A DOG OF FLANDERS (PG, 102 minutes)
A beautifully realized tale of love and sacrifice that harks back to family films of yore, "A Dog of Flanders" should capture the hearts of children 8 and older if they're open to its more literary style and 19th-century European setting. The film contains events that could upset younger children -- the deaths of a parent and grandparent, and a dog beaten by its master. There's also a moment of sexual innuendo they won't get.
Young Nello (played by Jesse James, then Jeremy James Kissner) is a poor boy with artistic talent who lives near Antwerp with his grandfather (Jack Warden) and the loyal Bouvier des Flanders dog they've adopted. The bourgeoisie snub Nello as he grows up, but a kind artist (Jon Voight) helps him. Younger children may find the climax, when Nello and his dog face adversity, upsetting. Yet the end is less tragic than in the book.
DUDLEY DO-RIGHT (PG, 83 minutes)
This dismal live-action take on the beloved "Dudley Do-Right" cartoon series (part of the old "Rocky & Bullwinkle Show") has perhaps one laugh in it, and it comes during the "Fractured Fairy Tale" that precedes the movie. Small kids, say 5 or 6, may like watching Dudley, the dumb Canadian Mountie (Brendan Fraser), get smacked in the face with a loose floorboard, or in the crotch with a rock, but older kids and parents will suffer through painfully arch performances, lame dialogue and cheesy production values and an inexplicable plot. Villain Snidely Whiplash (Alfred Molina) creates a false gold rush, and steals the fickle Nell (Sarah Jessica Parker) from Dudley. The final battle scene, with tanks, no less, is far more violent than necessary. There's also a bit of crude language.
THE MUSE (PG-13, 97 minutes)
Typical of Albert Brooks's films, "The Muse" offers humor too subtle to amuse most teens. Yet there's little that makes it inappropriate for them -- occasional mild profanity. In this witty (only a slight loss of momentum in the second act) send-up of Hollywood culture, Brooks (who also directed and co-wrote) plays Steven, a screenwriter who's "lost his edge." A successful pal (Jeff Bridges) lets him in on a big secret -- a Muse (Sharon Stone) -- a direct descendant of the Greek god Zeus, lives in L.A., inspiring writers. She demands that "clients" devote themselves to her expensive material needs in return for restoring their creativity. Teens who get Brooks's many-layered spoof will feel in-the-know.
IN TOO DEEP (R, 105 minutes)
Omar Epps plays a cocky young cop who works undercover, determined to bring down a Cincinnati drug lord in this gripping drama, which older high-schoolers should find compelling. "In Too Deep" puts less emphasis on violence (though there's still plenty of it) and more on subtle tensions and moral ambiguities. It's an unusually smart film, but a problematic choice for kids under 15 or 16. It contains scenes in which a gang member is tortured and women are mistreated. Other elements include gun violence, graphic sexual situations, drug use, and profanity. As cop Jeff Cole, who nearly loses his bearings while befriending a drug dealer (LL Cool J), Epps proves he can act.
THE 13TH WARRIOR (R, 103 minutes)
Antonio Banderas plays an Arab aristocrat from Baghdad in this handsome, macho, medieval epic. He's conscripted by Norse mercenaries into traveling back with them to Europe to fight a mysterious barbaric tribe. High-schoolers (mostly boys), and some younger, who like sword-and-sorcery stories may find "The 13th Warrior" a kick, though the musical soundtrack is overwrought and the dialogue sometimes laughable. The rating reflects violence, as the Norsemen and Banderas's character (inspired by a 10th-century Arab chronicler, Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan) break necks and behead their foes. There is also mild sexual innuendo. Based on Michael Crichton's novel, "The Eaters of the Dead," the movie imaginatively portrays the Dark Ages.
Six and Older
"The Iron Giant" (PG). Boy befriends giant robot from space, circa 1957, in charming "E.T."-esque animated film based loosely on poet Ted Hughes's children's book. Scary climax may briefly upset, sadden youngest when military fires at Giant; hunters shoot, we see dead deer.
"Mickey Blue Eyes." Hugh Grant as wan Britisher in New York, co-opted by fiancee's mobster relatives in droll romantic comedy. Gunplay understated, but one bloody death; profanity; sexual innuendo; ethnic stereotypes; painting portraying Jesus with gun.
"Bowfinger." Steve Martin as sleazy movie director who stalks movie star played by Eddie Murphy, inserting him into cheap horror flick by stealth filming in riotous farce. Lewd sexual references will go over many, not all, preteen heads; profanity, sexual language; droll love scenes.
"The Sixth Sense." Bruce Willis as psychologist helps boy tormented by ghosts in subtle, sometimes sluggish thriller that builds to great ending. Off-camera suicide; we see ghosts who've died violently, even hanging as if executed; rare crude language; drinking.
"Twin Falls Idaho." Extraordinary, moving tale of conjoined (Siamese) twin brothers reaching survival crisis as young men, befriended by prostitute, labeled freaks by others; created by (ordinary) twins Michael, Mark Polish. Somber themes; sexual innuendo; profanity. High-schoolers.
"The Adventures of Sebastian Cole." Bright, alienated teen acts up after beloved stepdad announces plans to become a woman in ironic, eccentric, sometimes contrived saga of family meltdown. Sexual situations; sexual innuendo; homophobic jokes; drugs, drinking, liquor, cigarettes used by teens; profanity. High-schoolers.