Film Capsules

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

Openings

BANG RAJAN (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 38.

BROTHERS IN ARMS (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 38.

THE COOKOUT (PG-13) -- See synopsis on Page 38.

FESTIVAL EXPRESS (R) -- See review on Page 39.

PAPARAZZI (PG-13) -- See synopsis on Page 38.

TAE GUK GI: THE BROTHERHOOD OF WAR (R) -- See review on Page 37.

VANITY FAIR (PG-13) -- See review on Page 37.

WICKER PARK (PG-13) -- See review on Page 39.

First Runs & Revivals

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- Here's what I want to know: How cold, exactly, does it have to get for saliva to freeze? I'm curious about this because, in "Alien vs. Predator," the famously drool-drenched beastie of the first half of the title is alive and wet as all get out -- despite now living 2,000 feet below the surface of Antarctica. Oh, well, that's only one little thing that doesn't add up in this update to the old monster showdown formula familiar to fans of "Godzilla vs. Mothra" and the like. Here, a team of scientists (led by Sanaa Lathan) investigating a pyramid buried beneath the South Pole -- look, I told you the premise was whack -- stumble on a bunch of H.R. Giger's "Alien" aliens, only to be caught between them and a trio of dreadlocked outer-space sport hunters made famous from the "Predator" films. I'd say that fur flies, but there's no fur here. Just buckets of spittle and nicely claustrophobic if under-lit claw-to-claw combat. Contains some bad language, sci-fi violence and goo. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

ANACONDAS: THE SEARCH FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID (PG-13, 93 minutes) -- With a cast of attractive nobodies and a flat-out preposterous plot, "Anacondas: The Search for the Blood Orchid" still manages to one-up its predecessor, 1997's unintentionally campy "Anaconda." That's because "Anacondas" embraces its identity. It knows it's nothing more than an instantly forgettable thriller, so it figures it may as well have some fun before making the quick trip to DVD. Morris Chestnut plays one member of a scientific group that heads to Borneo in search of an extremely rare orchid that blooms for just one week. If retrieved and brought back to the United States, the orchid could be used to create the pharmaceutical equivalent of the fountain of youth. But before our scientists can feel the flower's power, they'll have to confront massive, human-consuming anacondas. That's how you know this movie is scarier than the original. This time, the title's plural. Once this movie's momentum gets going, watching it is like experiencing a schlocky monster movie, "Lord of the Flies" and Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey" video all at once. But unlike the J. Lo version, this film uses more convincing special effects, doesn't take itself too seriously and provides much-needed comic relief in the form of Eugene Byrd, who plays the perpetually freaked-out Cole. Contains action violence, scary images and some language. Area theaters.

-- Jen Chaney

{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." University Mall Theatres.

BENJI: OFF THE LEASH! (PG, 97 minutes) -- There are two canine stars in "Benji: Off the Leash!" -- one soulful, the other scrappy -- and it's not spelled out until the end who will wear the crowning collar tag "Benji." Though violence is rarely shown, it is suffused throughout the movie with convincing menace in the person of Terrence Hatchett (Chris Kendrick), a mean, mean, mean man running a Mississippi puppy mill. His sensitive son, Colby (Nick Whitaker), rescues a pup that Hatchett kicks and declares worthless, concealing the orphan, whom he calls Puppy, in an elaborate hidden fort. Heavy scenes of implied domestic and animal abuse are jarringly intercut with the lighthearted shtick of two Keystone Kops-like animal control agents dogged by a frisky stray they call Lizard Tongue, since he's always panting. When Puppy ventures out of the fort and meets up with Lizard Tongue, the two are a force to be reckoned with in sleepy Cuddaho County, barking truth to power and plotting to rescue Puppy's sick, painfully over-bred mother from the evil Hatchett. The overall unevenness of tone is the movie's biggest flaw, but the slo-mo scenes of doggie derring-do are quite funny, and the message about how to treat both humans and animals evergreen. Contains violence, mostly implied but some onscreen; theme of domestic abuse. Area theaters.

-- Donna Peremes

{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.

{sstar} COLLATERAL (R, 120 minutes) -- Tom Cruise is Vincent, a slick contract killer who forces cabdriver Max (Jamie Foxx) to keep the motor running while he knocks off his targets. Both men, it turns out, are equally matched. Director Michael Mann, the riverboat captain of narrative flow, has a knack for making one moment lap into the next. The suspense in "Collateral" turns on desperation, character and situation, as opposed to firepower, muscle and engine torque. Cruise is wonderfully bad. And Foxx is entirely believable as the reserved, silent dreamer, who realizes he's not going to take this anymore. In Steve Beattie's adroit screenplay, Vincent is going to be his worst nightmare and, in a way, his greatest blessing. Contains violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

{sstar} DANNY DECKCHAIR (PG-13, 90 minutes) -- This well-acted fantasia about an Australian truck driver (Rhys Ifans) who floats out of his humdrum life -- via a lawn chair tied to helium balloons -- into an energizing new one is a delightful validation of our daydreams. Very loosely based on the story of a California man who pulled off the same stunt in 1982, "Danny Deckchair" is more than the sappy fairy tale it could have become. Thanks to real chemistry between Ifans and Miranda Otto, who plays the title character's new love, the movie captivates, and believably so. Contains sexual content. Cinema Arts Theatre and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Sara Gebhardt

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

{sstar} DONNIE DARKO -- THE DIRECTOR'S CUT (R, 133 minutes) -- Detached, disaffected Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is hostile toward his parents (Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne) and is always in trouble. He also believes that a six-foot-plus rabbit is ordering him to perform evil deeds. His only allies are a new student named Gretchen (Jena Malone) with a shadowy home life, a couple of sensitive teachers (Drew Barrymore and Noah Wyle) and a mysterious former schoolteacher, nicknamed Grandma Death (Joan M. Blair), who has written a book about time travel. The movie, written and directed by Richard Kelly, flutters, like a mischievous butterfly, above the despairing hands of easy description. And that's what's so good about it. Contains drug use, obscenity and some violence. Visions Bar Noir.

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. Foxchase.

{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. Manassas Cinemas.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (R, 120 minutes) -- For more than an hour, Stellan Skarsgard wrestles with something foul in this prequel to the 1973 thriller, and I'm not talking about the demon, Pazuzu. The actor, who does his damnedest to bring a measure of class to the proceedings, is fighting a losing battle to keep the movie from becoming an utter heap of garbage, and while he never prevails, for a long time it's a draw. Then, precisely 80 minutes in -- I know, because I looked at my watch, which is never a good sign in a horror movie -- the garbage gets the upper hand, and the movie, set in a Kenyan architectural dig during lapsed priest Merrin's (Skarsgard) first encounter with the devil, becomes a complete, albeit very bloody, joke. The worst thing isn't the cheapness of the very cheap thrills (and yes, you will probably jump out of your skin a time or two). It's that the devil gets demoted to a bad guy on the order of Freddy Krueger, and that's far less scary than the Ultimate Evil One deserves. Contains blood, gore, violence, obscenity and sexual content. Area theaters.

-- 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. AFI Silver Theatre, Landmark's Bethesda Row and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

{sstar} GARDEN STATE ( R, 102 minutes) -- New Jersey native Zach Braff wrote, directed and stars in this smart, funny story about a TV actor named Andrew (Braff), who returns to his Jersey home town. Everyone from his high school days, it seems, lives in the Twlight Zone, including Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), a gravedigger who helps himself to jewelry in coffins. But then Andrew runs into Samantha (Natalie Portman), an eccentric free spirit who rejuvenates his sleeping spirit. This edgy quasi-comedy is amazingly assured for a directorial debut, even if it's a little uneven. Portman is immediately enchanting and irritating at the same time. But in concert with the morose Andrew, her Sam comes out as colorful relief. Contains obscenity, sexual scenes, and drug and alcohol use. 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. Basically, 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. N.E. Theatre Fairfax Corner.

{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. Contains fisticuffs, an implied beheading and a sad-sack werewolf. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse, Regal Ballston Common and University Mall Theatres.

-- Nicole Arthur

{sstar} HERO ( PG-13, 99 minutes) -- Zhang Yimou, the Chinese filmmaker who gave us such classics as "Red Sorghum" and "Ju Dou," has created a breathtaking, 3rd century B.C. epic about almost supernatural martial artists who walk on water, hang in the air, and slice and dice their opponent into a thousand slivers with breathtaking elegance. This wuxia (martial arts) film, in which an unnamed warrior (Jet Li) remembers (or misremembers, that's the intriguing mystery), his battles with the likes of Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Sky (Donnie Yen) is a graceful, stunning dream. Siu-Tung Ching's choreography is amazing. And you can feel the movie's sensibility and its powerful emotions in every aching image. You're so caught up in these ancient times, you're loath to return to present-day normalcy. Contains stylized martial arts violence and a scene of sensuality. In Chinese with subtitles. Area theaters.

{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. 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} INTIMATE STRANGERS (R, 105 minutes) -- William Faber (Fabrice Luchini), a shy, primly dressed tax consultant, becomes infatuated with a troubled woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) who mistakes him for a psychiatrist. Soon enough, Faber has "sessions" with this new "client," and hears in detail about her sexually troubled personal life. Of course he falls in love with her. This is a French movie, after all. It's roundly entertaining, a well-done chamber piece between two fascinating characters. Luchini shows why he has been a lasting staple of modern French cinema. He has a glistening stare that tells you about vulnerability, pent-up desires and a frazzled intelligence. And Bonnaire justifies William's intensity with effortless grace. No one has smoked a cigarette like that in recent memory. Contains frank sexual conversation and sexual situations. In French with subtitles. Landmark's Bethesda Row, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

{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 gripping 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. Area theaters.

{sstar} MEAN CREEK (R, 87 minutes) -- Nothing good can come of the plot hatched by the teen protagonists of "Mean Creek," who aim to humiliate a fat, schoolyard bully (Josh Peck) who has been beating up another boy (Rory Culkin) by stripping him of his clothes during a river outing and dumping him in the water. Nothing good, that is, except a richly nuanced little film about morality and tragedy. Sure, it'll give you a sick, sour feeling in the pit of your stomach, but isn't that what we go to the movies for? It's not? Oh well, there's always "The Princess Diaries 2." Contains obscenity, violence, teen drinking, drug use and sexual content. Landmark's Bethesda Row and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{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. Annapolis Harbour and United Artists Fairfax.

OPEN WATER (R, 79 minutes) -- Tearing themselves away from the never-ending demands of yuppie life, Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) book a scuba-diving vacation on a Caribbean island. They find themselves alone in a shark-infested sea. Treading water. This digitally shot low-budget indie is clearly filmmaker Chris Kentis's Blair Fish Project. It has its spooky moments, but mostly our ingrained fear of sharks is the movie's real emotional engine. The two actors (who spent 120 hours filming this in real, shark-infested waters in the Caribbean), the story, and the lurching, empty sea that becomes our lasting image, are just the collective ignition key. The dialogue is often very stilted and their relationship is rather banal. In the end, Kentis's efforts to build our affection for Susan and Daniel are less successful than the fearful situation in which he dunks them. Contains nudity, obscenity and emotional intensity. Area theaters.

THE PRINCESS DIARIES 2: ROYAL ENGAGEMENT (G, 115 minutes) -- Luckily, "Princess Diaries 2" doesn't promote the stereotype still prevalent in popular culture that a princess (read: woman) is weak or somehow broken without a male counterpart. Though it banks its plot on the quest of its main character, Mia (Anne Hathaway), to find a man within 30 days or risk giving up her throne, the film focuses on Mia's reluctance to do so and her grandmother's challenging of an old law that states princesses must be married before becoming queen. Sometimes charming, sometimes a tad too silly and all the time predictable, the film gives you what you'd expect and doesn't take many chances besides allowing for the possibility that a princess might be okay without a husband. But even giving a belated nod to women's lib might just be a sneaky way to open doors for movie No. 3. Contains kissing and mild sensuality. Area theaters.

-- Sara Gebhardt

{sstar} ROSENSTRASSE (PG-13, 136 minutes) -- Based on fact, Margarethe von Trotta's World War II-era flashback drama, about a group of Aryan German women who quietly but insistently fought their husbands' detention by the Nazis, is told in layered, time-skipping fashion, not because it's fashionable, but because it works. The story, you see, is as much about the heroism of the women, embodied by Lena (radiant Katja Riemann), as it is about the legacy of their actions, good and bad. That legacy reverberates across oceans and generations, touching the life of the young New York woman (Maria Shrader) who travels back to Berlin to learn about this fascinating footnote to recent history. Contains ugly anti-Semitism and the ever-present threat of violence. In German with English subtitles. Avalon.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

SHE HATE ME (R, 138 minutes) -- In Spike Lee's oddball modern fable, assuming that's what it is, Jack (Anthony Mackie) blows the whistle on his biotech company that has secured big money for a phony AIDS cure. Then he becomes a cottage industry, servicing lesbians who need donor sperm. And then he testifies before Congress about his former company. The movie also finds time to pay tribute to the black security guard who caught the Watergate burglars. And then . . . well, at this point, it's hard to know what to make of the film, except it seems, rather predictably, to be something about institutional racism. The movie seems to be some kind of satire. But like his similarly frustrating "Bamboozled," it's a satire with flow charts, footnotes and a riding crop. Lee seems to be trying to examine our own silent but deadly attitudes toward race, as if he's our spiritual and aggressive radon inspector. This is sheer agony to sit through, and not for the reasons Lee would relish. Lee's better when he discovers satire in drama, as in "Do the Right Thing" and "She's Gotta Have It," rather than the other way around. Contains sexual scenes, obscenity and violence. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

{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. Regal Ballston Common and University Mall Theatres.

-- 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.

SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2 (PG, 90 minutes) -- It's hard to imagine that the people who saw the execrable first "Baby Geniuses" were such gluttons for punishment that they would want a second helping, but, then again, as H.L. Mencken said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." This one, revolving around a fugitive Nazi (Jon Voight) bent on world domination and an ageless, Fonzie-like superhero trapped in the body of a seven-year-old (played by brothers Gerry, Leo and Myles Fitzgerald), is even dumber than the original, with an improvised-sounding script and acting so bad that to call it wooden is insulting to marionettes. If there's a "Superbabies 3," I'm quitting my job and opening a bed-and-breakfast in Siberia. Contains a joke or two about diapers and gas, and lame martial-arts violence. Area theaters.

-- 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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

SUSPECT ZERO (R, 100 minutes) -- The plot may sound familiar, and it is: Disgraced FBI agent (Aaron Eckhart) teams up with colleague and former love interest (Carrie-Anne Moss) to hunt down suspected serial killer (Ben Kingsley), who for some reason is baiting his pursuers with buckets of clues. What's different (and good) about this thriller is the real sense of creepy foreboding that director E. Elias Merhige creates, with help from "Pi" composer Clint Mansell and from Kingsley, who brings an intensity and bone-deep desperation to his portrayal of a bad guy who, in a strange way, is kind of a good guy, too. Contains violence, gore, obscenity, rape and brief nudity. Area theaters.

-- 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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

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 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.

{sstar} WE DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (R, 104 minutes) -- Grounded by the remarkable ensemble acting of Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts and Peter Krause as married couples who cheat on each other with each other, "We Don't Live Here Anymore" feels less like a movie than the experience of being a fly on the wall during some very awkward conversations. If you like that sort of thing -- and I do -- you'll have a field day. In addition to the performances, the script (adapted by Larry Gross from a pair of stories by Andre Dubus) and direction (by John Curran) underscore the reality that making marriages work can be, well, work, and unpleasant work at that. Those looking for escapism would do well to consider the fact that "We Don't Live Here Anymore" will make you feel like you've moved in, if only for a short while, with the sad and sometimes bilious people who reside there. Contains obscenity, talk of sex and scenes involving sex and nudity. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

WITHOUT A PADDLE (PG-13, 99 minutes) -- There's apparently not enough room in the deep woods for both crazy antics and epiphanies. "Without a Paddle" tries very hard to be a sincere, pseudo coming-of-age story about 30-year-old men finally discovering who they are and what they want out of life. But because of over-the-top plot elements, mediocre acting and lack of chemistry between the three main actors, it fails in the attempt. Where it succeeds, however, is in outrageously stupid, silly and sometimes crude moments that color the narrative about three childhood friends (played by Seth Green, Dax Shepard and Matthew Lillard) lost in the Oregon woods. Contains sexual material, some profanity, some violence, crude humor and drug references. Area theaters.

-- Sara Gebhardt

YU-GI-OH! THE MOVIE (PG, 91 minutes) -- There's nothing new about a Japanese anime trading card and television series phenomenon that takes its characters to the big screen to capitalize on its popularity. The film is an obvious ploy to keep kids watching the animated series so that they continue to play the Duel Monsters! game and buy the merchandise. The producers don't waste time on subtlety or creative story lines in their quest for upholding their successful brand. They follow the winning formula of the television show, creating a supersize episode that centers its plot on Yugi Moto, a short, friendly, spiky-haired teenager who is the champion Duel Monsters! player. When mean teen Seto Kaiba sets out to topple Yugi's card-game reign, not only does Yugi have to defend himself but he also has to save the universe. Though there is a strong theme that promotes loyalty to friends throughout the movie, there's nothing inspiring about "Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie," unless you count the way it compels kids to continue to support the "Yu-Gi-Oh" franchise. Contains combat and monster images. Area theaters.

-- Sara Gebhardt

Repertory

AFI SILVER THEATRE -- "Pirates of the Carribean," Friday at 6:50 and 9:40, Saturday-Monday at 1, 4, 6:50 and 9:40. 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. 202-885-5950.

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 -- "Manhattan," Friday at 8. "Annie Hall," Saturday at 8. "The Producers," Sunday at 8. "One-Eyed Jacks," Monday at 8. "Key Largo," Tuesday at 8. "Elmer Gantry," Wednesday at 8. "Bus Stop," Thursday at 8. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

COLUMBIA ASSOCIATION LAKEFRONT Film Festival -- "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," Friday and Saturday at 8:30. Town Center lakefront, Columbia. 877-713-9674, Ext. 9010.

GRIOT CINEMA -- "Richard Wright -- Black Boy," Sunday at 3:15. City Museum, 801 K St. NW. 202-232-3400.

HIRSHHORN -- "Gabriel Orozco," Sunday at 3:30. Free. Ring Auditorium, Seventh and Independence SW. 202-633-4674.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Mississippi Burning," Friday at 7. "A Woman in Grey, Chapters 1-7," Tuesday at 6:30. "A Woman in Grey, Chapters 8-15," Wednesday at 6:30. "North Dallas Forty," 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," 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.

MIDNIGHTS BENEATH BETHESDA -- "Office Space," Friday and Saturday at midnight. 7235 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda. 301-652-7273.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- Films by Raymond Depardon: "Untouched by the West" and "Les Annees Declic," Saturday at 2:30. "New York, NY," "Ten Minutes of Silence for John Lennon" and "Peasant Profile," Sunday at 2. "Africa: How Is the Pain?," Sunday at 4:30. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

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

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/Georgetown -- "Wicker Park," Tuesday at 11. Loews Georgetown, 3111 K St. NW. 202-342-6033.

REEL MOMS/Vienna -- "Wicker Park," Tuesday at 11. Loews Fairfax Square, 8065 Leesburg Pike, Vienna. 703-506-9857.

REEL MOMS/Gaithersburg -- "Wicker Park," Saturday at 10 and Tuesday at 11.

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

New on Video

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

(R, 2004, 127 MINUTES, NEWMARKET FILM GROUP)

Mel Gibson's almost pornographically violent narrative of Jesus's last 12 hours feels like what I imagine it's like to watch a snuff film. Try as you might to remind yourself that what you're seeing is only a movie, the onslaught of savagery is rendered so realistically and with such unrelenting fury that it renders rationale faculties inert. Which is exactly Gibson's point, I'm sure, making "The Passion" less an episode of movie-going than, for many, something akin to a religious experience. It's just too bad that, for those viewers who don't come into the theater already knowing that they should care about Jesus's pain, Gibson's film, which gives short shrift to Jesus's lifetime of good words and deeds, doesn't really provide them with any reason to do so now. Contains numbingly graphic violence and emotional intensity.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

TWISTED

(R, 2004, 97 MINUTES, PARAMOUNT PICTURES)

Having helmed such highbrow fare as "Henry and June," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "Quills," director Philip Kaufman must have thought he could knock off a silly, meat-and-potatoes thriller like "Twisted" with his eyes closed. Unfortunately, that seems to be just what he has done. To anyone paying attention, there are few real questions in this whodunit about a newly minted homicide detective (Ashley Judd) in search of a serial killer who appears to be offing all her ex-lovers. Is it the jealous former beau, the resentful colleague, the oily police partner (Andy Garcia, channeling Snidely Whiplash)? Or could it possibly be our heroine herself, a woman who suffers from poor impulse control and 24-hour blackouts? Now, that would make an interesting movie, which this is emphatically not. Contains obscenity, sexuality, brief partial nudity and violent imagery.

-- M.O.