage from Finding Nemo and other Pixar greats is noticeable. Additional voices by Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, John Ratzenberger, and Sigourney Weaver.
Free State of Jones (R) Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) spent years on this passion project telling the true story of a disenchanted Confederate soldier who banded with slaves to organize an anti-Confederate rebellion in 1860s Mississippi, so it probably would break his heart to learn that this has come out a lifeless, rhythmless, relentlessly gray historical diorama. Matthew McConaughey stars as Newton Knight, the leader of the uprising. The story of the poor farmers rising up against wealthy slaveowners should strike a chord in today’s environment, but the battle sequences amount to no more than a dry recitation of facts. This could have been a stimulating addition to the slavery movies of recent years, but it falls way short. Also with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Sean Bridgers, Jacob Lofland, Christopher Berry, and Keri Russell.
Independence Day: Resurgence (PG-13) Are you the kind of person who scoffs at plot holes? Then steer clear of this movie, lest you ruin it for someone looking for a brainless, unnecessary sequel. Picking up 20 years after Roland Emmerich’s original, Resurgence finds the people of Earth having since unlocked the secrets of alien technology and united as one people. Everything is great until an even bigger alien ship — the original’s were city-sized, and this one is 3,000 miles across — appears to cast gigantic, ominous shadows and destroy famous landmarks. The children of the first movie’s heroes are themselves heroic fighter pilots (of course!), and Brent Spiner is back as a weirdo Area 51 scientist. The story and characters roughly translate into “who cares?,” but Emmerich’s fetish for epic disasters is in top form here. His occasional peeks into outer space make you wish Cosmos had the budget to hire him. Also with Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie Usher, Maika Monroe, Bill Pullman, Sela Ward, William Fichtner, Vivica A. Fox, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Angelababy, Joey King, and Judd Hirsch. — Steve Steward
The Jungle Book (PG) This live-action film of Rudyard Kipling’s stories looks nice, but it doesn’t uncover anything new. Neel Sethi plays the boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle when a man-hating tiger (voiced by Idris Elba) vows to kill him. This Disney movie incorporates two of the numbers from the 1967 animated musical version, but director Jon Favreau doesn’t have a flair for the genre, and his film relentlessly cutesifies the animals much like the older incarnation did. The movie does have a superb voice cast, especially a fairly terrifying Elba as the snarling villain. I suspect that in 50 years, though, this will look as dated as the 1967 Jungle Book does now. Additional voices by Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong’o, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito, Sam Raimi, and the late Garry Shandling.
The Legend of Tarzan (PG-13) Alexander Skarsgård stars in this adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories as the now-civilized man who’s called back to his jungle home when a mining company starts doing bad things there. Also with Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou, Rory J. Saper, Sidney Ralitsoele, Osy Ikhile, Antony Acheampong, Ben Chaplin, Jim Broadbent, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Me Before You (PG-13) Emilia Clarke overacts ferociously in this leaden adaptation of Jojo Moyes’ novel about a klutzy, quirky, small-town girl who gets a job taking care of a young man (Sam Claflin) from a rich family who’s been rendered quadriplegic by a spinal cord injury. The controversy around this tearjerker has been about the guy’s determination to undergo an assisted suicide, but this issue is tastefully handled with a modicum of psychological realism. No, what ruins this is Clarke’s “look at me, I’m so adorable” act that proves as grating as her character’s loud wardrobe. Also with Janet McTeer, Matthew Lewis, Vanessa Kirby, Jenna Coleman, Joanna Lumley, and Charles Dance.
The Music of Strangers (PG-13) This documentary by Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom) is about Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Project.
The Neon Demon (R) Like all of Nicolas Winding Refn’s films, you can’t look away from this one, as much as you might want to. Elle Fanning stars as a virginal, orphaned 16-year-old who moves to Los Angeles to find modeling work, only to find that the older models whom she’s beating out for high-profile gigs are willing to commit murder and worse to keep their success. The crazed Danish director has fun with the SoCal heartlessness, creates glitter-dusted stylized tableaux set in the fashion world, and generates horror of the body like we haven’t seen since David Cronenberg’s heyday. Still, this thing doesn’t offer much critique of society’s impossible beauty standards and often devolves into crude shock tactics. Refn’s style feels in search of a subject. Also with Jena Malone, Christina Hendricks, Karl Glusman, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola, Charles Baker, and Keanu Reeves.
The Nice Guys (R) Ryan Gosling gives the funniest performance of his career as a bumbling weenie of a private eye in 1977 Los Angeles who teams up with a thug-for-hire (Russell Crowe) to solve a string of murders connected to a porn film. Director/co-writer Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3) is at his best making shaggy comedic crime thrillers like this one, and he engineers all manner of delightful gags as well as conceiving a complex character in the detective’s 13-year-old daughter (Angourie Rice) who’s easily the best detective of the three of them. Still, your eyes gravitate to Gosling, who seizes the role’s doofiness and pulls off one virtuoso comedy bit after another in a tour de force. Also with Kim Basinger, Margaret Qualley, Matt Bomer, Yaya DaCosta, Keith David, Ty Simpkins, and Hannibal Buress.
No One’s Life Is Easy (So I Married an Anti-Fan) (NR) Yuan Shanshan stars in this Chinese comedy as a journalist who sets out to destroy the Korean movie star (Park Chan-yeol) who ruined her life.
Now You See Me 2 (PG-13) A vast improvement on the first movie. The magicians from the first movie (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco) plus one newcomer (Lizzy Caplan, subbing in for Isla Fisher) get into trouble as they try to take on the system, personified by a tech magnate (Daniel Radcliffe) peddling user info. Having the heroes expose corporate mischief is a far better plot than the original’s confusing one, the movie is much funnier, and Eisenberg’s character is made quite a bit less douchier. Don’t miss the slide show that introduces the villain. Also with Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine, Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, David Warshofsky, Tsai Chin, and Morgan Freeman. — Cole Williams
Our Kind of Traitor (R) Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris star in this thriller as a British couple who get caught up in the defection of a Russian mobster (Stellan Skarsgård) to the U.K. Also with Damian Lewis, Mark Stanley, Mark Gatiss, Alicia von Rittberg, Saskia Reeves, and Jeremy Northam.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (R) Less a movie and more of a Lonely Island sketch writ large, but still pretty funny for that. Andy Samberg stars in this mockumentary as Conner 4 Real, who broke from his boy band (whose members are played by fellow Lonely Islanders Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer) for a successful solo pop music career that crashes on the rocks as he releases his second album. The shadow of This Is Spinal Tap looms heavily over this, and the gaggle of real-life music stars portraying themselves doesn’t add much. Still, the movie features a heartening takedown of TMZ on TV, a tasty bit part by an uncredited Justin Timberlake as Conner’s personal chef, and some hilariously awful songs for Conner, including a gay-rights anthem in which he says “I’m not gay” at least 20 times. Also with Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Imogen Poots, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Will Arnett, and Joan Cusack.
The Shallows (PG-13) Deserves to be known as the second-greatest shark attack movie ever. Blake Lively stars as a Baylor medical student who goes surfing at a secluded Mexican beach only to be attacked by a shark and stranded on a rock outcropping 200 yards from shore with no one to help. The main attraction here is seeing the delicate, glamorous Lively do reasonably well in a role that convincingly strips the gloss off her. Director Jaume Collet-Serra takes this thing off the rails near the end as he tries to out-Jaws Jaws, but it’s not enough to detract too much from this thing’s merits as a survival thriller. Also with Óscar Jaenada, Sedona Legge, and Brett Cullen.
Swiss Army Man (R) The most beautiful movie about a farting corpse you’ll ever see. Paul Dano stars in this odd piece as a shipwreck survivor whose life is saved by a talking corpse (Daniel Radcliffe, an astonishing physical comedian) who gets used as a Jet-Ski, an axe, a compass, and a sounding board who helps the hero find a direction in his own disconnected life. Co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert counteract the uplift in this story with fart jokes, and the fart jokes with soaring flights of lyricism as the hero goes to astonishing lengths to demonstrate what it’s like to be alive. Somehow, all this works. Also with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Richard Gross, and Timothy Eulich.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (PG-13) The director of this sequel, Dave Green, was 5 years old in the 1980s. This seems appropriate, because his movie looks like something that was made in the 1980s by a 5-year-old. The muscle-bound amphibians (voiced by Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, and Alan Ritchson) try to foil yet another plot by Shredder (Brian Tee) to take over the world, this time by turning everyone into a mutant beast. The movie makes some efforts at portraying dissension within the group, but they’re lost amid the generally crappy visuals and an amateurish turn by Tyler Perry as a Sherman Klump-like scientist. Also with Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Laura Linney, Will Arnett, and Tony Shalhoub.
Warcraft (PG-13) Duncan Jones seems like he’s merely setting the table for what appears to be a multi-course prix fixe of epic fantasy movies, but the meal offers little sustenance, despite a promising beginning. Based on a series of video games, the film looks like a cartoon. The CGI slathered on the orcs is mostly tolerable, but the humans’ costumes look like they’re from a Power Rangers episode. Despite these flaws (not to mention a “horde” of one-dimensional main characters who are barely more memorable than the CGI mobs that fill the backgrounds), Warcraft is entertaining in its own right, merely because fans will have a certain anticipation for movie versions of now-classic game characters. Also, it underscores the breakdown of communication between two different forms of storytelling. As a sorcerer, Ben Foster does his due diligence in a role that makes him look like Jesus in a comedy sketch about him and the Apostles dressing up for Scarborough Faire. Also with Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Toby Kebbell, Dominic Cooper, Ben Schnetzer, Ruth Negga, Daniel Wu, Callum Keith Rennie, and Clancy Brown. — S.S.
X-Men: Apocalypse (PG-13) Bryan Singer finally loses the plot in this installment set in 1983 that features the mutants being forced to band together to fight an all-powerful villain (Oscar Isaac) bent on destroying the world, just like every other supervillain in these movies. This film has its share of incidental pleasures like Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) taking to a leadership role with the students and the relationship between Jean Grey and Scott Summers (Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan) being reimagined as a teen romance. Still, Singer’s action sequences are weak, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is reduced to a mere pawn, and the whole thing feels overstuffed. The series needs new blood behind the camera. Also with James McAvoy, Evan Peters, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Olivia Munn, Alexandra Shipp, Lana Condor, Lucas Till, and Josh Helman.
Buddymoon (NR) David Giuntoli stars in this comedy as a man who gets dumped by his fiancée days before their wedding and goes hiking through the Oregon mountains with his best man (Flula Borg). Also with Claire Coffee.
Maggie’s Plan (R) Greta Gerwig stars in this comedy as a young woman who tries to repair the relationship between her ex-boyfriend (Ethan Hawke) and his ex-wife (Julianne Moore). Also with Maya Rudolph, Travis Fimmel, Bill Hader, and Wallace Shawn.
A Monster with a Thousand Heads (NR) Jana Raluy stars in this Argentinian thriller as a woman who creates a hostage situation when her insurance company refuses to pay for treatment for her severely ill husband. Also with Sebastián Aguirre, Hugo Albores, Emilio Echevarría, Verónica Falcón, and Daniel Giménez Cacho.
Wiener-Dog (R) The latest film by Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse) follows a dachshund as it passes through the hands of various dysfunctional owners. Starring Greta Gerwig, Julie Delpy, Zosia Mamet, Kieran Culkin, Tracy Letts, and Danny DeVito.