Dir. Harold Zwart; writ. Ashley Edward Miller; feat. Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon (PG)
Teenaged CIA operative Cody Banks has all the concerns common to adolescence, and some that aren't so common - his mission is to woo a foxy girl so he can learn more about her
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos reprises her role as Mystique in X2: X-Men United.
scientist father, who works for the world's most color-coordinated terrorists. What follows is stupid semi-fun that follows every rule and strays from nary an entrenched convention of the genre. The film's vision of the CIA, folksy agents who will help you wash dishes and who ride around headquarters in fleets of Segways, is a candy-coated image difficult to reconcile with reality - but this is a kids' movie, neither eager nor able to look beneath the polish of adolescent fantasies. JW

Dir. Peter Segal; writ. David Dorfman; feat. Jack Nicholson, Adam Sandler, Marisa Tomei, Luis Guzmán, John Turturro (PG-13)
The director of Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, brings us this season's dumb-and-dumberered down version of Punch-Drunk Love, in which Sandler is oddly less volatile than in any of his other films. No coincidence is too outlandish for these filmmakers, no star cameo too silly to be included in the hopes that, amid the hoopla, you won't notice how flat this film reallly is. JD

Dir. John McTiernan; writ. James Vanderbilt; feat. John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen (R)
A convoluted mess of a mystery that defies logic and explanation, Basic offers a few good characterizations, a lot of screaming by Travolta and Jackson (though the two only appear together in one scene), and Giovanni Ribisi puking blood from a hospital bed. In this time of war, Basic offers little in the way of social commentary; sadly, it even fails as a conscience-free action film. SM

Dir: Gurinder Chadha; writ. Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges; feat. Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (PG-13)
Beckham is the endearing story of culture clash - between England and India, masculine and feminine, straight and gay, immigrants and their assimilating children. While Jess rejects the cultural role assigned her, Bend It Like Beckham follows the conventions of inspirational sports movies - montage of matches, crisis in the team we are rooting for, a modicum of suspense over who wins the big game. Relentlessly cheerful, it is Rocky served up with samosas and bitters. SGK

Dir. Adam Shankman; writ. Jason Filardi; feat. Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart (PG-13)
Queen Latifah is an escaped convict who intends to disrupt tax attorney Steve Martin's life until he helps clear her name. Blacks and whites may truly live in different worlds, but the filmmakers behind House don't know much about either one; only Eugene Levy, as a repressed white man in lust with a black woman, grasps the absurdity of this, and as a result gets most of the laughs in this bland, mechanical film. JD

Dir. Paul Hunter; writ. Ethan Reiff; feat. Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King (PG-13)
While ostensibly a tale of reluctant heroism and inner-peace gobbledygook, Monk is really just another vehicle for trotting out the horsewhipped East vs. West culture clash and all that goes with it. Since Monk is "enlightened" and polar-opposite Kar has no doubt spent a third of his life watching network television, the screenwriters are able to have an easy, paint-by-number time of things, apparently in the hopes that you will, too, and not resent it. JW

Dir. Linda Mendoza; writ. Laura Angelica Simon; feat. Roselyn Sanchez, Sofia Vergara, Jaci Velasquez, Eduardo Verástegui, Lisa Vidal (PG)
How many screenwriters does it take to write drivel? Four, say the credits to Chasing Papi. Three must have been busy changing a light bulb, since one is enough to conjure up this fluff about a three-timing ad executive whose women get wise, then even - despite moments in which Chasing Papi promises the madcap mirth of Billy Wilder, it settles for being much tamer. SGK

Dir. Rob Marshall; writ. Bill Condon; feat. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, Christine Baranski (PG-13)
Never mind that the story's moral is stale and the musical's Bob Fosse roots are dyed beyond recognition. Chicago has the kind of infectious flash and flair that could make people take musicals seriously again. Marshall could have let some of his song-and-dances play out with fewer edits, but other sequences are perfect. And who'd have guessed? - Zeta-Jones was born for this stuff, and proves it in every scene. JD

Dir. Jon Amiel; writ. Cooper Layne; feat. Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Tcheky Karyo (PG-13)
Compared to the protagonists of Armageddon, these guys and one gal are fairly likeable. But it's always a bad sign when the only truly interesting character is played by binary code. The interior of the planet, full of sweeping magma plumes, amethyst canyons, and Brobdignagian diamonds the size of ocean liners is a CGI masterwork worth watching when nothing else is, but by no means is enough to justify The Core's two-hour-and-15-minute running time. JW

Dir. and writ. James Cameron; feat. Cameron, Bill Paxton (G)
The rotting husk of the

A scene from Ghosts of the Abyss.
world's most famous ship comes alive here, with one of Hollywood's most gifted spectacle-makers using 3-D cameras to document the wreckage of the Titanic. James Cameron uses generous doses of computer imagery and re-created sets to show how great masses were once elegant decks and sepulchral chambers were once luxurious staterooms -- combining science, history, and gee-whiz effects in a very satisfying way. JD

Dir. Chris Rock; writ. Rock, Ali LeRoi; feat. Rock, Bernie Mac, Tamala Jones, Lynn Whitfield, Dylan Baker, Robin Givens (PG-13)
Chris Rock plays an ordinary Joe who gets to run for President in this, his debut film as a director. Behind the camera, Rock has the grace and skill of a middle-schooler, but every now and then his awkwardness works to the advantage of gags that come out of nowhere and wouldn't make sense in a better-made film. With Bernie Mac to strongarm some laughs out of the crowd and a decent joke here and there, it's no big thrill - but at least it's more engaging than the other racial comedy out there, Bringing Down the House. JD

Dir. Andrew Davis; writ. Louis Sachar; feat. Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Patricia Arquette (PG)
An engaging, worthwhile, and clever film for both children and adults, Holes follows young Sidney Yelnats into a mysterious desert reformatory. It's good to see a kids' film with a multicultural cast, even if the filmmakers do resort to the oldmotif in which noble black savages help a white protagonist "build character." SM

Dir. Stephen Daldry; writ. David Hare, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham; feat. Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Jeff Daniels, Claire Danes, John C. Reilly (PG-13)
An extraordinary act of homage (nay, femage) to the woman who wrote Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf, The Hours is a lushly layered fulfillment of Woolf's aspiration "to look life in the face and to know it." The film does not attempt to explain despair, merely to confront it fully, through a single day in the lives of three women living in different cities and eras - women portrayed by an ensemble that provides a workshop in the intricacies of the acting art. SGK

Dir. & writ. Rob Zombie; feat. Karen Black, Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Sheri Moon, Chris Hardwick, Jennifer Jostyn, Rainn Wilson, Erin Daniels (R)
Those who have seen Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will immediately find Rob Zombie's House to be a tacky, trite imitation of the seminal 1974 horror film. In an attempt to distinguish his film from today's WB-populated horror dreck, the shock rocker has the story take place in 1977 - but the heavy metal maven cannot help himself from parroting Natural Born Killers and Oliver Stone's manic, montage-heavy style, making House more a butchery of Massacre's legacy than a tribute to it. AL

Dir. William Friedkin; writ. David & Peter Griffiths, Art Monterastelli; feat. Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen, Jenna Boyd, Leslie Stefanson (R)
In some ways, it more than resembles a Fugitive remake: Jones is the ubermanhunter, his prey escapes after the van ferrying him to his doom overturns in an accident, and the chase takes a dramatic turn involving a surprise plunge in deep water. A few viewers will empathize with Del Toro, whose years as a black ops military man may have made him a paranoid killer. Friedkin strips his manhunter story to its bones, which works perfectly for this testosterone showcase. He stumbles briefly with a couple of contrivances near the end, but more than compensates with two extraordinarily brutal scenes of hand-to-hand combat, maybe the best sequences of their kind ever shot. JD

Dir. Fred Schepisi; writ. Jesse Wigutow; feat. Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Bernadette Peters (PG-13)
A film that will no doubt enthrall Entertainment Tonight watchers, bring reverent smiles to the faces of Hollywood glitterati, and bore the hell out of everyone else, Family is an uneventful two hours of affected dysfunction. The film's crises are sleepy and inoffensive, and seem intended only as impetus for group Douglas hugs. As individuals, the Douglases are eminently watchable; this Family, however, proves that the whole isn't always greater than the sum of its parts. JW

Dir. Peter Jackson; writ. J.R.R. Tolkien (novel), Fran Walsh; feat. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom (PG-13)
The second installment in what is shaping up to be the greatest fantasy film of our age jumps right in, skipping the exposition that bothered some in the first film, and emphasizing the slow-motion icons it has created. JD

Dir. Joel Schumacher; writ. Larry Cohen; feat. Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Radha Mitchell, Katie Holmes (R)
One location, one central actor: You've gotta give Phone Booth bonus points for pulling off something few films would dare. Farrell gives an appropriately over-the-top performance as a public-relations huckster cornered by a sniper with an overgrown sense of self-righteousness, and director Joel Schumacher is smart enough not to adorn this lean, no-frills thriller with a lot of extraneous nonsense. (The screenplay heaps enough pulpy, hyperbolic complications onto the scenario that nobody need add to it.) JD

Dir. Bryan Singer; writ. Michael Dougherty, Daniel P. Harris; feat. Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Anna Paquin (PG-13)
Somehow expanding on the original in opposite directions at once, this slam-bang sequel: introduces compelling new characters and enhances minor ones while still letting Ian McKellen shine as Magneto; features more and better action scenes while also enhancing the quieter social messages introduced in the first film; stuffs the frame with insider comic references while making the comic's serpentine plotlines digestible to newcomers. Excelsior! JD

Films reviewed by:
AL: Albert Lopez
JD: John DeFore
JM: Jonathan Marcus
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
LMF: Laura Fries
JW: Joe Weiss
AP: Alejandro Pérez


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