Movie reviews for families: 'Mars Needs Moms,' 'Rango,' more
8 and older
Mars Needs Moms (PG)
Although touching and often amusing, "Mars Needs Moms" can be grim, scary and too intense for many kids younger than 8. Still, it's not without a fun factor for kids 8 and older. A boy named Milo has fighting words with his mom, and before he can apologize, she's abducted by Martians. Milo stows away on the ship as it takes off. Martian females are not the mothering kind, so the Martians plan to drain the mothering information from Milo's mom's brain to program nanny-bots to raise their babies. Milo must rescue his mom.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Milo is perpetually falling off high places. Though he's nearly weightless on Mars and isn't hurt, it's still visually scary. The males in Martian society are dreadlocked and relegated to working on a huge trash heap, which seems oddly racial, but only adults are likely to notice. The Martian guards have laser guns and threaten the protagonists.
Kids and their parents will get more than a few laughs out of "Rango," a hugely clever animated western. A pet chameleon is separated from his owners and wanders to a town called Dirt, where he becomes the sheriff. He discovers that the mayor, a wily turtle, may be part of a nefarious water-stealing plot. Then Rango must find the real courage to save Dirt and win over a girl lizard named Beans. There is a battle near the end that becomes a little too violent for under-8s and perhaps for 8-to-10-year-olds.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The PG rating is tested a bit in the battle, when bad guys fly into the fray on huge bats. Creepy. The dialogue makes repeated use of the word "hell," along with at least one "damn."
Battle: Los Angeles
Marines battle ruthless extraterrestrials in this one-note action movie, which should appeal to older-teen players of combat video games. The story focuses on a small area of Los Angeles, with lots of close combat between the aliens, who have superior firepower, and the humans, who lose many of their number. The Marines rescue some civilians, including three children, who endure intense violence. The movie is less concerned with plot than with endless reiterations of the same basic firefight.
THE BOTTOM LINE: This PG-13 movie is a borderline R, with graphic violence, children in peril and a scene in which a boy watches his father die. The humans' physical pain is minimized, but in one gruesome sequence a fallen extraterrestrial is dissected while still alive. There's one f-word and some bawdy banter.
Red Riding Hood
High-schoolers may find it impossible not to giggle through this pseudo-serious horror/thriller. The film's violence is relatively understated, but there is a strong sexual attraction theme that may be inappropriate for middle-schoolers. Valerie is the younger sister of a girl killed by a werewolf in the medieval village Daggerhorn. A clerical "werewolf hunter" arrives, but his brutal treatment of the townsfolk and his miscalculations about the werewolf end in disaster. He uses Valerie as bait to bring the werewolf close enough to kill it, but her would-be lover and her jealous ex-fiancee team up to help her escape.
The bottom line: The werewolf attacks are not especially graphic, but there is considerable spattered blood, images of severed hands and bloody tissue. Fights include fatal stabbings and axings. The attraction between Valerie and Peter is highly sexual, and at least one situation becomes very steamy for a PG-13, though not technically explicit.
Teen audiences may have trouble taking this magical looks-aren't-everything saga seriously, but that doesn't mean they won't have fun watching it or get the message. Kyle is a mean prep-school hunk. Kendra, a Goth-style witch in Kyle's high school, puts a spell on him. He becomes bald, tattooed and scarred. Only if a girl tells Kyle she loves him within one year will he change back. Sent into seclusion by his father, Kyle meets Lindy when he rescues her and her father from street thugs. Lindy is still in danger, so she hides in Kyle's house. Kyle is in love with Lindy, but it takes her a while to see his good heart.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The script includes crude, sexualized and belittling epithets and some mild profanity. Kyle and Lindy have one nearly passionate kiss but no sexual situations. Nongraphic but lethal street violence takes place, and a subplot deals with Lindy's father's drug addiction.
The Adjustment Bureau
Teens who like their movies laced with intellect and wit, and not stuck in perpetual overdrive, will like this movie. The mix of science fiction, spirituality, romance and visual inventiveness should make this a pretty good date flick, too. Matt Damon plays gifted politician David Norris. On the eve of a senatorial election, he meets Elise, who makes him not care about losing. He doesn't know her name and loses her number. Men who are "case officers who live a lot longer than humans" are following him. Their team leader tells David that he and Elise cannot be together because it's not in the current Plan. David tries to fight fate.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A genuine PG-13 that's fine for most teens, "The Adjustment Bureau" includes nonsexual profanity and crude language; a nongraphic but slightly steamy sexual situation with implied nudity; and nonviolent but harrowing chases. The film's concept of people's fate and a higher power that controls could offend some people's religious beliefs.
Horwitz is a freelance reviewer. Mark Jenkins contributed to this review.