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Movie reviews for families: 'The Way Back,' 'The Green Hornet,' more

By Jane Horwitz
Friday, February 4, 2011; 2:05 AM

PG-
13

"THE WAY BACK." Despite its narrative shortcomings, "The Way Back" explores the human yearning for freedom and what that yearning can cost with wrenching urgency. Set in 1940, the story (based on a novel and other first-person accounts) follows a group of Stalin-era political prisoners who escape a Siberian gulag one brutal winter night and walk through the Gobi Desert, Tibet and finally into India - all on foot. Some die from dehydration, exhaustion or illness, but no one is sorry for taking the chance.

THE BOTTOM LINE: "The Way Back" is a true PG-13. While it depicts people under horrific conditions, director Peter Weir stays away from graphic portrayals of violence, injury or death. Even so, the film does show people who freeze to death or die from dehydration. There are stabbings and scenes in which the threat of torture by Soviet authorities is implied. There are verbal references to cannibalism, a graphic verbal description of strangulation and rare profanity.

'THE GREEN HORNET." High-schoolers may find the movie highly entertaining. Star Seth Rogen co-wrote the script, so it isn't surprising that he's given the story a bad-boy edge, making the film too full of sexual innuendo and profanity for many middle-schoolers. Britt Reid inherits his chilly father's newspaper after Dad dies suddenly. Britt meets a former employee of his father's, Kato, and decides to form a duo with him as masked crimestoppers. They run afoul of a local crime boss and the body count rises.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The midrange profanity-peppered dialogue, the portrayal of boozy nights out and the implication that Britt Reid has serial one-night stands all make this PG-13 more for high-schoolers. The mayhem has a comic tilt but can also be quite intense, with point-blank shootings and some head-banging fights.

"THE DILEMMA." Teens who appreciate sagas of adults embroiled in comic crises may gravitate toward this farce about an immature man struggling with a moral question. Ronny and Nick are friends since college and are partners now, hoping to sell Nick's invention to Detroit - a technology that converts classic muscle cars to electric power. Then Ronny sees Nick's wife having a tryst. He agonizes over whether to tell Nick.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A theme about marital infidelity, steamy kissing scenes and a non-explicit sexual situation with implied nudity all earn the PG-13. Characters also use crude sexual slang and occasional mild profanity. The movie features a couple of fistfights and some drinking.

"COUNTRY STRONG." Country-music loving high-schoolers may be disappointed in "Country Strong," and it's a little too full of drinking and implications of promiscuous sex for middle-schoolers. Gwyneth Paltrow plays country music superstar Kelly Canter, released too early from rehab by her husband/manager, James, so she can do a comeback tour. She has become more than friends with Beau, an orderly at the rehab clinic who also happens to be a darn good singer-songwriter. Kelly also has to deal with a green would-be star. All this makes Kelly likely to fall off the wagon. The script is as corny as a bad country song.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Not really for middle-schoolers, the movie depicts Paltrow's character drinking herself blotto. The event that precipitated Kelly's rehab involved a drunken fall off a stage and injuries that caused the death of her unborn child. Other characters smoke, drink and engage in sexual encounters that are strongly implied. The script features midrange profanity and barnyard epithets. A few punches are thrown, and there is a prescription-drug suicide theme.

"TRUE GRIT." This new adaptation is a brilliantly spun western, yet is iffy for middle-schoolers because of the grim lawlessness it portrays. The mayhem is graphic enough for an R. It is the post-Civil War frontier. Formidable 14-year-old Mattie Ross aims to hire a lawman to kill the rogue who murdered her father. She lands drunk-and-disorderly Marshal Rooster Cogburn and comic/heroic Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. The three set off on an odd, unforgettable epic quest.

THE BOTTOM LINE: "True Grit" deserves an R, with its haunting images of death. The violence depicted includes lethal and intense gun and knife fights, hangings and plain old fisticuffs. The film also shows mistreatment of Native American children and harsh treatment of animals. Characters drink and smoke, and there is mild sexual innuendo when LaBoeuf admits he thought of kissing the underage Mattie as she slept. A pony is ridden to death in order to get someone to a doctor.

R

"THE COMPANY MEN." High-school drama lovers will appreciate the smart dialogue and full-blooded characters in this film. "The Company Men" takes a look at our shaky economy through the lives of three men at a big company and how they react to being downsized. Bobby is a top sales executive at a huge ship-building firm. Suddenly laid off, it takes him a while to realize he can no longer afford his house, sports car and golf club membership. A top man at the same firm, Gene, eventually finds himself jobless, too. A mid-level exec, Phil, can't regain his bearings after he's downsized and starts to drink. Bobby, who has always been a cocky guy, has to work for his blue-collar brother-in-law hanging dry wall. "The Company Men" is a slice of fresh, tangy and dramatic humble pie.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The script contains a lot of strong profanity, and some characters drink. Two people engage in an implied but non-graphic adulterous affair, and there is a brief moment of toplessness. The movie also brings in a subtle but well-handled theme about an adolescent boy's fears about his dad's job loss and his parents' marriage.

weekend@washpost.com Horwitz is a freelance reviewer.

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