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

Openings

ANALYZE THAT (R) -- See review on Page 42.

EMPIRE (R) -- See capsule review on Page 43.

EQUILIBRIUM (R) -- See capsule review on Page 43.

FIDEL (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 43.

PANDORA'S BOX (R) -- See capsule description on Page 43.

PERSONAL VELOCITY (R) -- See review on Page 42.

STEALING THE FIRE (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 43.

THE WAY HOME (PG) -- See capsule review on Page 43.

First Runs & Revivals ADAM SANDLER'S EIGHT CRAZY NIGHTS (PG-13, 75 minutes) -- This animated feature, an unorthodox, politically incorrect holiday movie musical (sort of) set around Hanukah, has all the essentials for Adam Sandler's kind of success: toilet humor, insult one-liners, bawdy irreverence, alcohol abuse and just about everything to make parents roll their eyes but rent the video for their kids anyway. Delinquent Davey Stone (Sandler) gets a new lease on life when he's saved from prison by Whitey (Sandler too), a small, bearded coot who runs the local youth basketball program. Predictably, nasty old Davey will bond with the old fella and yada yada. This movie does have its passing moments of charm and funniness; and the musical numbers are left-field, anarchic and occasionally amusing in a naughty way. But there's so much gross material, any gains are lost. Contains frequent crude and sexual humor, drinking and brief drug references. Area theaters.

{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.

ARARAT (R, 126 minutes) -- Atom Egoyan's movie, attempting to bring the white-hot issue of the 1915 Armenian genocide to light, has extinguished it with too much purpose. Too many subplots and a few too many layers of intellectual remove clog the air. Some of those subplots include the life of Arshile Gorky (Simon Abkarian), an Armenian painter who escaped the Turkish horrors, ultimately to paint "The Artist and His Mother," a national treasure of a canvas for his people; a film-within-a-film as a director (Charles Aznavour) attempts to make an epic movie of the massacre at the hands of the Turks; and the spiritual searchings of Raffi (David Alpay), an 18-year-old Armenian Canadian trying to come to grips with his family and ethnic history. Unfortunately, the movie appeals to the brain but not the heart. Contains violence, sexual content, nudity and obscenity. Loews Georgetown and Landmark Bethesda.

{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. .Landmark Bethesda Row, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

{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.

{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. Foxchase.

THE COUNTRY BEARS (PG, 88 minutes) -- Animatronic bear, Beary Barrington (voice of Haley Joel Osment), initiates the renaissance of a broken-up but once-popular country music band, the Country Bears. The band includes the interchangeable Zeb Zoober, Tennessee O'Neal, Trixie St. Claire, Ted Bedderhead and Fred Bedderhead. Real musicians Don Henley, John Hiatt, Bonnie Raitt, Brian Setzer and Krystal lend their background voices to the Bears and other beary musicians. This movie feels like a franchise campaign rather than the charm-arama experience it claims to be. But the movie has at least one thing on its side: the Disney contract, which protects children from the nasty world outside. Contains nothing objectionable except lip synching. University Mall.

{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}EL CRIMEN DEL PADRE AMARO (R, 118 minutes) -- In Carlos Carrera's modernized adaptation of an 1875 novel (by Jose Maria Eca de Queiros), Padre Amaro (Gael Garcia Bernal) arrives in Los Reyes, Mexico, to lead the parish. But he falls in love with Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancon), a pious beauty who harbors some sacrilegious desires. The movie works itself into a lather of passion, anguish, profanity and tragedy, but there's more to this popular Mexican movie than straight soap opera. It's anti-clerical rather than anti-religious. And even though the movie can be morally tangled, pessimistic, lurid and foreboding, it's also humanistic. Even though everyone seems vaguely damned, they're distinctly human and vulnerable. Contains nudity, sexual scenes, medical bloodshed, obscenity and profanity. In Spanish with subtitles. Landmark Bethesda Row, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington 7, and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

{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.

EXTREME OPS (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- What do you get when you mix extreme winter sports and wild stunts? "Jack-ice", or "Extreme Ops," in which a video director (Rufus Sewell) and a group of extreme skiers and snow boarders shooting a commercial in an isolated, not-quite-finished resort in the Austrian Alps run into a Serbian war criminal in hiding. The result is like watching ESPN2 with commercials replaced by nonsensical plot lines. In other words, the action speaks louder than words, and almost as loud as the inevitable pulse- pounding techno score. Several hundred stuntmen are the heroes here, responsible for bracing sequences of high-speed leaps off sharp cliffs and down steep mountainsides, including a climactic race ahead of a thundering avalanche (better than the CG version in "XXX"). The adrenaline-fueled thrill-seekers enjoy such diversions as skateboarding atop speeding trains and snow boarding behind them (think water skis over rugged snow-covered terrain). While much of the film looks like a live action version of the latest video games -- and the character development is on about the same level -- there's just enough zippity in "Extreme Ops" to cover the doodah. Contains some obscenity and violence. Area theaters.

-- Richard Harrington

{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 the classic 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. Laurel Cinema 6.

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-nothing cousin 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/co-star 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. Hoyts Bowie Cinema, Annapolis Mall 11, and Hoyts Potomac Yard Cinema 16.

-- 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 (Emma 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 long-winded. 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.

-- 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 Inner 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. Laurel Cinema 6.

-- 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

LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONEY (R, 88 minutes) -- Existentially Weary Prostitute No. 1 (Vera Farmiga) picks up Lonely John No. 2 (Dominick Lombardozzi), who is later seduced by Sexually Frustrated Society Wife No. 3 (Jill Hennessy), whose Distant Husband No. 4 (Malcolm Gets) runs off to make a pass at a Supposedly Straight Male Painter No. 5 (Steve Buscemi), who then hits on Foxy Art Gallery Receptionist No. 6 (Rosario Dawson) . . . and so on and so forth until a bum-you-out conclusion. Writer-director Peter Mattei's intriguingly cyclic feature debut, despite impeccable acting and unexpected story turns, is just too, too precious in the end. Contains profanity, strong sexual content and brief violent imagery. Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{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}ON GUARD! (LE BOSSU) (Unrated, 120 minutes) -- In this 1997 French-Italian-German co-production, Daniel Auteuil is a charming, cheeky master swordsman named Lagardere in pre-revolutionary France who becomes the protector and companion of a duke (Vincent Perez). The duke needs help against the henchmen of his scheming cousin, the Count of Gonzague (Fabrice Luchini), who's trying to steal the duke's estate. It seems the count was all set to inherit the duke's fortune until the duke discovered a more direct heir, an illegitimate daughter. Adapted from Paul Feval's 1857 book "Le Bossu," Philippe de Broca's movie is over-the-top but enjoyable entertainment. After an odd twist and a time jump of 16 years, the movie loses its thread and momentum. But the sword fighting is well done and Auteuil is a goofy pleasure. In French with subtitles. Contains nothing objectionable. Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge.

{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. Landmark Bethesda Row, AMC Courthouse and Loews Georgetown.

{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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

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. Cineplex Odeon Inner 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. 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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

SOLARIS (PG-13, 95 minutes) -- Steven Soderbergh's remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 film (of the same name) exudes the impressive authority of a "2001," with similarly slow and meticulous pacing, and credible, futuristic production design. But the movie, starring George Clooney, never rises above its surface texture. Clooney is moderately effective as Chris Kelvin, a doctor grieving his dead wife (Natascha McElhone), who's sent to investigate strange doings on a space station near the planet Solaris. After finding one dead crewman (Ulrich Tukur) and two strangely behaved survivors (Jeremy Davies and Viola Davis), Kelvin becomes affected by the weird atmosphere. When he sees his dead wife, the movie enters the metaphysical realm. But even by the art film standards it apes, "Solaris" lacks conviction. Contains nudity, sexual situations and some violence. Area theaters.

{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.

{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. Sterling Cinema Draft and University Mall Theatres.

{sstar}TREASURE PLANET (PG, 95 minutes) -- Walt Disney's animated feature is a canny modernizing of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic, "Treasure Planet." It's set in outer space, where the ships are jet-powered galleons. In this story, Jim (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) embarks on a voyage to find a planet laden with treasure. His companions include Silver (Brian Murray) a part cyborg, whose shape-shifting blob of a partner, Morph, is a clever twist on Stevenson's parrot, and (Martin Short) a robot named B.E.N. (which stands for Bio-Electronic-Navigator) who's missing some brain circuitry. The visuals, including the monstrous pull of a black hole, are some of Disney's best. And Short's amusing as B.E.N, who's unable to follow a single train of thought. Contains adventure action and peril. Area theaters.

WAKING UP IN RENO (R, 90 minutes) -- Billy Bob Thornton, Natasha Richardson, Charlize Theron and Patrick Swayze star in this romantic road trip comedy. Thornton plays Arkansas car dealer Lonnie Earl who hits the road with his wife (Richardson), best pal Roy (Swayze) and Roy's wife, Candy (Theron), to Reno, Nev., for a monster truck extravaganza. Contains sexual situations and obscenity. University Mall Theatres.

WES CRAVEN PRESENTS: THEY (PG-13, 89 minutes) -- Remember those hiding-in-the-closet and lurking-under-the-bed night terrors you had as a kid after your parents said good night and turned off the lights? Turns out They were less a figment of anyone's imagination than folks suspected ("They hide in the dark so you can't see Them"). And They're back for Billy 19 years after scaring him in the film's opening sequence; he opts out via suicide in front of childhood pal Julia (likeable Mia Farrow-ish Laura Regan), who quickly meets up with a mini night terror support group. Skittish cameras, incessant rain, flickering lights, crying babies and loud telephones augur badly for everyone, including audiences who really have no one to root for or against, so thin is the premise, so weak the exposition. The film is long on atmospherics (thanks to cinematographer Rene Ohashi and director Robert Harmon), but comes up short on plot, character development and that all-important issue of motivation: What are They, what do They want and why are They back now? "Monsters, Inc." isn't just a funnier exploration of this theme, it's actually scarier! Most frightening, though, is Wes Craven's willingness to attach his name to a terrible film he apparently had nothing to do with. Contains mild violence and mild sexual content. Area theaters.

-- Richard Harrington

RepertoryAIR 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.

CHARLES THEATRE -- "Marnie," Saturday at noon. 1711 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD. 410-727-3456.

FREER GALLERY - "ABC Africa," Friday at 7. "Pistol Opera," Saturday at 2. 12th and Jefferson SW. 202-357-2700.

FILMS ABOUT FILM -- "My Favorite Year," Monday at 7:30. Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium, Towson University, 7800 York Road, Towson. 410-704-2787.

GRIOT CINEMA - "John Henrik Clarke: A Great & Mighty Walk," Friday-Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 4:30 and 7:30. Erico Cafe, 1334 U St. NW. 202-518-9742.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS - "Pee Wee's Playhouse: Open House" and "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," Friday at 7. "Johnny Eager," Tuesday at 7. "The Ambushers," 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 1:10 and 5:40. "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.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES -- "December 7th," Friday at noon. Room 105, National Archives Building, Pennsylvania Ave. NW between 7th St. and 9th St. Free. Monday at noon, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD. Free. 202-501-5000.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Zvenigora" and "Arsenal," Saturday at 2:30. Short films by Jean Vigo, Sunday at 2. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

VISIONS CINEMA BISTRO LOUNGE -- "Animal House," Friday-Saturday at midnight. 1927 Florida Ave. NW. 202-667-0090.

WASHINGTON JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL -- At the Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater, DCJCC, 1529 16th St. NW: "God is Great, I'm Not," Friday at 1. "Dust," "Madonna with Child, XX Century," "Memoires Incertaines," and "Silent Song," Friday at 5:45. "The House I Live In" and "Strange Fruit," Friday at 7:30. "Giraffes," Friday at 9:30. "Purity," Sunday at noon. "Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good," Sunday at 2. "Exodus to Berlin," Sunday at 3:15. "Adio Kerida," Sunday at 5:45. "Unfair Competiton," Sunday at 8:15 and Monday at 1. "Last Dance," Monday at 6:30. "Motel the Operator" and "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," Monday at 8:45 and Wednesday at 1. "Shoes From America," Tuesday at 1. "Shalom Y'all," Tuesday at 6:15. "Esther Kahn," Tuesday at 8:15 and Thursday at 1. "A Home on the Range" and "Song of a Jewish Cowboy," Wednesday at 6:15. "For My Children" and "It's About Time," Wednesday at 8:30. "Madonna with Child, XX Century," "My Dear Clara," and "Silent Song," Thursday at 7. "Hitmakers: The Teens Who Stole Pop Music," Thursday at 9. At the Goethe Institut, 814 7th St. NW: "Shoes From America," Sunday at 2. "Meyer from Berlin" and "Shoe Palace Pinkus," Sunday at 4. 202-777-3229.

New on VideoThese movies arrive on video store shelves this week.

{sstar}AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER

(PG-13, 2002, 94 MINUTES, NEW LINE CINEMA)

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.

-- Desson Howe

{sstar}LILO & STITCH

(PG, 2002, 85 MINUTES, BUENA VISTA PICTURES)

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.

-- Desson Howe