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Film shorts

Here are capsule reviews of films playing at local theaters. They are from Associated Press and Los Angeles Times staff writers.

Blade 2 – A better vampire movie than recent entries such as “Queen of the Damned” or “Dracula 2000.” Yet Wesley Snipes’ return as slayer of the undead still is fairly anemic, relying on blood, glossy effects, high-kicking combat and a head-banging soundtrack rather than authentic chills and scares. But if you liked the original “Blade,” based on the Marvel comic book, you’ll probably like the sequel, which director Guillermo del Toro injects with a similar quotient of action and gore and an even higher body count. (R for strong pervasive violence, language, some drug use and sexual content. 117 min.)

Death to Smoochy – An immense disappointment, given the cast (Danny DeVito, Edward Norton, Robin Williams, Catherine Keener) and the concept (an ousted kids’ TV show host seeks revenge on the guy who replaced him). Granted, it’s a heavy satire, but it didn’t have to be oppressively heavy-handed. There are several laugh-out-loud one-liners, and a couple of truly inspired moments. But not a single character is likable or well developed. It’s hard not to expect more from DeVito, who also directed, and writer Adam Resnick, an Emmy winner for his work on David Letterman’s show in the ’80s. (R for language and sexual references. 100 min.)



Clockstoppers – A thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi adventure about a teenage boy with a wristwatch that appears to make time stop all around him, while he moves about swiftly and invisibly. Bad guys kidnap his scientist father to harness that power for themselves. So it’s up to Zak (Jesse Bradford) and his beautiful companion, Francesca (Paula Garces), to make the rescue. Best visual treat: the striking scenes where time is basically frozen. (94 minutes, PG for mild language and action violence.)

E.T. – “E.T.” is back, and that has to be a good thing. “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (to give it its full name) is being reissued in a special 20th anniversary edition that features, we are assured, “never before-seen footage, state-of-the-art computer-generated enhancements, and a digitally-remixed soundtrack.” Impressive as all this is, it’s a bit beside the point. A new “E.T.” is not exactly what’s called for; what we want is to have the old one back so we can take pleasure in it one more time. Which is, thankfully, pretty much what has happened. (PG)



High Crimes – This court thriller has the dramatic punch of a parking ticket. Like umpteen other forgettable thrillers, “High Crimes” barely scrapes up enough suspense to occupy audiences’ minds. Ashley Judd stars as an attorney defending her husband, an ex-military operative accused of a civilian massacre in El Salvador. Morgan Freeman plays a shaggy-dog lawyer who helps her out. Judd and Freeman, reuniting for the first time since “Kiss the Girls,” project an agreeable camaraderie that makes the excess of thriller cliches in “High Crimes” more tolerable. A little. (PG-13 for violence, sexual content and language. 115 min.)

Ice Age – A mammoth, a saber-toothed tiger, a sloth and a “scrat”‘ confront the big chill in this computer-animated adventure. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary provide the voices. (PG, for mild peril.)

National Lampoon’s Van Wilder – Not as atrocious as it looks, it’s also not as funny as the best movies to carry the National Lampoon banner – 1976’s “Animal House,” which it aims to emulate, and the original “Vacation” from 1983. But for every stupid gag involving half-naked women or uncontrollable bodily functions, there’s a clever, laugh-out-loud line that sneaks up on you. Ryan Reynolds, as eternal college student Van Wilder, is charming enough to make the weaker material bearable and the stronger material effortlessly funny. Tara Reid, as a reporter at the school paper who falls for him, is cute but typically vapid. (R for strong sexual content, gross humor, language and some drug content. 95 min.)

Panic Room – Director David Fincher is at it again, using the same seemingly impossible tracking shots for which he made his name three years ago in “Fight Club.” The technique is almost enough to distract from the script, which begins with a weak premise and collapses into an unbelievably ridiculous series of twists. Jodie Foster is characteristically confident and controlled as a divorced mother who hides with her daughter in the panic room of their Manhattan home when burglars invade in the middle of the night. Her performance balances beautifully with the twitchy, manic energy of Jared Leto as one of the burglars. (R for violence and language. 110 min.)

The Rookie – High school baseball coach Dennis Quaid makes it to the big leagues at 35. Against all expectations, “The Rookie” turns out to be an unapologetically emotional film that doesn’t make you gag, one that manages to be sentimental without turning into a shameless wallow. Based on a true story. With Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez and Brian Cox. (G)


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