American Wedding
Dir. Jesse Dylan; writ. Adam Herz; feat. Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Eugene Levy (R)
Proving that it is possible for a movie series' characters to mature independent of the series itself, American Wedding gives us characters old enough for matrimony in a flick more juvenile than American Pie. The world outside of high school is an unpredictable place, and the routine zaniness of AP just doesn't live up to it. JD

Bad Boys II
Dir. Michael Bay; writ. Ron Shelton, Jerry Stahl; feat. Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Gabrielle Union, Joe Pantoliano (R)
Bad Boys II holds true to form: It is 90 minutes of guilty summer pleasure, with an hour-long A-Team episode tacked to the end for good measure. Actually, this one has more kicks than its predecessor. Will Smith, who has become a huge star since the first film, rejoins Martin Lawrence to wear flashy clothes, drive a hot car, and shoot guns at drug dealers in sweat-drenched Florida. But this is summertime, and Bad Boys scratches a certain sleazy action niche, delivering all the right poses and wisecracks. JD

Bend It Like Beckham
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

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Dir. McG; writ. John August; feat. Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Demi Moore, Bernie Mac (PG-13)
The first installment, we can now safely say, was a fluke: The man who calls himself McG was not meant to direct motion pictures. Even Tinseltown's most likable babes can't save this incoherent T&A fest, which is heavy on the costume changes but woefully short on clever jokes - and entirely lacking when it comes to enjoyable action, despite the director's delusion that he's a goodchase-scene choreographer. JD

Finding Nemo
Dir. Andrew Stanton; writ. Andrew Stanton; feat. Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould (G)
Finding Nemo is a proud continuation of the Pixar tradition, coming alive with the perfect ratio of drama to hyperkinetic irreverence that made its predecessors such lucrative, critically lauded efforts. For every pratfall the kids will find hilarious, the script provides a dash of higher-brow humor parents can appreciate, all set against an unprecedented backdrop of color and motion that's impossible to ignore. If distributor Disney wants to recapture the lost magic of their past, they needn't look far to see how. JW

The Gatekeeper
Writ. & dir. John Carlos Frey; feat. Frey, Michelle Agnew, Anne Betancourt, Joel Brooks, Joe Pascual, Kai Lennox, J. Patrick McCormack, Tricia O'Kelley (R)
The Gatekeeper is an impassioned polemic against demonizing the 11 million people, 80 percent of them Mexican, who have illegally crossed the porous borders of the United States. Perhaps not since El Norte has a feature film so graphically portrayed the hardships endured by those desperate enough to attempt a breach of this country's southern boundary. It draws the viewer into a daily drama of exclusion and exploitation that most citizens of the United States are content to ignore. SGK

Ghosts of the Abyss
Dir. and writ. James Cameron; feat. Cameron, Bill Paxton (G)
The rotting husk of the 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. Martin Brest; writ. Brest; feat. Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Bartha, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Lainie Kazan (R)
It's prounouced "G-lee," like "really." Like really, really bad. Even the retarded kids loses his Tourett's Syndrome and his mentally challenged charm mid-movie. WK

Jet Lag (Dècalage horaire)
Dir. Danièle Thompson; writ. Christopher Thompson, Danièle Thompson; feat. Juliette Binoche, Jean Reno, Sergio López, Scali Delpeyrat (R)
An effervescent import, Jet Lag could be called a "freedom film," not simply to appease American hegemonists who tried to rename French fries, but also because this French romantic comedy pits the urge for personal independence against the need to be connected. SGK

The Hulk
Dir. Ang Lee; writ. James Schamus, John Turman, Michael France; feat. Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte, Josh Lucas, Paul Kersey (PG-13)
Yes, the new CGI Hulk looks real - at least as much so as Ahnuld, Pam Anderson, and his other Hollywood peers -but the real star of this movie is the giddy way in which director Ang Lee appropriates comic-book language for cinematic purposes, splitting the screen in a hundred ways while telling a story that may be a lot darker than we expect from Marvel-ous minds, but is still pretty fun. JD

The Italian Job
Dir. F. Gary Gray; writ. Donna & Wayne Powers; feat. Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Jason Statham, Mos Def, Donald Sutherland (PG-13)
Smooth and likeable, this caper remake takes itself far less seriously than "Heist" or "The Score," which is a good thing considering the charming sidemen surrounding leading man Mark Wahlberg. The initial caper is so clever it outshines the more elaborate one that closes the story -- and both are overshadowed by the trio of Mini Coopers that sometimes seem to be the film's reason for being. JD

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life
Dir. Jan de Bont; writ. Steven E de Souza & James V. Hart; feat. Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciarán Hinds, Chris Barrie, Noah Taylor, Djimon Hounsou (PG-13)
Standard, unimpressive fare, TR2 is all the more disappointing considering that director Jan de Bont once helmed an enjoyable, if light, movie about a runaway bus. Here, it seems the movement all but grinds to a halt outside of a brief-but-enjoyable fight between our heroine and a secondary villain 30 minutes into the movie. AP

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Dir. Stephen Norrington; writ. James Dale Robinson, based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill; feat. Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, Ridcahrd Roxburgh (PG-13)
In 1899, Allan Quartermain, Tom Sawyer, Captain Nemo, and a few other fictional characters, not all of them extraordinary or gentlemen, form a coalition of the reluctantly willing to fight a brilliant rogue bent on world domination. If the movie seems to follow comic book formulas of good and evil, it might be because the screenplay began in a comic book. Why bother to set a movie in 1899 if the story is simply Terminator by gaslight? SGK

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde
Dir. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld; writ. Kate Kondell; feat. Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Bob Newhart, Luke Wilson, Jennifer Coolidge, Regina King, Jessica Cauffiel, Alanna Ubach (PG-13)
You can only be surprised by something once, and this sequel - for which none of the original filmmakers have returned - expects all its tired tricks to work again and again. Sadly, the spark of the first film is completely gone, and even the famously delightful Witherspoon can't bring the rote plot to life. JD

The Matrix Reloaded
Dir. and writ. Andy & Larry Wachowski; feat. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harold Perrineau Jr. (R)
In this hyper-anticipated sequel, the Wachowski brothers appear to have taken the hype to heart, insisting on making everything bigger and bolder. The action is appropriately hyperbolic, then, but so is the endless philosophical pontificating - which misses the point of the original film, in which the heavy themes were demonstrated by the plot as much as they were explicated by dialogue. JD

Dir. Michael Polish; writ. Mark & Michael Polish; feat. James Woods, Nick Nolte, Duel Farnes, Mark Polish, Daryl Hannah, Anthony Edwards (PG-13)
Northfork, which imagines the last 48 hours in the life of that town, isn't a real story - and to many viewers, won't seem like much of a movie. It's a strange, gray requiem for a slice of the American dream that isn't quite articulated but reverberates through the film like thunder beyond the horizon. JD

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Dir. Gore Verbinski; writ. Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio; feat. Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce (PG-13)
Yaaar! Against the odds, Disney's movie inspired by a theme park ride is a real trip, packing more grin-inducing thrills than most roller-coasters. Johnny Depp's kooky pirate captain is the main attraction, but a ship full of cursed skeleton-sailors runs a close second, as does a clever screenplay which manages to pack all the expected swashbuckling elements into a story that actually makes sense. JD

Writ. & dir. Gary Ross, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand; feat. Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens, William H. Macy (PG-13)
If only for its spectacular sequences of man-on-horse in motion, Seabiscuit is a splendid addition to the cinema of sports. But with the judicious use of stills and the voiceover of historian David McCullough, it also provides the snapshot of an era, the late 1930s, when Depression America was more than a little banged up, and the little colt that could gave hope to millions who could not. Seabiscuit is a horse's tale about underdogs, and from starting gate to finish line it is a timely and tonic reminder that once upon a time in America, neither wealth nor birth counted as much as spunk. SGK

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over
Dir. & writ. Robert Rodriguez; feat. Daryl Sabara, Ricardo Montalban, Alexa Vega, Sylvester Stallone, Salma Hayek, Mike Judge, Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino (PG)
The bulk of the film's running time takes place within a game, where retired kid spy Juni Cortez has been sent to rescue his sister Carmen, who is being held by a nefarious "Toymaker" (Sylvester Stallone). The less said about the story the better; it isn't oversimplifying to say that the plot is just about as rudimentary as that of an Atari console game circa 1985, with the rote challenges broken into arbitrary levels. JD

Swimming Pool
Dir. François Ozon; writ. Ozon, Emmanuéle Bernheim; feat. Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance, Marc Fayolle, Jean-Marie Lamour (R)
Ludivine is a babe. The young French actress, lithe and blonde, spends much of the film practically naked. But the film's real subject is the way Sagnier's casual yet supersized sexuality effects Charlotte Rampling's Sarah Morton, a middle-aged and emotonally constricted novelist. Hello Odd Couple. But what begins as a Felix-and-Oscar-style showdown quickly takes on a peculiar flavor - the older woman is fascinated by the girl and vice-versa. Just as the relationship between the two women grows most confusing, the film drops a bomb: A character disappears, and we suspect foul play. The movie begins to resemble one of Morton's whodunits. JD

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machine (Who Became Governor of California)
Dir. Jonathan Mostow; writ. John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris; feat. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, David Andrews, Mark Famiglietti (R)
In a summer of overwhelmingly disappointing sequels, low expectations work to T3's advantage. Unashamedly over-the-top without allowing its silliness to dilute the action, the latest installment finds Ahnuld (consciously or not) doing a perfect parody of his most famous character, and matches the original Terminator with a blonde, leather-clad babe (perhaps a model for Arnold's campaign manager?) who's even less garrulous than he is. It's pure pulp, with hardly a trace of the pompousness some of the advertising materials seem to promise. JD

28 Days Later
Dir. Danny Boyle; writ. Alex Garland; feat. Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Noah Huntley, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Stuart McQuarrie, Christopher Eccleson (R)
For once, a zombie movie you can sink your teeth into! With plague-devastate London as a backdrop and bleak videotape cinematography to capture it, Trainspotting director Danny Boyle gets off on the right foot. He seals the deal by giving us zombies who come at you like hellfire instead of sleepwalkers, and by working non-undead threats into the scenario. Forgive the occasional horror-film pitfalls, and go get scared. JD

Whale Rider
Dir. & writ. Niki Caro, based on a novel by Witi Ihimaera; feat. Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis (PG-13)
Filmed in spectacular coastal Whangara, on New Zealand's North Island, Whale Rider is a beguiling exercise in both ethnography and wish fulfillment. It is a South Pacific fish story that assumes respect for history and sympathy for social justice - and provides an inspiring, implausible conclusion that reduced the woman I saw it with to blubbering. SGK

X2: X-Men United
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:
GB: Gregg Barrios
JD: John DeFore
LMF: Laura Fries
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
AL: Albert Lopez
JM: Jonathan Marcus
AP: Alejandro Pérez
RP: Rich Perin
JW: Joe Weiss

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