Hotel Transylvania (PG). Kids will no doubt giggle their way through this animated monster comedy. But the jokes are pretty lowbrow. Dracula built a castle on a mountain in Transylvania to cater only to monsters. Now his daughter, Mavis, is a teenager, and her dad’s overprotective. A nice human backpacker named Jonathan knocks on the hotel door. Of course, Jonathan and Mavis hit it off. What’s a vampire dad to do?
THE BOTTOM LINE: Kids may flinch at seeing the monsters and at seeing Dracula and Mavis turn into bats. There are jokes about drinking blood. Dracula has a temper, and his face goes scarily red.
Here Comes the Boom (PG). A painfully weak and predictable “family” comedy, “Boom” goes for every boneheaded gag and bad-teacher stereotype. Even so, kids 10 and older will have fun watching star Kevin James get slammed. Scott is a burned-out high-school biology teacher. But he gets inspired when he learns that the music program will shut down because of a lack of funds, and Marty, the mild-mannered music teacher, will lose his job. Scott feels a surge of his old idealism and blurts out an offer to raise money to save the program. A former high-school wrestler, Scott finds out he can earn thousands just for being defeated in a mixed martial arts match. Soon Scott is grappling for music education and love.
THE BOTTOM LINE: There is major mayhem in the fight cages, and some of it looks painful. Scott projectile vomits in the ring. There’s discussion about Marty’s 48-year-old wife getting pregnant. The film features crude language, mild sexual innuendo and comic stereotypes of immigrants.
Frankenweenie (PG). This deliciously dark feature could transfix many kids 10 and older who like scary stuff, but it also could petrify some. Young Victor Frankenstein is a quiet, friendless science whiz. When his beloved dog, Sparky, is killed by a car, Victor digs him up, stitches him back together and brings him back to life. Victor tries to keep his experiment a secret, but soon, less-talented classmates hear of it and start experimenting on other dead animals.
The bottom line: Parents really need to think about what their own children can handle on a big screen and in 3-D. When dead animals are transformed, they emerge as monsters and terrorize the town. The adults react like a mob.
Taken 2. This time, former CIA operative Bryan Mills and his ex-wife, Lenore, are abducted by Albanian criminals, and their daughter, Kim, must help rescue them. The gunplay and scenes of nongraphic but strongly implied torture may prove too harsh for middle-schoolers. Bryan can direct Kim’s actions as the thriller unfolds in the back alleys of Istanbul. We learn that the father of one of the thugs Bryan killed in Europe wants revenge.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The mayhem features a lot of gunplay but little blood. Bryan kills several people with his bare hands. There is mild profanity. Bryan says the men he killed in the first film were kidnapping girls to sell into prostitution. Kim faces mortal danger, and her mother sustains injuries.
Argo. The fact-based story in “Argo” makes for a crackerjack thriller under director and star Ben Affleck’s sure hand. The brains, wit and tension will keep high-schoolers 16 and older as well as college film buffs totally engaged and impart a slice of history along the way. Six American foreign service personnel escaped the U.S. Embassy in Tehran just as Islamist revolutionaries took it over in 1979. The six took refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s home, but it wasn’t safe for them to stay. CIA agent Tony Mendez calls a Hollywood special-effects makeup artist he knows. They invent a sci-fi movie project called “Argo,” based on an actual script. Mendez then travels to Tehran under the guise of scouting locations. We know how it turns out, but the plan is risky and the camera work is nervous, creating a heightened sense of tension.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The script is riddled with strong profanity. Characters smoke and drink a lot. One scene shows Iranian revolutionaries shooting a man in the street. Scenes depicting angry mobs and armed revolutionary guards bristle with tension. Both real and re-enacted footage of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy is upsetting to watch.
Seven Psychopaths. A riotous and ingenious criminal farce, “Seven Psychopaths” is too bloody and full of foul language for children younger than 17. It will delight college-age film buffs with its dark humor and bizarre characters. Marty has writer’s block. He starts to borrow stories his pal Billy, a struggling actor, tells him. Billy earns extra money helping an aging con man, Hans, kidnap people’s dogs. But Marty and Hans make a mistake when they snatch a murderous gangster’s Shih Tzu.
The bottom line: The film is full of bloody, up-close gun and knife violence. There is a reenactment of a Vietnam War-era protest in which a Buddhist monk sets himself on fire. In addition to streaming profanity, characters use racial and ethnic slurs. They also drink and smoke a lot. There is a brief, semi-explicit sexual situation and brief drug use. Hans’s wife is in the hospital with terminal cancer.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.