SON OF THE MASK (PG, 86 minutes)
There may be enough live-action slapstick and cartoonish, computer-animated craziness in "Son of the Mask" to coax occasional chuckles from bored kids 9 and older. Yet there is just no way around the fact that this is one tiresome, unfunny, uglified movie. Intended as a sequel to the technologically groundbreaking 1994 film "The Mask" (rated PG-13), this film again has human (and canine) characters morphing into goggle-eyed creatures and back. The absence of original star Jim Carrey is not the only problem. The underdeveloped story and sophomoric dialogue just emphasize that this is a movie mostly about effects.
The three-dimensionality of the computer-animated scenes makes the mayhem more violent. Seeing live-action characters get Wile E. Coyote'd to smithereens, however quickly they recover, is just more intense. Kids under 9 may also find it unsettling to see a baby shape-shift into a dynamo of destruction, its limbs shooting out to rubbery lengths, its face distorted. The baby picks up his astonished dad and hurls him about. A dog morphs into a cartoony critter and tries to blow up the child. The movie also includes ordinary kicked-in-the-crotch gags, mild sexual innuendo, a young woman dancing in a bra and skirt, a gross scene in which the baby pees a torrent into his dad's face, and rare profanity.
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.
8 and Older
"Because of Winn-Dixie" (PG). Sweet, well-acted, leisurely told, bittersweet tale with spiritual dimension (based on Kate DiCamillo's book) about lonely girl (AnnaSophia Robb) living in a trailer park with her preacher dad (Jeff Daniels); her life changes when she adopts a shaggy stray pooch (named for the supermarket where she finds it); the mutt tugs her into life-altering friendships with a librarian (Eva Marie Saint), a recluse (Cicely Tyson), a shy pet store manager (musician Dave Matthews); she learns why her mother left the family, about grown-ups with problems. One swear word; doggy-poop humor; gross, kid-type insults; upsetting scenes when officers try to grab Winn-Dixie, when he gets afraid of thunderstorms, when a surly man remarks he once shot a dog.
"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.
"Constantine." Keanu Reeves stars as psychic who sees angelic and demonic spirits cloaked in human form, kills the bad spirits on a crusade to redeem his own soul in an earthly tug of war between Satan (Peter Stormare) and Gabriel (Tilda Swinton). Visually striking tale infused with religious mysticism (adapted from "Hellblazer" graphic novels), but wildly disjointed, nonsensical; Rachel Weisz as cop who seeks Constantine's help to save her dead twin sister from hell. Violent, but not gory for the genre: worm-snake-and-bug-infested demonic creatures; a man smashed by a car; two suicides, one implying cut wrists, blood; characters shown drowning, getting electric shock, coughing up blood; profanity; smoking, drinking; mild sexual innuendo. High schoolers.
The Norse god of mischief, Loki (Alan Cumming), is searching for his missing mask of special powers. His father, Odin (Bob Hoskins), appears to him out of the clouds and yells at him to find it. Meanwhile, a cute pooch has retrieved the mask and taken it to his master, Tim Avery (Jamie Kennedy), a boyish cartoon animator whose career has stalled. When Tim dons the mask for the animation studio's Halloween party, it zaps him into a dancing superhuman. His boss (Steven Wright) wants him to create a character based on his Halloween "costume," and nine months later his wife (Traylor Howard) has Alvey, a baby boy with freakish powers "born of the mask." Tim freaks out and Loki appears. Hijinks ensue -- not.
DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN (PG-13, 116 minutes)
A wildly unsubtle, corny roller coaster ride of a movie, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" veers between soap opera, low comedy and gospel singing, sermonizing religious fervor. It is not a good movie, but it sure is an entertaining one. It has real energy. Adapted from the hit stage play by Tyler Perry, whose dramatic comedies ("Madea's Family Reunion" is another) tour the country to huge success among middle-income African American audiences, it is the kind of story more likely to appeal to teen girls, but it is better geared to high schoolers. It includes discussions of drug addiction, marital infidelity, promiscuity, miscarriages and out-of-wedlock children, and shows people strung out on hard drugs, smoking marijuana and shooting guns. A disabled character nearly drowns in a bathtub while someone watches him struggle. The movie also contains sexual innuendo, toilet humor and mild profanity.
Beautiful, loyal Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise) learns on the night after her hotshot lawyer husband, Charles (Steve Harris), gets a big award that he has another woman. He literally throws Helen out of their Atlanta mansion. She returns to the ample bosom of her grandmother Madea (scriptwriter Tyler Perry in housecoated drag; he plays three roles) in a far less fancy neighborhood. Madea trashes the mansion and threatens Charles with a gun. She also smokes pot and keeps getting herself hauled into court, but she's good-hearted. When Helen meets a nice guy (Shemar Moore) who loves her, it's tough for her to accept him at first. And when she has a chance to get revenge against the husband who spurned her, she gives in to the urge -- for a while.