The Family Filmgoer
Stomp the Yard (PG-13, 115 minutes)
Gloriously energetic, synchronized "step" dance numbers nearly raise this story of a troubled inner-city kid who makes the tough transition to college above its many cliches -- nearly. Yet "Stomp the Yard" will win over plenty of high schoolers with its exuberance. A bit too full of strong language and macho posturing for middle schoolers, it depicts a street brawl, a fatal shooting and other much milder scuffles, and contains considerable midrange profanity and slangish racial slurs. There is a lot of mild sexual innuendo, including an implied overnight tryst between college students, suggestive dancing by women, rapper-style crotch-grabbing by guys and lingering shots of women's jean-clad behinds.
"Stomp the Yard" opens at a street-dancing contest in Los Angeles, after which gifted dancer DJ (Columbus Short) sees his brother shot dead during a brawl they're involved in. DJ avoids jail by agreeing to go to his aunt (Valarie Pettiford) and uncle (Harry J. Lennix) in Atlanta. He enrolls in a historically black university and works part time as a gardener for his uncle, who is head groundskeeper there. The snobbery he encounters from the mostly middle-class students (the film's most interesting theme) makes DJ decide to show them all, using his street-dancing skills to compete in the fraternities' step competitions. He also woos the lovely April (Meagan Good), whose dad (Allan Louis) runs the school and wants her to marry the rich, vain step champ, Grant (Darrin Henson).
7 and Older
"Happily N'Ever After" (PG). Computer-animated sendup of fairy tales has a cute premise about Cinderella (voice of Sarah Michelle Gellar) carrying a torch for the moronic Prince (Patrick Warburton) of Fairy Tale Land while his lowly servant, Rick (Freddie Prinze Jr.), loves her; but the film's unfunny, sitcomish sensibility coarsens and ruins it; Cinderella's wicked stepmom (Sigourney Weaver) usurps the vacationing Wizard's magic and causes villains to win in every fairy tale. Crass phrases such as "screw up," "pain in the butt" and "a butt the size of a shopping mall"; toilet humor; scary bits include glowering wolves, trolls, witches on smoke-belching broomsticks; wicked stepmom remarks how nice it is when girls get eaten by wolves; plot giveaways: beware of the Giant from "Jack and the Beanstalk" squishing Jack under foot, Rapunzel falling out of her tower, Rumpelstiltskin taking the baby.
"Night at the Museum" (PG). Enjoyable if under-realized comic romp (live action with computer-generated effects) about a shlump (Ben Stiller) who gets a job as the night guard at New York's Museum of Natural History; his shifty, aged predecessors (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs) don't tell him that the exhibits -- a T. rex skeleton, Attila the Hun, Sacagawea, Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), miniature Roman legions, Civil War soldiers and cowboys (Owen Wilson in a cameo) -- all come alive and tear up the place after dark; he must rein in the chaos, keep his job, impress his son (Jake Cherry) and woo a cute tour guide (Carla Gugino). Little kids may jump at the dinosaur chasing Stiller, the Huns grabbing him; toilet humor; a few rude but unprofane expressions.
10 and Older
"Miss Potter" (PG). Staid but absorbing "Masterpiece Theatre"-esque portrait of Beatrix Potter (Renee Zellweger) as a slightly eccentric unmarried upper-middle-class woman in 1890s London and how she overcame Victorian prejudices about female authors and artists and got her delightfully illustrated and written "Peter Rabbit" tales published, then fell in love with her editor (Ewan McGregor). One strongish epithet; themes about death and grieving and a parent trying to squelch an adult child's dreams.
"Code Name: The Cleaner." Cedric the Entertainer in lame comic thriller-by-committee about an Everyman who awakens in a hotel room next to a dead body, with no memory of who he is or why he's there; a gorgeous blonde (Nicollette Sheridan) tells him he's rich and she's his wife; a feisty waitress (Lucy Liu) claims to be his girlfriend and gives him a lowlier picture of himself; he believes he must be a secret agent. Midrange profanity; a woman in scanty underwear, dancing suggestively; other sexual innuendo; homophobic humor; digestive humor; gunfire; martial arts fights. More appropriate for high schoolers.
"Freedom Writers." Solid drama mostly overcomes cliches in fact-based story of Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank), who taught high school English in the 1990s to "unteachable" teenagers from tough, gang-ridden neighborhoods in Long Beach, Calif.; trying to defuse racial and gang tensions in class, she gets students to keep personal journals and read "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl"; they meet Holocaust survivors and slowly gain empathy, confidence. Nongraphic, but intense portrayals of shootings, including a little boy playing disastrously with a gun; fights; verbal references to a girl and her mother being beaten; some profanity; racial slurs. More for high schoolers.
"Dreamgirls." Fun, high-gloss, well-sung film adaptation of 1981 Broadway hit musical about the tempestuous rise of a 1960s girl group inspired by the Supremes; Beyonce Knowles as the pretty Deena, Anika Noni Rose as the naive Lorrell and terrific Jennifer Hudson as the talented, temperamental Effie; Jamie Foxx as their Machiavellian manager; Eddie Murphy as the eccentric soul singer who hires them as a backup trio; much cultural history of the era neatly tossed in. Drug abuse; implied extramarital affairs; unwed motherhood; male singer strips to his skivvies to perform on television; mildish profanity, mostly the S-word. Okay for most teenagers.
"Alpha Dog." Profane, lurid, soulless, nuance-free potboiler about America's youth gone sour with drugs, casual sex, violent video games and brainlessness; loosely based on a real incident, story follows a teenage suburban Los Angeles marijuana dealer (Emile Hirsch), the son of a mob-connected tough guy (Bruce Willis); angry at a pothead (Ben Foster) who owes him money, the dealer and his pals kidnap the guy's 15-year-old kid brother (Anton Yelchin); every choice they make is bad; Sharon Stone as the boy's anguished mom; Justin Timberlake as one of the dealer's hangers-on. Profanity, explicit sexual language; drug use; explicit sexual situations with nudity; climactic gun murder; window-shattering fights; vicious ethnic slurs; steaming profanity. 17 and older.
"Letters From Iwo Jima." Clint Eastwood's memorable, deeply humane and nuanced companion film to "Flags of Our Fathers," this time seeing the World War II battle of Iwo Jima in 1945 through the eyes of Japanese fighters, from a lowly baker (Kazunari Ninomiya) who just wants to survive to the kindhearted general, Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe). Spurting, newly limbless stumps and soldiers ablaze; one intense scene (though more smoky than bloody) depicts Japanese soldiers committing suicide with hand grenades (pressure for honor suicides among Japanese troops is a key theme); prisoners are murdered by both sides in brief scenes, but acts of mercy are also shown; a horse lies mortally wounded; dialogue -- in Japanese with English subtitles -- has mild profanity; some drinking. Cinema buffs 16 and older.
"Perfume: The Story of a Murderer." Ludicrously overwrought melodrama about a serial killer (based on Patrick Suskind's novel) in 18th-century France; a young man (Ben Whishaw) raised as an orphan has a powerful sense of smell; in a kind of naso-sexual awakening, he trails a pretty Paris fruit seller (Karoline Herfurth) and unintentionally kills her; her scent obsesses him; he works for a perfumer (Dustin Hoffman) to learn the trade, then moves to Provence and begins killing young women for experiments in re-creating the girl's scent. Throat slittings, hangings, shootings; explicit sexual situations; nudity; orgiastic (yet nonexplicit) mass nude scene. 17 and older.
"Children of Men." Chilling, intensely atmospheric, ultimately redemptive thriller (based on P.D. James's novel), set in a grim Britain, circa 2027, where a militarist regime rules a strife-torn land and brutally rounds up refugees from everywhere; humans have become infertile and are doomed; Clive Owen plays a former activist who now despairs; his ex (Julianne Moore), an anti-government fighter, asks him to get travel papers for a special young woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey) who offers hope for humanity; he and the girl run a gantlet of violence. Shattering gun and bomb violence; bloody injuries; suicide theme; birth scene; very strong profanity; marijuana; drinking; smoking. Thoughtful film buffs 17 and older.