Film CapsulesCapsule reviews by Desson Howe unless noted. A star ({sstar}) denotes a movie recommended by our critics.

Openings

FAR FROM HEAVEN (PG-13) -- See review on Page 41.

HALF PAST DEAD (PG-13) -- See capsule review on Page 45.

HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (PG) -- See review on Page 41.

NAQOYQATSI (PG) -- See review on Page 43.

REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES (PG-13) -- See review on Page 42.

STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN (PG) -- See review on Page 43.

YANA'S FRIENDS (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 45.

First Runs & Revivals ABANDON (PG-13, 99 minutes) -- Consider the title your best advice. This mystery-thriller is about the investigation of a missing college student named Embry (Charlie Hunnam) whose girlfriend Catherine (Katie Holmes) is now a senior at college. She's not particularly friendly to investigator Wade Handler (Benjamin Bratt), who's trying to get to the bottom of the mystery. So, of course, they become romantically involved. Writer-director Stephen Gaghan (who scripted "Traffic") tries to make a deeper deal out of this mystery-thriller genre than you'd expect. But his efforts cost him cohesion, story and logic. And a climactic twisteroo brings a bad movie to a shuddering halt. Contains sexual situations, some bad language and a vague sense that you have landed in purgatory. Laurel Cinema.

{sstar}ALIAS BETTY (Unrated, 101 minutes) -- When Betty (Sandrine Kiberlain), a successful novelist and single mother, loses her 4-year-old son, her eccentric mother, Margot (Nicole Garcia), solves the problem. She simply kidnaps someone else's child. Little by little, Betty likes this new 4-year-old (Alexis Chatrian) staying right where he is. Claude Miller's French-language film is a chessboard of a thing. It's about the movements of the pawns, not the pawns themselves. And it's also about the relativity of "bad": everyone seems to be involved in some sort of deception, scam, thievery, almost as a matter of course. If this movie leaves you cool, it also leaves you intriguingly contemplative. Contains obscenity, nudity, sexual situations and some violence. In French with subtitles. Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge.

{sstar}APOLLO 13: THE IMAX EXPERIENCE (PG, 116 minutes) -- This 1995 Academy Award-winning movie is perfectly suited for that in-your-face IMAX experience. Ron Howard's movie, with an all-star cast that includes Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton and Gary Sinise, is about Apollo 13's ill-fated voyage in 1970. It's an entertaining movie, and the effects, boosted to the size of a downtown hotel, will all but take you to outer space. Contains emotional intensity and some bad language. Screens at 5 Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights through Feb. 28, at the Smithsonian's Lockheed Martin IMAX theater at the National Air and Space Museum. Admission $7.50.

{sstar}AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER (PG-13, 96 minutes) -- If the 1999 "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" was a string of inventive gags, puns and crudity, the third Austin Powers comedy is a couple of ropes worth. Mike Myers is quadruply funny as Austin Powers, Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard (filthiest and fattest Scotsman ever to burst a kilt) and Mr. Goldmember himself, a nefarious Dutchman whose genitalia glow as a result of a smelting accident. And the movie topples over with visual gags (cheap, of course), witty lines, groanable puns, downright childish obscenity and a plot that's certainly no worse than the James Bond scenarios it lovingly parodies. Priceless stuff, baby. Contains sexual innuendo, crude humor and obscenity. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{sstar}AUTO FOCUS (R, 104 minutes) -- The life of Bob Crane, star of "Hogan's Heroes" and porno film aficionado, gets a very unconventional, dark treatment in this Paul Schrader movie. In the director's view, Crane (Greg Kinner) is a cipher for the sexual zeitgeist of the 1960s and 1970s. And even though he's obsessed with sex with women, his real "marriage" is with John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), the videotape salesman who becomes his swinging buddy. It's a dark, sobering portrait but a memorable one. Contains graphic scenes of sexuality, nudity and language, also contains drug use and violence. Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.

THE BANGER SISTERS (R, 94 minutes) -- If you want to understand the importance of a good script, compare Susan Sarandon's performance in this film, a virtually laugh-free comedy about middle-aged former rock groupies, to her turn in "Igby Goes Down," a smart, dark satire of upper-class family dysfunction. It's not that the actress and her co-star Goldie Hawn (playing the "sisters" of the suggestively titled film) are that bad. It's just that they have so little to work with, outside of a few shopworn culture-clash jokes when free-spirited Suzette (Hawn) tries to reconnect with old pal Lavinia (Sarandon), a once wild but now tightly wrapped suburban matron. Contains obscenity, drug use and lots of sexual content. Rockville Town Center and University Mall Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

BARBERSHOP (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- This ensemble comedy revolves around Calvin (actor-rapper Ice Cube), the proprietor of a barbershop beset by financial woes that threaten to shut down what is clearly a cornerstone of the community. The shop is crowded with an oddball aggregation of haircutters, including Cedric the Entertainer as an elder barber with endless barbs, Sean Patrick Thomas as an ambitious but self-righteous college student and Michael Ealy as a reformed con trying desperately to avoid a third-strike call. Buzzing with cuts both literal and verbal, the film underscores notions of blue-collar camaraderie with humor and pathos. While Ice Cube manages likable warmth, "Barbershop" just misses being lovable. Contains obscene language, sexual content and brief drug references. Hoyts Potomac Yard Cinema.

-- Richard Harrington

{sstar}BLOODY SUNDAY (R, 107 minutes) -- A date and movie to remember: On Sunday, Jan. 30, 1972, in Derry, Northern Ireland, 20,000 mostly Catholic demonstrators intended to march peacefully for civil rights. They were met by British paramilitary who killed 14. Writer-director Paul Greengrass has made an extraordinary film, not only based on eyewitness accounts in the book ("Eyewitness Bloody Sunday") but featuring Derry residents and relatives of the slain. It's impossible to dismiss or leave ummoved. James Nesbitt is terrific as Ivan Cooper, leader of the Northern Irish Civil Rights Association, whose ideals crumble as the bloodshed begins. Contains obscenity and disturbing violence. Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle and Shirlington.

{sstar}THE BOURNE IDENTITY (PG-13, 118 minutes) -- An unidentified man (Matt Damon) found floating in the Mediterranean by an Italian fishing boat is barely alive. He has bullets in his back, an electronic device implanted in his hip and absolutely no recall. He's also a linguistic and martial arts genius. Who is he and why is everyone trying to kill him? Doug ("Go") Liman's movie fuses together two elements that often elude supposedly bigger and better filmmakers: cracking action and smart direction. Franka Potente is just fine as a German woman who helps our hero (later identified as Jason Bourne) in his quest. She actually makes Damon's Jason seem terribly sexy. Contains some intense fighting violence and obscene language. Sterling Cinema Draft and Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (R, 125 minutes) -- In this stream-of-consciousness riff, documentarian-provocateur Michael Moore takes us from disturbing footage of the Columbine massacre to the attacks on the World Trade Center, stopping off at the home of NRA President Charlton Heston, James Nichols's farm (brother of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols) and several Canadian homes (to "prove" Canadians aren't paranoid). The movie raises many good points and observations. But Moore provides a rather rambling discourse of causality, which includes racism, white flight and Africanized bees, among many things. And he takes predictable aim (with not especially enlightening solutions or answers) at the NRA, the media and a right-wing conspiracy of racists, gun nuts and corporate profitmakers. Contains scenes of disturbing gun violence and some obscenity. Area theaters.

{sstar}BROWN SUGAR (PG-13, 109 minutes) -- As the star-crossed friends (and inevitable lovers) Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan (as well as a healthy round of comely co-stars, including Nicole Ari Parker) provide the allure in this savvy, African-American buppie romance. He's record company executive Dre; she's Sidney, a music journalist. They grew up in thesame neighborhood, grooving on the same hip-hop songs and, without realizing it, each other. So when Dre tells Sidney he's engaged to Reese (Parker), that ought to be fine. But it isn't, of course. This is a fashion runway of a movie, a catwalk flick in which the secret ingredients are good genes and designers. Contains obscenity and sexual situations. Area theaters.

{sstar}COMEDIAN (R, 82 minutes) -- This watchable, digital documentary made by Christian Charles and Gary Streiner, follows Jerry Seinfeld as he attempts to return to his roots making people laugh in comedy nightclubs. It also follows Orny Adams, a hard-working funnyman, almost 30, who has spent most of his adult life trying to become famous. They are two comedians on either side of success, both working hard. It's an interesting dynamic. But Seinfeld's far more interesting, funny and likable than the self-absorbed Adams. And yet, this movie's enjoyable only as far as it goes. Despite amazing access to Seinfeld backstage, we don't get more than glimpses of the real man. Nor do we see more than bits and pieces of his act. Isn't that half the reason we're watching? Contains obscenity. Area theaters.

{sstar}8 MILE (R, 118 minutes) -- Eminem's debut role is about the rise of a pop star, plain and simple. In Curtis Hanson's film, he's a down-and-out Detroit rapper, nicknamed Rabbit, who dreams of making it. Simple story, yes. But Eminem's a screen presence, shrouded in his hood. The real deal -- and the movie's greatest fun -- is in the rap contests at clubs. They are extraordinary displays of verbal agility, with frenzied applause for poetics. And there's no question, by these hip-hop standards, Eminem has the mustard. He raps with the best of them. Contains obscenity, violence and drug use. Area theaters.

{sstar}8 WOMEN (R, 113 minutes) -- Cross the theatrical mystery of "Ten Little Indians" with the psychodrama of "The Women," add campy musical numbers and ironic self-awareness out the wazoo, then put it in French and you might have something approximating the giddy, caustic bite of "8 Women." Set in a snowed-in country house in the 1950s, the postmodern whodunit by Francois Ozon opens with the discovery of a dead (male) body and a houseful of eight female suspects. Quick! Nobody leave the room. Trust me: With stars like Catherine Denueve, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Beart, Isabelle Huppert and Virginie Ledoyen acting guilty as sin, no audience member is going to want to sneak out early. Contains frank sexual dialogue and slapstick violence. In French with subtitles. Annapolis Harbour.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

FEMME FATALE (R, 114 minutes) -- In Brian De Palma's thriller-mystery-weirdunit, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is Laure Ashe, an elegant scam artist. Antonio Banderas is tabloid photographer Nicolas Bardo, who makes the mistake of getting involved. She pulls him into a convoluted scenario of love, deception and revenge. De Palma is a big fan of theclassic noir films "Obsession" and "Double Indemnity." And it shows all over the place. And his movie rivals David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" for identity shifting, thematic dualities of all kinds, destiny alteration, double crossing and, that old standby, arthouse incomprehensibility. Contains sexual scenes, nudity, violence and obscenity. In English and French with subtitles. Area theaters.

FORMULA 51 (R, 92 minutes) -- In possibly the worst role of his career, Samuel L. Jackson plays Elmo, a pharmacologist manque, who has invented a mega-recreational drug called Formula 51 (supposedly 51 times better than any other recreational high). A bad guy with bad-bad attitude and bad-bad-bad cornrows, he goes to Liverpool to find a buyer. And stumbles into a bad-Guy Ritchie movie, costarring a facially scarred crimelord (Meat Loaf Aday), a street punk (Robert Carlyle) who just wants to watch a Liverpool soccer game and one hired gun (Emily Mortimer) who keeps switching allegiances. The worst touch of all? Jackson spends the whole movie in a kilt. Contains foul language, violence and bad accents. Laurel Cinema.

FRIDA (R, 118 minutes) -- The real Frida Kahlo remains a truly fascinating artist,self-empowerment icon and feminist leading light, despite the attempts of "Frida" the movie to reduce her rich, tragic and courageous life into biopic banality. In the title role, Salma Hayek remains as dedicated to her role and this movie as she is ordinary. She's a pint-size talent riding a legend, a mouse with one eyebrow atop a woolly mammoth. Director Julie Taymor's often-inspired touches -- stop motion, color tinting, black-and-white sequences and even skeletons -- suggest an intelligent desperation. She's doing her attention-getting best to save the movie from conventional doom. As Frida's tempestuous husband, Diego Rivera, Alfred Molina steals the movie. Contains nudity, obscenity, violence and emotionally intense material. Area theaters.

GHOST SHIP (R, 85 minutes) -- The first five minutes of this haunted horror flick is one of the grimmest, goriest setups in ages. But sophomore director Steve Beck ("13 Ghosts") never quite matches it in this what-dunit set on the Antonia Graza, a majestically decayed luxury liner that vanished 40 years before being rediscovered by a salvage crew headed by Gabriel Byrne and Julianna Margulies. The plot's almost as creaky as the big tub it's set in (think haunted houseboat or spooky spaceship). You can pretty much handicap the sequence of victims falling to gruesome demises, the believe-it-or-not Ripley-like transformation of Margulies's feisty heroine and the emergence of . . . we won't tell. As a fresh setting for terror shenanigans, this "Ghost Ship" is somewhere between B minus and the High Cs. Contains strong violence, gore, language and sexuality. Area theaters.

-- Richard Harrington

{sstar}HEAVEN (R) -- German director Tom Tykwer, working from a script from the late Krzysztof Kieslowski and his longtime collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz (who made "Blue," "White" and "Red," as well as "The Decalogue") has made a poetic, touching film about the partnership between Philippa (Cate Blanchett), an Englishwoman who kills a group of civilians with a planted bomb, and Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi), a young policeman and translator who falls in love with her. Tywker drapes the latter part of the film in abstraction. It's an extremely dramatic turnaround. Up until that point, we've been watching an action movie -- or close to -- full of hidden bombs, ticking clocks, a prison escape and two fugitives from justice. The effect is unusual, unexpected and strangely refreshing. Contains a scene of sexuality and emotionally disturbing material at the beginning. In English and Italian with subtitles. Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.

I SPY (PG-13, 96 minutes) -- Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson, playing an arrogant boxer and a slightly inept spy looking for a shadowy arms dealer (Malcolm McDowell), can't compete with the effortless chemistry shared by Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in the original TV show. The Betty Thomas-directed action film moves at a glacial pace, despite a comic chase scene souped up with all manner of gizmos and gadgets. Murphy and Wilson may be funny from time to time but, for the most part, the movie's every mixed-race odd-couple movie ever made in the last 15 years, from "Lethal Weapon" to "Shanghai Noon." Contains violence, sexual content and a smattering of bad language. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}IGBY GOES DOWN (R, 98 minutes) -- Wickedly funny, jarringly transgressive, obdurately unpigeonholeable and startlingly moving, "Igby Goes Down" lodges itself in your brain like a sticktight seed. You may not like its tale of adolescent anomie -- snotty teenagers are not, after all, everyone's cup of tea -- but you'll find the lingering aftereffects of its strange, tragicomic tale and the indelible antihero (Kieran Culkin) it introduces you to hard to shake. Little is more shocking -- or more funny -- than watching Igby Slocumb, a Holden Caulfield-esque 17-year-old recidivist high-school dropout, defy his uptight, old-money mother (Susan Sarandon), while conducting a self-destructive, but ultimately hopeful, search for happiness. Contains obscenity, sex with minors, adultery, battery, drug use and all manner of irresponsible behavior. Area Theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}JACKASS THE MOVIE (R, 90 minutes) -- Sophomoric doesn't even begin to describe the stunts imagined by Johnny Knoxville and his reprobate crew of stunt men-frat boy delinquents; most of them are too vile, violent or just plain dangerous for MTV, the home of "Jackass." The movie begins and ends with a warning not to try any of these stunts at home, but only the stupidest fan will disregard the genuine pain and suffering captured on camera, albeit with endlessly gleeful guffaws. In a non-stop parade of bits that range from 10 seconds to several long minutes, this wrecking crew visits damage to themselves (too-close encounters with alligators, sharks, electric shockers) and to innocent property (down for the count: a rental car rigged for a crash derby, a miniature golf course, several small grocery and variety stores and the home of mad skateboarder Bam Margera, who mercilessly tortures parents who are far too understanding). Scatological pranks abound, and our relationship with Japan may never be the same after the boys visit briefly, and in the case of Chris "Party Boy" Pontius, as nakedly as possible. There are fat bits, old folks bits, two one-sided boxing matches with Butterbean (he sends Knoxville to the hospital) and a tougher-than-nails female kick boxer (who whacks Ryan Dunn until he's Undunn). There are also lots of out-of-control vehicles, from skateboards and snow boards to a giant-sized shopping cart and runaway golf carts. It's stupid, anarchic and, I hate to admit, terribly funny, though you're likely to blow your lunch almost as often as folks do on screen. Contains dangerous, sometimes extremely rude stunts, language and nudity.

-- Richard Harrington

JONAH: A VEGGIETALES MOVIE (G, 85 minutes) -- Based on the animated TV series, this movie features talking vegetables who tell Bible stories to impart lessons to youngsters in the 3-8 age range. And you don't have to be a fan of vegetables to find this batch pretty cute. You'll hear about Jonah and the whale through a mixture of narration, dialogue and kid-friendly musical numbers. There are entertaining little anachronisms, amusing lines and enough wacky frenzy to please the young ones. The movie clearly comes from a Christian perspective, but without being overly preachy. And the movie's lesson about compassion and mercy is one that youngsters (and grown-ups too for that matter) would do well to learn. Contains nothing objectionable. Area theaters.

-- Curt Fields

{sstar}LILO & STITCH (PG, 85 minutes) -- In this animated feature, a sweet Hawaiian girl named Lilo (voice of Daveigh Chase) picks up a strange-looking creature at the dog pound, thinking it's her new pooch-to-be. Little does she know this pet, whom she names Stitch, is one mean little critter from another planet. Lilo learns eventually to get through to Stitch, the world's most unlovable visitor, with a message of love and family togetherness -- known in Hawaiian as ohana. The animation, rendered in good old-fashioned watercolors, is appealing. It's easy, rather than flashy, on the eyes. But the best thing about the movie is the humor. As Lilo, 10-year-old Chase is, well, a stitch. She's full of cheekiness and bluster. Contains some science fiction intensity. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{sstar}MANNA FROM HEAVEN (PG, 119 minutes) -- When a big white truck dumps thousands of dollars in a Buffalo, N.Y. neighborhood, people think their dreams have come true. They learn otherwise, decades later, when they are still living humdrum existences. So when Theresa (Ursula Burton), a nun declares that God told her they must pay the money back, they flat out tell her she's crazy. To hopelessly jaded moviegoers, the film (featuring Cloris Leachman, Shelley Duvall, Seymour Cassel and Jill Eikenberry) may come off a bit mushy, with a conclusion as neatly stitched together as a Disney Channel sitcom. But overall it is a nice effort by Five Sisters Productions, which has given audiences a much-needed reprieve from the angst, irony and mean-spiritedness that is endemic to modern cinema. Contains some bad language and sexual references. Ballston Common.

-- Natalie Hopkinson

{sstar}MEN IN BLACK II (PG-13, 88 minutes) -- The key to enjoying "Men in Black II" is to appreciate the spirit of the original 1997 comedy, but not expect the first film all over again. Agent Jay (Will Smith) has been missing erstwhile partner, Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), ever since his brain was "neuralyzed." But with the menacing arrival of Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle), a reptilian alien disguised as a Victoria's Secret babe, Jay's boss (Rip Torn) gives him the go-ahead to de-neuralyze Kay. Directed, again, by Barry Sonnenfeld, the movie's a string of special effects and comedic encounters with such characters as the wise-cracking, cigar-chewing pug named Frank (voice of Tim Blaney). The only active ingredient is the dynamic between Smith and Jones. There's just enough of that to get us through. Contains sci-fi violence and provocative humor. Arlington Cinema 'N'Drafthouse.

{sstar}MIYAZAKI'S "SPIRITED AWAY" (PG, 125 minutes) -- Here's another weirdly wonderful offering from Japanese anime filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, who made the delightful "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Princess Mononoke." In this animated story, Chihiro (voice of Daveigh Chase), a 10-year-old girl, and her parents find themselves in a weird fantasy land of ghosts and spirits. Chihiro, looking to save her parents from a fate as pigs, negotiates her way through this strange new world, run by Yubaba (voice of Suzanne Pleshette), a nasty, beak-nosed dowager. The movie, equally appealing to children (those of adventurous, non-freak-outable spirit), Japanese animation (anime) fans, and any surviving acquaintances of Timothy Leary, is so full of invention, you might want to take a breather now and then. Contains some intense material, from vomiting monsters to the devouring of people. Annapolis Harbour and AMC Mazza Gallerie.

{sstar}MOSTLY MARTHA (PG, 107 minutes) -- Sweet without being saccharine, and funny without being forced, this charming romantic comedy pairs a tightly wrapped German chef with her freewheeling Italian assistant. When a tragic accident forces three-star cook Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck) to take in her 8-year-old niece (Maxime Foerste), her well-ordered life begins to unravel, made worse by the appearance of a lovable but sloppy sous-chef (Sergio Castellitto) in her spotless kitchen. What elevates "Martha" above the familiar opposites-attract and singleton-with-child formulas are the nuanced performances writer-director Sandra Nettelbeck coaxes from her trio of actors and the simple yet persuasive message that food, no matter how delicious, is no substitute for love. Contains material related to the death of a parent and an untranslated German vulgarity. In German with subtitles. Foxchase.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING (PG, 95 minutes) -- Clearly, comedian-filmmaker Nia Vardalos (full name: Antonia Eugenia Vardalos) not only grew up Greek, she took notes. In this amusing comedy, she celebrates and has fun with the Greek culture. She's Toula Portokalos, an unmarried woman forced (by her parents) to find a man. But when she does meet Mr. Right (John Corbett), well, he's not Greek. Imagine the calamity. The movie draws much material from Vardalos's one-woman show and has a little bit of everything: savvy narration, laugh-out-loud sight gags and such wry observations as this one, from Toula's mother, "The man is the head [of the household], but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head anywhere she wants." Contains some obscenity and a mild sexual situation. Area theaters.

{sstar}PAID IN FULL (R) -- Based on the true stories of 1980s drug dealers AZ, Alpo and Rich Porter (also featured in the docudrama "Game Over"), the movie's about the rise and fall of three friends, who all struggle to make a buck in their hometown Harlem. Directed by Charles Stone III, who made those Budweiser "whassup?" commercials, "Paid in Full" has few surprises, in terms of story. Essentially, it's "Once Upon a 'New Jack City.' " But the direction has a fluid, no-nonsense authority, and the performances by Wood Harris, Mekhi Phifer and Cam'ron seal the deal. Harris is surprisingly affecting as Ace. Vulnerable, awkward and full of genuine sympathy for the people in his corner of the world, he's the nicest dealer you could ever hope to meet upon rolling down your car window. Contains violence, obscenity, drug use and sexual content. Area theaters.

POKEMON 4EVER (G, 77 minutes) -- An evil hunter tracks a time-traveling Pokemon from 40 years ago to the present day, where he captures it and turns it into a monstrous version of itself with the power to destroy the forest. Stalwart Ash Ketchum (voice of Veronica Taylor) and pals Misty and Brock must once again save the world with the help of various and sundry magical critters whose names sound like Frank Zappa's children. While making somewhat more narrative sense than is typical for this sort of thing, "Pokemon's" environmentalism has one delicious irony in that the film is only going to sell more plastic junk that will end up sitting in some landfill "4Ever." Other than that, contains nothing objectionable. Laurel Cinema and University Mall Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (R, 95 minutes) -- Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, who made the inspired "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia," makes another gem. It's a movie of extraordinary subtlety, power and even hokey romanticism. And Adam Sandler proves he can act in grown-up films. Barry Egan (Sandler) is a loner with emotional problems. He had a traumatic past with taunting sisters. And he's just plain odd. But his soul is unequivocally pure. When he meets fellow-oddbird Lena (Emily Watson), it's obvious he's met his soul-mate. But he has to get rid of his demons, and a gang of bad guys who are targeting his bank account. Is Barry ready for romantic prime time? Thanks to Anderson's assured picture, a symphony of cinematic textures, that disarmingly simple question becomes incredibly compelling. Contains sexual situations, violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

RED DRAGON (R, 120 MINUTES) -- This prequel to It All (I mean "Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal"), directed by Brett Ratner, makes a hollow encore. Anthony Hopkins is in fine form as that silver-tongued, human-eating prince of darkness, Hannibal the Cannibal. So is Edward Norton, who plays Will Graham, a dogged, highly intelligent FBI investigator on the track of a brutal serial killer, and who needs Hannibal's help. But although the movie follows much of the novel, there's something hackneyed about the whole thing. Screenwriter Ted Tally replays the classical elements of "Silence of the Lambs" and that's the trouble. In the end, what we respond to in "Red Dragon" is merely the distant echoes of what we liked about "Lambs." As for the sudden appearance of Emily Watson and Ralph Fiennes about halfway through the story, the less said the better. And I don't just mean because it'll give things away. Contains disturbing violence, grisly images, language, some nudity and sexuality. Area theaters.

THE RING (PG-13, 115 minutes) -- Although writer-director Gore Verbinski exercises smart restraint (in terms of depicting blatant horror and gore), this supernatural movie (based on the Japanese flick "Ringu") trades on a tiresomely familiar conceit: death by videotape. Seattle reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) discovers that a number of people (including her niece) have died after watching a videotape. After anyone watches the spooky content -- featuring a scary woman in black and white -- a phone call tells the victim he or she is dead in a week. Rachel, who watches the video and gets the phone call, traces the source of this evil to the usual deserted locales. The finale, involving a well, has its creepy moments, but also its cliches. Contains adult themes, disturbing images and some obscenity. Area theaters.

{sstar}ROGER DODGER (R, 105 minutes) -- In writer-director Dylan Kidd's provocative satire, self-styled ladies man Roger (Campbell Scott) agrees to help his virginal, 16-year-old nephew (Jesse Eisenberg) pick up a woman. That night. Kidd, a first-time writer and director, has created a sophisticated but intriguingly toxic comedy of manners. As Nick, Eisenberg makes a perfect, pimply greenhorn. But Scott owns the movie. Without him, Roger would be a dark, twisted character, someone barely worth our time. But Scott infuses him with so much likable urgency, it's impossible to dismiss him easily. Contains sexual situations, drunkenness and obscenity. Landmark Bethesda Row.

THE SANTA CLAUSE 2 (G, 98 minutes) -- In this sequel to 1994's charming "The Santa Clause," Scott Calvin/Santa (Tim Allen) needs a wife or he'll lose his blessed status (that's the clause in this title). Can he get a wife, save Christmas, and also help his son (Eric Lloyd) who just turned up on Santa's Naughty List? From the amazingly unappealing child actors (including Spencer Breslin and David Krumholtz) who play Santa's little helpers, to the absurd plot about a cloned, substitute Santa who turns evil, the story has all the charm of coal in a stocking. Contains dating scenes between adults, which is, of course, totally gross. And that fake Santa may be too scary for some children. Area theaters.

SECRETARY (R, 104 minutes) -- This self-serious and pedestrian satire is about the edgy relationship between highly repressed, domination-minded boss E. Edward Grey (James Spader) and his more-than-willing new secretary, Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Turns out, Lee doesn't mind a little spanking. Seems these two were made for each other. One slipper on the bum can lead you all the way to the pearly gates of self-affirmation. Now there's a take-home message. The movie seems torn between giggling over this S&M match made in Heaven, and exploring the vulnerability of both characters. It settles for both and, yet, neither. Contains spanking, obscenity and sexual situations. Foxchase.

{sstar}SIGNS (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- M. Night Shyamalan's third film is a compelling idea: an alien invasion movie told as a small movie; a daytime nightmare that's limned in spare but cumulative details. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a former minister who dumped his faith after losing his wife, grows corn in rural Pennsylvania. When he finds mysterious crop circles in his cornfields, he gradually realizes this is part of an alien invasion. So he, his two children (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin) and brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), barricade themselves in the house. Shyamalan, the maker of "The Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable," tells his own kind of campfire story, and it's a thrill to sit in the flickering darkness with him. Contains overall intensity. University Mall Theatres.

{sstar}SPIDER-MAN (PG-13, 121 minutes) -- The movie's cute as a button. Make that two buttons, especially when you consider uber-blue-eyed Tobey Maguire, who plays Spidey, and Kirsten Dunst, who's the sweet, adorable gal next-door, Mary Jane "MJ" Watson. This movie is all about Maguire's infectious grin and Dunst's ravishingly innocent gaze. Instead of rooting for Spider-Man to save humankind from the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) and to revenge the death of his uncle (Cliff Robertson), you simply want these two endearing kids to get together. Dafoe's Green Goblin is more amusing than threatening. Oh sure, he's got devastating power bombs that can turn people into instant skeletons. But he's almost (sorry) cute, as he flies around on his airborne surfboard. With sociopaths like this, who needs easygoing people? And with disarmingly entertaining movies like this, dare I say, who needs big bad superhero movies? Contains violence inappropriate for young children. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafhouse.

SPY KIDS 2: THE ISLAND OF LOST DREAMS (PG, 107 minutes) -- Like the original movie about a pair of underage spies, "The Island of Lost Dreams" is chockablock with gadgets, despite a plot that sends our heroes (Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega) to a remote island that renders most of their high-tech equipment inoperable. In an overly complicated setup that doesn't bear repeating, the brother-and-sister duo wind up there in pursuit of a doomsday device called the transmooker, but their mission gets sidetracked when they -- and rival spies Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matt O'Leary and Emily Osment, Haley Joel's little sister) -- stumble upon a mad scientist (Steve Buscemi) and his menagerie of mutant animals. Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who performed every job on this movie except gaffer, tries to stuff every childhood fantasy he ever had into this movie, but it ends up with a lot of bells and whistles and absolutely no soul. Contains cartoonish violence, a bit of vulgar language, jokes about vomit and dung and scenes of children in jeopardy. University Mall Theatres and Sterling Cinema Draft.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

STAR WARS: EPISODE II -- ATTACK OF THE CLONES (PG, 142 minutes) -- Ten years after the events of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace," Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his Padawan apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are assigned to protect Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) from assassins. Obi-Wan uncovers a bigger picture that includes a bounty hunter named Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), who's assembling a clone army, and the rogue Jedi, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), who's amassing a coalition of separatists against the Republic. In the tortured syntax of Yoda: Great movie not is "Attack of the Clones." And as the budding Darth Vader, Christensen is resoundingly disappointing. George Lucas's prequel is surprisingly dismal. And the romance between Anakin and Padme is a frigid zero. And when you've seen one scene of mass-generated clones marching in symmetrical fashion, you've seen them all. Contains sustained sci-fi action and violence. Johnson IMAX Theater at the National Museum of Natural History and Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{sstar}STUART LITTLE 2 (PG) -- A screeching falcon and a canary in distress: These are the new animals on the block in this sweet-natured sequel about a mouse and his adopted human family. Stuart (voice of Michael J. Fox), who saves canary Margalo (Melanie Griffith) from the falcon (James Woods), is perplexed when she disappears. Has the falcon kidnaped her? He goes to the rescue, recruiting his reluctant, wisecracking housemate, Snowbell the cat (Nathan Lane). The movie's more like a TV episode, a small adventure that reunites Stuart with human Mom, Eleanor Little (Geena Davis), his Dad, Frederick (Hugh Laurie), his brother George (Jonathan Lipnicki). But it's still charming. Contains mildly strong language. Laurel Cinema.

SWEET HOME ALABAMA (PG-13, 109 minutes) -- Is apple-pie-cheeked Melanie (Reese Witherspoon) really headed for marriage with rich heartthrob Andrew (Patrick Dempsey), the JFK-like son of the New York mayor, or will our aspiring fashion designer come to her senses when she revisits her hometown in 'Bama? She'll have to patch up differences with her folks (Fred Ward and Mary Kay Place) and finally clear things up with estranged husband Jake (Josh Lucas). But that shouldn't be too difficult. Down home is, after all, the real deal in any romantic comedy like this, where predictability grows like kudzu. But Witherspoon is a charming candidate for America's Sweetheart. Contains some obscenity and heavy drinking. Area theaters.

{sstar}THE TRANSPORTER (PG-13, 92 minutes) -- Jason Stathom is the thinking man's Vin Diesel. Suave where Diesel is simply hulking, the former world-class British diver brings a hipster aplomb, James Bond-like charisma, leonine grace and lightning-quick athleticism to the role of a freelance courier who ends up tangling with an underworld client (Matt Schulze) when he falls in love with one of his "packages." That would be Lai (Shu Qi) a beauty who has gone against her crime lord father and is now dispensable. Directed by chop-socky jack-of-all-trades Cory Yuen, "The Transporter" breaks several of the laws of logic and law enforcement (and most of the laws of physics), even as it obeys the first law of action movie-making: It quickens the heart and dazzles the eye. Contains mild obscenity, gunplay, extensive martial arts action, automotive mayhem and brief sensuality. Laurel Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}THE TRIALS OF HENRY KISSINGER (Unrated, 80 minutes) -- Eugene Jarecki's documentary takes a hard-line look at the moral doings of Henry Kissinger during his years in political power. The film casts (or exposes, depending on your political choice of language) him as power player, kingmaker, agent of collusion, Zen manipulator (and Nobel Peace Prize winner, to boot) behind many significant events of the 20th century, including the Vietnam War peace talks, the bombing of Cambodia and the military coup of Salvador Allende in Chile. There's more than enough evidence here to justify, at the very least, revisionist scrutiny. It's unfortunate Kissinger can only be found in archival footage. Contains footage of war atrocities. Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge.

THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE (PG-13, 106 minutes) -- This very loose remake of Stanley Donen's 1963 "Charade," is both heavily flawed and wildly liberating. It clearly indicates director Jonathan Demme's desire to get back to the spirit of his earlier, zanier work, such as "Something Wild." But there's not much else to it, except a sweet performance by Thandie Newton. She's a Parisian named Regina who finds out strange things about her husband after his untimely death. Those things include an apparent fortune he left behind. She meets a good-looking, buff young man (Mark Wahlberg) who claims he's in love with her and wants to protect her from all those people suddenly interested in her. They include a French detective (Christine Boisson) and an apparent CIA man (Tim Robbins). The movie's hampered by Wahlberg, whose gym-toned physique has an inverse ratio to his credibility as a romantic leading man. Contains some violence, nudity and sexual content. AMC Mazza Gallerie.

TUCK EVERLASTING (PG, 90 minutes) -- This Walt Disney movie's about an inquisitive teenage girl named Winnie (Alexis Bledel) who discovers a new world in the woods near her home. She meets Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson) and an unusual family, including his father (William Hurt), mother (Sissy Spacek) and insolent brother (Scott Bairstow). What are they doing there? Where are they from? Little by little, Winnie discovers new, fascinating things about them. The acting is occasionally creakily theatrical; as is the script. But some important things come through, from the original book by Natalie Babbitt: notions of immortality, everlasting love and the idea that you should appreciate the good things while you can. Contains some violence. Area theaters.

THE TUXEDO (PG-13, 96 minutes) -- This comedy, featuring Jackie Chan as an over-impulsive cab driver, is the Chinese performers's worst in recent memory. Working as the driver for a veddy English multimillionaire (Jason Isaacs), he discovers a suit with extraordinary powers: to make him act like . . . Jackie Chan. Why he needs the jacket, Lord knows. Dressed in this mystical coat, he becomes a sort of superman, finally capable of talking to the girl, dancing, performing gymnastic tricks, everything. And yet, the movie never quite delivers the promise of a Chan display. And in the worst of cliches, he's teamed with a rookie agent named Del Blaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt). Never was chemistry so non-existent. Even the end credits, in which the film shows "crazy" outtakes of the Chan stunts, will put you to sleep. Contains action violence, sexual content and obscenities. Entirely humor-free. Muvico Egyptian Theatres and Sterling Cinema Draft.

WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD (R, 86 minutes) -- Filmmakers Anthony and Joe Russo's comedy has its inventively funny moments. But it gets too cute for its own good. Set in Collinwood, a grotty Cleveland slum, it's about a motley collection of one-of-a-kind rogues and losers, who try to rob a jewelry store. Roll the quirky drums and meet the gang, including ornery gal (Patricia Clarkson), her jailed boyfriend (Luis Guzman), a hapless baby-toting mug (William H. Macy) in cheek-hugging sideburns, and a charming loser (Sam Rockwell) who fancies himself as both ladies man and boxer. The funny stuff comes from Rockwell, who suggests an amusing Gary Oldman without the obnoxious, self-regarding edge, and Macy, who uses his pug face with authority. But the movie devolves into an over-kitschy would-be laff-riot, in which all of the cast attempt to shtick it to each other. Contains sexual situations, bad language and some violence. Muvico Egyptian Theatres.

WHITE OLEANDER (PG-13, 109 minutes) -- In this darkly observed drama, California teenager Astrid (Alison Lohman) weathers a hard life of foster homes and bizarre foster parents, after her mother Ingrid (Pfeiffer) is sent to prison for murder. In an elliptical string of highlights from the novel, Astrid lives, variously, with Starr Thomas (Robin Wright Penn), a onetime gun-toting stripper with a passion for Jesus; the emotionally delicate Claire Richards (Renee Zellweger), who suffers under the lovelessness of her husband (Cole Hauser); and Rena Grushenka (Svetlana Efremova), a Russian woman with a rather laissez-faire idea of parenting. Attempting to get a little bit of everything from Janet Fitch's edgy novel, screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue rations out too little to each episode. We never have strong emotional ties to the story. Contains violence,obscenity, suicide and sexual situations. AMC Courthouse and Annapolis Harbour.

XXX (PG-13, 124 minutes) -- An expensive, obnoxious and smug campaign to force Vin Diesel down our throats as the new Arnold, "XXX" will tank at the box office if there is any justice, and Diesel will be forced to pursue honest work as an aerobics instructor. Not gonna happen. "XXX" is here and now. The saga of Xander Cage, a thrill-seeking bad boy who's into big toys and big stunts and who gets recruited by the National Security Agency on a top-secret mission, "XXX" is essentially a dumb guy's day in Heaven, replete with high-octane stunts, fights, explosions, drugs, babes and cars, but not much else that you haven't already seen in any James Bond movie. Contains violence, sexual situations, drug content and obscenity. University Mall Theatres.

Repertory

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM -- At the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater: "Space Station 3D," daily at 11:05, 1:05 and 3:05 and Mondays-Thursdays at 5:45. "To Fly!," daily at 10:25 and Mondays-Thursdays at 5:05. "Straight Up: Helicopters in Action," daily at 12:10, 2:10 and 4:10. "Apollo 13: The IMAX Experience," Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 5. At the Albert Einstein Planetarium: "Infinity Express," daily at 10:30, 11, 11:30, 12:30, 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, 4, 4:30 and 5; "The Stars Tonight," daily at noon. Seventh and Independence SW. 202-357-1686.

ALDEN THEATRE -- "Exploring Ancient America," Wednesday at 8. 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean, VA. 703-790-9223.

"ART-O-MATIC" FILMS -- "Washington Interns Gone Bad," Friday at 8. Free. Transfer Theater, 401 M St. SW. Call 202-661-7582.

CINEMA ART BETHESDA -- "Happy Times," Sunday at 10. Landmark Bethesda Row Theatre, 7236 Woodmont Avenue, Bethesda. 301-365-3679.

FILMS ON THE HILL -- "Night Owls" and "Way Out West," Friday at 7. "The Four Feathers (1939)," Wednesday at 7. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh Street SE. 202-547-6839.

FILMS ABOUT FILM -- "America's Sweethearts," Monday at 7:30. Free. Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium, Towson University, 7800 York Road, Towson. 410-704-2787.

FREER GALLERY -- "Silence . . . We're Rolling," Friday at 7. "Asoka," Sunday at 2. "That Is Life" and "Women Like Us," followed by discussions with the directors, Thursday at 7. 12th and Jefferson SW. 202-357-2700.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Verboten," Friday at 7. "The Chase," Tuesday at 7. "Niagara," Thursday at 7. Free, but reservations required. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- "Space Station (3D)," daily at 12 and 3:25, Thursday-Saturday at 7:50, Saturday-Sunday at 5:40, and Sunday at 1:10. "Bears," Thursday-Sunday at 6:50 and Saturday-Sunday at 11. "The Human Body," daily at 2:20 and 4:35. "Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man," Friday-Saturday at 9. 601 Light St., Baltimore. 410-685-5225.

MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY -- "Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West," daily at 11:10, 2, and 3:50; "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous (3D)," daily at 12:05, 1:05, 2:55, and 4:45; "Galapagos (3D)," daily at 10:20; "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones," daily at 6 and Friday-Saturday at 8:15. Samuel C. Johnson Theater, Tenth and Constitution NW. 202-633-7400.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Stan Brakhage, Program 8," Saturday at 12:30. "Hukkle" and "Sleepwalkers," Saturday at 3. "Light Falls on Your Face," Sunday at 4. "New York School," Wednesday-Thursday at 12:30. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WOMEN IN THE ARTS -- "Judy Chicago and the Politics of Art," Wednesday at 7. 1250 New York Ave. NW. 202-783-7370.

PSYCHOTRONIC FILM SOCIETY -- "Mystics in Bali," Tuesday at 8. Dr. Dremo's Taphouse, 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 202-736-1732 or 202-707-2540.

SLAYTON HOUSE THEATRE -- "Girl Crazy," Friday at 7:30. Wilde Lake Village Green, Columbia, MD. 410-715-3087.

New on Video

These movies arrive on video store shelves this week.

BAD COMPANY

(PG-13, 2002, 117 MINUTES, BUENA VISTA PICTURES)

Groan: Reserved white CIA agent, Gaylord Oakes (Anthony Hopkins) recruits sassy streetwise hustler Jake Hayes (Chris Rock) to fulfill a dangerous mission. Turns out Jake had a twin brother (also Rock) he never knew about, who worked for the CIA and was killed in the line of duty. The agent wants Jake to complete his dead brother's mission, a scam project which involves buying a nuclear device from a European operator named Adrik Vas (Peter Stormare). To cut a longwinded, predictable scenario short, Oakes trains Jake to act like his lost brother -- but (under orders from the Company) doesn't fully reveal how much danger he's in. Cue the nutty dynamic between "urban" wisecracking and chilly, white deadpan. And continue to groan. Contains violence, bad language, sexual situations and straight-to-video formula.

-- Desson Howe

{sstar}THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

(PG, 2002, 94 MINUTES, MIRAMAX FILMS)

In Oliver Parker's smart, sassy interpretation of the Oscar Wilde play, two friends, Jack Worthing (Colin Firth) and Algy Moncrieff (Rupert Everett), use imaginary people to get out of trouble or sheer dreariness. Jack escapes his routine country life by pretending to have a worthless brother in London, called Ernest, who always needs his help. Algy does similar tricks with a non-existent, invalid friend named Bunbury. But both get into complications when their respective love interests (Reese Witherspoon and Frances O'Connor) profess a desire to be married to someone named Ernest. It's a delightful, witty farce in which staying ahead of trouble is a gentleman's true calling and Wilde's humorous repartee gets all the curtain calls. Contains nothing objectionable.

-- D.H.

STAR WARS: EPISODE II -- ATTACK

OF THE CLONES

(PG, 2002, 142 MINUTES, 20TH CENTURY FOX)

Ten years after the events of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace," Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his Padawan apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are assigned to protect Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) from assassins. Obi-Wan uncovers a bigger picture that includes a bounty hunter named Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), who's assembling a clone army, and the rogue Jedi, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), who's amassing a coalition of separatists against the Republic. In the tortured syntax of Yoda: Great movie not is "Attack of the Clones." And as the budding Darth Vader, Christensen is resoundingly disappointing. George Lucas's prequel is surprisingly dismal. And the romance between Anakin and Padme is a frigid zero. And when you've seen one scene of mass-generated clones marching in symmetrical fashion, you've seen them all. Contains sustained sci-fi action and violence.

-- D.H.