WHAT A GIRL WANTS (PG, 104 minutes)
It's nearly impossible to describe the inanity that "What a Girl Wants" sinks to. Many girls 10 and older may enjoy the non-threatening fun this teen fantasy/romance offers. Yet a little actual wit could have saved it from becoming such soulless class-conscious piffle. Only the wonderful older actors in the cast, such as Colin Firth and Eileen Atkins, lend the soggy script any starch. The teen characters are so plastic, both as written and acted, they're like magazine cutouts. The PG covers mild sexual innuendo and a kiss.
Based on the 1958 comedy "The Reluctant Debutante," the film tells the latter-day Cinderella story of a poor New York girl who goes to London to meet the English lord who is her long-lost father. Amanda Bynes (star of Nickelodeon TV) plays Daphne, who lives in a Manhattan walk-up with her single mom (Kelly Preston), a wedding band singer. Lord Dashwood (Firth), a good guy, is running for the House of Commons after having renounced his title. First Daphne acquires a cute musician boyfriend (Oliver James), then knocks on Dad's door. Thrilled to know he has a daughter, he invites her to stay and clearly still pines for his long-ago romance with her mother. His snooty fiancee (Anna Chancellor) and her horrid daughter (Christina Cole) hate Daphne on sight, but can't deflate her annoying aren't-I-cute confidence.
PHONE BOOTH (R, 81 minutes)
"Phone Booth" may be based on a baldly contrived premise -- a man trapped in a phone booth by a sniper. It may not be art, but as directed by Joel Schumacher, it is truly a cinematic white-knuckle flight. High schoolers 16 and older will find less blood, more thrills, deeper characterizations and smarter dialogue than in a standard-issue cop thriller like "A Man Apart" [see below]. The R reflects brief gun violence, strong profanity, sexual language and innuendo.
Firecracker Colin Farrell plays Stu Shepard, a cocky Manhattan publicist who talks trash to mask his failures. His office is the street and the cell phone. Though happily married to Kelly (Radha Mitchell), Stu stops at a phone booth to secretly call a budding actress (Katie Holmes) he fancies. Afterward, the phone rings and he picks it up. The voice belongs to a moralistic sniper (Kiefer Sutherland) who's been watching Stu telescopically and deems him unfit to live. He kills someone nearby to show he's serious. Stu can't hang up. The police (led by Forest Whitaker) think he's the killer. He tries to schmooze his way out, but only soul-baring honesty and quick thinking will save him.
A MAN APART (R, 100 minutes)
Vin Diesel plays Sean Vetter, a DEA agent who throws away the rule book after his wife dies in a hit aimed at him by a Mexican drug lord. With his childhood friend and fellow DEA man Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate), the grieving Vetter sets about tracking down who ordered the hit. High schoolers 17 and older who like police action movies might judge that "A Man Apart" offers reasonably good thrills -- suspense, mayhem, plot twists, emotional bits, funny bits, bulging upper arms -- in a baldly formulaic mix. Yet the formula entertains if you're not expecting much. Director F. Gary Gray uses moody lighting, angled close-ups and fast edits to slick effect. They neatly mask Diesel's limited acting range, too. The violence escalates from bloodless (for this genre) to bloodbath. By its last act, "A Man Apart" graduates to splattering shootouts, a fatal head-bashing and mutilated bodies. It also contains toplessness, sexual innuendo and strong profanity.