Film Capsules

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

Openings

BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS (R) -- See review on Page 41.

THE BROWN BUNNY (Unrated) -- See review on Page 43.

BUSH'S BRAIN (PG-13) -- See capsule review on Page 44.

CELLULAR (PG-13) -- See review on Page 44.

CRIMINAL (R) -- See review on Page 41.

EVERGREEN (PG-13) -- See capsule review on Page 44.

GOZU (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 44.

HIJACKING CATASTROPHE (Unrated) -- See review on Page 41.

RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE (R) -- See capsule on Page 44.

THX 1138 (R) -- See review on Page 43.

WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW!? (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 44.

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 one 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." Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

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. Regal Ballston Common and AMC Mazza Gallerie.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

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. Muvico Egyptian Theatres, Tally Ho Leesburg and N.E. Theatre Fairfax Corner.

-- 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.

THE COOKOUT (PG-13, 85 minutes) -- "Cookout's" slender excuse for a plot involves the supposed hijinks that ensue when the NBA's No. 1 college draft pick, Todd Anderson (Storm P), throws a barbecue to celebrate his success and all sorts of colorful characters show up. And by colorful characters, I mean such broad racial and sexual stereotypes as the 'Bama cousin, the poofy chef, the skanky 'ho, the thug, the sexually voracious white woman married to a black man, etc. Not only is this comedy not funny, but it has so many amateurish continuity problems -- dusk one minute, bright sunshine the next -- that it makes "Plan 9 From Outer Space" look like it was made by Steven Spielberg. Cookouts, according to Todd's mother (Jenifer Lewis), are all about fun, food and family, or "the three F's." If you count the grade I'm giving this movie, that makes four. Contains sexual, excretory and drug humor. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{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.

-- 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. Olney Cinemas, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Foxchase.

-- 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. 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.

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 though 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. Landmark's Bethesda Row, Foxchase and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

FESTIVAL EXPRESS (R, 90 minutes) -- Lost for 35 years, "Festival Express" finally arrives in theaters and joins "Woodstock" and "Gimme Shelter" as a classic documentary about late '60s and early '70s rock festivals. This long-forgotten 1970 tour was Woodstock-on-wheels, as a private train carried the Grateful Dead, the Band, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, the Flying Burrito Brothers and others on a five-day jaunt through Canada, three whistle-stop concerts amplified by a round-the-clock jam session/party aboard the train. Film crews recorded it all, but when the tour lost a bundle after "free music" agitators protested the $14 ticket, the raw film disappeared until some music archivists found 60 hours of beautifully shot but unedited 16mm footage and 90 hours of unmixed audio in Canada's National Archives. Bob Smeaton ("The Beatles Anthology") reenvisions the event, adding some contemporary interviews with surviving musicians, promoters, journalists and fans, but the heart of the film is in the official and spontaneous performances, all brought to crystalline clarity by engineer and remix master Eddie Kramer. The Band and the Dead are in peak form, but the revelation is Janis Joplin, whose ferocious, full-throated, rhythm-and-mostly-blues renderings of "Tell Mama" and "Cry Baby" may well be her most powerful filmed performances (less than three months later, she was dead of a drug overdose). The jams are also great fun -- Jerry Garcia, who clearly loved the all-music-all-the-time focus of this short, strange trip, would call the Festival Express "the best time I ever had in rock 'n' roll." Contains adult language. AFI Silver Theatre, Cinema Arts Theatre and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Richard Harrington

{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} 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. Majestic Cinema.

{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. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- 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.

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.

PAPARAZZI (PG-13, 85 minutes) -- Vigilante justice for the famous! That seems to be the rallying cry for this bizarre rabble rouser, in which we are asked to get behind the rich and famous in the face of our common enemy: those dirty tabloid photographers. An action movie star Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) has had it with obnoxious celebrity photographers. But when he takes a swing at psychotic snapper Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore), his problems only get worse. Rex and his band of fellow sleazes make it their business to harass Bo, even indirectly causing the actor to have a serious car accident, which leaves his wife injured and their young son in a coma. Now, the gloves are off and Bo takes his methodical, murderous revenge. Investigating detective Burton (Dennis Farina) who's convinced Bo's behind these revenge killings, is torn between arresting Bo and letting him perform what this movie clearly considers to be a public service. The fact that Mel Gibson produced this, and appears in a joke cameo as another angry celebrity, seems to indicate just whose real-life frustrations are being aired here. Contains intense violence, sexual content and obscenity. 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. Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Avenue.

-- 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. 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. Majestic Cinema, Regal Ballston Common and N.E. Theatre Fairfax Corner.

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 7-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} TAE GUK GI: THE BROTHERHOOD OF WAR (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- Set during the Korean War, "Ta Guk Gi" follows two South Korean brothers (Won Bin and Jang Dong-gun) whose bond is tested by -- and ultimately survives -- the stress of battle. With "Saving Private Ryan"-caliber violence, it doesn't flinch from the horrors of war, but more importantly, it doesn't flinch from an honest portrayal of how combat can turn a hero into a monster and how love can turn to hate, and back again. Lavishly shot, this most expensive of all Korean films is also the highest-grossing Korean movie ever, which is more a testament to the film's big heart than to its spectacle. Contains obscenity and hyper-realistic war scenes. In Korean with subtitles. Loews Rio, Majestic Cinema and United Artists Fairfax Town Center.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

VANITY FAIR (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- It's quite possible that Reese Witherspoon, who brilliantly plays social-climbing heroine Becky Sharp in director Mira Nair's version of the William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, is too brilliant. That's because Witherspoon's Becky, more so even than the character in the book, is hugely likable, which leads us to hope for a redemption for the character that ultimately never comes on the page or on the screen. Yes, she schemes her way from poverty into high society, breaking hearts and ignoring her family in the process, but Witherspoon's charisma makes us yearn for some lesson to be learned, for a reward tempered by a kind of comeuppance. That's not the fault of Thackeray, but of the actress, who raises expectations that the film only dashes. Contains brief partial nudity, a mild boudoir scene, scuffling and images of war dead. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

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

WICKER PARK (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- The story of a young man (Josh Hartnett) who thinks he has rediscovered his long-lost love (Diane Kruger), only to find himself the victim of a creepy, "Fatal Attraction"-style stalker (Rose Byrne), "Wicker Park" wouldn't exist as a movie if its characters -- and I'm talking about the sane ones -- simply behaved as you or I do. From balky cell phones to nonexistent answering machines to best friends who don't deliver messages in a timely fashion, the film is a litany of miscommunication. Sure, crossed wires of this kind happen all the time in real life, but when they do, normal people usually resolve them with calls to directory assistance or a quick Google search. It's not even much of a mystery, since the film lets us in on the twist halfway through the tale, at which point "Wicker Park" becomes a soggy love triangle where the unhinged other woman doesn't even have the campy sensibility to boil her victim's pet rabbit. Contains obscenity and sensuality. 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

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DOWNTOWN -- At the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater: "Straight Up: Helicopters in Action," daily at 3. "Space Station (3D)," daily at 10:30, 11:30, 1, 2 and 4. "To Fly!," daily at 12:30 and 5. At the Albert Einstein Planetarium: "Infinity Express," daily at 10:30, 11, 11:30, 12:30, 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, 4, 4:30 and 5. "The Stars Tonight," daily at noon. Seventh and Independence SW. 202-357-1686.

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DULLES -- "Straight Up: Helicopters in Action," daily at 11:30, 2:30 and 5:30. "Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk," daily at 12:30 and 3:30. "Magic of Flight," daily at 1:30 and 4:30. 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly. 202-357-2700.

AMERICAN CITY DINER -- "Jaws," Friday at 8. "The Godfather," Saturday at 8. "Sleepless in Seattle," Sunday at 8. "The Barefoot Contessa," Monday at 8. "Rebecca," Tuesday at 8. "The Hustler," Wednesday at 8. "Notorious," Thursday at 8. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

COLUMBIA ASSOCIATION LAKEFRONT Film Festival -- "Charlotte's Web," Friday at 8:30. "The Black Stallion," Saturday at 8:30. Town Center lakefront, Columbia. 877-713-9674, Ext. 9010.

DOCS IN PROGRESS -- "The Abby Spirit" and "90 Miles Apart," Tuesday at 7:30. Warehouse Theater, 1021 Seventh St. NW. 240-505-8696.

FILMS ON THE HILL -- "Mare Nostrum," Wednesday at 7. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh St. SE. 202-547-6839.

FREER -- "Memories of Murder," Thursday at 7:30, with reception at 6. Free, but tickets required. Meyer Auditorium, 12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW. 202-633-1000.

GOETHE-INSTITUT -- "The Other Woman," Friday at 6:30. "The Second Awakening of Christa Klages," Monday at 6:30. Both screenings followed by a discussion with director Margarethe von Trotta ("Rosenstrasse"). 812 Seventh St. NW. 202-289-1200.

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

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Myra Breckinridge," Friday at 7. "The Simpsons: Like Father, Like Clown" and "The Jazz Singer," Monday at 7. "Smashing Time," Tuesday at 7. "To Kill a Mockingbird," Wednesday at 6:30. "Sirens, Symbols and Glamour Girls, Part 2" and "Two of a Kind," Thursday at 7. Free, but reservations required. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- Imax Theater: "NASCAR 3D: The Imax Experience," Friday-Sunday at noon, 2:10 and 6:30; Tuesday-Thursday at noon and 2:10. "Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees" and "Hubble: Galaxies Across Space & Time," Friday at 3:20 and 5:30; Saturday-Sunday 11, 1:10, 3:20 and 5:30; Tuesday-Thursday at 3:20. "Sacred Planet," Friday-Saturday at 4:20 and 7:40; Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday at 4:20. Davis Planetarium: "Ring World," Friday at 1, Saturday at 2 and 5; Sunday at 2. "The Sky Live!" Friday-Sunday at 3. "Hubble Heritage: Poetic Pictures," Friday-Sunday at 4. "Live From the Sun," Saturday at noon. "The Sky Above Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Saturday and Sunday at 1. 601 Light St., Baltimore. 410-685-5225.

MICA AND MARYLAND FILM FESTIVAL -- "Bob Roberts," Monday at 6. Maryland Institute College of Art, Hall at Brown Center, 1301 Mount Royal Ave., Baltimore. 410-752-8083.

MIDNIGHTS BENEATH BETHESDA -- "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," Friday and Saturday at midnight. 7235 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda. 301-652-7273.

MIDNIGHTS ON E -- "Sleeper," Friday and Saturday at midnight. Landmark's E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. 202-452-7672.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks," Saturday at 2:30. "Girl With the Hat Box" and "The House on Trubnaya Square," Sunday at 4:30. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART -- Lecture Hall: "William Kentridge: Drawing the Passing," Saturday at 3. Free. Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. 202-357-4600 (TDD: 202-357-4814).

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY -- Johnson Imax Theater: "Dolphins," Sunday-Thursday at 10:20, 12:10, 2 and 4; Friday and Saturday at 10:20, 12:10, 2, 4 and 7. "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous (3D)," daily at 11:15, 1:05, 3 and 5. "Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man (3D)," Friday and Saturday at 6 and 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.

REEL MOMS/Georgetown -- "Vanity Fair," Tuesday at 11. Loews Georgetown, 3111 K St. NW. 202-342-6033.

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

REEL MOMS/Gaithersburg -- "Vanity Fair," Saturday at 10 and Tuesday at 11. Loews Rio, 9811 Washingtonian Center, Gaithersburg. 301-948-6673.

TOWSON UNIVERSITY -- "Velvet Goldmine," Monday at 7:30. Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium, 8000 York Rd., Towson. Free. 410-704-2787.

VISIONS BAR NOIR -- "Donnie Darko," Friday-Saturday at midnight. "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War," Tuesday at 7. 1927 Florida Ave. NW. 202-667-0090.

New on Video

THE PUNISHER

(R, 2004, 124 MINUTES, LIONS GATE)

There's a scene in which government operative-turned-superhero Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) -- shell-shocked by the murders of his entire extended family -- is eating dinner with the losers who live in his rundown tenement (Ben Foster, John Pinette and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Suddenly, the up-to-then violent avenger of his loved ones' deaths, is just another guy breaking bread, and trying to connect, with the rest of humanity. It's a tender and complex scene, and watching it felt like I was miles away from the inexorable death march of violence that filled the rest of this live-action comic book. If only there had been more scenes like it to enrich yet another story of revenge. Contains obscenity, glimpses of partial nudity and much violence.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

SOUL PLANE

(R, 2004, 86 MINUTES, MGM)

If only the National Transportation Safety Board had license to stop "Soul Plane" from taking off, we could have saved ourselves from yet another African American film that thrives on stereotypes. By letting it fly, viewers have a chance to take a crash course in tastelessness by watching another piece of nouveau blaxploitation, in which black people decked out in their bling-bling sing and dance to raunchy hip-hop music and eat fried chicken while sipping Alize. After main character Nashawn (Kevin Hart) gets stuck on an airplane toilet, he wins a miraculous settlement of $100 million for his suffering (they also killed his dog), and then decides to start his own airline. Before the inaugural flight, Captain Mack (Snoop Dogg) shows up without real pilot credentials, making the flight from Los Angeles to New York a shaky one. An hour and a half of real airplane turbulence is better than sitting through the bad, offensive material that makes up the film. Fo' shizzle. Contains strong sexual content, much profanity and drug use.

-- Sara Gebhardt

{sstar}SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER . . . AND SPRING

(NOT RATED, 2003, 103 MINUTES, SONY PICTURES CLASSICS)

This delicate Korean fable by Kim Ki-duk, is about the slow boomerang trajectory of existence -- the way it curves away from you and yet ever toward you. With its heart-stopping setting, gorgeous images and a lovely little story, it's as fresh as woodland dew. It's about the lifelong relationship between a Buddhist monk (Oh Young-soo) and his novice (played by various actors in different stages of life), who live together in a small floating monastery in the center of a pond, nestled in a wooded mountain valley. This unsullied, bucolic corner of nature is going to be a spiritual workshop for the young boy, whose life will be an evolution through the straits of folly and sadness to dawning consciousness and rebirth. Told in virtually wordless sequences and with an inspired simplicity, the movie makes affecting epics of the smallest things. Contains sexual scenes and nudity.

-- Desson Thomson

{sstar}THE UNITED STATES OF LELAND

(R, 2003, 112 MINUTES, LELAND PRODUCTIONS INC.)

Why, filmmaker Matthew Ryan Hoge asks, do people do the things they do? Specifically, why does a seemingly nice teenager (Ryan Gosling) stab his girlfriend's retarded brother to death, and how does it affect the world around him? Don't worry, there's an answer of sorts at the end of this cinematic riddle, but there's also another, more intriguing, question. Why should we think that knowing the answer to questions like this will make any difference whatsoever in our brief and often brutally chaotic lives? Contains obscenity, drug content and some violence.

-- M.O.