Page 2 of 6
BURN AFTER READING 3 stars (R) A pair of dim-witted gym employees (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) blackmail a disgruntled CIA analyst (John Malkovich) in this comedy from the Coen brothers. In contrast to their bleak Oscar winner No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading offers a hilarious parody of spy thrillers, replete with sinister music and shadowy figures following the protagonists. The Coens' fondness for anticlimaxes diminishes the film's potential punch, but the hilarious performances alone would make it worth seeing, including Michael Clayton co-stars George Clooney and Tilda Swinton. -- Holman
CHOKE 2 stars (R) Character actor Clark Gregg adapted, directed and played a supporting role in this ineffectual version of the novel by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk. Sam Rockwell plays a "historical interpreter" at an 18th century village who struggles with sex addiction, tries to care for his demented mother (a charismatic Anjelica Huston) and chokes on food at restaurants so he can scam his rescuers. Choke retains Palahniuk's snide, aggressive voice and engineers some memorably dark gags, but the different plot threads never add up to much. -- Holman
COLLEGE (R) Drake Bell, Kevin Covias and Andrew Caldwell star as three high school students who visit a college campus for a weekend and destroy a fraternity.
THE DARK KNIGHT 4 stars (PG-13) Director Christopher Nolan's follow-up to Batman Begins features such sharp conflicts, gritty locations and breathless action scenes that the flamboyant hero and villain costumes seem almost superfluous. The late Heath Ledger's creepy, charismatic turn as the anarchic Joker could have earned the actor a second career playing movie bad guys, while Aaron Eckhart's portrayal of district attorney Harvey Dent, the "white knight" of crime-ridden Gotham City, gives the film the dimensions of classic tragedy. As Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale doesn't seem to mind being upstaged. -- Holman
DISASTER MOVIE (PG-13) The makers of Date Movie and Meet the Spartans present this comedic send-up of disaster movies.
THE DUCHESS 3 stars (PG-13) Kiera Knightley plays the glamorous Georgiana Spencer, an 18th century ancestor of Princess Diana, who endured a similar romantic triangle in her marriage to the emotionally remote Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes). Saul Dibb's adaptation of the acclaimed biography focuses on pre-feminist social predicaments and proves smarter than the average bodice-ripper. If not a particularly deep period piece, it's still a lively, juicy one about domestic power struggles and the public value of having children (a point with echoes in the current presidential campaign). -- Holman
EAGLE EYE (PG-13) Two strangers (Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan) are thrown together when they receive calls from a mysterious woman and are forced into dangerous and illegal situations.
THE FAMILY THAT PREYS (PG-13) Two very different families (headed by Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard, respectively) come together to overcome greed and scandal in local Tyler Perry's sixth feature film.
FLY ME TO THE MOON (G) Three houseflies stow away on the Apollo 11 spaceship and fly to the moon in this first-ever all-CGI animated 3-D film.
GET SMART 2 stars (PG-13) In this adaptation of the 1960s sitcom, eager espionage analyst Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) is paired with gorgeous Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) to track down Russian nuclear material. With supporting players including Alan Arkin as the slow-burning chief, the spy spoof features smart casting but can't decide whether Carell's role should be likably naïve or a bumbling, overbearing know-it-all like Don Adams in the original show. Get Smart's fat jokes and lumbering stunt scenes evoke the lame action-comedies of the 1980s, and topical gags about subjects like airport profiling were funnier in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. -- Holman
GHOST TOWN 2 stars (PG-13) A misanthropic dentist ("The Office's" Ricky Gervais) has a near-death experience and discovers he can talk to ghosts, including a pushy jerk (Greg Kinnear) who wants to scuttle the remarriage of his widow (Téa Leoni). David Koepp's supernatural comedy plays less like a spoof of The Sixth Sense than a variation on Groundhog Day's redemption of a jerky guy, but the jokes feel undercooked. Such questions haunt the film as "Wouldn't it be funnier if Kinnear and Gervais, cast against type, switched roles?" and "Should you really spend a rom-com hoping the guy doesn't get the girl?" -- Holman
HAMLET 2 2 stars (R) Failed actor turned failing high school teacher Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) faces the closing of the drama department unless his misguided, autobiographical musical sequel to Hamlet turns out to be a hit. Although the comedy offers an overt spoof of inspirational-teacher films like Dangerous Minds, it's more reminiscent of Christopher Guest's portraits of American losers like Waiting for Guffman, only Coogan's overplayed characterization makes the jokes resemble shooting fish in a barrel. The show's opening night, with the musical number "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" is a hoot, but not enough to redeem the rest of the film. -- Holman