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The Family Filmgoer

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page WE34

ROBOTS (PG, 91 minutes)

A delightful computer-animated concoction that rivals "The Incredibles," this ingenious fable about a robot world, painted in Fiestaware colors and designed in Rube Goldbergesque style, should enchant kids 6 and older. The smart, funny script includes occasional mild sexual innuendo and crude humor: Baby robots come in a box and parents must assemble them, so someone remarks that "making the baby is the fun part." A robot with huge screws through it carries a sign, "Got Screwed." A nice 'bot named Aunt Fanny crashes into things with her wide derriere. There are toilet humor jokes about oil changes and flatulence. A hellish underworld called the Chop Shop, where old robots are melted down, could briefly scare younger kids.

The hero of this populist tale is a bright-eyed young robot named Rodney Copperbottom (voice of Ewan McGregor), the son of a lowly dishwasher 'bot (Stanley Tucci). Rodney wants to be an inventor. After a helper he creates to make his dad's job easier backfires, Rodney leaves for Robot City to make his fortune and help his parents. He goes to see the robot maker, Bigweld (Mel Brooks), whose motto has always been "see a need, fill a need," but Bigweld is "away." The 'bot in charge, Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), has usurped Bigweld's place and is collecting spare parts so old robots can't repair themselves -- a reversal of Bigweld's policy. He wants to make new robots for more money, and his mother, Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent), wants him to round up all old robots and melt them down.

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Rodney makes friends with a motley crew of dented 'bots, among them the cut-up Fender (Robin Williams), the pigtailed Piper (Amanda Bynes) and the sympathetic executive Cappy (Halle Berry). He uses his skills to repair damaged robots. This gets the villains' attention, but also launches a "we are not junk" revolt. Power to the " 'Robots'!"

HOSTAGE (R, 113 minutes)

Children are exposed to thundering violence and criminality in this adrenaline-pumping, but operatically lurid Bruce Willis thriller -- a poor choice for teenagers under 17 and many tender souls who are older. The violence is often point blank and bloody. An early scene shows a young child dead, his face covered with blood, after his father has gone berserk with a gun. That killing occurs off-camera, though we hear the shot. Later in the film, two children are put at grave risk. Apart from gun violence, the mayhem includes flash fires and a stabbing. There are a few instances of crude sexual innuendo, including a not-so-subtle hint that a teenage female hostage could be raped. That doesn't happen, but the film exploits the potential, showing her fully clothed, but tied to a bed. It also features strong profanity, marijuana use and implied nonsexual semi-nudity.

Willis returns to his iconic persona as a stressed-out cop, trying to save both strangers and those he loves from a volatile situation. In the movie's prologue, as LAPD hostage negotiator Jeff Talley, he sees a situation go sour when a crazed husband shoots his wife and child, then kills himself. A year later, a somber Talley has moved his own wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and daughter (Rumer Willis) to a quiet suburb, where he is police chief. A wealthy widower (Kevin Pollak), his little boy (Jimmy Bennett) and teenage daughter (Michelle Horn) live in a fortresslike mansion outside town, but that doesn't stop a violent incursion by delinquent brothers (Jonathan Tucker and Marshall Allman) and their psychopathic pal (Ben Foster). This forces Talley into action. With plot thickeners added mid-film, "Hostage" grows so overwrought, its child endangerment so vile, that audiences may leave feeling spent and sullied.

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