Film Capsules

Capsule reviews by Desson Thomson unless noted. A star ({sstar}) denotes a movie recommended by our critics.

Openings

THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: ZATOICHI (R) -- See review on Page 34.

BROADWAY: THE GOLDEN AGE (Unrated) -- See review on Page 33.

COLLATERAL (PG-13) -- See review on Page 31.

GARDEN STATE (R) -- See review on Page 32.

THE INHERITANCE (Unrated) -- See review on Page 32.

INTIMATE STRANGERS (R) -- See review on Page 31.

LITTLE BLACK BOOK (PG-13) -- See review on Page 33.

OPEN WATER (R) -- See review on Page 31.

OUTFOXED (Unrated) -- See review on Page 32.

First Runs & Revivals

{sstar} ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (PG-13, 91 minutes) -- This Will Ferrell comedy is wonderfully silly all the time. Its premise has irresistible mileage: Ferrell as a '70s telegenic newsman-stud named Ron Burgundy, a clueless womanizer who hobnobs with a trio of moronic colleagues, sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), news reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). Ron's world gets a rough shakedown when he falls in love with the talented Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), who possesses actual journalistic skills, as opposed to the ability to read from a teleprompter. Written by Ferrell and director Andy McKay (a former "Saturday Night Live" writer), "Anchorman" rests on the likable funniness of Ferrell and his bag of unexpected tricks. Contains cartoonish violence to an animal, some obscenity, sexual situations and banter and (brace yourselves) an entire rendition of "Afternoon Delight." Area theaters

BEFORE SUNSET (R, 80 minutes) -- I can't say that I was losing any sleep wondering whatever happened to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), the lovers whose one-night stand in Vienna formed the subject of Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise." Still, even I felt ripped off by the 1995 film's sequel, which reveals that the pair, reunited in Paris, still care for each other. What it does not quite reveal is what Jesse, who is now married with a kid, and Celine, who is seriously involved with a photojournalist, intend to do about it. Those more charitable than I might say this cliffhanger ends with a note of deliciously ambiguous romantic tension. I say it's coitus interruptus, and I say the heck with it. Contains obscenity and sex talk. Annapolis Harbour, Alexandria Old Town Theater and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (PG-13, 110 minutes) -- Matt Damon, reprising his role as Jason Bourne, is outwardly chilly and ruthless but passionately engaged. He has one simple mission. It needs no memorandums, no briefings, no contact with spy handlers. The former CIA assassin has to keep one step away from a ruthless assailant, and possibly more. It's great to see an action movie that takes the international dirty business seriously: agents with questionable allegiance, contract killers who can't be stopped, shady doublespeak in Langley backrooms and such evocative post-Cold War locales as Berlin and Moscow. If Bourne seems like a cold being, that's because he's an instrument of survival. In this movie, you're a candidate to be toe-tagged if you don't pay attention. Contains obscenity and violence. Area theaters.

CATWOMAN (PG-13, 104 minutes) -- Halle Berry isn't Catwoman so much as a feline Janet Jackson in a series of bad glamour videos. Dressed in dominatrix leather, she performs vampy catwalks along high city ledges while the fake moon looms large in the night sky. The music rocks. That cat tail swings east and west. And special effects specialist-turned-director Pitof goes crazy with fragmentary editing and slanted camera angles. As for the story, which details how meek, gentle Patience Philips (Berry) came to be Catwoman, met a sexy detective (Benjamin Bratt) and defeated a skin cream empire, it goes down (and comes back up) like a hairball. Berry is a physical treat for many sets of eyes. But her assets aren't enough to carry this hilariously bad superhero saga. Contains cartoon violence and some sensuality. Area theaters.

THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK (PG-13, 115 minutes) -- In this convoluted follow-up to "Pitch Black," Vin Diesel reprises his role as the space adventurer Richard P. Riddick. Five years after the events of the first film, Riddick -- a big, strapping dude with ice-blue eyes for night vision and a vocal cadence that suggests Elmer Fudd on steroids -- finds himself captured by Lord Marshal (Colm Feore) and his nasty army of Necromongers. Stuck in a hard-core underground prison on the volcanic planet of Crematoria, he reencounters Kyra (Alexa Davalos), a woman he has some history with; and gets a little help from Aereon (Dame Judi Dench), an ambassador of the Elemental race, who's able to transform herself, float in the air and move through objects. The muddy story essentially revolves around the star's cool-guy poses and one-liners. For Diesel fans only, at best. Contains sci-fi violence, noise and some obscenity. United Artists Snowden Square Stadium.

A CINDERELLA STORY (PG, 97 minutes) -- In this short-order cook version of the fairy tale, Hilary Duff plays Sam, a contemporary Cinderella dreaming about finding her prince. Disinherited from her departed father's house, money and possessions thanks to her wicked stepmother (Jennifer Coolidge), she has to work in the family diner while stepmom and her two daughters from another marriage live off the riches. Turns out, that prince-to-be is the school's star quarterback, Austin (Chad Michael Murray), who's the envy of everyone but is consumed with shyness. Austin and Sam have already struck up a mystery-friend e-mail relationship, unaware of each other's true identity. In one of the movie's dumbest conceits, both create romantic heat at the masquerade prom party, apparently unable to see through each other's flimsy disguise. No wonder they're destined for each other. Contains mild obscenity and sexual innuendo. Area theaters.

{sstar} CONTROL ROOM (Unrated, 86 minutes) -- The cultural and religious fault lines between Western and Eastern news coverage of the Iraq invasion are made all too clear in Jehane Noujaim's enlightening, if structurally wandering documentary. The Egyptian American filmmaker attended news briefings by Centcom (the abbreviation for the American military's U.S. Central Command), witnessed candid conversations between foreign journalists and Centcom press officer Lt. Josh Rushing, and spent virtually unlimited time in the al-Jazeera newsroom. She also conducted many interviews with, and followed around, al-Jazeera journalists. The documentary covers the main highlights of the war's media coverage, including al-Jazeera's highly controversial decision to show footage of captured American troops, and the eventual fall of Baghdad. It shows a resistance to truth on both sides of the ideological news divide. Many members of the American media may have been embedded prisoners of the Pentagon's propaganda machine, but al-Jazeera has its own agenda, too, using hyperbole and slanted coverage to show the U.S. forces in as poor a light as possible. Contains disturbing carnage of soldiers and civilians, including children. In English and some Arabic with subtitles. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

{sstar} THE CORPORATION (Unrated, 145 minutes) -- One of the best in what seems to be a veritable cavalcade of recent documentaries with a left-leaning political stance, "The Corporation" paints a picture of the titular institution that isn't flattering. With ample examples drawn from the business pages, the film makes the point that, if today's companies are to be considered "persons" (a legalistic notion that arose during the 19th century), then they're persons who would be considered, by medical standards, psychopathic. Citing everything from the all-too-common layoffs ("incapacity to maintain enduring relationships") to recidivist lawbreaking ("incapacity to experience guilt"), the film's portrait of the modern corporation isn't pretty, but it sounds pretty accurate. Contains images of violence and rioting, land mine injuries, animals with birth defects and one or two spoken vulgarities. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

DE-LOVELY (PG-13, 125 minutes) -- An aged Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) and a friendly stranger called Gabe (Jonathan Pryce) look at Cole's personal and artistic life, as if it were a stage play. It would take a powerful movie to transcend this stagy conceit, and "De-Lovely" isn't that movie. The story-within-the-story focuses on Cole's relationship with his wife, Linda Porter (Ashley Judd), who championed his music and ignored (as much as she could) the songwriter's homosexual persuasions. But despite a subject of immense potential, the film's inert and uninvolving. The flashback scenes, which cover 40 years of Porter's life, never rise above the canned poignancy of a bio-film. Porter's songs, interpreted by a wide variety of singers from Natalie Cole to Elvis Costello, are the movie's only good thing. Contains post-coital canoodling and sexual references. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY (PG-13, 91 minutes) -- Ben Stiller's wickedly funny as the wonderfully repulsive White Goodman, the '70s-coiffed, spandex-attired owner of an exclusive fitness center called Globo Gym. (He suggests the lovechild of Eric Roberts in "Star 80.") Vince Vaughn is also funny as Peter La Fleur, the lackadaisical owner of Average Joe's, a gym for the lumpy, tubby, meek and generally anti-Adonis crowd. When they field opposing teams to compete in a dodgeball contest for $50,000, the movie turns into a spirited spoof on every misfit-team caper from "The Longest Yard" to "The Mighty Ducks." The movie's full of down-and-dirty (but funny) gags and one-liners, and memorable scenes, especially between laid-back Peter and almost psychotically intense White, who refuses to let his complete incompetence with vocabulary or the English language interfere with his self-adoration or misfired sarcasm. Contains obscenity and lewd, crude humor. Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Aveue.

A DOOR IN THE FLOOR (R, 111 minutes) -- Based on the first section of John Irving's novel "A Widow for One Year," this highfalutin drama about East Hamptons angst, lost children and "Summer of '42" sexual fantasy splashes around in shallow tidal pools of cliche and familiarity. But it's almost worth it to watch Jeff Bridges as Ted Cole, a children's book writer and illustrator whose marriage has gone to hell with Marion (Kim Basinger). Lately, Ted's been dabbling with the emotionally suggestible Mrs. Vaughn (a bravely naked Mimi Rogers) for nude poses and passionate quickies. His troubles are exacerbated when aspiring writer Eddie O'Hare (Jon Foster) offers himself to Ted as a gushingly eager intern and becomes attracted to Marion. Now two men find themselves caught in hot water, and at odds with each other. Contains obscenity, sexual content and graphic images. Landmark's Bethesda Row.

{sstar} ELLA ENCHANTED (PG, 95 minutes) -- There's something charmingly old-fashioned about this sly retelling of the Cinderella story, despite the fact that the girl (Anne Hathaway) doesn't really want the handsome prince (Hugh Dancy). At least not at first. She's more interested in saving the ogres, giants and elves of the kingdom from political oppression, not to mention saving herself from a curse that forces her to obey any command she is given (e.g., "Hold your tongue"). As the plucky heroine, Hathaway's no Meryl Streep, but she's so earnest and appealing an actress, and the film so unironic in its embrace of tolerance and self-reliance, that "Ella" may enchant even the most cynical adults. Contains slapstick, humorous flatulence, the phrase "bite me" and glimpses of an ogre's naked derriere. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (R, 110 minutes) -- Charlie ("Being John Malkovich") Kaufman's most intelligent, thought-provoking and touching script yet is brought to antic life by director Michel Gondry, who unfolds like a slowly opening flower the tale of two lovers (Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet) who have elected to erase each other from their memories. By turns intoxicating and perplexing, Gondry and Kaufman's film is a philosophical love story about the nature of memory and emotion. Serious and silly at the same time, it's a film with both mainstream appeal and an abundance of grown-up ideas. Contains obscenity, drug use and sexual content. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (R, 112 minutes) -- A guided political missile aimed directly at the presidency of George W. Bush, Michael Moore's sharply ironic narrative takes us from the Florida debacle that decided the 2000 presidential election to the political nettling aftermath of war in Iraq. He also accuses the president of being so financially and personally connected to friends in high Saudi Arabian places, he was too compromised to take decisive action against Osama bin Laden. Sure, the movie skews facts to its own advantage and makes fun of the president's goofier moments. But what counts is the emotional power of Moore's persuasion. There are startling scenes during the American invasion of Iraq that include the visceral terror of a household in Baghdad as young American soldiers break in to arrest someone; and the candid testimony of U.S. troops who express their disgust at the situation there. And perhaps most persuasive is the dramatic turnaround experienced by Lila Lipscomb, a Michigan mother. She changes from patriotic support for the Bush administration to heartbroken despair after she loses a son to the war. Contains footage of war dead and wounded, including children. Area theaters.

GARFIELD: THE MOVIE (PG, 85 minutes) -- Kids may be satisfied with this movie version of the famous comic strip simply because it has a fuzzy cat. And a fuzzy dog. "Garfield" is essentially harmless, unless your child finds obviously computer-generated, bug-eyed rodents who quip with incessant smugness kinda scary. Essentially, the cat's life is upended when his owner, Jon (a supremely bland Breckin Meyer), takes in a new puppy, this to impress the animal doctor Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt) into going out with him. When Garfield kicks the dog out of the house and the pup is kidnapped by a nefarious TV personality (Stephen Tobolowsky) who needs an animal that performs stupid pet tricks, Garfield makes it his moral mission to rescue the dog and become his friend. There's nothing to recommend about this film except its sheer innocuousness. And Bill Murray's off-screen voicing as Garfield adds no "Robin Williams" element to the movie. Contains nothing particularly objectionable, except wan humor. University Mall Theatres.

{sstar} HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE (R, 87 minutes) -- In this often crude but frequently hilarious twenty-something stoner comedy, Harold (John Cho), a Korean American investment banker, and his roommate-pal Kumar (Kal Penn), an Indian American med school student, develop a serious case of the munchies. They must eat the buy-'em-by-the-bag cheeseburgers of White Castle. Their trip becomes a Holy Grail mission on the Jersey Turnpike, full of unexpected mysteries, including encounters with scary animals, racist cops and a phantom redneck with oozy boils on his face. There's a lot of toilet humor but, as long as you're in the bathroom, you might as well be funny. Director Danny ("Dude, Where's My Car?") Leiner has made a peppy, satisfying comedy. Contains obscenity, nudity, drug use and crude humor. Area theaters.

{sstar} HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (PG, 142 minutes) -- It's not just the child actors who look all grown up in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." The filmmaking does, too. Alfonso Cuaron -- director of the Oscar-nominated "A Little Princess" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien" -- has made a grim, atmospheric movie that is so much more sophisticated than its predecessors, both visually and in terms of storytelling, that it's hard to believe the source material is the same. The movie is not perfect, or even close, but it delivers on the promise of J.K. Rowling's novels to a far greater extent. At the start of his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry learns that Sirius Black, the wizard whose betrayal of his parents resulted in their deaths, has escaped from Azkaban, the wizarding equivalent of a maximum-security penitentiary -- and he's coming after Harry. Aside from Cuaron's complete disavowal of cuddliness, the most notable difference in "Azkaban" is the burgeoning maturity of the film's three lead actors. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) look older, old enough for there to be -- ewww -- sexual tension between Ron and Hermione. "Azkaban" excels at capturing -- and elaborating on -- the details that make the books such a delight. While Rowling introduced the hippogriff -- half griffin, half horse -- it's Cuaron who answers the question, "What do hippogriff droppings look like?" Contains fisticuffs, an implied beheading and a sad-sack werewolf. Area theaters.

-- Nicole Arthur

{sstar} A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD (R, 95 minutes) -- People come and go through Bobby and Jonathan's lives: family members, neighbors, short-term lovers and one newborn. But Bobby (Colin Farrell) and Jonathan (Dallas Roberts) -- friends, onetime lovers and virtually brothers -- are rarely apart. They're family in the oddest way. Director Michael Mayer and scriptwriter Michael ("The Hours") Cunningham don't have the screen time to explore the main and subsidiary characters in Cunningham's novel. But they do well with the episodes, particularly in the first half. Farrell exudes a tremulous, shy quality. Roberts is memorable too as the complex Jonathan. But Robin Wright Penn coruscates as the life-affirmative Clare, whose determination to make sense of her relationships with Bobby and Jonathan is the movie's secret ingredient. Contains drug use, sexual scenes and obscenity. Landmark's Bethesda Row, Cinema Arts Theatre and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

{sstar} I, ROBOT (PG-13, 114 minutes) -- This Will Smith sci-fi fantasy, based in part on Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot" collection of short stories, intercuts live action and computer-generated imagery with breathtaking seamlessness. It's about a detective (Smith), who has to investigate the possibility that society's latest line of friendly robots, created by the benevolent Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), could be contemplating a violent revolution. With the slow-moving help of Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), a psychologist with an expertise in robots (or something), Spooner begins to uncover, well, what detectives always do in these films. The movie's fabulous mental escape: playful rather than dark and foreboding. The effects are wonderful, Smith's highly likable, and Alex ("The Crow") Proyas's direction is punchy. Contains computer digital violence and maybe a mild flash of nudity. Area theaters.

{sstar} KILL BILL VOL. 2 (R, 136 minutes) -- "Kill Bill Vol. 1's" vengeful antihero known as the Bride (Uma Thurman) is back to finish the job described in the two-part film's no-nonsense title, but there are still more assassins (Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah) standing in her way. Once she dispatches them, however -- in battles with lower body counts but upped gross-out quotient -- she has plenty of time to sit down and chat over old times with former lover-cum-employer Bill (David Carradine). The gymnastics are only verbal for much of the second half of this twisted love story, but it's no less fun than the first installment. Contains obscenity, drug content and plentiful violence. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} KING ARTHUR (PG-13, 130 minutes) -- This revisionist version of the Arthurian legend, which traces the origins of the well-known saga of knights and derring-do to the 5th century, is a bracing tonic to all that "Camelot"-style, Holy Grail hoo-ha that many of us grew up with. In the film by director Antoine Fuqua (written by David "Gladiator" Franzoni and produced by Jerry "Pirates of the Caribbean" Bruckheimer), Arthur (Clive Owen) is the half-Roman, half-British commander of a troop of reluctant foreign conscripts guarding the Roman territory south of Hadrian's Wall against incursions by Picts and Saxons. Guinevere (Keira Knightley) is a ferocious Pict warrior, while the only sorcery that her father, Merlin (Stephen Dillane), knows is the magic of guerrilla warfare. The story may owe as much to the "Lord of the Rings" cycle as to history, but the whole thing still feels like a breath of fresh air blowing the dust off a very old tale. Contains intense but generally gore-free battle scenes, some bawdy talk and sensuality. In English and a bit of Pictish with subtitles. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (R, 130 minutes) -- Director Jonathan Demme and screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris clearly pored over John Frankenheimer's original 1962 cold war thriller and retrofitted everything. Now it's a post-Gulf War Halliburton-dunit, a movie about corporate evil, mind control and political maneuvering. It's an intriguing transmogrification which, ultimately, becomes too torturously labored to believe. But the performers are a hoot: Denzel Washington as the heroic Maj. Bennett Marco; Liev Schreiber as the disturbingly chilly loose cannon, Raymond Shaw, and Meryl Streep (reprising the role made legendary by Angela Lansbury) as a disconcerting ambition machine who'll stop at nothing to reach the White House. With characters like these squaring off, and a climactic finale set on the main stage of a political convention, you can't help thinking: Bring it on. Contains violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

{sstar} MARIA FULL OF GRACE (R, 101 minutes) -- As the title character, Catalina Sandino Moreno is a Colombian Mona Lisa, a delicate, 17-year-old soul who agrees to become a drug "mule." This means ingesting multiple capsules of rubber-sealed heroin and smuggling the stash into the United States. Writer-director Joshua Marston has made a powerful modern allegory that holds us tightly in its grip. This is a cold-fever ordeal, not only for Maria but us, as pressures worsen. We can almost feel the cold, clammy skin. We hear the heavy breathing of fear. It's a white-knuckle drama, and many of its climactic scenes will rip holes through your heart. But it's a stunner of a film. And if there's anyone to help us go through this white-knuckle trip, it's Maria. Contains overall intensity, obscenity and bloodshed. In Spanish and English with subtitles. Landmark's Bethesda Row, Cinema Arts Fairfax, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

{sstar} MEAN GIRLS (PG-13, 93 minutes) -- "Saturday Night Live" head writer Tina Fey based her script for this sharp, smart teen comedy on author Rosalind Wiseman's "Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter to Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence," and its roots in ethnography show. It's both a kind of anthropological document and an enormously satisfying entertainment, which means that it feels real, as well as really funny. Lindsay Lohan shines as the nice girl trying to retain her sanity -- and niceness -- in a sea of mini-skirted sharks. Contains some crude language, sexual humor, rioting high-school students and underage drinking. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER (Unrated, 140 minutes) -- Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's documentary about rock history's biggest heavy metal band is -- variously -- serious, funny, frustrating and touching. It finds an intriguing niche between docu-poignancy and passing camp as it takes you behind closed doors where Messrs. James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett -- Metallica's core unit -- earnestly discuss their creative differences, personality quirks and the elephant-size matter of Hetfield's sobriety. The most compelling person, by far, is Hetfield, whose attempted recovery is made almost adorable by his bespectacled earnestness and post-recovery-speak phrases. Can he live a life that includes watching his daughter perform ballet routines and jack-hammering power chords for adoring fans? Contains obscenity, momentary nudity, drug use and talk of substance abuse. AMC Hoffman Center and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

{sstar} MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN (R, 93 minutes) -- I'm not sure if "Monty Python's Life of Brian" -- which is being rereleased both to celebrate its 25th anniversary and to tweak "The Passion of the Christ" -- qualifies as religious satire, since many of the jokes have more to do with big noses (and other big body parts) than with faith. The good news is that the film, which centers around a man named Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman), who was born in the manger one door down from Jesus, is still funny. The bad news, at least to those who remember it fondly as quasi-blasphemous, is that its humor nowadays seems pretty tame, especially in comparison to a religious comedy like "Saved!," which is far nastier in its God-bashing than this quaintly old-fashioned yuk-fest. Contains naughty humor involving sex and religion. Visions Bar Noir. Shown with "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (PG, 86 minutes) -- In Jared Hess's deadpan-funny indie comedy, Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is a scrawny nerd from Preston, Idaho, whose eyes are lost behind the semi-opaque haze of his glasses and who packs some wicked comments for his tormentors. As he weathers his oppressive worlds at home and school, he seems to exist in a live-action version of Mike Judge's TV cartoons ("Beavis and Butt-head," "King of the Hill") or Todd Solondz's suburban geek epic "Welcome to the Dollhouse." Jon Gries is hilariously out-there as Napoleon's incredibly narcissistic Uncle Rico. So is Aaron Ruell as his reclusive, thirty-something brother, Kip. And as Napoleon's withdrawn friend Pedro, Efren Ramirez is almost too odd to chuckle at. You ain't seen nothing, by the way, till you've seen Napoleon attack that tether ball. Contains some sexual innuendo. Area theaters.

NASCAR: THE IMAX EXPERIENCE (PG, 47 minutes) -- If speed is what you're looking for, you may be better off playing a race car video game than watching the Imax movie devoted to NASCAR. Though there are some adrenaline-pumping race scenes shot from the perspective of both driver and spectator, the majority of the short feature portrays what happens off the track. The revving of 800-horsepower engines and footage of cars traveling 200 mph around an oval speedway are merely short segments spliced in between a discussion of the intricate science and extensive preparation involved before big races and interviews with NASCAR bigwigs, tailgating fans, and race car drivers and their spouses, all of which makes for an interesting behind-the-scenes look at one of the world's most popular spectator sports. Contains a few crash scenes. National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center Imax Theater.

-- Sara Gebhardt

{sstar} THE NOTEBOOK (PG-13, 121 minutes) -- A genial visitor (the ever-dignified James Garner) named Duke insists on reading a romantic story to an aged woman (Gena Rowlands) despite her struggles with Alzheimer's disease. What Duke reads becomes the main body of the film: a 1940s romance in Seabrook, N.C., between 17-year-old Allie and gutsy 19-year-old Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling), who courts her with the relentlessness of a catbird. The film may be one hundred percent sap, but its spirit is anything but cloying, thanks to persuasive performances, most notably from Rachel McAdams. As Allie Hamilton, whose passionate heart becomes the movie's powerful fulcrum, she almost makes you forget what you're swallowing. Contains sexual situations. Area theaters.

{sstar} RIDING GIANTS (PG-13, 101 minutes) -- The "giants" referred to in the title of surfer and professional skateboarder-turned-filmmaker Stacy Peralta's loving documentary history of big-wave surfing are not just the awesome breaks of Hawaii's Waimea Bay, Northern California's Maverick's and Tahiti's Teapuhoo ("cho-pu," to the cognoscenti). They're also the men who rode them. Correction: Make that ride them. Balancing his film between thrilling surf footage and talking-head interviews with such big men of the sport as Greg "The Bull" Noll (who today looks pretty much like any beefy, graying retiree in an aloha shirt and wire-frame glasses), Peralta takes us all the way from surfing's recreational Polynesian origins to such state-of-the-art practitioners as Laird Hamilton, who is to surfing what Tiger Woods is to golf. Contains obscenity, footage of dangerous surf and discussion of surfers who have died in rough water. Area theaters. Landmark's Bethesda Row.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

SAVED! (PG-13, 92 minutes) -- Lord knows I wanted to love this religious satire about holier-than-thou hypocrites. Unfortunately, the comedy, which centers around the reaction at a Christian high school when a former good girl (Jena Malone) gets pregnant, is guilty of the same black-and-white, aren't-we-better-than-you smugness that it accuses its fundamentalist Christian victims of. In the end, despite some great laugh moments, the comedy gets as stridently preachy as the God Squad phonies (led by Mandy Moore's finger-wagging Hilary Faye) whom it mocks with all too easy condescension. Contains obscenity, sexual humor and slapstick violence. Foxchase.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} SEDUCING DR. LEWIS (Unrated, 109 minutes) -- Obliged to set up temporary practice on a remote island community to avoid punishment for a traffic offense, Montreal doctor Christopher Lewis (David Boutin) intends to get through the experience as painlessly as possible. But in this folksy comedy, the islanders have other ideas. A corporation is thinking of building a factory there, which would pump money into this ailing fishing community. But the company insists the island have a full-time resident doctor. The doctor doesn't know it, but he's the island's only hope. This movie, which has already proved its audience-charming appeal in various film festivals, is so disarming, it's hard to say anything but good things about it. Contains mild obscenity and some sexual content. In French with subtitles. Cinema Arts Theatre and Visions Bar Noir.

{sstar} SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED (PG, 85 minutes) -- After reuniting in the first live-action "Scooby-Doo," the members of Mystery Inc. -- Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Velma (Linda Cardellini), Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby-Doo (voiced by Neil Fanning) -- find themselves successful and universally adored. But at the opening of the Coolsonian Criminology Museum's new exhibit -- a collection of costumes worn by criminals they've unmasked -- the Pterodactyl Ghost comes to life and goes on a rampage, and a masked villain threatens to destroy Coolsville. When newscaster Heather Jasper-Howe (Alicia Silverstone) blames Mystery Inc. for the disaster and casts doubt on its ability to solve the mystery, the sleuths begin to question their own weaknesses and roles in the group. Contains rude language, some fighting and scary situations. Annapolis Mall.

-- Christina Talcott

{sstar} SHREK 2 (PG, 93 minutes) -- Set in the Hollywood-like kingdom of Far Far Away, "Shrek 2" pokes fun at a host of movies and television conventions, along with the very idea of fairy tales. Hoping to get started on the "happy ever after" part of their marriage, Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) and new bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz) take a trip from Shrek's home in the swamp to meet her parents (John Cleese and Julie Andrews), who are none too pleased to see their daughter wedded to an ogre. Daddy hires a hit man (Antonio Banderas as a hilarious Puss in Boots), even as Shrek sets out to remake himself in an image more pleasing to his wife. The jokes come rapid-fire, and the resolution of the complications is heartwarming. Contains some edgy humor, mild jokes about body fluids and gasses, vaguely sexual references along the lines of "a roll in the hay" and slapstick violence. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} SPIDER-MAN 2 (PG-13, 120 minutes) -- This follow-up film to "Spider-Man" is as fine a repeat experience as our foolish, creativity-challenged tradition of sequelizing allows. You can't ask for more than that. The movie, directed with precision and an appreciation for (relatively) rich character texture by Sam Raimi, remembers all the fine elements of the original film (and the comic book story), including wonderfully choreographed, skyscraper-hanging fights and that achy-breaky relationship between Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). It also reprises the charmingly hokey affection between Peter and his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and introduces a memorable villain: Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a scientist who is fused with the evil he has wrought, a man caught and forever connected to four metallic pincered arms. The film's touching, fun and alert. Contains comic book violence. Area theaters.

THE STEPFORD WIVES (PG-13, 93 minutes) -- In this over-the-top remake of the 1975 film (a better, more ominous version), TV producer Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) is fired and takes a break in the genteel Connecticut suburb of Stepford. But she soon learns she's in the land of Betty Crocker gone insane, where rich, geeky husbands have turned their wives into psychotically enthusiastic homemakers and sex-on-demand nymphos. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick (who wrote both "Addams Family" movies and "In & Out") goes for jokes by the bagful. But he and director Frank Oz come up hackneyed when it comes to making fun of making fun of WASP snobbery, mass consumption and male insecurity. "The Stepford Wives" provides funny but mutely safe giggles about former frat boys and nerds who have turned their wives into robots. It's only Rudnick's humor that helps you get through any of it. Contains sexual content and some obscenity. Regal Countryside.

{sstar} THE STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL (PG, 90 minutes) -- A "narrative documentary" in the tradition of "Nanook of the North," "Weeping Camel" follows a family of Mongolian herders in the Gobi desert as one of their 60 camels gives birth to -- and then rejects -- its albino baby. As is customary in this culture, the nomads trek to a nearby settlement to recruit the services of a musician, who then sings and plays a traditional song meant to coax the estranged mother and child together. Yes, it's a delightful animal story, but it's so much more than that, too. It's not only a story about a way of life that will be unfamiliar to many of us, but about how love is something that transcends geographic boundaries -- and species. Contains scenes of nude bathing and a birthing camel. In Mongolian with English subtitles. Alexandria Old Town Theater.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} SUPER SIZE ME (Unrated, 98 minutes) -- I laughed, I cried, I threw up. Well, maybe I didn't throw up, but filmmaker Morgan Spurlock does, and on camera, in his funny, smart and important -- okay, gross, too -- documentary about the health effects of a 30-day, all-McDonald's diet. And it ain't pretty. "Super Size Me," however, is utterly engrossing, with its mix of statistics, cartoons featuring saggy-breasted chickens, man-on-the-street interviews, Michael Moore-style muckraking and diaristic gazing by the filmmaker at his own navel -- even as his midsection expands with all the fat and sugar he's putting away. Contains obscenity, vomiting, a glimpse of a rectal exam, discussion of sex and sexual dysfunction, shots of gastric bypass surgery and other unappetizing things. Foxchase.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} THE TERMINAL (PG-13, 128 minutes) -- Foreign visitor Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) lands in New York's JFK airport, only to find himself stateless, since his (fictional) country of Krakozhia is undergoing a military coup. The airport supervisor (Stanley Tucci) informs Victor he must accordingly wait for maybe weeks in the terminal. So begins a physically claustrophobic yet highly entertaining caper set in a mini-universe of Starbucks, Borders, escalators and pushcarts. Viktor joins a funny community that includes food-services grunt (Diego Luna), a friendly customs officer (Zoe Saldana), an eccentric Indian floor cleaner (Kumar Pallana), and romantically needy flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who's forever coming and going. The movie's delicately funny and inventive, thanks to writers Andrew ("The Truman Show") Niccol, Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson (who wrote "Catch Me if You Can"), and Steven Spielberg, who knows how to make a great story out of relatively little. Contains mild sexual content. Annapolis Mall, Majestic Theaters and University Mall Theatres.

THUNDERBIRDS (PG, 87 minutes) -- This abomination of a movie (imagine a bad "Spy Kids" episode full of master-race dudes in silly space uniforms, all high-fiving each other) is a woeful attempt to introduce American audiences to the classic British TV show, a charming series that featured puppets. Both the movie and series are about a family called the Tracys who live on a remote fortress island which is the base for their International Rescue team. The five sons all fly supercrafts outfitted for various types of emergencies in different terrains, from outer space to underwater. This live-action version doesn't come close to the original spirit. Instead, this movie uses a cringe-worthy story about a new, younger Tracy, who goes to school in the United States, and dreams of joining his cool brothers on their F.A.B. missions. He gets his wish when the Hood (Ben Kingsley) decides to take over the island. Let this be an opportunity, however, for you to check out the original "Thunderbirds" and rent some of those original shows, now on DVD. Contains nothing objectionable apart from the whole movie. Area theaters.

{sstar} TROY (R, 165 minutes) -- The only way to enjoy Wolfgang Petersen's nearly three-hour version of Homer's "Iliad" is as a Brad Pitt vehicle. Not that there's anything wrong with that. There's plenty of Pitt's muscle-bound Achilles to go around in this battle-rich epic. Just don't expect too much literal fidelity to the source material. For one thing, the gods are notably absent in this very human tale of love and revenge. Sure, there are no Olympians here, but the movie's godlike star probably comes the closest. Contains battlefield violence, extremely chaste nudity and some sexual content. University Mall Theatres.

THE VILLAGE (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- M. Night Shyamalan's mystery-thriller is about a fear-prone village that believes dangerous creatures lurk in the surrounding woods. When villager Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) suffers a fatal stabbing and needs outside medicine, his blind fiancee Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) decides to venture into that scary beyond. It's an intriguing premise until we see the silly Twilight Zone punchline. The movie has its suspense-filled moments. But for the most part, the film's a bewildering disappointment, given the talents of Shyamalan, who gave us "The Sixth Sense." Even a great storyteller like M. Night, it seems, can lead himself into the woods. Contains overall intensity and violence. Area theaters.

WHITE CHICKS (PG-13, 105 minutes) -- In this banshee-howlingly awful caper, tiresomely drawn from a few dozen other bad cross-dressing films of the forgettable past, Marlon and Shawn Wayans (the untalented end of the family) are two disgraced FBI agents. Determined to show they have the right stuff, they volunteer to pose as doubles for two white, pampered heiresses, Brittany and Tiffany (Maitland Ward and Anne Dudek), who are in danger of being kidnapped. Cue the latex breasts, the blond wigs and both Wayans speaking in "knee-slapping" mall-princess falsetto. Laugh? I thought I'd never start. Contains crude and sexual humor, obscenity and drug use. AMC Academy, AMC Rivertowne and Majestic Theaters.

Repertory

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DOWNTOWN -- At the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater: "Straight Up: Helicopters in Action," daily at 10:15 and 3. "Space Station 3D," daily at 11:10, 12:15, 1:55, 4, 5 and 6. "To Fly!," daily at 1:15. 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.

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DULLES -- "Straight Up: Helicopters in Action," daily at 11, 2 and 5. "Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk," daily at noon and 3. "NASCAR: The Imax Experience," daily at 1, 4 and 6. 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly. 202-357-2700.

AMERICAN CITY DINER -- "Young Frankenstein," Friday at 8:30. "North by Northwest," Saturday at 8:30. "Fistful of Dollars," Sunday at 8. "Gilda," Monday at 8:30. "A Place in the Sun," Tuesday at 8:30. "All About Eve," Wednesday at 8:30. "Stalag 17," Thursday at 8:30. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

INGMAR BERGMAN CITY-WIDE RETROSPECTIVE --

National Gallery of Art (East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW; 202-737-4215): "A Ship Bound for India" and "Dreams," Friday at 2:30 and Saturday at 3. "Port of Call" and "Three Strange Loves," Sunday at 4.

National Museum of Women in the Arts (1250 New York Ave. NW; 202-783-7370): "Brink of Life," Wednesday at 7.

BRAZILIAN-AMERICAN CULTURAL Institute -- "City of God," Tuesday at 7. "The Passion of Jacobina," Thursday at 7. 4719 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-362-8334.

COLUMBIA ASSOCIATION LAKEFRONT Film Festival -- "His Girl Friday," Friday at 8:30. "The Neverending Story," Monday at 8:30. Town Center lakefront, Columbia. 877-713-9674, Ext. 9010.

GRIOT CINEMA -- "Africa Dreaming," Sunday at 3:15. Erico Cafe, 1334 U St. NW. 202-518-9742.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Baby Doll," Friday at 7. "The Long Walk Home," Tuesday at 7. "Strokes of Genius: DeKooning on DeKooning" and "Music For the Movies, Toru Takemitsu," Thursday at 7. Free, but reservations required. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE 202-707-5677.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- Imax Theater: "Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees" and "Hubble: Galaxies Across Space & Time," Friday daily at 10:30, 12:45, 3 and 7:45. "NASCAR 3D: The Imax Experience," Friday, Saturday and Thursday at 11:30, 1:45, 4, 6:30 and 8:45; Sunday-Wednesday at 11:30, 1:45, 4 and 6:30. "Sacred Planet," daily at 5:15. Davis Planetarium: "The Sky Live!" Friday, Saturday and Thursday at noon, 3 and 6; Sunday at 3; Monday-Wednesday at noon and 3. "The Sky Above Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," daily at 1. "Ring World," daily at 2 and 5. "Hubble Heritage: Poetic Pictures," daily at 4. "Live From the Sun," Sunday at noon. 601 Light St., Baltimore. 410-685-5225.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "A Ship Bound for India" and "Dreams," Friday at 2:30 and Saturday at 3. "Summer Fun," children's film, Saturday and Wednesday at 10:30 and 11:30. "Port of Call" and "Three Strange Loves," Sunday at 4. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY -- Johnson Imax Theater: "Bugs! (3-D)," daily at 10:20, 12:15, 3:10 and 6. "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous," daily at 11:15, 1:10, 2:10, 4:05, 5:05 and 7. "Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man," Friday-Saturday at 8. Baird Auditorium: "Sleeping Tigers: The Asahi Baseball Story," Friday at noon. 10th and Constitution NW. 202-633-7400.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WOMEN IN THE ARTS -- "Brink of Life," Wednesday at 7. 1250 New York Ave. NW. 202-783-7370.

NATIONAL THEATRE -- "Christmas in Connecticut," Monday at 6:30. Free. Helen Hayes Gallery, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Free. 202-783-3372.

NORTHEAST ANIME CLUB -- "GTO," "The Slayers" and "Ranma 1/2," Saturday at 2. Northeast Neighborhood Library, 330 Seventh St. NE. 202-698-3320.

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

REEL MOMS -- At Loews Georgetown (3111 K St. NW. 202-342-6033): "Collateral," Tuesday at 11. At Loews Fairfax Square (8065 Leesburg Pike, Vienna. 703-506-9857): "Collateral," Tuesday at 11. Loews Rio (9811 Washingtonian Center, Gaithersburg. 301-948-6673): "Collateral," Saturday at 10 and Tuesday at 11.

SCREEN ON THE GREEN -- "The Thin Man," Monday at dusk. On the National Mall between Fourth and Seventh streets. Free. 877-262-5866.

VISIONS BAR NOIR -- "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," Friday-Saturday at midnight. "Monty Python's Life of Brian," Friday-Saturday at midnight. 1927 Florida Ave. NW. 202-667-0090.

New on Video

{sstar} 13 GOING ON 30

(PG-13, 2004, 98 MINUTES, SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT)

A simple worldview informs "13 Going on 30," a film whose far-fetched foundation is overshadowed by the endearing story of Jenna Rink, a 13-year-old who, teen angst in hand, visits adulthood in an attempt to escape her current outcast status. When Jenna is suddenly transported from the high-ponytail age of the '80s to 2004, we find that she has become a 30-year- old magazine editor who back-stabs fellow co-workers to get ahead, ignores her family and dates a vacuous, muscular, meathead hockey player. The older Jenna (Jennifer Garner) is mature in body, but not in mentality. She does not understand who she has become, so she finds grown-up Matt (Mark Ruffalo) -- who she had insulted before being thrust into the adult world to gain favor with the cool kids -- to help her sort through the parts of her life that she has missed. As Matt reluctantly helps Jenna evaluate the choices she apparently has made, feelings develop between them, and we wait to see if wishing dust can really alter the course of their lives. That Jenna's journey takes place in a fantasy world where everything ends up in neat little packages is expected, since it is the kind of place a 13-year-old might dream up. Contains some sexual content and a reference to drug use.

-- Sara Gebhardt

HIDALGO

(PG-13, 2004, 136 MINUTES, BUENA VISTA PICTURES)

It's nice to see Viggo on a horse again, but the Actor Who Needs No Last Name isn't quite enough to make this epic oater about a Pony Express rider who bests a cutthroat field of competitors in a 3,000-mile horse race across the Saudi Arabian desert feel like much more than NASCAR with hooves. In other words, despite the sandstorms, locusts, wildcats and other dire near-disasters, "Hidalgo" is a long and monotonous circuit around a well-worn track, which may take its hero, Frank Hopkins (a historical figure who may or may not have done what the film says), on a voyage of inner discovery, but it leaves its audience exactly where it started. Contains violence, equine euthanasia and some sexual innuendo.

-- Desson Thomson

THE RECKONING

(R, 2004, 112 MINUTES, PARAMOUNT CLASSICS)

With a plot that suggests a partnership between Columbo and the traveling players from "Hamlet," this is one of those medieval movies that looks credibly archaic but feels utterly contemporary. After an illicit affair, 14th-century English pastor Nicholas (Paul Bettany) flees his congregation, soon joining the ragtag thespians headed by Martin (Willem Dafoe). The group arrives in a grimy castle town, where deaf healer Martha (Elvira Minguez) has just been convicted of killing a local boy. The new collaborators decide to stage Martha's alleged crime as a sort of docudrama, hoping to expose the real killer. Could it be imperious Norman lord Robert de Guise (Vincent Cassel), the only guy in town with a French accent? Scripter Mark Mills and director Paul ("The Acid House'') McGuigan adapted this predictable tale from Barry Unsworth's novel, "Morality Play." The movie's torch-lit look is suitably Dark Ages, but its complications -- which include some pre-"CSI" analysis of human remains -- could have come from any recent cop drama. Contains stabbings, hangings, corpses and intimations of pedophilia and adultery.

-- Mark Jenkins