SLEEPOVER (PG, 90 minutes)
This good-natured, mass-marketed entertainment for preteen and younger teen girls probably is harmless, though it's broadly acted, contrived and sitcomish, with clueless parents and conniving kids. Still, girls of roughly 8 to 13 were squealing with delight at a recent preview. "Sleepover" tells of a contest between two cadres of middle-school girls during a slumber party. Hostess Julie (Alexa Vega of the "Spy Kids" movies) and her pals are the nice girls, but when challenged to a scavenger hunt by the snooty, in-crowd girls they lie to adults and sneak out. If they win, they get to sit at the cool lunch table next fall. No, "Sleepover" does not celebrate individualism. Even the kid actors' unnaturally white teeth look identical.
The film may not be appropriate for some under-10s. It contains a joke about pregnancy testing, a subplot about a high school athlete dating a middle school girl who won't make out with him, and an uncomfortable scene in which a teacher meets Julie at a bar because she unknowingly made a date with him on the Internet. Other elements include implied nudity as the boy Julie likes (Sean Faris) gets ready to shower while she hides, waiting to scavenge his boxers. Kids may emulate characters who drive without a license or climb out of a second-floor window.
ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (PG-13, 91 minutes)
There's enough irreverent goofiness in this farce about the "old days" of TV news to tickle high schoolers. In an inspired characterization -- and a serious '70s hairdo -- Will Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, a monumentally dumb, thunderously vain San Diego anchorman. With the rest of his equally vacuous evening news team, he fights the decision by the news director (wonderful Fred Willard) to put a woman on the air.
Christina Applegate is all crispness and ambition as a reporter who braves rampant newsroom sexism and even falls for dopey Ron while trying to share his anchor desk. The movie exaggerates for comedy's sake, but high schoolers might be amazed to learn there's plenty of truth in it; take it from a 1970s local TV news alumna. "Anchorman" begins to feel like an overlong skit near the end, but it is mighty droll. A too-lewd PG-13, it is not for middle-schoolers as it contains earthy sexual innuendo, crude language, profanity and an explicit visual joke about sexual arousal. Characters drink and smoke, there is a drug reference and in an unfunny moment, a dog is tossed off a bridge. A slapstick rumble between rival anchors shows an arm being lopped off.
KING ARTHUR (PG-13, 130 minutes)
Based on an amalgam of legend, scholarship and imagination, "King Arthur" takes a violent, Dark Ages look at how the story of Arthur may have begun in the 5th century when the Roman Empire abandoned its British outpost. High schoolers who like action films and historic dramas may find considerable satisfaction here. The movie's historical setting remains muddy, but fine actors and an occasionally beautiful script keep it anchored in a kind of reality. Arthur (Clive Owen), half-Briton and half-Roman by birth, is the respected leader of a group assigned by Rome to guard Hadrian's Wall, keeping out the tribes that live above it. And yes, he and his soldiers, including Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), meet at a great round table. Disgusted with Rome's abandonment and the Church's ever-harsher teachings, Arthur joins Briton tribes led by Merlin (Stephen Dillane) and his daughter Guinevere (Keira Knightley) to fight off Saxon invaders.
The movie keeps barely within PG-13 boundaries with bone-crushing thwacks of sword, arrow and spear, impalements and an implied beheading. The sounds and visual chaos, though stylized, are too intense for many middle-schoolers. The film also contains a strongly implied attempted rape, implied consensual sex, cruder sexual innuendo and toilet humor. A dungeon scene shows emaciated prisoners and skeletal corpses.