BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE (PG, 100 minutes)
A sweet story of a lonely little girl and the shaggy stray dog who teaches her how to make friends and bring happiness to others, "Because of Winn-Dixie" includes more real sadness and religious content than many mainstream films geared to children. It also unfolds a tad slowly for some fidget-prone kids. However, the movie (based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo) has many rewards -- a strong cast playing complicated, flawed, but likable adults; an adorable pooch; and an eccentric, small-Southern-town atmosphere that avoids many stereotypes. Credit director Wayne Wang for his light touch.
The Family Filmgoer recommends this film for children 8 and older, but parents should note the more somber elements in what is, overall, an entertaining and optimistic film. These include the fact that the young heroine's mother walked out on the family years before. The girl barely remembers her and begs her father, who still grieves about it, to recall her mother for her. There are several discussions with him and other grown-ups about adults with troubled pasts -- drinking problems, jail, lonely lives. The script contains one middling swear word; a bit of doggy-poop humor; gross, kid-type insults; and upsetting moments when officers try to take Winn-Dixie or when a surly landlord remarks how he once shot a dog.
Kindergarteners on Up
"Pooh's Heffalump Movie" (G). Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Tigger and Eeyore venture into Heffalump Hollow to track the dreaded beast, while Baby Roo befriends a baby Heffalump and realizes their prejudices are silly, in charming Disney animated feature (68 minutes), with storybook visuals, leisurely pace, quiet humor that keep the tone, if not the Britishness, of A.A. Milne's Pooh stories, while inventing a new one; one too many nice songs by Carly Simon could cause fidgets. Tots may get nervous seeing dark Heffalump Hollow or when Roo falls into a hole and must be saved.
10 and Older
"Are We There Yet?" (PG). Ice Cube in crass, unfunny "family comedy" stuffed with fake sentiment and stilted child actors, about bachelor "player" who hates kids but falls for a divorcee (Nia Long) and agrees to drive her obnoxious daughter (Aleisha Allen) and son (Philip Daniel Bolden) from Portland to Vancouver, where she's on a business trip; they expertly sabotage him. Many "comic" scenes put kids in danger: as passengers in scary highway chases, hopping a freight train, briefly trying to operate an SUV and a truck; crotch kicks, flatulence, vomit, toilet jokes; mild profanity; crude language.
"Hitch." Slick, glib, irresistible, perfectly cast romantic comedy with Will Smith as Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, a "date doctor" who teaches shy New Yorkers like Albert the accountant (Kevin James) how to woo women; then Alex meets a smart, gorgeous gossip columnist (Eva Mendes) who makes him forget he vowed never to fall in love himself. A relatively chaste PG-13, but with much verbal sexual innuendo, some of it crude and misogynistic; a man is kicked in the crotch and slammed against an anatomically correct bronze bull; fairly strong profanity; character gets high on antihistamines. Teens.
"Boogeyman." Surprisingly well-acted creepfest -- part horror, part psychological thriller -- with little gore but lots of tension, shadows, sudden shocks and rather lame finale; young man (Barry Watson) can't shake belief that his father was snatched away by a boogeyman -- a monster in the closet he remembers from when he was 8 and believes still stalks him; he goes home to face his fears. Implied violence; glimpses of demons; little boy scared out of his wits in prologue, seeing his father taken; dead mother lying in casket; crow smashes into windshield; zombie-like children; sexual innuendo; implied toplessness; drinking. Iffy for middle schoolers.
"The Wedding Date." Intermittently droll, but largely pallid, imitative romantic romp stars Debra Messing as single New Yorker who hires male escort (Dermot Mulroney) to pose as her boyfriend at her half sister's (Amy Adams) English wedding, because the ex-boyfriend (Jeremy Sheffield) who broke her heart will be there. Example of PG-13 ratings-creep: lots of nudge-nudge sexual humor, at times with surprisingly explicit language; scenes edge close to showing more explicit sexual trysts, nudity; plot hinges on arrangement that amounts to prostitution; profanity, smoking, drinking. High schoolers.
"Rory O'Shea Was Here." Flawed Irish film entertains with flashes of irreverent humor, but oversells its tale with too much sentimentality; two young men in wheelchairs, both with severe physical disabilities, become pals at an institution; mild Michael (Steven Robertson), with cerebral palsy and unintelligible speech, and rebellious Rory O'Shea (James McAvoy), with muscular dystrophy and a very intelligible trash mouth, get an apartment in Dublin and hire a pretty girl (Romola Garai) as a helper; soon love pangs, health concerns and "normal life" test their friendship. Strong profanity and sexual innuendo; drinking. 16 and up.
Young Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) narrates her story, referring to her Baptist minister dad (Jeff Daniels) as the Preacher. They move into a trailer park in a small Southern town where her dad takes over a congregation that meets in a convenience store. One day, in the Winn-Dixie supermarket, Opal meets a mischievous stray mutt she claims as her own to keep him out of trouble. She names him Winn-Dixie and takes him home. A wise dog with a faint smile, he helps Opal befriend an elderly librarian (Eva Marie Saint), a blind recluse (Cicely Tyson) and a shy pet shop manager (musician Dave Matthews). And they're all the better for it.
CONSTANTINE (R, 121 minutes)
Keanu Reeves brings a stylish, if poker-faced, intensity to the title role in "Constantine," as a seer/psychic who spots "half-breed" demons in human form, then exorcises and destroys them. Despite a few scenes of emotional oomph and stunning visuals (shattered glass suspended in midair, scenes of perdition recalling painter Hieronymus Bosch), this disjointed thriller makes little sense. Director Francis Lawrence, a music video whiz, has made another overproduced, underconceptualized epic based on characters from comics (in this case "Hellblazer" graphic novels) and by ripping off "The Exorcist." The movie takes ages to explain itself.
High schoolers who like occult thrillers laced with religious mysticism (though some families' beliefs forbid such entertainment) may find "Constantine" intriguing. The film is violent, but the gore is understated. Still, demonic characters morph into worm-snake-and-bug-infested creatures before Constantine blows them to ashes. The film shows someone smashed by a speeding car. There are two suicides; one implies cut wrists and shows a little blood, but no wounds. Other scenes portray characters nearly drowning, getting electric shock, pushing a corkscrew into a hand and coughing up blood. The film contains profanity, smoking, drinking and mild sexual innuendo.
As the "balance" in the tug of war for humankind shifts between emissaries of heaven and hell, Constantine battles Satan (Peter Stormare) and the angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) for his own soul.