Agent Cody Banks – This amusing and breezy action-adventure and Bond franchise spoof would have us believe that the CIA has started recruiting early teens as future agents. A winning Frankie Muniz stars as such a junior spy, as skilled at derring-do as Jackie Chan and loaded with gadgets. Alas, he’s tongue-tied when it comes to wooing Hilary Duff, whose nave scientist father (Martin Donovan) is developing one of those devices with the power to destroy the world, oblivious to the naked evil of his backers (Ian McShane, Arnold Vosloo). (1:42. PG, for action violence, mild language and some sexual content.)
Basic – It seemed John Travolta couldn’t have fallen any farther than “Battlefield Earth.” And it seemed director John McTiernan couldn’t have fallen any farther than “Rollerball.” But they both have, and here it is: a film that tries to disguise its lazy plot and flimsy characters with twists that make no sense, and with a seemingly endless series of false endings that reveal everyone and no one as a villain at the same time. Travolta stars as a DEA agent investigating the disappearance of several Army Rangers, including his former sergeant (Samuel L. Jackson), in the Panamanian jungle. (1:35. R for violence and language.)
Bringing Down the House – In this odd-couple comedy, Queen Latifah plays a newly sprung convict who breaches the citadel of Steve Martin’s power lawyer. The alliance of one of the funniest and most under-deployed comics in movies with the hip-hop diva, it seems like comic kismet. Just the thought of Martin, who does uptight white guy better than anyone else, bouncing against Latifah’s implacable wall of cool is irresistible. It isn’t that you don’t laugh – it’s that too often you wish you hadn’t.(1:41. PG-13, for language, sexual humor and drug content.)
The Core – Director Jon Amiel’s journey-to-the-center-of-the-earth adventure isn’t quite the pits. It’s dumb fun at times, the movie’s affable knot of heroes providing heart and humor to occasionally make you forget the stupidity of the premise. Aaron Eckhart as a scruffy geophysicist and Hilary Swank as a space-shuttle pilot lead a repair team aboard a vessel that tunnels thousands of miles deep to detonate nukes that will jump-start Earth’s core, which has stopped spinning, creating doomsday atmospheric havoc. (2:15. PG-13 for sci-fi life/death situations and brief strong language.)
Dreamcatcher – Unspeakably bad – and shockingly so – considering that it’s an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, from the director of “The Big Chill” (Lawrence Kasdan) and the writer of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (William Goldman). This story of four longtime friends (Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Timothy Olyphant and Damian Lewis) who communicate telepathically is all over the place.(2:11. R for violence, gore and language.)
Head of State – The latest in a recent series of white-people-are-so-lame movies, following “Bringing Down the House,” “National Security” and “Kangaroo Jack.” This time, Chris Rock directs for the first time and stars as an alderman chosen to run for president against a very white, very Southern sitting vice president. In no time, he’s taught all his uptight campaign handlers how to get their freak on – fo’ shizzle! Typical of sketch-driven comedy, the jokes are hit and miss. The movie works best when Rock’s character makes off-the-cuff speeches, simply because it’s so similar to watching him do standup comedy. (1:35. PG-13 for language, some sexuality and drug references.)
The Hours – Exquisitely written, Michael Cunningham’s superlative novel is graced with a gift for elusive emotions and an effortless ability to delineate interior lives. Its complex, multilayered plot intertwines the stories of three women in three different time periods, women linked by their despair and the difficulty they have in finding a place for themselves in the world. All in all, definitely not the kind of situation Hollywood is most at home with. Yet, against hope and almost against reason, “The Hours” has turned out to be a splendid film. (1:51. PG-13, for mature thematic elements, some disturbing images and brief language.)
Piglet’s Big Movie – The petite, porky pink guy is so darn cute, it’s hard not to be charmed by this simple little movie. The second big-screen animated feature based on a Winnie the Pooh character (following 2000’s “The Tigger Movie”) is so sweet, so earnest, so utterly guileless. The 75-minute running time makes it the perfect first movie for very young children. For slightly older kids – 6 years old, max – there are positive messages about teamwork and friendship and appreciating the people who are important to you. (1:15. G.)
Rabbit-Proof Fence – This historical drama, based on a true story, follows the odyssey of three young Aboriginal girls who become victims of a government program and their efforts to escape from it, using the 1,500-mile rabbit-proof fence to find their way home. Following an Australian government edict in 1931 designed to “breed out” half and quarter-caste Aboriginal children, children were forcibly relocated to state-run schools where they were trained to become domestics and to behave like white Europeans. At age 14, Molly Craig was abducted. In an effort to go home, she led her sister and her cousin on an epic journey across the Australian desert in a true story of defiance and resilience.
View from the Top – It’s hard to imagine what attracted Gwyneth Paltrow to this sputtering, underfueled slapstick romance in which she stars as an aspiring flight attendant. Paltrow has revealed new and exciting depths to her considerable talent when working with comic filmmakers who challenge her, but director Bruno Barreto allows her to fall back on the cloying gestures she seemed, before now, to have shed. The movie tries to balance broad physical comedy with a plausible romance among characters you care about, but the slapstick doesn’t slap hard enough and the potentially boffo romantic pairing never takes off. (1:27. PG-13 for language and sexual references.)
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