Family Filmgoer - Movie Reviews With Kids in Mind

Eliza Hope Bennett plays daughter to Brendan Fraser's bookbinder in the fantasy adventure
Eliza Hope Bennett plays daughter to Brendan Fraser's bookbinder in the fantasy adventure "Inkheart." (By Murray Close)

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By Jane Horwitz
Friday, January 30, 2009

New in Town (PG, 96 minutes)

Teen girls may get a kick out of this romantic comedy for its funny and eccentric supporting characters. For more discriminating filmgoers, however, "New in Town" could be a frustrating experience. It opens with refreshing oddball humor and originality but gradually becomes formulaic and cliche. It's as if someone just stopped caring.

Renée Zellweger plays Lucy, an ambitious executive with a Miami-based food conglomerate. She's sent to a small factory in rural Minnesota to supervise changes and layoffs. One of the film's choicest moments is her reaction as she walks out of the airport into the late November weather and howls a mostly muffled expletive. Not all the locals are friendly, as they suspect what Lucy's up to, but the factory secretary, Blanche (Siobhan Fallon Hogan, who steals the film), takes an unwilling Lucy under her wing. Lucy then meets the very cute union rep, Ted (Harry Connick Jr.). They argue about everything, so of course it must be love. Zellweger's Lucy never melts convincingly, and potentially lovely moments are lost.

"New in Town" includes mild profanity, toilet humor, jokes about religion, a comic moment in which people get embarrassed when Lucy's nipples show through her (non-see-through) sweater because of the cold, skimpy lingerie attached to a car to attract attention after an accident, and drinking.

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8 and Older

"Hotel for Dogs" (PG). A sister and brother living in foster care shelter stray dogs in this contrived yet cuddly fantasy. Sixteen-year-old Andi (Emma Roberts) and 11-year-old Bruce (Jake T. Austin) hide their dog from their awful foster parents (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon) and their nice social worker (Don Cheadle). One day, their dog leads them into an abandoned hotel, where they find more strays. With the help of three neighborhood kids, Andi and Bruce begin sheltering a wild array of pooches, and Bruce builds ingenious machines to feed and exercise them. Amid the poop and piddle jokes are themes about losing parents and a flawed foster-care system. It is hinted that pound dogs are euthanized. A kid kicks an adult in the crotch, and there is a teen kiss.

"Inkheart" (PG). Kids 10 and older who have read the book "Inkheart" will have an easy time keeping up with this handsome but convoluted tale. Others should see it, too, because it makes reading books seem incredibly exciting. Certain people who read stories aloud are "silvertongues" who can cause characters from books to materialize, and Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser) is one. When he and his 12-year-old daughter, Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett), go to Europe, he finds a rare copy of "Inkheart," and a character from the book, the fire-eater Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) appears. Mo and Meggie flee to their eccentric aunt (a riotous Helen Mirren) as worse "Inkheart" villains pursue them. They're scary for kids younger than 10, threatening to stab and shoot those trying to rewrite "Inkheart's" ending. There's a monster that can eat people, rare crude humor and mild sexual innuendo.

"Paul Blart: Mall Cop" (PG). Comic Kevin James brings a lovely mix of heart and innocence to the title role in this surprisingly amusing family comedy about a buffoonish shopping-mall security guard who becomes a hero. Divorced, he lives with his mom and teen daughter. When a gang of robbers takes hostages in the mall, Paul tries to foil them. Kids younger than 10 may be upset when the bad guys threaten to kill hostages. There is gunfire and an explosion. Paul's daughter is put in danger. It's implied that Paul's Segway hits a dog. We see the back of a shopper's bra as she beats up Paul. He gets drunk, and we see a tattoo on his behind. There is mild sexual innuendo and swearing.

PG-13

"The Uninvited." Based on a Korean horror film, "The Uninvited" is only a half-scary movie with a groan-worthy ending. Still, there are enough jumpy moments for teens who savor the waking-nightmare style of horror. A teenager named Anna has a breakdown after her mother, already ill, died in a fire. Anna's dad has now taken up with her late mother's nurse, Rachel. Rachel becomes menacing. Anna has hallucinations in which she sees ghostly children and her mother, sometimes as a charred corpse. The film shows bloodied, impossibly bent bodies and someone's back breaking. It has a suicide theme, references to child murders, jokes about condoms and a vibrator, implied sexual situations, drunkenness and rare profanity. Not for middle-schoolers.

R

"Underworld: Rise of the Lycans." An impressive cast of British actors lends Shakespearean importance to this dark and hilariously grandiose vampires-vs.-werewolves saga. High-school-age fans of gothic horror ought to be entertained. Intended as a prequel to "Underworld" (R, 2003) and "Underworld: Evolution" (R, 2006), "Rise of the Lycans" is set in medieval times. Viktor, king of the vampires, has problems: Werewolves are multiplying in the forest, and his daughter is having a thing with the human-werewolf slave Lucian. Lucian leads a slave rebellion. The violence is more stylized than graphic. There are impalements, throat cuttings, skull crushings and a semi-explicit sexual situation with partial nudity.

"Wendy and Lucy." Wendy is on the road with her dog, Lucy. They fall on hard times, sleeping in Wendy's car, in this hard-luck tale of the rough side of the American dream. High-school cinema buffs will be impressed by the austere, sometimes wordless simplicity of director-co-writer Kelly Reichardt's film and Michelle Williams's equally unaffected performance as a morose empty vessel who seems to invite tragedy. However, the dry, inexorable sense of doom seems a bit self-consciously arty. There is strong profanity and marijuana use. Wendy shoplifts.

"Defiance." The script and direction are workmanlike, but the acting is vibrant and the story astonishing in this fact-based World War II story. The Bielski brothers from German-invaded Belarus evade Gestapo raids and flee into the forest in 1941. Others soon join them. Uneducated and with criminal backgrounds, Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell) Bielski use their skills to help the group survive. The film contains bloody, point-blank shootings, but other violence is less graphic. We see a mass grave of Jewish villagers. There is sexual innuendo, a gently implied sexual situation, a reference to rape, rare profanity and drinking. For high-schoolers into history and ethical issues.


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