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

Openings

ADAM SANDLER'S EIGHT CRAZY NIGHTS (PG-13) -- See capsule review on Page 44.

ARARAT -- See review on Page 44.

EXTREME OPS (PG-13) -- See capsule description on Page 44.

EL CRIMEN DEL PADRE AMARO (R) -- See review on Page 43.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONEY (R) -- See capsule review on Page 44.

ON GUARD! (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 44.

SOLARIS (PG-13) -- See capsule review on Page 44.

TREASURE PLANET (PG) -- See review on Page 43.

WES CRAVEN PRESENTS: "THEY" (PG-13) -- See capsule description on Page 44.

First Runs & Revivals {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.

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. Laurel Cinema.

-- Richard Harrington

{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 oughtto 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. Potomac Yard Cinema, Muvico Egyptian Theatres.

{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. Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.

{sstar}DIE ANOTHER DAY (PG-13, 132 minutes) -- It's James Bond as usual, which means good if numbingly repetitive entertainment. Director Lee Tamahori and writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade follow all the rules: the opening action scene; the girl-saturated title sequence (featuring a Madonna song); exotic locales (Cuba, Iceland,etc.); the girls (the marquee babe being Halle Berry); the gadgets; and Bond's usual meetings with M (Dame Judi Dench) and Q (John Cleese, the freshest breath of air in the whole movie). Tamahori adds some witty tributes to old Bond flicks (including Berry's swimsuit meant to evoke Ursula Andress's bikini in 1962's "Dr. No") but essentially, this is a repeat episode. Contains action violence and sexual content. 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}THE EMPEROR'S CLUB (PG-13, 110 minutes) -- At St. Benedict's Academy for Boys, classics professor William Hundert (Kevin Kline) has a contentious relationship with sassy pupil, Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch). But as Sedgewick's work improves, Hundert starts to hope this unruly student might turn his life around. Directed by Michael Hoffman (who also made "Soapdish" and "Restoration"), the movie has a quietly entrancing quality. It isn't a stand up and cheer flick; it's a sit down and ponder affair. And thanks to Kline's superbly nuanced performance, that pondering is highly pleasurable. Contains nudity andsexual content. Area theaters.

{sstar}FAR FROM HEAVEN (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- In Todd Haynes's tribute to the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) and her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), seem like the perfect couple. But when Frank confesses to doubts about his sexual orientation, Cathy's life becomes an overwhelming crisis. And when she reaches out for emotional support to Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), her African American gardener, she incurs problems with her tightknit Connecticut community. Moore's performance is terrific as Cathy, a normal woman caught unwittingly at the forefront of a dawning social consciousness. Contains mature thematic elements, sexual content, brief violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

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. AMC Mazza Gallerie.

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.

FRIDAY AFTER NEXT (R, 85 minutes) -- Craig Jones (Ice Cube) and his good-for-nothingcousin Day-Day (Mike Epps) are robbed on Christmas Eve by some punk dressed as Santa. And they have until the end of this Friday to pay their rent or a big guy named Damon (Terry Crews), just back from jail will take care of them. Producer/costar Cube's follow-up to the successful comedies "Friday" and "Next Friday" doesn't have the spark of the first two movies. Certainly Epps has his moments. And Cube's still the best thing about it. But all those jokes about "hos" and even more unmentionable subjects are lame. They seem like mere splashing around in the muck. Contains all the bad stuff:obscenity, sexism, bathroom humor, sexual scenes, nudity and violence. Area theaters.

HALF PAST DEAD (PG-13, 105 minutes) -- In this far-fetched prison action flick, Steven Seagal is do-ragged inmate Sascha Petrosevitch, the FBI's last, best hope when a psychotic inmate Donny (Morris Chestnut) takes a Supreme Court justice (Linda Thorson) hostage at an execution. Seagal is so beefy and lethargic, there's hardly room for anyone else on the screen, let alone spotlight-hogging rappers Ja Rule and Kurupt (as fellow prisoners) and dance-pop flop Nia Peeples as Donny's vinyl-clad, midriff-baring right-hand woman. Common sense flies out the window, along with the hail of bullets, none of which ever seem to hit Sascha. Contains pervasive martial arts and gun violence and some crude language. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (PG, 161 minutes) -- Something evil's lurking in the bowels of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) attends. And in this second installment in the Potter series, the young wizard and pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Sara Watson) try to find it. This movie, which marks the late Richard Harris's last appearance as headmaster Dumbledore, isn't as charming as the original. It's darker and narratively more longwinded. And the special effects seem to be competing with the Lord of the Rings movies. Also, many of the movie's memorable elements and characters (including Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman and Julie Walters) are rendered into near-cameo players. But nothing from J.K. Rowling's book is left to wither away. And that should please the vast reading audience that'll watch the movie. Contains some emotionally intense moments. Area theaters.

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. Sterling Cinema Draft House, Laurel Cinema 6 and University Mall Theatres.

-- 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. Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.

-- 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}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}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.

{sstar}REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES (PG-13, 90 minutes) -- It may be one of the oldest stories ever told: American immigrants trying to keep their children steeped in old-country tradition. But it feels like one of the freshest, thanks to America Ferrera, who makes one cheeky, tough and adorable daughter. She's Ana Garcia, an 18-year-old Mexican American whose desire to attend college clashes with the plans of her old-school mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), who wants Ana to help in the family's dress-making sweatshop. The movie, which George LaVoo and Josefina Lopez adapted from Lopez's play, is a dyed-in-the-womb female empowerment movie. But the performers are so deeply authentic, the movie's cliches and obvious agenda attain a certain recycled glow. Contains obscenity and sexual situations. 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. Sterling Cinema Draft and University Mall Theatres.

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 and Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.

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 and Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge.

{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. Laurel Cinema, Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

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

{sstar}STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN (PG, 106 minutes) -- About the greatest hit machine in the history of pop: Hitsville USA, the music factory of Tamla Motown. Director Paul Justman and writer Alan Slutsky pay tribute to the musicians behind the curtain: the session players, such as Uriel Jones, Eddie Willis, James Jamerson and Robert White, whose job it was to make these songs work. These so-called Funk Brothers were the beat and the groove. "Shadows" gives us the proof of the pudding: 12 great Motown hits, which many of these aging musicians perform live in Detroit, 41 years after their heyday began. And contemporary guest vocalists, including Chaka Khan, Joan Osborne, Ben Harper and Me'Shell NdegeOcello, provide their interpretations of these well-known standards. In these performances, you can appreciate the building blocks of greatness. Contains nothing particularly objectionable. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.

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. Ballston Common and Annapolis Mall.

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.Area theaters.

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 -- "The Misty Isles of Scotland," Wednesday at 8. 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean. 703-790-9223.

CHARLES THEATRE -- "Written on the Wind," Saturday at noon. 1711 N. Charles St., Baltimore. 410-727-3456.

CINEMA ART BETHESDA -- "Mile Zero," Sunday at 10 a.m. Landmark Bethesda Row Theatre, 7236 Woodmont Avenue, Bethesda. 301-365-3679.

DCJCC -- "God Is Great, I'm Not," Thursday at 6:45. "Marlene Dietrich: Her Own Song," Thursday at 9:15. 1529 16th St. NW. 202-777-3248.

FILMS ON THE HILL -- "The Man Who Played God" and "Danger Lights," Wednesday at 7. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh Street SE. 202-547-6839.

FILMS ABOUT FILM -- "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" Monday at 7:30. Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium, Towson University, 7800 York Road, Towson. 410-704-2787.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Apartment for Peggy," Tuesday at 7. "Home in Oklahoma" and "Border Saddlemates," Thursday at 6:30. 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; "Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man," Friday-Saturday at 7:45; "Galapagos (3D)," daily at 10:20; "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones," Friday-Saturday at 6 and 8:15. Samuel C. Johnson Theater, Tenth and Constitution NW. 202-633-7400.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Rocco and His Brothers," Thursday at 2; "Rivers and Tides," Saturday at 12:30; "Stan Brakhage, program 9," Saturday at 3; "Stan Brakhage, program 10," Sunday at 4. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND -- "My Friend Ivan Lapshin," Wednesday at 7. Stamp Student Union, Hoff Theater. University of Maryland, College Park. 301-405-4772.

VISIONS CINEMA BISTRO LOUNGE -- "Adrian Salsgiver Film Festival," Tuesday at 7. "Animal House," Friday-Saturday at midnight. 1927 Florida Ave. NW. 202-667-0090.

New on Video

These movies arrive on video store shelves this week.

{sstar}ICE AGE

(PG, 2002, 75 MINUTES, 20TH CENTURY FOX)

This digitally animated movie, filled with a cast of charming, funny critters from long ago, is family entertainment at its most bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Pull your kids away from their video games. They'll love it. Better yet, so will you. It's about a coalition of animals, including woolly mammoth Manfred (voice of Ray Romano), sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) and saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary), that decides to return a deserted human baby to its human herd. The movie, funny and poignant, flows like a dream. And the characters are distinctive and likable, thanks to good performances and graceful, imaginative digital imagery. Contains many tense moments.

-- Desson Howe

{sstar}LOVELY & AMAZING

(R, 2002, LIONS GATE FILMS)

When family matriarch Jane Marks (Brenda Blethyn) goes in for extensive liposuction, someone's got to watch her bratty, adopted daughter, Annie (Raven Goodwin), an 8-year-old African American girl who stuffs her face with candy and clings to her mother. Jane's older daughters Michelle (Catherine Keener), the dour, oldest one, and Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer), an insecure woman who picks up stray animals and dreams of being an actor, share the duties. But they've got incredibly tough emotional and romantic problems of their own. Nicole Holofcener's warmhearted and slightly edgy seriocomedy, puts a close monitor on all four and watches their lives unfold with an amused eye. This is soap opera with a brain. It's honest and bitterly funny. Contains nudity, sexual scenes and obscenity.

-- D.H.

{sstar}MEN IN BLACK II

(PG-13, 2002, 89 MINUTES, COLUMBIA PICTURES)

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.

-- D.H.

UNDISPUTED

(R, 2002, 90 MINUTES, MIRAMAX)

Walter Hill's cliched prison boxing picture trades on angry attitude from Ving Rhames, menacing cool from Wesley Snipes and punches that sound as if the foley artists (the sound-effects specialists) were swinging baseball bats against a wet gunnysack full of cabbages. Rhames is the world heavyweight champ, in jail for alleged rape. Snipes is the champ of the penitentiary, undefeated. Of course, there's an in-prison fight, and of course, it's bought and fixed. And the puppeteer behind the event is convict Emmanuel "Mendy" Ripstein (Peter Falk in the ridiculous "dem, dese and dose" role of a lifetime). How should I say this? This thing's like every other prison and/or smash-'em movie you've ever seen. Contains boxing violence and obscenity.

-- D.H.

"The Emperor's Club" features Rishi Mehta, left, Emile Hirsch, Jesse Eisenberg and Paul Dano.Kenneth Branagh, left, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."