Mr. Peabody & Sherman (PG). Will kids 6 and older be as amused as adults by this 3-D animated time-travel adventure featuring a genius talking dog and his adopted human son, both of them bespectacled nerds? Well, probably yes. The pooch Mr. Peabody is a master of science, history, math and more. He is also the inventor of the WABAC (as in way-back) time machine, in which he and his boy, Sherman, travel back to meet the likes of Marie Antoinette, Leonardo da Vinci and Gandhi. When Sherman starts school, a girl named Penny bullies and mocks him for having a dog for a dad. She headlocks him, so Sherman bites her. A grim social worker threatens to have Sherman taken away from Mr. Peabody. Hoping to mend fences, Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents to dinner. Sherman and Penny play with the WABAC machine, and Penny gets stuck in ancient Egypt. Mr. Peabody puts her parents in a trance while he and Sherman go get her, with stops in Renaissance Florence and ancient Troy.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The script includes mild sexual innuendo that only adults will catch, toilet humor and adult characters who drink.
Non-Stop. High-schoolers who don’t mind their action heroes a little haggard can get an adrenaline jolt from this formulaic flick as it pushes our post-9/11 fear buttons, including racial profiling, and then debunks a few of them. “Non-Stop” is a tad violent for middle-schoolers. Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) may be an air marshal, but he still grips the arm rest during takeoff on his London flight. Soon after, threatening text messages start popping up on his phone. The anonymous texter is on the plane and knows who Bill is, though air marshals travel undercover. The texter warns that he’ll kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless he gets $150 million. As tension builds and deaths occur, the texter incriminates Bill as the bad guy. Bill must hunt for the killer among people who don’t trust him. The finale is not for nervous flyers.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The violence isn’t bloody, but it involves neck-breaking, head-banging, pistol-whipping, shooting and an explosion. Characters drink and use a few moderate swear words. A subplot involves illegal drugs.
3 Days to Kill. Picturesque European streets and zippy car chases don’t hide the fact that this thriller, starring Kevin Costner as a sick-and-tired CIA spy, makes no sense. Relatively gore-free, yet too coldly violent for middle-schoolers, it may divert high-schoolers at matinee prices. Costner plays Ethan, a ragged agent who learns he is terminally ill, retires and heads home to Paris, hoping to reconnect with his estranged wife and teenage daughter. Just as he’s poised to win them over, Ethan is waylaid by an agent who offers him an experimental drug in return for killing a list of terrorists holed up in Paris.
The bottom line: There are point-blank gun deaths, bone-crushing fights, implied beheadings, explosions and gun battles on wheels. The film makes light of Ethan’s use of torture. The language features rare midrange profanity. Scantily clad club dancers move suggestively, and there is other, moderately steamy, sometimes comic, sexual innuendo. Adults drink.
300: Rise of an Empire. This loud, bloody sequel/prequel to “300” is not meant for viewers younger than 17 because of its blood-gushing battles and an explicit sexual situation. In the first film, Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas fought to their deaths against the invading Persian forces of Xerxes at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. In “Rise of an Empire,” Leonidas’s widow, Queen Gorgo, recounts what led to the war — the killing of Xerxes’s father by a Greek general, Themistokles, years earlier. The Persians came back for revenge and Themistokles feels responsible. After the defeat at Thermopylae, he leads a small Greek navy against a huge Persian armada led by bloodthirsty Artemisia, hoping that Gorgo and her Spartan forces will join in the battle for a free, united Greece.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The blood gushes operatically as Greek and Persian warriors hack through necks, torsos and limbs. A single sadomasochistic sexual situation with partial nudity gets quite explicit. There is rare but strong sexual language.
12 Years a Slave. Based on the published memoir of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was abducted and sold into slavery, this harrowing, stunning film — which won best picture at the Academy Awards last Sunday — offers a shattering insight into the South’s “peculiar institution.” Too disturbing and violent for middle-schoolers, it should perhaps be required viewing for high-schoolers mature enough to handle the material and who are studying American history. Two white men invite Northup, a successful musician in Saratoga, N.Y., to Washington to perform. There, they ply him with wine, and Northup awakes in shackles in a cell. Transported south, Northup is sold, first to a relatively nonviolent owner, then to a new master, the drunken, violent Edwin Epps. Epps grows jealous of Northup’s platonic friendship with the slave Patsey, whom Epps covets and, in one scene, viciously rapes.
The bottom line: The beatings, whippings and torture to which Northup is subjected are intensely disturbing. Epps’s rape of Patsey feels graphic but not sexual. Characters use the N-word often.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.