Robert Rodriguez's intentions seem honorable: to make a charming, low-tech, 3-D movie for children, based on the writings of his preteen son. But the result is astoundingly boring and, frankly, tedious to sit through. It's about a 10-year-old kid named Max (Cayden Boyd) who daydreams so intensely about his imagined superheroes, Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley), the fictional creations come alive. Max and his superpals find themselves (put on your 3-D glasses here) on Planet Drool, where Max must help them battle the nefarious Mr. Electric (George Lopez), a cheaply superimposed head inside a metallic holder, which fizzes with electricity. Mr. E. also looks a lot like Max's math teacher, Mr. Electricidad. (I'm not sure if I was awake at that moment to truly understand the significance of that one.) The planet is Max's creation, which means if something goes wrong, he's got to lie down, fall asleep and literally dream up a solution. Unfortunately, all the sleeping in the world couldn't improve this movie. The dreamscape, with its cookie mountains and a milky "stream of consciousness," is disappointingly mediocre. And the 3-D effects are unimaginative and eventually too obnoxious for the eyes. Maybe Rodriguez should stick to vampires and guitar-strumming heroes. Contains mildly crude humor. Area theaters.

-- Desson Thomson


I was immensely moved after reading Thornton Wilder's novel about the mystical connections among five characters who fall to their death from a bridge in Lima, Peru. But after watching this movie, which stars Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Kathy Bates and Gabriel Byrne, I was moved only to find my own bridge to leap from. Even though director-adaptor Mary McGuckian expended much creative energy trying to pump original spirit into the characters, she never brings any of them to life. You listen to the characters and hear just what is supposed to be happening and how you are supposed to be moved. But the performances aren't persuasive. The casting is another problem. You are constantly aware of the stars playing these parts. There's DeNiro trying not to sound like a GoodFella as he plays a Peruvian archbishop. The same problem happens with Keitel, who should be banned from playing any character from Another Time. And there's Byrne, looking unintentionally comical as he attempts to portray monklike humility with a Hendrix-size head of hair. Bates and F. Murray Abraham are the strongest players here. She's the wealthy marquesa, whose saintly, unrequited devotion to her snooty daughter is treated with ridicule in Peruvian society; and Abraham's the slightly vainglorious viceroy of Peru. But their efforts are ultimately pointless. The rest of the cast, including the ill-fated Pepita (Adriana Dominguez), the mute brothers Manuel (Mark Polish) and Esteban (Michael Polish), and the Abbess (Geraldine Chaplin) come across as bit players with banal plot duties -- hardly the effect intended for a story like this. If this movie has any positive outcome, it'll be to jog fans of the book to reread it, or prompt new readers to experience its tragic intricacies. Contains some disturbing images and some sensuality. At Landmark's Bethesda Row.

-- Desson Thomson

EATING OUT (Unrated, 90 minutes)

"We talk normally -- in English." That's gay college student Kyle (Jim Verraros), explaining to his clueless, straight roommate, Caleb (Scott Lunsford), how to communicate with Marc (Ryan Carnes) during Caleb's first boy-boy date in "Eating Out," a silly romantic farce about sex-orientation switcheroos from first-time feature writer-director Q. Allan Brocka. Ah, if only that were true. Most of the gay characters here -- and even a few of the straight ones -- talk anything but normally, batting such a barrage of zingers, bon mots and pop culture references back and forth that each of them winds up sounding like a cross between Bruce Vilanch, Carson Kressley, Steven Cojocaru and a reincarnated Oscar Wilde. "When he's around, my heart beats like a trailer-park husband," says Marc about Caleb, the heterosexual object of his homosexual affection who has recently been pretending to be gay to get the attention of Gwen (Emily Stiles), Marc's straight best friend and roommate, who has a thing for gays and gay-acting guys. Kyle, meanwhile, secretly likes Marc but is too shy to tell him. Confused? Wait till you get to the scene where Caleb, who's still pretending to be gay (and really well, I might add) has phone sex with Gwen while allowing himself to be, ahem, "serviced" by Marc. It may just be one of the hottest -- not to mention weirdest -- sex scenes I've seen lately. My favorite moment, though? That comes later, when the still-straight Caleb is forced to "come out" during a dinner with his parents and little sister. The family's reaction, a parody of open-armed tolerance and acceptance, is hilarious, as well as a sweet touch of wishful thinking. Which, come to think of it, pretty much describes "Eating Out," a sweet and funny take on the crossed-wire romantic couplings of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," albeit one that, as filmmaker Brocka freely admits in his own production notes, is "way too gay" for Middle America. Contains obscenity, nudity, scenes of sensuality and graphic sex talk. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan