FASTER (PG-13, 103 minutes)
I wonder if the ever-increasing multitudes of Moto GP (for Grand Prix) fans who watch this motorcycle racing sport would continue to do so if the risk of accidents weren't so gosh-darned high. The frequent crashes -- lovingly replayed in slo-mo in a new documentary called "Faster" -- certainly lend most of the excitement to a film of otherwise rather limited appeal about bikes going very, very fast around and around a track (nearly 200 mph on the straightaways). It's odd, though, just how much excitement can get sucked out of a 45-minute race by whittling it down to a couple of minutes or less of highlights. In addition to focusing inordinately on the ever-present risk of broken bones or worse, "Faster" tries to inject some drama into the film by plugging a couple of ongoing driver rivalries, particularly between Italians Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi. Minus the ever-present danger, however, the film came across to this member of the non-fanboy community as a crashing (pun intended) bore. And that's despite the best efforts of its mostly European and at times unintelligible subjects to juice up the game by referring to themselves as "crazy," "out of our minds" or "not normal people" and by characterizing their bikes as "evil," "from another world" or of "a vicious nature." Full disclosure: I also find NASCAR racing one of the most mind-numbingly monotonous spectator sports on earth. Perhaps watching Moto GP in person, instead of in the movie theater or on TV, I'd be able to feel the awesome power and adrenaline rush that obviously addicts its driven practitioners. But as cinema, "Faster" is a loud, choppily edited and surprisingly unengaging portrait of speed demons. Contains some obscenity and numerous motorcycle accidents. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.
-- Michael O'Sullivan
GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE (PG-13, 100 minutes)
Surprisingly talky for a sci-fi action thriller, this inscrutable sequel to the 1995 Japanese anime film about cyborgs and humans coexisting in a noirish future spends as much time dabbling in Cartesian philosophy and ideas about the nature of consciousness as it does advancing its ostensible story. To the extent that a narrative can be articulated, it centers around Batou (Akio Ohtsuka), a cop with the body of a machine and the soul of a man, who, along with his mulleted human detective partner, is investigating the murder of a human master by a female "gynoid" sex slave. As the plot thickens -- or, I should say, congeals -- the "Ghost in the Shell 2" script alternates between such faux-Confucian epigrams as "No matter how far a jackass travels it won't come back a horse" and "We weep for the bird's cry but not for the blood of a fish" and exclamations of tech-talk gobbledygook like "Rebuild the logic firewall!" Neither tone is particularly effective at transcending pretension, and, while the visuals are at times stylish, "Ghost" suffers most from a distinct lack of anything, well, cinematic. Do aficionados of Japanimation really want to waste their time attempting to swallow more indigestible pearls of dime-store wisdom or do they, as I suspect, not so secretly want some cyborg-on-cyborg action? As one character in "Ghost" notes, "When dialogue fails, it's time for violence." Contains violence (but not nearly enough) and some obscenity. In Japanese with subtitles. At AMC Hoffman Center, Landmark's E Street Cinema and the Majestic.
-- Michael O'Sullivan
NATIONAL LAMPOON'S GOLD DIGGERS (PG-13, 87 minutes)
Just how repellent is "National Lampoon's Gold Diggers"? So stupefyingly hideous that after watching it, you'll need to bathe in 10 gallons of disinfectant, get a full-body scrub and shampoo with vinegar to remove the scummy residue that remains. Some movies leave a bad taste in the mouth. This one causes full-on halitosis. Will Friedle (formerly of TV's "Boy Meets World") and Chris Owen (who played the dork who lies about losing his virginity in "American Pie") star as a pair of penniless and parentless criminals desperate for cash. During one of their ill-conceived schemes, they hold up a pair of senior-citizen sisters at gunpoint while dressed as a rabbi and a nun. (Can you smell the comedy yet?) Coincidentally, the victims of the crime (Louise Lasser and Renee Taylor) are equally desperate for money because their crazy uncle is hoarding the inheritance from their father's lucrative condom business. The ladies decide to break the boys out of jail so they can marry them, murder them and collect on their insurance policies. You know, because all moronic, broke orphans are organized enough to have life insurance. Meanwhile, the boys figure it's only a matter of time before the geezer gals drop dead, allowing them to cash in on the inheritance they assume will be theirs. It's hard to say what's most offensive about "Gold Diggers." Is it the tastelessness of seeing Lasser -- that's "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" to you -- and Taylor flaunting their aging bodies for cheap laughs? That's certainly a major factor. These sisters, who engage in randy stripteases and eat mounds of whipped cream off of their much-younger lovers' bodies, are so vile and uninteresting that they make Patty and Selma of "The Simpsons" look like the twins from the Coors beer commercials. But what's even more egregious about this alleged comedy is the fact that it was released in theaters at all. Clearly this should have been a straight-to-DVD affair. Then again, that's unfair to the many mediocre movies released solely on DVD. Even they don't deserve to be lumped in with this sub-sub-sub-par waste of 87 minutes' worth of celluloid. Contains crude and sexual humor, some drug-related material and dialogue that will reduce a viewer's IQ by at least 40 points. Area theaters.
-- Jen Chaney