Film Capsules

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

Openings

AROUND THE BEND (R) -- See capsule review on Page 34.

THE FINAL CUT (pg-13) -- See capsule review on Page 45.

JU-ON (r) -- See capsule review on Page 45.

PRIMER (PG-13) -- See review on Page 33.

QUEIMADA! (BURN!) (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 45.

SAINTS AND SOLDIERS (PG-13) -- See capsule review on Page 45.

SHALL WE DANCE (PG-13) -- See review on Page 33.

STAGE BEAUTY (R) -- See review on Page 34.

TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (R) -- See review on Page 33.

First Runs & Revivals

{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, "Anchorman" rests on the likable funniness of Ferrell. Contains cartoonish violence to an animal, some obscenity, sexual situations and banter. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{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 cold, 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} CELLULAR (PG-13, 89 minutes ) -- In this dumb-fun suspense flick, Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) finds herself kidnapped. In desperation she pieces together a broken phone and reaches Ryan (Chris Evans), a lughead with six-pack abs who could morally use a mission. The story may be silly, but the suspense factor is surprisingly engaging: Ryan has to perform a complex rescue operation while maintaining cell phone contact with her flimsy phone. "Cellular" is always charged, and its adroit suspense makes you overlook the silliness. Contains violence and obscenity. AMC Academy and Majestic Cinema.

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. AMC Rivertowne.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} A DIRTY SHAME (NC-17, minutes) -- Baltimore filmmaker John Waters's newest film, a raucous celebration of all things smutty, might be called sex-positive, in the same way that Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" might be called antiwar. Waters, of course, in this comedy about an uptight woman (Tracey Ullman) who becomes a nymphomaniac after getting bumped on the head, doesn't just make the point that lust is natural. Oh no, he hammers that message home with all the subtlety of someone who once asked his leading man, the late drag queen Divine, to eat dog excrement on camera. Cerebral comedy it ain't. Gleeful, tasteless, life-affirming satire it is. Contains nudity, obscenity and pervasive sexual humor. Landmark's Bethesda Row and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- 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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

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 Woostock-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. The heart of the film is in the official and spontaneous performances. 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. 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. P&G Old Greenbelt.

-- Richard Harrington

THE FORGOTTEN (PG-13, 96 minutes) -- Julianne Moore plays Telly Paretta, whose 8-year-old son is suddenly missing after embarking on a flight. But her psychiatrist (Gary Sinise) and even her husband (Anthony Edwards) insist no such son ever existed. Sound the "Twilight Zone" theme and the death knell for the movie. The scenario, which consists mostly of Telly running away from men in dark suits, gets worse and worse. It has its share of visceral surprises, slightly predictable and dumb when all is said and done. And best forgotten. Contains some violence and scary effects. Area theaters.

{sstar} FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (PG-13, 110 minutes ) -- Based on the acclaimed nonfiction book by H.G. Bissinger about a small, west Texas town's affection for its winning-against- the-odds high-school football team, director Peter Berg's warts-and-all examination of the Permian Panthers isn't conventional in any way. For one thing, its grainy, washed-out look and shaky-camera style make football fandom feel more like an addiction than a glorious obsession. For another, the plot, which follows the 1988 season under stoic coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), has an unexpected trajectory, especially considering that, at least initially, the story seems to conform to the it-all-comes-down-to- one-game formula. In other words, it's more sociology than hagiography. Even if you don't generally like sports movies, you might like this one. That's because its subject isn't really the game of football, but the game of life. Contains obscenity, sexual content, underage drinking, emotionally abusive parenting, often brutal gridiron action and occasional bouts of Texan talk so twangy you may wish there were subtitles. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{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 Twilight 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.

{sstar} GOING UPRIVER: THE LONG WAR OF JOHN KERRY (PG-13, 92 minutes) -- George Butler's movie shows us a rare spectacle: a presidential candidate performing military service. We can see from the footage and the testimony that Kerry, as a Swift boat commander, wasn't ducking from danger. He killed the enemy, and he saved lives. We also see, in detail, how Kerry and hundreds of comrades established Vietnam Veterans Against the War, marched on Washington and camped in front of Congress. And there is also the 29-year-old Kerry testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. There's no doubt about this movie's political agenda -- Butler and Kerry are lifelong friends. But "Upriver" puts together a composite, fuller picture of Kerry than the fragmentary sketches and less-flattering renderings offered by the media and his opponents. Turns out, the guy is gallant, honorable and thoughtful. Contains footage of wartime atrocities. Alexandria Old Town Theater and Regal Ballston Common.

{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.

-- 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.

I {heart} HUCKABEES (R, 104 minutes) -- In David O. Russell's too-precious-for-its-own-good comedy, Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) recruits "existential" detectives Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) to help him solve the strange coincidences and troubles of his life. They uncover all kinds of things, including environmentalist Albert's tussle with a sleazy Huckabees store chain executive Brad Stand (Jude Law), who wants to build more stores. The convoluted story, which includes Huckabees spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts); Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), a firefighter who has become radicalized by the world's consumerism and dependence on oil ever since "the big September thing"; and French philosopher Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), who sees randomness where the Jaffes see connectedness, is all pie-in-the-sky conceit but not quite funny enough. Contains nudity, sex scenes and obscenity. Area theaters.

INCANTATO (Unrated, 103 minutes) -- In 1920s Rome, the unmarried teacher Nello Balocchi (Neri Marcore) is dispatched by his family to Bologna to get a job and find a wife. But when Nello falls for the beautiful, blind Angela (Vanessa Incontrada), he finds himself in the sway of a scheming temptress. She wants to use Nello's goofy attentions to win back a former lover. Marcore makes an engaging naif. And Giancarlo Giannini has his moments as Nello's long-suffering, womanizing father. It's a slight movie, a warm bath experience, soap-sudsed with sentimentality, improbability and other storytelling misdemeanors. But not free of charm. Contains nudity and sexual content. In Italian with subtitles. AFI Silver Theatre.

{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 a 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. University Mall Theatres.

{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. Foxchase.

LADDER 49 (PG-13, 115 minutes) -- A tribute to firefighters disguised as a drama, this movie shows bravery in the visual Esperanto of Budweiser commercials and Hollywood action films, using the five-alarm star power of John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix. We meet Jack Morrison (Phoenix), who has it in mind to be a hero all along and who just can't wait to start saving people. His genial captain (Travolta) becomes his Obi-Wan Kenobi, who follows his meteoric career. Although "Ladder" tries to show firefighters as vulnerable and human, it mostly turns them into salt-of-the-earth heroes who know how to party hard and save lives. It's adulatory rather than realistic, and it doesn't engage you deeper than its heart-on-the-sleeve emotions. Contains burn injuries, overall emotional intensity and mild profanity. Area theaters.

{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. United Artists Snowden Square.

{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. Avalon and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

{sstar} THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (R, 126 minutes) -- A good-hearted young Argentine from Cordoba named Ernesto (Gael Garcia Bernal) decides it is time to put aside his medical school education, get on a motorbike with his pal Alberto Granados (Rodrigo de la Serna) and hit the road. He wants to discover South America. This man will grow up to be Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a Marxist revolutionary in the Cuban revolution. But Walter Salles's movie, adapted from Guevara's memoir, "The Motorcycle Diaries," and Granados's "Traveling With Che Guevara," isn't about the politics. It's a lyrical, warmhearted road movie about two men coming of age. Bernal, the star of "Y Tu Mama Tambien," is the movie's guiding star. He beams brightly, charming men and women, rich and poor, healthy and leprous, wherever he goes. Contains obscenity. In Spanish with subtitles. Area theaters.

MR. 3000 (PG-13, 104 minutes) -- In "Mr. 3000," Bernie Mac never inspires you to root for him, which is a problem in a sports film. Unfortunately, you cannot chalk up Mac's status quo performance to the fact that he is being so funny that you can't take him seriously. His comedy does shine through, but not as prominently as his admirers might hope. Nine years after Stan Ross, a former baseball superstar who quit the game as soon as he tallied 3,000 hits (thus meeting the informal eligibility requirements for the Baseball Hall of Fame), his hopes of legendary status are dashed when someone discovers that he was actually three hits short of the record. Driven by his ego and desperate in his hubris-inspired desire to maintain his place in baseball history, the over-the-hill, out-of-shape Stan stages a comeback. It plays out like a nine-inning sitcom that uses an obvious formula to tell a familiar story while garnering cheap laughs. Contains profanity and sexual situations. Area theaters.

-- Sara Gebhardt

{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.

{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. University Mall Theatres.

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. University Mall Theatres.

-- Sara Gebhardt

RAISE YOUR VOICE (PG, 103 minutes) -- Hilary Duff's squeaky clean vehicle is quite simply for the fan base: the young, the innocent and the commercially acquisitive. She's Teri Fletcher, a 16-year-old, church-going, musically ambitious daughter of an overprotective father (David Keith) and a gentle mom (Rita Wilson) and the sib to an impossibly wonderful brother. When a disturbing tragedy occurs, Teri's desire to attend a musical academy's summer program in Los Angeles is hampered by her traumatized feelings. And then there's Dad, who forbids her to go. A plucky lass with a powerful voice and a will to go should follow her dreams, right? What follows is part "Fame" and all Hilary all the time, as she makes friends, learns life lessons, sings and enjoys a bubblegum-ish romance with a sweet-natured fellow student (Oliver James). The movie is going to be fine for PG-ready audiences, assuming they don't have a problem with extremely predictable story turns. Contains a traumatic incident that could disturb young sensibilities. Area theaters.

RED LIGHTS (Unrated, 106 minutes ) -- Jean-Pierre Darroussin (a kind of French Wallace Shawn) plays the central character in this quasi-thriller about a henpecked husband who misplaces his wife (Carole Bouquet) after his drinking and driving incites her to leave their car in a huff while the two are en route to pick up their kids from summer camp. Although the story ostensibly becomes about the man's efforts to get to the bottom of the increasingly mysterious circumstances surrounding his wife's disappearance, it seems to have an unsavory subtext, whose ultimate message about the nature of masculinity has a little too much to do with barbarity. Contains obscenity, physical violence and drug use. In French with subtitles. Cinema Arts Theatre and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE (R, 93 minutes) -- Less a sequel to 2002's $100 million-grossing "prequel" to the wildly popular video game than a next game level, "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" returns everyone's favorite biochemical warrior Alice (buff Milla Jovovich) to Raccoon City to battle persistent-though-undead corpses and the evil Umbrella Corps. This time, a biogenetically enhanced Alice gets help from two popular "Resident Evil 2" and "3" characters -- tough-cop-who-looks- like-a-hooker Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and S.T.A.R.S. leader Carlos Oliveira (Oded Fehr) -- and confronts the hulking, over-armed genetic freak Nemesis, as well as nasty Lickers and those funky Dobermans from Hell. Plot and narrative? Minimal. Confrontations? Endless. Surprises? None. If only something could reanimate the dead brain cells of scripter Paul W.S. Anderson, who leaves the directing to first-time helmer Alexander Witt. Contains nonstop violence, obscenity and nudity. Area theaters.

-- Richard Harrington

SHARK TALE (PG, 92 minutes) -- Through a comedy of errors, the jive-talking fish called Oscar (Will Smith) gets credited for the killing of a mean shark. This puts him in real hot water with the shark's father, a mafioso fish named Don Lino (Robert De Niro). Oscar's only hope is his newfound friend, Don's nicer, pacifist son Lenny (Jack Black). The movie probably won't register as anything but fun to most kids. But that vapor of mediocrity might penetrate more discerning nostrils. Many of us have grown accustomed to extremely high quality in the computer-animated genre, thanks to such great films as "Toy Story" and "Shrek." This movie just doesn't match its predecessors, and those inevitable comparisons to Pixar's "Finding Nemo" will leave "Shark Tale" foundering. Contains mild obscenity and crude humor. Area theaters.

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (PG, 107 minutes) -- Less about the world of tomorrow than the world of yesterday, this technically innovative film (shot with live actors against an empty blue screen, with antique-looking, pulp-fiction-style details filled in later by computer animators) will be of less interest to fans of cutting-edge science fiction than to old-movie buffs. Set in the 1930s, the in-jokey story of crack reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) and mercenary flying ace Joe Sullivan (Jude Law), who are investigating a series of attacks by flying robots, is neat-o, in a film-geek kind of way. Still, first-time director Kerry Conran, who convinced Hollywood to let him make "Sky Captain" by shopping around a six-minute demo he made on his home laptop, isn't so much in love with dusty old black-and-white serials as he is with his own film, and that cold self-satisfaction shows. Contains some sci-fi/action violence. Area theaters.

-- 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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

TAXI (PG-13, 97 minutes ) -- I liked Jimmy Fallon on "Saturday Night Live." The ex-"Weekend Update" co-anchor always came across like one of those genial, smart-alecky Everydudes who live to crack up their friends in the group house next door. But the ability to make light of such celebs as Bobby Brown at a desk week after week does not a movie star make, and "Taxi" -- a buddy flick in which Fallon's bumbling New York cop teams up with Queen Latifah's speed-demon cabbie to pursue Brazilian supermodel bank robbers -- is proof of that. Even the closing-credit outtakes, in which Fallon is seen making himself and his castmates laugh, are way funnier than anything scripted in this stalled comedic vehicle. Contains violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

-- 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. Foxchase and N.E. Theatre Fairfax Corner.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW!? (Unrated, minutes) -- It's hard to believe it took three directors (Mark Vicente, William Arntz and Batty Chasse) to make this mish-mash of a movie about the nature of consciousness, time, matter, psychiatry, emotions and religion. I guess the trio must have divided up the work, which includes documentary-style talking-head footage by a parade of New Age experts unidentified until the end; a fictional narrative starring Marlee Matlin as a depressive photographer; and CGI animations of the human sex drive that look like Mr. Potato Head crossed with flubber. What the #$*! do they know? Not much, apparently, about making movies. Contains obscenity and sexual content. Cinema Arts Theatre, Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

WIMBLEDON (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- Set during the famed tennis tournament known as Wimbledon that takes place annually at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, "Wimbledon" is really two movies in one. The first, and lesser of the two, is a trite love story about a rising American hotshot player (Kirsten Dunst) and the has-been Brit athlete (Paul Bettany) who falls for her (and, not incidentally, re-ignites his career, thanks to their apparently hot sex). The second film, which is the more interesting of the two, concerns the psychological game all world-class athletes must play. This takes place mostly inside the head of Bettany's character, Peter, whose film "Wimbledon" really is. It is far more engaging than that foreground romance, and director Richard Loncraine makes Peter's sweaty self-doubt and surge of confidence feel, at times, viscerally, visibly real. Contains obscenity, sexual content and a couple of smacks to the face. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

WOMAN THOU ART LOOSED (R, 99 minutes) -- This grim tale, adapted from a novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes, is about the troubled life of Michelle (Kimberly Elise), who was raped at age 12 by her mother's boyfriend, Reggie (Clifton Powell). Michelle's mother, Cassie (Loretta Devine) refuses to believe what happened because she doesn't want to lose a man; and Michelle grows up bitter and angry. Michael Schultz's movie hinges almost diagrammatically on that act of child abuse, like a made-for-TV melodrama. Despite some strong performances, particularly from Elise, and all manner of stylistic flourishes by Schultz and screenwriter Stan Foster, the movie feels stagelike and a little too self-conscious. There are good scenes and less-assured moments, rich characters and cliched ones. Ultimately, the movie's too uneven to be totally satisfying. Contains obscenity, rape and other violence. Area theaters.

Repertory

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DOWNTOWN -- At the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater: "Space Station (3D)," daily at 10:30, 11:30, 1, 2 and 4. "To Fly!," daily at 12:30 and 5. "Straight Up: Helicopters in Action," daily at 3. 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 -- "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Friday at 8. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," Saturday at 8. "Guys and Dolls," Sunday at 8. "The Natural," Monday at 8. "Cape Fear," Tuesday at 8. "Marty," Wednesday at 8. "The Man With the Golden Arm," Thursday at 8. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

AMERICAN UNIVERSITY -- "Control Room," Monday at 6 at Washington College of Law (Room 602, 4801 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Room 602), Wednesday at 5:30 at main campus (Weschler Theatre, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW). Free. 202-274-4180.

ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL -- "The Ride," Saturday at 2. "The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam," Saturday at 7. Freer Gallery's Meyer Auditorium, 12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW. Free, but tickets are required. 202-633-1000.

CINEMA ART BETHESDA -- "Yellow Asphalt," Sunday at 10 a.m. Landmark's Bethesda Row Theatre, 7235 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda. 301-365-3679.

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

FREER -- "The Ride," Saturday at 2. "The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam," Saturday at 7. "The Housemaid," Sunday at 2. Free, but tickets required. Meyer Auditorium, 12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW. 202-633-1000.

GRIOT CINEMA -- "Flag Wars," Sunday at 3:15. City Museum, 801 K St. NW. 202-232-3400.

HIRSHHORN -- "Ana Mendieta: Fuego de Tierra," Thursday at noon. "Invisible Light," Thursday at 8. Free. Ring Auditorium, Seventh and Independence SW. 202-633-4674.

ITALIAN FILM FEST -- "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow," Friday at 11 a.m., "The Vanity Serum," Friday at 3. "A Tribute to Agnese," Friday at 5. "Red Desert," Friday at 11 p.m. "Sones e Memoria," Saturday at 11 a.m. "The Remains of Nothing," Saturday at 3. "Honolulu Baby," Saturday at 5. "Forever," Saturday at 9. "A Tortoise on the Back," Saturday at 11 p.m. "Round Trip," Sunday at 5. "The Wife's Gown," Sunday at 9. "Judge Borsellino's Angels," Sunday at 11 p.m. Loews Georgetown, 3111 K St. NW. 202-342-6033.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Privilege," Friday at 7. "Different Drummer: Elvin Jones," Monday at 7. "H.R. Pufnstuf" and "Pufnstuf," Tuesday at 7. "Prisoner Number 13," Wednesday at 7. "Eyes on the Prize," Thursday at 7. Free, but reservations required. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

LISNER AUDITORIUM -- Singalong "Sound of Music," Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 2. George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st Street NW. 301-808-6900.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- Imax Theater: "Africa: The Serengeti," Friday-Saturday at 12:10 and 7:40, Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday at 12:10. "The Human Body," Friday-Sunday at 2:10 and 5:30; Tuesday-Thursday at 2:10. "Space Station 3D," Friday and Tuesday-Thursday at 3:10; Saturday-Sunday at 11 and 3:10. "Sacred Planet" and "Hubble: Galaxies Across Space & Time," Friday-Sunday at 4:20 and 6:30; Tuesday-Thursday at 4:20. "Dolphins," Saturday-Sunday at 1:10. Davis Planetarium: "Ring World," Friday and Tuesday-Thursday at 1, Saturday at 2 and 5, Sunday at 2. "The Sky Live!" Friday-Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday at 3. "Hubble Heritage: Poetic Pictures," Friday-Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday 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.

MIDNIGHTS BENEATH BETHESDA -- "Eyes Without a Face," Friday and Saturday at midnight. 7235 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda. 301-652-7273.

MIDNIGHTS ON E -- "Lollipop Girls in Hard Candy in 3D," Friday and Saturday at midnight. Landmark's E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. 202-452-7672.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Faust," Saturday at 1. "The Last Laugh," Saturday at 4. "Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens," Sunday at 4:30, all with live musical accompaniment by Silent Orchestra's Carlos Garza and Rich O'Meara. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART -- "Ceramic Gestures" and "Batiks by Nike," Thursday at 7. Free. Ripley Center's Lecture Hall, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. 202-357-4600 (TDD: 202-357-4814).

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN -- "Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance," Saturday at noon. Free. Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW. 202-633-1000.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY -- Johnson Imax Theater: "Dolphins," Friday and Saturday at 10:20, 12:10, 2, 4 and 7; Sunday-Thursday at 10:20, 12:10, 2 and 4. "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.

PSYCHOTRONIC FILM SOCIETY -- "Jerkbeast," Tuesday at 8. Dr. Dremo's Taphouse, 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 202-736-1732 or 202-707-2540.

REEL MOMS/Georgetown -- "Shall We Dance?" Tuesday at 11. Loews Georgetown, 3111 K St. NW. 202-342-6033.

REEL MOMS/Vienna -- "Shall We Dance?" Tuesday at 11. Loews Fairfax Square, 8065 Leesburg Pike, Vienna. 703-506-9857.

REEL MOMS/Gaithersburg -- "Shall We Dance?" Saturday at 10 and Tuesday at 11. Loews Rio, 9811 Washingtonian Center, Gaithersburg. 301-948-6673.

TOWSON UNIVERSITY -- "Fahrenheit 9/11," Monday at 7:30. Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium, 8000 York Rd., Towson. Free. 410-704-2787.

WEINBERG CENTER -- "Return of the Pink Panther," Saturday at 3, with a fashion show at 2. 20 W. Patrick St., Frederick. 301-228-2828.

New on Video

BREAKIN' ALL THE RULES

(PG-13, 2004, 85 MINUTES, SCREEN GEMS)

Perhaps if this farce about making and breaking love connections had actually violated a few rules itself -- instead off imitating conventional romantic comedies -- it might have been funnier. As it is, the story of a man (Jamie Foxx) who writes a bestseller about how to dump women, and then gets called upon by his cousin (Morris Chestnut) and his boss (Peter MacNicol) for assistance in ending their relationships, is pretty standard fare. Contains obscenity and sexual and bathroom humor.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW

(PG-13, 2004, 124 MINUTES, 20TH CENTURY FOX)

If you can manage to just lean back and let the spectacular silliness of this disaster flick about sudden, catastrophic climate change -- Hail in Tokyo! Tornadoes in Los Angeles! -- wash over you, you might have a pretty good time. After all, Manhattan looks mighty pretty in the snow (50 feet of special-effects snow, in this case). If, however, you're one of those nitpickers who want films to make sense, include character development and be well written, I'm afraid you're out luck. Contains death, destruction of personal property and one mild obscenity.

-- M.O.

{sstar} I'M NOT SCARED

(R, 2003, 108 MINUTES, MIRAMAX FILMS)

Set in rural southern Italy, "I'm Not Scared" centers on a young boy's (Giuseppe Cristiano) discovery, in a carefully camouflaged hole, of something terrible. More terrible, though, than what's in the hole is what's waiting for him back home, where the implications of his discovery lead to betrayal and a loss of innocence. Drenched in atmospheric malevolence, Gabriele Salvatores' creepy thriller includes a kind of superficially happy ending, just to satisfy those who crave conventional closure. But it also leaves a disturbing echo of evil that won't go away, just for those of who don't. Contains obscenity, some violence and frequent, disturbing images of a child in jeopardy. In Italian with subtitles.

-- M.O.

RAISING HELEN

(PG-13, 2004, 119 MINUTES, BUENA VISTA PICTURES)

I can't really blame "About a Boy" for starting the trend of movies about shallow people who find themselves by looking after children. That was actually a good movie. I do, however, blame bad movies like "Uptown Girls" and "Jersey Girl" for perpetuating the myth -- exemplified in "Raising Helen" -- that kids are mainly useful as self-improvement tools. When Manhattan go-getter Helen (Kate Hudson) inherits three children from her late sister and brother-in-law, she thinks her life is over. But it has really just begun! Unfortunately, yours is about to take a turn for the worse, thanks to two hours of smarmy, lightweight dramedy. Contains some bad language and thematic material related to the death of parents and teenage sexuality.

-- M.O.

STATESIDE

(R, 2004, 97 MINUTES, SAMUEL GOLDWYN FILMS)

Relegated to the Marines by his tough-love father (Joe Mantegna) after causing an automobile accident, Mark (Jonathan Tucker) falls in love with Dori (Rachael Leigh Cook), the schizophrenic sanitarium roommate of the woman (Agnes Bruckner) whose nervous breakdown was caused by his reckless driving. Got it? Yet another example of Kute Krazy Love, "Stateside" treats Dori's illness as something almost . . . fun. At least Mark does, acting like all she needs is a cup of hot black coffee -- or a roll in the hay -- to be cured. What he needs isn't boot camp, but a week caring for a girlfriend who's so unbalanced she slams her wrists through a glass window. That isn't sexy, that's scary. Contains obscenity, violence, self-destructive behavior, mild boot camp sadism, a strip club scene and sexy talk.

-- M.O.

Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) speaks to his Permian High Panthers in the football drama "Friday Night Lights," set in west Texas.