Film Capsules

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

Openings

AFTER THE SUNSET (PG-13) -- See review on Page 41.

THE BIG RED ONE (R) -- See capsule review on this page.

BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON (R) -- See review on Page 41.

THE POLAR EXPRESS (G) -- See review on Page 39.

SEED OF CHUCKY (R) -- See capsule description on this page.

TARNATION (Unrated) -- See review on Page 39.

First Runs & Revivals

ALFIE (R, 103 minutes) -- In this dumb remake of the 1966 British movie, Jude Law plays a eurotrashy lady-killer, living in a low-rent corner of the Big Apple, dressing in retro '60s chic. And going full tilt for the "birds." His big moral issue occurs when he finds himself in a compromising position with sultry Lonette (Nia Long), who's still involved with Alfie's good friend Marlon (Omar Epps). The updating of the Michael Caine classic into the post-feminist age doesn't work well. It feels forced and empty. You don't believe Law's act or his language for a minute. There's nothing authentic about this London lad. Even songs written for the movie by famous musical Brits Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart sound bland and counterfeit. Contains sexual situations, nudity, drug use. Area theaters.

{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} BEING JULIA (R, 104 minutes) -- In 1930s Britain, Julia Lambert (Annette Bening) is the reigning stage actress of the West End. But her life takes a sudden turn when she falls for a young American fan (Shaun Evans) with a shady agenda. When she learns the truth, Julia takes the kind of revenge only an actress can. Bening's a treat, digging into a pagoda-size heap of roles and roles-within-roles and pulling them all out, one by one, deftly. You feel the fun of the thing, as well as the appropriate heartache. She also has the smarts not to Paltrow around with an English accent but simply speak in a neutral New England/mid-Atlantic voice. Instead of being a tiresome diva, she's surprisingly affecting and fragile. And when it does come to vamping it up, her final act is a treat worth waiting for. Contains nudity, sexual situations and some obscenity. Area theaters.

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

ENDURING LOVE (R, 91 minutes) -- A spectacular calamity in the English countryside involving a hot air balloon turns the life of Joe (Daniel Craig) upside down. Called upon to make an instant, heart-in-the-mouth decision, he indirectly causes someone to lose his life. He's haunted by the incident and, even worse, becomes harassed by someone who was there, too, a stranger (Rhys Ifans) who feels a fate-filled connection with Joe. His relationship with fiancee Claire (Samantha Morton) deteriorates. So does his life. Roger Michell, who also made "Notting Hill" and "Changing Lanes" directs with enormous sensitivity, but the story devolves into an almost absurd melodrama. Contains violence, sexual situations, obscenity and a disturbing image. Landmark's Bethesda Row, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington, National Amusements Fairfax and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

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. University Mall Theatres.

{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. Foxchase, Avalon and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

THE GRUDGE (PG-13, 88 minutes) -- Sure, it's scary, but this lightly Americanized remake of the Japanese ghost story "Ju-on" doesn't exactly break new ground in horror. Heck, the original on which it's based -- itself merely one of four films in a series by director Takashi Shimizu, who also made the new one -- didn't even break new ground when it was new. There are lots of "boo!" moments, to be sure, as American transfer student Sarah Michelle Gellar gets spooked by the powerfully evil spirits lurking at the site of a three-year Tokyo murder, but there are lots of cheesy ones, too, as when several of the dead people show up to reenact their untimely demises, expressly for the edification of us stupid Western audiences, for whom everything, apparently, needs to be s-p-e-l-l-e-d o-u-t. Contains disturbing, occasionally violent imagery and mild sensuality. In English and some Japanese with subtitles. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

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}THE INCREDIBLES (PG, 115 minutes) -- This Pixar computer- animated family comedy is, well, incredible. And very funny. It's about a family of superheroes, led by big-chinned, red-suited Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson); his wife, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter); and their precocious, superhero kids. When Mr. Incredible's over-the-top heroics start causing damage and too many lawsuits, the family is forced to hide out as "normal people" under the Superhero Relocation Program. But you can't keep a superheroic family down. Brad Bird, an executive consultant for "The Simpsons," "The Critic" and "King of the Hill," who also made the rather wonderful "Iron Giant," has aced himself. The film brims over with hilarious sight gags and witticisms. Beyond the sophisticated humor, there's something for almost every conceivable viewer. Mom, Dad, daughter and son all get a major bite of the action. What could be more appealing than an entire family not only empowered but super-empowered? Contains some intense action fare. Area theaters.

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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{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.

{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.

{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. Foxchase and University Mall Theatres.

{sstar} P.S. (R, 105 minutes) -- Dylan Kidd, whose sensational debut was the dark romantic comedy "Roger Dodger," proves his qualities again. The movie, adapted from the Helen Schulman novel, is remarkably assured. It's about the mystical attraction between the divorced, 39-year-old Louise Harrington (Laura Linney), director of admissions at Columbia University, and an art student named F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace), who has eerie connections with an ex-boyfriend of hers who died. It's a romance of sometimes breathtakingly intimate moments between two very interesting characters. Linney's terrific, memorably capturing the mercurial ups and downs of a divorcee, hardly daring to hope for happiness. And Grace is a force of nature. He creates a thrilling, funny and potentially alarming counterbalance. Contains sexual scenes and obscenity. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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} RAY (PG-13, 135 minutes) -- Assuming the persona of Ray Charles as if it were always his, Jamie Foxx becomes the singer in such an evocative way, you're not sure which one's the real Ray anymore. Taylor Hackford's well-wrought, touching movie shows many significant moments of the blind singer's life, good and bad: His need for women and the comfort of heroin on the bad side; his wit, charm, courage, financial savvy and his musical talent on the other. Kerry Washington is strong as Della Bea Robinson, whom Ray marries; so is Regina King as his passionate, on-the-road lover, Margie Hendricks. But Foxx steals his own show, not exaggerated but subtle. His verbal performance is remarkable, perfectly capturing Ray's inflections and directness, yet making them his own. And he's never far away from a humorous aside. He lights up his own darkness and the movie. Contains extensive drug use and sexual situations. Area theaters.

SAW (R, 100 minutes) -- This grotesque, uneven and kinda dumb mystery-thriller took some minor snipping to avoid an NC-17 rating. It isn't half as cool and clever as it would like you to think it is. Two men (Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell, also the scriptwriter) find themselves ankle-chained to wall pipes in opposite corners of a dilapidated bathroom. Both find tapes and other clues, concocted by the mysterious "Jigsaw Man," which lead them to the bottom line: They can free themselves by cutting through an ankle with hacksaws. The movie's ratio of nastiness to suspense writing is too high. This film's highest priority is the blood and the sawing of leg bones; as for teasing the viewer's brain, that's lower on the list. As a police detective who's involved in a subplot, Danny Glover gets a silly supporting role, especially in the movie's over-the-top (even for a flick like this) finale. Contains gruesome violence and carnage, bad acting and obscenity. Area theaters.

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 instructor 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 cliche 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. Area theaters.

-- 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.

{sstar} SIDEWAYS (R, 124 minutes) -- In Alexander ("About Schmidt") Payne's terrific comedy, Miles (Paul Giamatti) takes his old college friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a road trip through California wine country before Jack gets married. It becomes a comedy of errors, as Jack chases after a woman (Sandra Oh) who steals his heart. Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor have made the funniest, most assured film of their partnership so far. The characters are so enjoyably matched, you'd follow their endless squabblings anywhere. Add the scenic wonders of Santa Ynez, and two fiercely independent women (including Virginia Madsen) who enter both men's lives, and you've got an irresistibly potent combination."Sideways" isn't just a road comedy, it's a great film about men and women. Contains some violence, obscenity, sexual scenes, nudity and pot smoking. 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. University Mall Theatres.

-- 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. AMC Academy, Loews Rio and Majestic Cinema.

-- 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 low-rent 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.

{sstar} VERA DRAKE (R, 120 minutes) -- In postwar England, young women who find themselves in "a spot of trouble" would do well to be rich. Daughters of the leisured classes can solve such problems with a discreet visit to a doctor. But poorer girls, they can only hope for someone as gentle and safe as Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton). She's a devoted wife, mother and neighbor who seems to find time for everybody. And she is about to learn that no good deed goes unpunished, especially in the working classes. Written and directed by Mike Leigh, the British filmmaker who made "Secrets & Lies" and "Topsy-Turvy," "Vera Drake" is a carefully calibrated parable that quietly sneaks into your heart and prods it sharply. Staunton is the heart and guts of this drama. And you cannot accompany her on this journey without feeling the intense highs and lows of her oddly fated life. Contains intense thematic material. Landmark's Bethesda Row.

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

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. AMC Rivertowne.

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 -- "Blazing Saddles," Friday at 8. "Vertigo," Saturday at 8. "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," Sunday at 8. "Pretty Woman," Monday at 8. " . . . And Justice for All," Tuesday at 8. "Driving Miss Daisy," Wednesday at 8. "Bus Stop," Thursday at 8. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

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

DC FILM SOCIETY -- "Coming Attractions: Winter 2004 Trailers," Monday at 7. Loews Wisconsin Avenue, 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-554-3263 Ext. 8.

FILMS ON THE HILL -- "Wings in the Dark" and "Big Brown Eyes," Saturday at 6. "Only Yesterday," Wednesday at 7. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh St. SE. 202-547-6839.

FREER -- "Springtime in a Small Town," Sunday at 2. Free, but tickets required. Meyer Auditorium, 12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW. 202-633-1000.

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

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "All Quiet on the Western Front," Friday at 7. "Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Willie Colon: Soul," Monday at 7. "Fathom," Tuesday at 7. "Over on the Big Ranch," Wednesday at 7. "Godspell," Thursday at 7. Free, but reservations required. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- Imax Theater: "Forces of Nature" and "Hubble: Galaxies Across Space & Time," Friday-Sunday at 12:10, 2:10, 4:20 and 6:30; Tuesday-Thursday at 12:10, 2:10 and 4:20. "NASCAR 3D," Friday at 3:10 and 7:40, Saturday at 11, 3:10 and 7:40, Sunday at 11 and 3:10, Tuesday-Thursday at 3:10. "Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees," Friday at 5:30, Saturday and Sunday at 1:10 and 5:30. 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.

MICA AND MARYLAND FILM FESTIVAL -- "State of the Union," Monday at 7:30. Maryland Institute College of Art's Falvey Hall, 1301 Mount Royal Ave., Baltimore. 410-752-8083.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "The English Garden, parts 3 and 4," Friday at 12:30. "Jester Till," Saturday at 10:30. "Dutch Light," Saturday at 1 and Sunday at 4. "Stray Dogs," Saturday at 3:30. "The English Garden, parts 5 and 6," Wednesday and Thursday at 12:30. "Breathless," Thursday at 2. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART -- Lecture Hall: "Black Indians: An American Story," Sunday at 2. "Finzan (A Dance for Heroes)," Thursday at 7. Free. Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. 202-357-4600 (TDD: 202-357-4814).

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY -- "The Story of G.I. Joe," Saturday at noon. Free. Carmichael Auditorium, 14th and Constitution NW.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN -- "Jim Northup: With Reservations," Friday at noon. "True Whispers," Saturday at noon. "The Gift," Sunday at 12:15. "The Gift," Wednesday at 12:15. 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. Baird Auditorium: "The Ghost Riders," Friday at noon. 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 -- "Policewomen," Tuesday at 8. Dr. Dremo's Taphouse, 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 202-736-1732 or 202-707-2540.

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

REEL MOMS/Georgetown -- "Alfie," Tuesday at 11. Loews Georgetown, 3111 K St. NW. 202-342-6033.

REEL MOMS/Largo -- "Alfie," Tuesday at 11. Magic Johnson Capital Center, 800 Shoppers Way, Largo. 301-324-4220

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

TAKOMA THEATRE -- Activist films, including "We Are All Smith Islanders" and "Pills, Profits, Protests," Saturday at 8. Student films, Sunday at 2. 6833 4th St. NW. 301-567-4867.

WEINBERG CENTER -- "The Longest Day," Saturday at 8. 20 W. Patrick St., Frederick. 301-228-2828.

New on Video

BEFORE SUNSET

(R, 2004, 80 MINUTES, WARNER BROS.)

I can't say that I was losing any sleep wondering whatever happened to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), the lovers whose one-night stand in Vienna formed the subject of Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise." Still, even I felt ripped off by the 1995 film's sequel, which reveals that the pair, reunited in Paris, still care for each other. What it does not quite reveal is what Jesse, who is now married with a kid, and Celine, who is seriously involved with a photojournalist, intend to do about it. Those more charitable than I might say this cliffhanger ends with a note of deliciously ambiguous romantic tension. I say it's coitus interruptus, and I say the heck with it. Contains obscenity and sex talk.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: ZATOICHI

(R, 2003, 116 MINUTES, MIRAMAX FILMS)

Ninjas come at this unassuming, gray-haired, blind masseur with everything: sticks, knives, swords, flying kicks, edge-of-the-hand chops. But Zatoichi leaves them in felled, blood-spouting piles. As the legendary blind hero of Kan Shimozawa's novels, Takeshi Kitano (also the writer-director) takes up where all those western gunslingers left off. The violence is cartoonish rather than realistic. Kitano has an impish sense of humor and surprise, alternating scenes of Zen calm with outbursts of fighting. And let's not forget the "Riverdance"-style stick-and-dance ensemble number. While Kitano the performer fights with his seemingly endless array of enemies, Kitano the filmmaker makes sure that everything is beautiful, from the wonderful colors and passing tableaux to the intricate fighting choreography. Contains intense violence and some sexual content.

-- Desson Thomson

THE CLEARING

(R, 2004, 91 MINUTES, FOX SEARCHLIGHT)

This thriller, by longtime-producer- turned-director Pieter Jan Brugge, does a workmanlike job of creating menace. But it gradually loses its way. Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) has built himself a small American empire: a fine home in a wealthy Pittsburgh suburb with his wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren). But a stranger (Willem Dafoe), who has been stalking him, kidnaps Wayne and turns his life upside down. Eileen must endure emotional upheaval and cooperate with an FBI agent (Matt Craven) who uncovers inconvenient revelations about Wayne. Redford's performance is strong and assured. He projects the right balance of confidence and moral malaise. But neither he nor the filmmakers justify our initial investment in the movie. We find ourselves looking for the wrong sort of clearing: a way out. Contains some obscenity.

-- D.T.

THE STEPFORD WIVES

(PG-13, 2004, 93 MINUTES, PARAMOUNT PICTURES)

In this over-the-top remake of the 1975 film (a better, more ominous version), TV producer Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) is fired and takes a break in the genteel Connecticut suburb of Stepford. But she soon learns she's in the land of Betty Crocker gone insane, where rich, geeky husbands have turned their wives into psychotically enthusiastic homemakers and sex-on-demand nymphos. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick (who wrote both "Addams Family" movies and "In & Out") goes for jokes by the bagful. But he and director Frank Oz come up hackneyed when it comes to making fun of WASP snobbery, mass consumption and male insecurity. "The Stepford Wives" provides funny but mutely safe giggles about former frat boys and nerds who have turned their wives into robots. It's only Rudnick's humor that helps you get through any of it. Contains sexual content and some

obscenity.

-- D.T.

A super family: Violet Parr, Dashiel "Dash" Parr, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl come to the rescue in "The Incredibles."Paul Giamatti, left, and Thomas Haden Church are friends driving through California's wine country in "Sideways."In "Being Julia," Annette Bening shines as the title character, an aging stage actress who falls for Tom (Shaun Evans), a young American fan.