Film Capsules

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

Openings

CELSIUS 41.11 (R) -- See capsule review on Page 37.

DIG! (Unrated) -- See review on Page 34.

HEAD IN THE CLOUDS (R) -- See capsule review on Page 37.

HEARTS AND MINDS (Unrated) -- See review on Page 33.

THE GRUDGE (PG-13) -- See review on Page 34.

SURVIVING CHRISTMAS (PG-13) -- See capsule review on Page 37.

WMD -- The MURDEROUS REIGN OF SADDAM HUSSEIN -- See synopsis on Page 37.

VERA DRAKE (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 BATTLE OF ALGIERS (Unrated, 100 minutes) -- Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo's powerful 1965 dramatization, in grainy black-and-white, of the late-1950s uprising in Algiers against French colonial rule often looks like newsreel footage, but it's not. Told in cinema-verite style, and based on a treatment by Saadi Yacef, who served as a leader in the actual struggle and who appears in the film in a semi-autobiographical role, "Battle" is uncannily timely, with an eerily prescient message about some of the pitfalls the United States is currently stumbling into in Iraq. Contains scenes of violence and torture. In French and Arabic with subtitles. AFI Kennedy Center theater.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{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} BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS (R, 105 minutes) -- Stephen Fry's engaging, energetic film, based loosely on Evelyn Waugh's 1930 "Vile Bodies," follows Adam Fenwick-Symes (Stephen Campbell Moore), an ambitious English writer who needs to make money so he can marry fiancee Nina Blount (Emily Mortimer). He gets caught up in her bratty uppercrust world, where the rich, young and restless of the 1930s dance and party as London looks on in appalled dismay. And while their champagne-sipping debauchery soaks up the society pages of Fleet Street, the world teeters at the edge of world war. The film fairly whizzes along its own zany surface. Peter O'Toole has a great cameo as Nina's bizarre father. And Fenella Woolgar makes an amusing party girl who finds herself, one hung-over morning, trying to breakfast with a disdainful prime minister. Contains drug use. Alexandria Old Town Theater.

{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. "Cellular" is always charged, and its adroit suspense makes you overlook the silliness. Contains violence and obscenity. Majestic Cinema.

{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 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. Contains violence and obscenity. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

{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. Alexandria Old Town Theater.

-- 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.

THE FINAL CUT ( PG-13, 104 minutes) -- Robin Williams plays Alan Hakman, 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's 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. AMC Columbia, AMC Hoffman Center and AMC Potomac Mills.

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 Texans 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.

HAIR SHOW (PG-13, 92 minutes) -- Estranged sibling hairstylists (Mo'Nique and Kelitta Smith) join forces to compete for a cash prize in a prestigious Los Angeles hair show. UrbanWorks Entertainment did not screen this film for review. Area theaters.

{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.

{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.

JU-ON (R, 92 minutes) -- Horror aficionados may want to check out this Japanese original before watching "The Grudge," a new, mostly English-language remake of "Ju-on" by the same director, Takashi Shimizu. What they'll notice is that both movies, about a Tokyo house haunted by the ghosts of its dead former occupants, are scary and silly in almost equal measure. What they may be surprised to discover is that, despite all its cheesiness, "Ju-on" at least had the courage to leave more of the back-story unexplained than its overly explicit offshoot. It's an okay little Halloween movie that, unlike a night of trick-or-treat bingeing on sugar, won't leave you with any lasting negative side effects. Contains pervasive creepiness, some blood and suggested violence. In Japanese with English subtitles. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

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} 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. Foxchase and Avalon.

{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. His comedy does shine through, but not as prominently as his admirers might hope. Nine years after Stan Ross (Mac), 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. AMC Academy.

-- 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. Contains some sexual innuendo. Area theaters.

PRIMER (PG-13, 82 minutes) -- Don't believe the hype. Despite winning both the Grand Jury Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for advancing science and technology in film at Sundance -- and, really, how hard can that last one be? -- this time-travel thriller is less brain tickler than migraine producer. Written and directed by engineer-turned-auteur Shane Carruth, who also stars, "Primer" is at first equally fascinating and maddening in the way it tells its tale of two engineers (Carruth and David Sullivan) and the time machine that comes between them. Sounding like it was written by David Mamet's computer-geek cousin, the movie increasingly becomes all maddening as it steadfastly resists comprehension in favor of a dense and off-putting brainiac-hipster cachet that masks its ultimate emptiness. Contains some obscenity. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

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

{sstar} QUEIMADA! (BURN!) (Unrated, 132 minutes) -- The original, uncut version of Gillo Pontecorvo's 1969 tale of the politics of war features a blond Marlon Brando in the role of Englishman William Walker, who first shows up on small sugar-producing island in the Caribbean to foment revolution among the Portuguese colonists' dark-skinned workers. A decade later, he's called back to suppress a second outbreak of the same revolution, in what makes for a potent commentary not only on Vietnam but on the shifting alliances of the so-called war on terror. Despite Brando being dubbed with a spaghetti-Western-style Italian voice that is nothing like his own nasal, Mike Tysonish timbre, the actor has a commanding on-screen presence. Contains brief obscenity, killing, scenes of riots and rebellion (as well as the bloody suppression thereof), a cockfight, bare-breastedness and naked children. AFI Silver Theatre.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

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.

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. Muvico Egyptian Theatres.

-- Richard Harrington

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. Too bad they're all tired cliches in uniform. We have Nathan "Deacon" Greer (Corbin Allred), a quiet, religious sniper who carries a Bible in his pocket; 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 an unbelievably phony English accent. 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 these characters. Contains violence, gore and obscenity. Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Avenue.

SHALL WE DANCE? (PG-13, 106 minutes) -- No one needs a session at Arthur Murray to keep up with the moves in "Shall We Dance?" In this Hollywoodized version of the 1996 Japanese film of the same name, Richard Gere plays a repressed lawyer and family man who, captivated by the sight of a mysterious woman's face gazing out of a dance studio window, signs up for ballroom dance lessons. To his surprise (but not the audience's), he discovers the thrill of dance, all the while forming a friendship with the elusive teacher Paulina (Jennifer Lopez). Meanwhile, his wife (Susan Sarandon) hires a private investigator to find out whether an extramarital affair is what's keeping hubby away from home. While Gere brings a salt-and-pepper-haired sexiness to his role, he and Lopez fail to generate any sparks. Most of the high points come from supporting players such as Stanley Tucci, who brings his usual energy to his part as a balding lawyer and gifted dancer who dons a Fabio-esque wig whenever he hits the floor. What's most disappointing about "Shall We Dance?" isn't its predictability or cliched dialogue. It's the lack of a knock-'em-dead dance scene, clearly a violation of Rule No. 1 in the Dance Movie Handbook. We get a few lovely waltzes but nothing that razzle-dazzles. For a film that stars "Chicago's" Billy Flynn and a former "In Living Color" Fly Girl dancer, that's not only a violation, it's a sin. Contains some sexual references and brief obscenity.

-- Jen Chaney

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.

STAGE BEAUTY (R, 105 minutes) -- This story about a male stage actor (Billy Crudup) who performs Shakespearean female roles and a female ingenue (Claire Danes) who dreams of playing a woman as a woman, is clearly meant to draw the same audiences who responded to "Shakespeare in Love." Director Richard Eyre and writer Jeffrey Hatcher (adapting his stage play "Compleat Female Stage Beauty") don't produce the brightness and luster of the 1998 "Shakespeare." This time around, the pretty faces, fine costumes, period-movie jokes and visits from a reigning monarch (in this case, a broad-as-a-barn Rupert Everett) feel imitative and secondhand. As Ned Kynaston, the talk of London with his portrayals of such well-known Shakespearean roles as Desdemona and Ophelia, Crudup is delicate, slim and graceful, but he never gets us to warm to him. Contains sexual content, some nudity and obscenity. Area theaters.

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

{sstar} TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (R, 98 minutes) -- This puppet comedy, by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of "South Park," is wickedly funny and devilishly subversive. It's riddled with obscenity and extremely lowbrow humor that will curl almost anyone's hair. When one puppet gets sick from a night of partying, he pukes. And pukes. And pukes. And as for the movie's flashpoint scene -- a lovemaking session between two marionettes that had to be trimmed to avoid an NC-17 rating -- well, I didn't know puppets could do that. If it's raunchy, the movie is also some sort of low-rent satire that targets plain old couch-potato us and our perception of the post-9/11 world, informed by a composite prism of fear, cultural ignorance and government spin. Contains puppet sex, puppet violence and extremely graphic language. Oh yeah, and major pukeage. Area theaters.

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.

-- 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. Landmark's Bethesda Row and 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. AMC Courthouse and Regal Fairfax Towncenter.

-- 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. "Sole Survivor," film and discussion, Thursday at 7. 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 -- "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," Friday at 8. "Rebel Without a Cause," Saturday at 8. "There's No Business Like Show Business," Sunday at 8. "American Graffiti," Monday at 8. "Tin Men," Tuesday at 8. "Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte," Wednesday at 8. "12 Angry Men," Thursday at 8. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

AMERICAN UNIVERSITY -- "Deadline," 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.

COMMON GROUND FILM FESTIVAL -- "In Rwanda We Say . . . The Family That Does Not Speak Dies," Tuesday at 7. "The Junction," Wednesday at 7. "Seeds," Thursday at 7. Free. Elliott School of International Affairs, Room 213, 1957 E St. NW. 202-994-6240 or 202-265-4300.

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

FREER -- "A Good Windy Day," Friday at 7. "To the Starry Island," 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 -- "Balseros," Friday at 8. "Ana Mendieta: Fuego de Terra," Thursday at noon. "The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials," Thursday at 8. Free. Ring Auditorium, Seventh and Independence SW. 202-633-4674.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Six Degrees of Separation," Friday at 7. "The Subject Is Jazz," Monday at 7. Television suspense, Tuesday at 7. "My Buddy Mendoza," Wednesday at 7. "Legend of Hell House," Thursday at 7. Free, but reservations required. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

LISNER AUDITORIUM -- "Creature From the Black Lagoon (3D)," with musical accompaniment by the Jazz Passengers, Monday at 8. George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st Street NW. 301-808-6900.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- Imax Theater: "Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure," Friday-Saturday at 12:10 and 7:40, Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday at 12:10. "Super Speedway," 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 -- "The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen," Friday and Saturday at midnight. 7235 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda. 301-652-7273.

MIDNIGHTS ON E -- "Evil Dead 2," Friday and Saturday at midnight. Landmark's E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. 202-452-7672.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES -- "George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin," Friday at 6. "The More the Merrier," Friday at 8:30. "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey," Saturday at 5:30. "Shane," Saturday at 7:30. "Alice Adams," Sunday at 5:30. "A Place in the Sun," Sunday at 7:30. Free, but reservations required. William G. McGowan Theater, Constitution Avenue between Seventh and Ninth streets NW. 202-501-5000.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Phantom," Sunday at 4:30. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART -- Lecture Hall: "Karmen Gei," Thursday at 7. Free. Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. 202-357-4600 (TDD: 202-357-4814).

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 -- "Tomb of the Werewolf," Tuesday at 8. Dr. Dremo's Taphouse, 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 202-736-1732 or 202-707-2540.

REEL MOMS/Georgetown -- "I {heart} Huckabees," Tuesday at 11. Loews Georgetown, 3111 K St. NW. 202-342-6033.

REEL MOMS/Vienna -- "I {heart} Huckabees," Tuesday at 11. Loews Fairfax Square, 8065 Leesburg Pike, Vienna. 703-506-9857.

REEL MOMS/Gaithersburg -- "I {heart} Huckabees," Saturday at 10 and Tuesday at 11. Loews Rio, 9811 Washingtonian Center, Gaithersburg. 301-948-6673.

TOWSON UNIVERSITY -- "Gentleman's Agreement," Monday at 7:30. Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium, 8000 York Rd., Towson. Free. 410-704-2787.

New on Video

GARFIELD: THE MOVIE

(PG, 2004, 80 MINUTES, 20TH CENTURY FOX)

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, unless your child finds obviously computer-generated, bug-eyed creatures who quip with incessant smugness kinda scary. There's nothing to recommend about this film except its sheer innocuousness. Contains nothing particularly objectionable, except wan humor.

-- Desson Thomson

{sstar} INTERMISSION

(R, 2003, 105 MINUTES, IFC FILMS)

Thankfully, this lively and edgy Irish comedy about a bunch of contemporary Dubliners getting themselves into and out of trouble with varying degrees of success is a leprechaun-free zone. Connected more or less loosely to the central character of John (Cillian Murphy), a young man pining for the girlfriend he has just broken up with, the swirling cast includes Colin Farrell as a violent thug obsessed with kitchen utensils and John's horny best friend Oscar (David Wilmot), who briefly takes up with a much older woman (Dierdre O'Kane) whose husband (Michael McElhatton) has just left her for John's ex (Kelly Macdonald). You get the idea. Contains pervasive crude language, some violence and sexuality.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

LOVE ME IF YOU DARE

(R, 2003, 93 MINUTES, PARAMOUNT CLASSICS)

Writer-director Yann Samuell's sugarcoated yet blackhearted tale of an obsessive relationship is a nasty piece of work about two nasty pieces of work. French tykes Sophie and Julien bond over their shared sense of aggrievement: Julien's mother has terminal cancer, and Sophie is regularly tormented for being Polish and poor. The two begin a game of dares that continues into their college days (when they're played by Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet) and beyond. The tale concludes with two possible scenarios for the couple's eternal connection. One is sentimental and the other sensationalistic -- which just happen to be the two poles of the movie's sensibility. Although not quite so nostalgic as "Amelie," the film aspires to a similar sort of vision of France as a fairy-tale universe: never-never land, but with sex. Contains sexual situations, profane language, comical depictions of urination and risky business. In French with subtitles.

-- M.O.

VAN HELSING

(PG-13, 2004, 132 MINUTES, UNIVERSAL PICTURES)

This big-budget monster mash brings together Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, various wolfmen, Mr. Hyde and creature killer Van Helsing. But the real clash isn't between vampires and wolfmen, or man and beast. It's between a story and in-your-face computer-generated effects. The story, in which Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) and beautiful, battle-tested Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) take on Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), loses big-time. Writer-director Stephen Sommers (creator of all those "Mummy" hits) uses the barest of excuses to bring these characters together. And the road to the Count is crowded with multiple, confusing subplots and earsplitting effects, with barely a breath in between. If computer-generated imagery is your pleasure, and your only one, consider yourself informed and warned, all in one. Contains action violence, frightening images and some sexual content.

-- D.T.