AROUND THE BEND (R, 85 minutes)
This enervated indie (well, studio-financed indie; it's distributed by Warner Bros.' Independent Pictures) asks you 1) to contemplate the notion of Christopher Walken as Michael Caine's son, and 2) to follow a hackneyed road movie in the picturesque Southwest. On his last legs, aging archaeologist Henry Lair (Michael Caine) summons his 30-year-old grandson, Jason (Josh Lucas), and Jason's 6-year-old son, Zach (Jonah Bobo), to honor his last wishes. He also invites Jason's estranged father, Turner (Walken), a former heroin user who hasn't been heard from in years. Henry wants the men to take his ashes on a sentimental last journey to various Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants where the old man experienced significant events. By the time they reach Albuquerque, Henry clearly hopes, his dysfunctional family will be emotionally reunited. This is clear from the beginning and, apart from predictable bickering and bitterness between Turner and Jason, we have no particular reason to assume anything surprising will happen. And we can expect all manner of Life Lessons and at least one Tortured Confession along the way. First-time filmmaker Jordan Roberts worked on this project for years, but merely ended up with dreary cliche. It's time for him to take a new journey, bound this time for originality. Contains obscenity. At Landmark's Bethesda Row and Landmark's E Street Cinema.
-- Desson Thomson
THE FINAL CUT ( PG-13, 104 minutes)
In what seems to be the final in a trifecta of tight-lipped, almost nonhuman weirdo roles (after the films "Insomnia" and "One Hour Photo"), Robin Williams plays Alan Hackman, a "cutter" who airbrushes and reconfigures people's memories -- culled from so-called Zoe implants inserted in humans at birth -- by means of an editing machine called a guillotine. In this futuristic age, he's a home-movie rewriter, and his finished works, called rememories, are made for families of the deceased. Alan is currently editing the life of a sleazy corporate man who, we realize quickly enough, is a child molester. Alan also has issues of his own following a tragic episode from his childhood for which he blames himself. This debut from writer-director Omar Naim is cut-and-dried sci-fi thriller business, trading on the notions that memories are erasable and that someone's life can be seen and understood as so much video footage. It feels very predictable. Jim Caviezel, who plays an activist opposed to Alan's Big-Brotherish activities, and Mira Sorvino as Alan's sort-of girlfriend, hover around the plot like irrelevant holograms. A good cutter would have freed them completely from this movie. Contains mature thematic material, some violence, sexual content and obscenity. At AMC Columbia, AMC Hoffman Center and AMC Potomac Mills.
-- Desson Thomson
JU-ON (R, 92 minutes)
Talk about a haunted house. The ghosts in this one are so relentless they don't just come after you when you trespass on their property, they follow you home and climb into bed with you. "Ju-on" wants to give you the willies . . . bad. If anything, the overly familiar ghost story -- about the paranormal aftermath of a gruesome murder -- tries too hard to scare. It's creepy, all right. It's just that how it goes about creeping you out is sometimes just plain cheesy. By which I mean it gets a lot of mileage out of dead folks, particularly one 5-year-old boy in Goth-style white pancake makeup and black eyeliner (shades of Marilyn Manson Jr.) popping up in mirrors and windows. And let's not forget these favorites of the genre: the crackling phone line with no one on the other end; a hissing black cat; a malevolent fog; and, last but not least, the nearly catatonic grandmother too shocked to warn visitors to get out of the house now. Timed to coincide with the upcoming release of "The Grudge" ( a remake of "Ju-on" by its original director, Takashi Shimizu, and starring Sarah Michelle Gellar), this Japanese campfire story doesn't so much break new ground in horror as it does put a fresh coat of paint on an old, slightly run-down building. Which is exactly what "The Grudge" seems designed to do, too. Those who wind up seeing both this and its American remake may find themselves scared, but for an unintended reason, when they realize that almost no one, least of all Hollywood, is capable of leaving well enough alone. Contains pervasive creepiness, some blood and suggested violence. In Japanese with English subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.
-- Michael O'Sullivan
QUEIMADA! (BURN!) (Unrated, 132 minutes)
Originally released in this country in a truncated English version called "Burn!" -- and with a blond-haired Marlon Brando affecting a British accent -- Italian director Gillo "The Battle of Algiers" Pontecorvo's pointed 1969 drama of the politics of war feels surprisingly timely. Set in the mid-19th century on a fictional sugar-producing island in the Caribbean overseen by Portuguese colonists, "Queimada!" features Brando as an opportunist Englishman who plays whatever side of the nation-building game suits him (i.e., whoever offers the most money). Initially seeming to work on behalf of the black islanders, fomenting an uprising against their Portuguese masters from behind the scenes like some Machiavellian Dr. Frankenstein, Brando's William Walker returns a decade later to suppress a second revolution and to hunt down the very same rebel leader (Evaristo Marquez) he created the first time. If the rerelease of the film at this time has any resonance with what some have pointed out as our own government's expedient flip-flopping on foreign policy -- backing the Taliban against the Soviet Union at one point and then branding them public enemy No. 1 at another, to name but one recent accusation -- it's clearly meant to, just as the movie commented on the Vietnam conflict at the time of its initial release. One quibble: Losing Brando's distinctively nasal, almost Mike Tysonish vocal mannerisms to a spaghetti-Western-caliber Italian voice may make you feel like you're missing half the actor's performance. And, in a way, you are. The lower-register Italian voice that appears to come out of his mouth never truly feels his, yet Brando's on-screen presence, as with all the actor's most interesting work, is huge. Contains brief obscenity, killing, scenes of riots and rebellion (as well as the bloody suppression thereof), a cockfight, bare-breastedness and naked children. In Italian with English subtitles. At the AFI Silver Theatre.
-- Michael O'Sullivan
SAINTS AND SOLDIERS (PG-13, 90 minutes)
When Nazis capture and try to execute a group of GIs in World War II Belgium, four manage to escape into the snowy Ardennes forest. Unfortunately, the four who get away are near-cliches in uniform. We have Nathan "Deacon" Greer (Corbin Allred), a quiet, religious sniper who carries a Bible in his pocket and is traumatized by a recent tragedy. ("Shell shock" in those days.) There are also tough-as-nails New Yorker Steven Gould (Alexander Niver), who's a medic; Gordon "Gundy" Gunderson (Peter Holden), the down-to-earth sergeant who's a teddy bear inside; and Shirlee Kendrick (Lawrence Bagby), a good ol' Louisiana boy from "N'awlins." Worst of all, cliche-wise, is Oberon Winley (Kirby Heyborne), a downed RAF pilot they meet who has valuable military information that could help the Allies and -- horror of horrors -- an unbelievably phony English accent. Suddenly, there's a new purpose to their escape: They must deliver that information into the right hands. But they have precious little weaponry, and the Germans are always close. Filmmaker Ryan Little, who also made "Out of Step," based this story on true events, but he wasn't so strong on other points of believability. The almost-comic-book wartime vernacular and an extended motif about smoking Lucky Strikes feel like heavy-handed attempts to evoke the period. And despite all the life-threatening situations, warrior deaths and heroic feats, it's hard to get behind characters who feel like lazy archetypes. Contains violence, gore and obscenity. At Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Avenue.
-- Desson Thomson