Beverly Hills Chihuahua (PG, 90 minutes)
Stereotypical ethnic humor and trite doggy-poop jokes intermingle with genuinely funny bits in this very uneven live-action (well, mostly) family comedy from Disney. The live dogs talk to one another, their lips forming words (thanks to computer animation), though humans can't hear them. Many people love that effect, but it gives the Family Filmgoer the creeps. The movie naturally features a bit of doggy toilet humor and jokes about being "fixed." Human characters occasionally wear skimpy bikinis. But the chief reason for the PG rating is the scariness of the villains, both canine and human, which definitely could frighten kids younger than 8.
Chloe (voice of Drew Barrymore) is a diamond-collared, Rodeo Drive-outfitted Chihuahua who lives with a doting Beverly Hills designer named Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis). Viv asks her flighty niece Rachel (Piper Perabo) to dogsit while she travels. Rachel and her pals take Chloe on a beach holiday to Mexico, where Chloe is snatched by a dogfighting ring and forced to face a vicious, slobbering Doberman named Diablo (Edward James Olmos). Rescue comes in the form of Delgado (Andy Garcia), a gruff German shepherd, who snatches Chloe by the scruff and runs. Among the strays of Mexico, the spoiled little pooch learns how the other half lives, riding the rails and nearly being snookered by Chico the iguana (Paul Rodriguez) and Manuel the rat (Cheech Marin), an amusing criminal duo. One of the film's cleverest scenes has Chloe and Delgado come upon a colony of Chihuahuas living in a ruined Aztec temple.
8 and Older
"Igor" (PG). Gloomy and self-consciously glib, this computer-animated feature doesn't know what audience it's after. We are in Malaria, land of monsters and evil scientists. Igor, a hunchbacked lab assistant (voice of John Cusack), creates his own monster after his boss blows himself up. His helpers are Scamper (Steve Buscemi), a roadkill bunny, and Brain (Sean Hayes), who lives in a jar. None of these creatures offers much for kids to love. The script contains crude phrases, toilet humor and tasteless humor about blind kids.
"Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist." The title characters in this witty, eccentric teen comedy are smart and hate booze and drugs, yet they're the hippest kids in the story. How cool is that? "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" (based on the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan) isn't for younger teens but ought to give high-schoolers a kick. Nick (Michael Cera) is a sweet-natured high school senior from New Jersey who's in a band. His girlfriend, Tris (Alexis Dziena), a cliched mean girl, has dumped him. He leaves her sad phone messages and sends her mix CDs. Schoolmate Norah (Kat Dennings) loves the tossed CDs but doesn't know Nick. They all encounter one another one night in the Manhattan rock club scene. Many teens in this film do drink; an active sex life is a given; gay and straight kids accept one another easily. So some parents will balk. There is a strongly implied sexual situation, other sexual innuendo, a religious spoof, an ethnic slur, midrange profanity and toilet humor.
"Nights in Rodanthe." Richard Gere and Diane Lane play unhappy people who find each other in this handsome, utterly predictable weeper. The movie (based on Nicholas Sparks's novel) is so full of cliches that without having read the book, you can easily foretell plot twists or mouth bits of dialogue along with the actors. Adrienne (Lane) is separating from her unfaithful husband (Christopher Meloni) and goes to stay at her friend's (Viola Davis) beachfront bed-and-breakfast on North Carolina's Outer Banks. It's off-season, and the only guest is a somber (but handsome!) surgeon (Gere), also divorced. Many teens would be bored by this beach novel movie. The film has implied sexual situations, mild profanity and drinking.
"The Duchess." A fascinating story, gorgeous design and vibrant acting make this fact-based tale about an 18th-century ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, shine. The film recounts how 17-year-old aristocrat Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightley) weds a rich, powerful, 40-ish cold fish, the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes), in the 1770s. The two have nothing in common, and it doesn't help that she bears daughters, not sons. Their estrangement worsens after the duke takes Georgiana's best friend (Hayley Atwell) as his mistress but won't allow Georgiana to be with her own true love. The film contains a nongraphic but strongly implied marital rape. Characters drink a lot. More for high school history and romance buffs.
"Eagle Eye." What begins as a breathless thriller degenerates into endless car crashes and a phony-baloney last act. But "Eagle Eye" has strong performances. A Chicago copy store employee, Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf), learns of his twin brother's death in a car crash. Jerry finds his own bank account flush and his apartment full of weapons. An anonymous cellphone caller orders him to follow directions or die. Jerry meets up with a single mom (Michelle Monaghan), who got a call that her little boy (Cameron Boyce) would die unless she, too, followed orders. They commit crimes to obey the voice. Casualties are not graphic. There is profanity and drinking. Okay for teens.
"Lakeview Terrace." Samuel L. Jackson brings his meanest glower to Southern California cop Abel Turner in this unpleasant thriller. Turner takes an instant dislike to Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington), who move in next door, partly because they are an interracial couple. The film includes bloody shootings, suicide threats, strong profanity, sexual slang, a bachelor party with scantily clad women and suggestive dancing, drinking and smoking. Too violent and sexualized for middle-schoolers.
"Appaloosa." Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen have a beautiful screen friendship as leathery gunslinger-lawmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch in this gritty, old-fashioned western set in the New Mexico Territory of the 1880s. Cole and Hitch come to Appaloosa because the city fathers want to end harassment by a rancher, Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), and his gang. In the middle of this tense scenario appears a fetching widow (Renée Zellweger), whose presence distracts the lawmen. The movie has many narrative glitches (time passing is confusing), but the Harris-Mortensen pairing is pure horse opera poetry. There are bloody shootouts, sexual innuendo, strong profanity, brief nudity and drinking. Okay for high-schoolers.
"Religulous." Comic Bill Maher, a nonbeliever, takes on the three major monotheistic religions in this most unjournalistic documentary. In his trademark in-your-face style, he mocks, debunks, rails against and insults what he sees as the ridiculous spiritual myths people cling to. The movie is often very funny and will pique many people's intellects, but it will probably offend many Christian, Jewish and Muslim believers. The film will challenge thoughtful older teens. "Religulous" contains strong profanity, verbal references to sex and drugs, and brief toplessness.
"Miracle at St. Anna." Spike Lee's adaptation of James McBride's novel engages us emotionally at times, but the story involving a modern-day murder and four African American soldiers in Italy during World War II is cumbersome and confusingly told. There is graphic battlefield gore, profanity, sexual situations, smoking and drinking. Not for teens younger than 17.