INSPECTOR GADGET (PG, 80 minutes)
Matthew Broderick plays a mild-mannered security guard who's transformed into a bionic policeman in this intermittently amusing live-action adaptation of an animated cartoon series. All sorts of special effects, both live and digital, went into making "Inspector Gadget," but the result is oddly vapid and often confusing. It has, however, enough slapstick and action to keep kids 6 to 10 or so in their seats for the short running time. The mild rating doesn't mean there aren't fight scenes, car chases and a couple of bitten-or-kicked-in-the-crotch gags.
The affable John Brown (Broderick) guards a robotics laboratory, where he pines for Brenda (Joely Fisher), daughter of the chief scientist. He lives with his young niece (Michelle Trachtenberg) and a cute beagle and dreams of becoming a real cop. One night, minions of evil robotics competitor Sanford Scolex (Rupert Everett) kill Brenda's father (nothing graphic) and steal his amazing robotic foot. John gets blown up chasing Scolex, and Brenda saves his life by turning him into a sweet Robocop who makes it his business to catch Scolex.
DROP DEAD GORGEOUS (PG-13, 98 minutes)
This mean-spirited but deliciously dead-on spoof of small-town beauty pageants will prove a guilty pleasure for adults and teens whose funny bones have the necessary serrated edge. Other girls could well have their feelings hurt by the movie's wildly exaggerated sendups of cheerleaders, girls in the awful talent competition and looks-obsessed teens with eating disorders. (An anorexic former winner does her pageant solo on oxygen, in a wheelchair.) "Drop Dead Gorgeous" also contains a sacrilegious visual joke about Christianity, a pregnant teen who smokes (almost everyone in the movie does), gags about a mentally retarded character, an ethnic slur, sexual innuendo, occasional profanity, a series of comically suspicious deaths, a mass vomiting scene and drinking.
In tiny, pious, all-American Mount Rose, Minn., two teenagers are destined to face off for the local Miss Teen Princess America title. Amber (Kirsten Dunst) is a genuinely nice kid, trying to leave her trailer park existence with the help of her beer-swilling mom (Ellen Barkin). Becky (Denise Richards) is the snotty rich girl whose mother (Kirstie Alley) has groomed her for greatness, and who will stop at nothing to see her daughter triumph.
THE HAUNTING (PG-13, 113 minutes)
More noteworthy for glitzy special effects than gut-wrenching frights, "The Haunting" could still cause preteens and younger children some difficult moments when the lights go out. It contains sculptures of gargoyles and cherubs that come to life and attack human characters and features an enormous Gothic-style mansion whose walls make eerie noises, whose domed ceilings descend and whose giant fireplaces hide pop-up skeletons. The mildly rated (and aptly so) fright flick has rare profanity and one grisly death -- a quick and bloodless beheading. There is discussion of the murder of children having taken place in the distant past.
Handsome though it is, and with a first-rate cast, "The Haunting" (loosely based on Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House") doesn't quite work as a bone-chiller. Teens will notice the movie's unintentional laughs, the result of flatfooted dialogue and lugubrious foreshadowing. Liam Neeson plays a psychologist who brings in a trio of insomniacs (Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson) for a group study at a creepy old mansion. He hints that the house may be haunted in order to study their fear reactions. He's surprised, however, when Taylor's timid character begins to connect with real spirits.
For Tots and Older
"Muppets from Space." Gonzo meets his space alien kin in Muppet tale that starts hilariously, but drags in middle with too many humans blabbing. Mean scientist and his sad, talking lab rats may upset tots.
For 6 and Older
"Tarzan" (G). Animated tale of boy raised by gorillas is exciting, lushly drawn, witty, sad -- and violent enough to warrant PG: Leopard kills Tarzan's human parents off-screen, stalks baby; baboons chase Jane; elephants stampede; gorilla shot, dies; villain shown hanged in vines. Special care with pre-schoolers.
8 and Up
"Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace" (PG). First installment of prequel trilogy looks good, plays dull. Loud, fast, bloodless violence includes lightsaber impalement, endless pod race, battles; sad moment when young Anakin Skywalker leaves mother; tots may find aliens scary.
"Wild Wild West." Will Smith as Federal agent Jim West, Kevin Kline as inventor Artemus Gordon, save President Grant in over-produced, but amusing update of 1960's TV show. Sexual innuendo; scantily-clad women; racial slurs; gun, knife violence; rare profanity.
"Big Daddy." Adam Sandler in disappointing comedy about slacker who adopts kid. Gags about bed-wetting, women's breasts; making fun of old, gay, homeless characters; occasional profanity; other mild sexual innuendo.
"Eyes Wide Shut." Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman in Stanley Kubrick's lavish, overblown dissection of chic couple's infidelity fantasies, adapted from tale by Arthur Schnitzler. Graphic sexual situations; female nudity; drugs, drinking, smoking; toilet scene; strong profanity, verbal sexual innuendo. Not for under-17s.
"The Blair Witch Project." Clever, creepy, near-bloodless fright flick about students who disappear while shooting documentary on ghost legend in Maryland woods. Profanity; bloody human tissue; palpable sense of dread. Teens.
"American Pie." High-school guys vow to lose virginity in sex farce. Explicit sexual situations; profanity; gross toilet humor; drinking. Older high-schoolers.