THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY & LAVAGIRL IN 3-D (PG, 94 minutes)
A tornado whirls toward daydreaming schoolboy Max's (Cayden Boyd) classroom. Then, whoosh, the kid superheroes he invented in his imagination -- the finned, sarcastic Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner) and the polite, occasionally molten Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley) -- appear. They take Max to their rocket ship and fly him to Planet Drool -- also a place he dreamed up. Planet Drool looks like an amusement park/video game hybrid. It's neat, but drained of color -- apparently an issue with digital video and 3-D technology. ("Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over," also directed by Robert Rodriguez, had the same look.) Max learns only he can save Planet Drool from the evil Mr. Electric (George Lopez).
While parents may doze, kids 6 and older are likely watching the young heroes surf the Passage of Time as a 3-D cuckoo clock pops out and ride the Train of Thought past trees with brains on their branches. Verbal and visual puns abound. Some youngsters could find the 3-D images scary, but the film is pretty mild, save the tornado and a scene when a giant nearly swallows the kids. Other themes deal with a bully and troubled parents. There is one flatulence joke.
HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (PG, 110 minutes)
Be on the lookout for this funny, fresh and spectacularly beautiful animated film. Anything by Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is worth seeking out. (His "Spirited Away" won an Oscar in 2003.) "Howl's Moving Castle," based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones, does not have subtitles. American actors have recorded English dialogue for it. While its frames burst with fabulous images, humor and a tale that can't help but transport kids 8 and older (and their parents), the film does have scary-looking demons that can fly and shape-shift. There are somber hints of war, too, with soldiers in the streets and fantastical air battles.
Sophie (voice of Emily Mortimer), a shop girl living a dull life in early-20th-century middle Europe, finds adventure when Howl (Christian Bale), a dashing, if self-absorbed, wizard, rescues her from blobby monsters oozing toward her in an alley. Out of jealousy, the Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall) turns Sophie into an old crone (voice of Hollywood veteran Jean Simmons). She hobbles to the countryside, where a mute scarecrow leads her to Howl's ramshackle flying castle. Unable to speak of her curse, Sophie becomes Howl's housekeeper and befriends his wisecracking fire demon, Calcifer (Billy Crystal). This film will put a spell on you.
MR. & MRS. SMITH (PG-13, 112 minutes)
Even as it glibly entertains, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" proves a slick and soulless enterprise. As a comic metaphor for marriage, in which the spouses are both paid assassins working for competing organizations -- guns blazing until they reach a truce or kill each other -- the idea is clever. But the film is dumb. Ultra-glam, zero-body-fat stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt pose and smirk, whether engaging in gunplay or marital repartee. Teens may gravitate toward the movie's shiny surfaces, its loud, fast action sequences, its gossiped-about stars and -- be warned -- its cool amorality. Though relatively bloodless, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" has a high body count. Its violence includes gangland-style hits, explosions and chases. In one scene, Jane Smith (Jolie) poses as a leather-clad prostitute. Implied, non-graphic sexual situations (including an overnight premarital tryst), other sexual innuendo, occasional profanity and drinking also earn the PG-13.