RAISE YOUR VOICE (PG, 103 minutes)
The popular, modestly talented, always-plastic Hilary Duff stars in this vanity vehicle about a 16-year-old Arizona girl who overcomes grief and self-doubt to triumph at a summer music conservatory. Die-hard Duff fans 10 and older will probably gobble it up, but for others, "Raise Your Voice" will be lame, unintentionally funny fare. The movie contains mild sexual innuendo, including kissing, subtle implications of a prior sexual relationship between two characters and rare, semi-crude language.
Terri Fletcher (Duff) is a devout chorister and singer-songwriter with (we're told) great gifts. Her older brother (Jason Ritter) makes a video of her that is weirdly worshipful. The video gets Terri accepted at the conservatory, but her brother dies in a (briefly scary) car accident and, racked with grief, she falters. Her mother (Rita Wilson) sends her anyway, tricking Terri's protective dad (David Keith) into thinking she's visiting her aunt (Rebecca De Mornay). Terri has trouble with the snarky, competitive, musical teenagers, but a hip teacher (John Corbett) and a cute student (Oliver James) help her find her voice and her courage. Cue the strings.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (PG-13, 110 minutes)
A high-school football team in Odessa, Tex., strives for the 1988 state championship as if the world were at stake, and as this movie points out, a losing season can indeed affect players' lives forever. A lost athletic scholarship could mean they'll never escape poor backgrounds or dead-end towns. Based on the nonfiction bestseller by H.G. Bissinger, "Friday Night Lights" explores the subject with the souped-up melodrama that's standard cliche for sports flicks -- churning music, bone-crunching sound effects.
Yet there's more to it than that because director Peter Berg and a crackerjack cast (led by Billy Bob Thornton as Permian Panthers Coach Gary Gaines and Derek Luke as a star player sidelined by injury) raise the film above cliche. Teenagers will find the movie gripping even if its subtler observations don't register. If they pay close attention, they'll see that it lauds values such as team loyalty, friendship and hard work, while also noting how football fanaticism can stress out 17-year-old athletes -- how special treatment in school still leaves some barely reading at grade level, how parents and business people put intense pressure on coach and team. One player (Garrett Hedlund) takes verbal and sometimes physical abuse from a drunken father (country star Tim McGraw), who demands that he win.
"Friday Night Lights" includes occasional mid-level profanity, a nasty racial slur, an implied sexual encounter between teenagers at a party, implied toplessness, milder sexual innuendo, and teenagers and adults drinking.
TAXI (PG-13, 97 minutes)
This silly cop comedy offers more fun than one can rightfully expect, thanks to ingratiating performances by Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah as the unlikely duo under Tim Story's nimble direction. Its occasional crude humor, sexual slang, innuendo and profanity make it a problematic choice for teenagers under 15. One scene shows a female crook frisking a female cop she's taken hostage in a highly suggestive manner, while others gawk. "Taxi" includes several wild car chases and rare, understated gun violence.
Queen Latifah plays Belle, a champion New York bike messenger who gets her cab license and supercharges her new hack for speed. Fallon plays Washburn, a driving-challenged New York police detective who loses his license and gets demoted back to walking a beat. He hears of a bank robbery on his police radio and commandeers Belle's cab. Though warned off the case by the lieutenant (Jennifer Esposito) he lusts after, he and Belle track the gorgeous lady robbers and take time to visit Washburn's tipsy mom (Ann-Margret) and Belle's boyfriend (Henry Simmons).