Film Capsules

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

Openings

DARK WATER (PG-13) -- See review on Page 39.

FANTASTIC FOUR (PG-13) -- See review on Page 39.

HEIGHTS (R) -- See review on Page 40.

MA MERE (NC-17) -- See capsule review on Page 40.

UNDEAD (R) -- See capsule review on Page 40.

First Runs & Revivals

THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY & LAVAGIRL IN 3-D (PG, 94 minutes) -- Robert Rodriguez's 3-D movie for children, based on the writings of his preteen son, 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. The dreamscape planet, 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. Contains mildly crude humor. Area theaters.

{sstar} APRES VOUS (R, 110 minutes) -- In this French romantic comedy, Daniel Auteuil plays sweet, hapless Antoine, a headwaiter who can't say no to anyone. When he saves Louis (Jose Garcia) from hanging himself, he realizes he also has to solve the man's life problems. This means helping Louis get a job and reunite with Blanche (Sandrine Kiberlain), the florist-girlfriend who dumped him. There isn't much to the movie, and you can see where it's going from kilometers away. But Auteuil, who has been a wonderful grace note in French cinema for decades, is delightful, with a slight aversion of the eyes here, a momentary hesitation in the voice there. And Garcia makes a nice partner, too, a comically depressed mope who steadfastly refuses to accept happiness. Contains sexual situations and some obscenity. In French with subtitles. Landmark's Bethesda Row and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

{sstar} BATMAN BEGINS (PG-13, 140 minutes) -- Director Christopher Nolan, who gave us the backward-classic "Memento," and his co-writer David S. Goyer (the "Blade" creator) have taken the bubble gum out of those previous "Batman" movies and returned to the dark spirit of comic book creator Bob Kane's work. This prequel about the early days, is slow-moving in many respects, but it's more narratively entrancing than the Michael Keaton-type flicks. And Christian Bale makes a credible Bruce Wayne, who undergoes rigorous training under the tutelage of mystical warrior Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson). It's fun to watch how this Wayne creates Batman from scratch, complete with the power body armor, the bat cave and that awesome batmobile. Makes you want to see him take on the Joker next. Katie Holmes is respectable though not that memorable as the assistant district attorney who becomes fascinated with Batman. Contains intense action violence and some disturbing images. Area theaters.

BEWITCHED (PG-13, 105 minutes) -- Nicole Kidman is engaging as a sweet-natured but very real witch who finds herself playing a fake one in a television redo of the classic TV series "Bewitched." But Kidman's power smile is just one of very few flickers in a dismal movie. The other flickers come from Kidman's co-star, Will Ferrell, who turns on the physical comedy as much as he can. But he's working it too hard. When a comedy feels that forced, it's as good as over. The plot -- which director Nora Ephron wrote with her sister Delia Ephron -- feels contrived, as though the characters are only doing things because the script forced them. And even the lightest of comedies should have some sort of serious underpinning. This movie has virtually none. Contains sex and drug language, some obscenity and partial nudity. Area theaters.

{sstar} CINDERELLA MAN (PG-13, 144 minutes) -- Forced to work as a longshoreman to feed his family (including his wife, played by Renee Zellweger) during the Depression, down-and-out boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) jumps at the chance to take on a heavyweight boxer. When he wins, he faces world champion Max Baer (Craig Bierko). In a way, "Cinderella Man," based on a true story, is "Seabiscuit" in boxing gloves. But there's more to it than that: a Runyonesque glow, thanks to director Ron Howard and scriptwriters Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman. Crowe's burly poignancy hits you foursquare in the ribs, right above the ticker. The abstract dance between his softness and physical power is the heartbeat of the movie, and it takes you through financial hardship, terrible times and some bloody battles with special grace. Contains boxing violence. Area theaters.

{sstar} CRASH (R, 100 minutes) -- The aftermath of Rodney King and 9/11 seems to sear the nostrils of every Los Angeleno in Paul Haggis's white-knuckle hatefest among characters of almost every ideological, cultural or religious stripe. Asians, Latinos, whites, blacks, rich and poor, Muslim and Christian all clash in this multi-character story that features Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe, Jennifer Esposito and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. If "Crash" only showed the dark side of humanity, it would barely be worth the viewing. But the movie is also about the best in people. As soon as we think we have some characters' number they turn around and do something quite astonishing. We're all so hopelessly human, and writer-director Haggis, who wrote the screenplay for "Million Dollar Baby," gives this truism a deeply lyrical dimension. Contains sexual scenes, obscenity and violence. Area theaters.

{sstar} FRANK MILLER'S SIN CITY (R, 124 minutes) -- Comprising three edge-of-your-seat sagas, this brilliant adaptation of Miller's cult graphic novel series is co-directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez. (Quentin Tarantino guest-directs one scene.) Miller and Rodriguez have achieved the near-impossible: reproducing the pictorial reality of those comic book stories onto the screen with digital enhancement, darkly perfected sets and masterful makeup. The performers look part cartoon and part human and thoroughly convincing. But all the visual fandango in the world means nothing without effective performers. Everyone is terrific here, including tough guys Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro. And those are just the guys. The women are equally formidable, including Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy and Rosario Dawson as an Uzi-packing hooker. Contains obscenity, violence, nudity and sexual scenes. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

GEORGE A. ROMERO'S LAND OF THE DEAD (R, 94 minutes) -- There are two types of zombie movie fans: those for whom the trappings alone -- all the staggering about, bullets to the brain and dripping intestines -- are enough and those who still want to be, you know, frightened. It's not that "Land," the latest sequel in Romero's "Living Dead" franchise, doesn't look like a horror film. It's just not especially horrible. Revolting and violent, yes. Scary, no. Set in a city where the last remaining living people have barricaded themselves against an army of cannibalistic corpses, and centering on a couple of zombie-fighting mercenaries (Simon Baker and John Leguizamo), the movie has plenty of blood but nothing to make the heart beat faster. Contains plentiful gore, violence, some obscenity, toplessness, brief sexuality and drug use. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

HERBIE: FULLY LOADED (G, 101 minutes) -- A reconditioned lemon by any other name is still a lemon, and this sequel to the "Love Bug" movies of the 1960s and 1970s, about a magical VW Beetle that thinks it's a race car, is still a clunker under the hood. That's even despite the souped-up star power of Lindsay Lohan, who brings a modicum of pick-up, but not much mileage, to the story about a young woman who finds a new friend (and success on the racing circuit) when she rescues a beat-up car from the junkyard. Oh, the film runs all right, but only over the same territory that's been worn into a dusty dirt track by its predecessors -- not to mention countless other underdog sports films. Contains the barest smidgen of mildly crude humor. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (PG, 110 minutes) -- It was a wonderful television miniseries, radio series and a five-book "trilogy," all created by Douglas Adams. Now comes this respectably amusing movie, which has Martin Freeman of the BBC series "The Office" as Arthur Dent. The hapless earthling, with an alien pal Ford Prefect (Mos Def), embarks on a massively epic and wonderfully improbable trip that includes visits to other spaceships and planets. The companions meet a bevy of oddballs, including the two-headed president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell); the eternally depressed robot Marvin (voiced by a hilariously misanthropic Alan Rickman); an extremely bizarre quasi-spiritual leader named Humma Kavula (John Malkovich); and a sort of planet construction engineer known as Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy). Given the fact that a quintessentially British show-book-franchise has been peopled with Brits and Americans and spearheaded by a Hollywood studio, this is more than a pleasant surprise. Contains some sophisticated thematic elements and minor strong language. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

THE HONEYMOONERS (PG-13, 89 minutes) -- This African-American-

ization of the classic Jackie Gleason-Art Carney TV show "The Honeymooners" is a really bad idea that turned out even worse. In the Gleason and Carney roles, Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps are such hapless characters, it's a wonder the screen itself doesn't curl up in disgust. C the E plays central character Ralph Kramden as nothing more than a tubby schemer who drives a bus and who is married, beyond logic, to Gabrielle Union (as Alice). As Ralph's sidekick Ed Norton, Epps's idea of comic grace is to walk through the movie with a fixed grin and perform pratfalls that wouldn't get a "C" grade in clown school. The less said about the story, in which Ralph attempts several harebrained schemes (entering a dog in a greyhound race, buying an old-time trolley), the better. In memory of Gleason's oft-repeated line, "To the moon, Alice," I'd like to suggest the same lunar destination to the studio geniuses who thought up this project. Contains crude humor and about as much comedy as "Hamlet." Area theaters.

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (PG, 110 minutes) -- Fans of Japanimation icon Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away") are more likely to be wowed by his feature-length, "Yu-Gi-Oh!"-flavored cartoon than are fans of British author Diana Wynne Jones's dark and oh-so-tweedy book, on which it is ostensibly based. While not without its visual charms (particularly as regards the castle of the title, which walks around on four spindly legs), the movie -- about a young girl (voice of Emily Mortimer) who seeks refuge in the mobile home of a misunderstood wizard (Christian Bale) after she's been turned into an old woman (Jean Simmons) by a witch (Lauren Bacall) -- bears no more relation to the novel than gummy bears do to grizzlies. Catering to kids and anime fan boys, this Disney-safe "Howl" is anything but moving. Contains some mildly scary images and a brief glimpse of Howl's naked rear end. Landmark's Bethesda Row, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

THE INTERPRETER (PG-13, 135 minutes) -- Sydney Pollack's thriller rides for a long time on a compelling premise: the possibility of an assassination in the United Nations' General Assembly. U.N. interpreter Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) gets wind of a plan to kill an African leader. But when she contacts the U.S. Secret Service, Silvia is surprised to find herself the target of suspicion by agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), the man in charge of investigating her report. As a straight-ahead thriller, the movie is enjoyable and stirring much of the time. But Kidman's character is schematically conceived: a native of (fictional) Matobo and a sophisticate with radical connections to (and formulaically traumatic memories of) Matobo's revolutionary days. And Penn's Tobin, who also carries around his own formulaic mental baggage, makes an interesting but not emotionally involving foil. Contains violence, some sexual content and brief obscenity. Area theaters. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

KICKING & SCREAMING (PG, 87 minutes) -- Never one to let weak material stand in the way of getting laughs, Will Ferrell manages to come up with a few great comic bits playing the inept coach of a youth soccer team. Ultimately, though, his anarchic genius is wasted in a kiddie comedy in which everybody learns something in the end -- about teamwork, about how having fun is more important than winning and about the kind of movie not to put someone with Ferrell's slyly subversive humor in. Contains crude humor and language. University Mall Theatres, Regal Rockville Center and Regal Ballston Common.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

KINGS AND QUEEN (Unrated, 150 minutes) -- A stuffed kitchen sink of ideas, references and plot twists, "Kings and Queen" (written by director Arnaud Desplechin and Roger Bohbot) is exciting for its very inventiveness. With one plot about single mother Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) getting her life back together and another about her good-natured ex-husband, Ismael (Mathieu Amalric), trying to extricate himself from a mental asylum, Desplechin's movie feels like a Gallic combination of "The Singing Detective," "King of Hearts" and "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore." But the film moves to its own snaky rules and rhythms as it switches from the serious to the absurd, from tragic melodrama to stage comedy. It's a puzzle of a film, but not the kind that intimidates you with inscrutability so much as one that beckons you into its antic eccentricity. Contains some violence, sex scenes and obscenity. Avalon.

KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (PG-13, 138 minutes) -- Ridley Scott's epic, about the battle of wills between Balian of Ibelin (Orlando Bloom), a 12th-century French crusader charged with protecting Jerusalem from Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), is a powerful visual experience. But at the same time, it's just another digitalized, live-action cartoon that suggests "Lord of the Rings IV: Legolas Defends Jerusalem." Scott and screenwriter William Monahan have assembled a thoughtful (if flawed) antiwar scenario about the religious divisions that pit one great people against another. But the movie's reduced to a backdrop for a boy toy with good hair and excellent backlighting. The real star is Massoud as Saladin, an Islamic hero of deep integrity. To introduce an archetype like this to western audiences may have been worth this whole flawed movie. Contains graphic battle violence. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{sstar} LADIES IN LAVENDER (PG-13, 104 minutes) -- Maggie Smith and Judi Dench give outstanding performances as lonely sisters who nurse an injured young man (Daniel Bruhl) back to health after he washes up on the shore of their Cornish village in this restrained British melodrama about love and letting go. Directed with a sure hand by actor Charles Dance, who clearly knows that the best way to play a scene is often to underplay it, the film never strays into mawkishness, even as it makes palpable the sisters' pain at the memories of love the stranger's presence dredges up and the dignity with which they must ultimately accept what they cannot have. Contains brief crude language. In English, German, Polish and French with some subtitles. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

THE LONGEST YARD (PG-13, 114 minutes) -- This remake of the 1974 comedy-drama about a high-stakes football game between vicious prison guards and a ragtag team of out-matched inmates benefits most from the smart-alecky wit of Chris Rock and the smirking slacker humor of Adam Sandler as genial convicts, even as it adds little to the original film. Still, the playing out of its predictable formula -- is there anyone alive who doubts the outcome of the game? -- is not without its rote pleasures. It's like setting up dominoes and watching them fall. There are no surprises, but a certain satisfaction to sticking it to the man -- again. Contains violence, sexual and drug humor and obscenity. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

MADAGASCAR (PG, 86 minutes) -- The latest offering from DreamWorks Animation SKG, a tale of citified zoo animals who escape to the wilds of Madagascar from the Central Park Zoo, is high in antic energy but low in charm. Voiced with mostly perfunctory delivery by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith, the quartet of, respectively, Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo experience a rude awakening when Alex's carnivorous nature puts their friendships at stake. But the story, which attempts to laugh its way out the fact that some animals eat one another, never really resolves its central conflict, which arises from the inescapable fact that it's a dog-eat-dog world. Contains cartoon violence, some humor centered on excretory functions, a bit of mild vulgar language and thematic material related to the fact that animals eat one another. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} MAD HOT BALLROOM (PG, 95 minutes) -- Marilyn Agrelo's at times stirring documentary follows groups of young participants in American Ballroom Theater's "Dancing Classrooms" program as they prepare for a climactic dance-off with student ballroom dancers from New York City public schools. It's a lot like "Spellbound," the spelling bee documentary, in that it has as much to say about the contestants -- their lives and aspirations -- as it does about the contest. In the end, it isn't only about the dancing (though there's plenty of that, and it's pretty darn good) as it is about living and growing up. Contains some mild references to sex and violence. Area theaters. -- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (G, 80 minutes) -- In this charmfest of a movie, narrator Morgan Freeman tells us about the habits and tremendous resilience of the emperor penguins, whose procreation quest takes them on an incredible journey on the frozen continent, where on a good day, the temperature is 58 degrees below zero. We're talking journeys of about 70 miles to the most frigid chunk of land on Earth. The film is full of wonderful moments and spectacles, including thousands of penguins huddled en masse, nursing their eggs. The wind moans (sometimes those gusts are 100 mph) and peppers them with snow. But they hold on to those eggs, which would crack and kill the baby inside if they touch the ground. But when those fluffies are born, you understand why the parents go to all that trouble. Contains penguin slapstick. Area theaters.

{sstar}ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (R, 90 minutes) -- Miranda July's brilliant, quirky film is far too complex and precious to render here. But it hums with compassion for its outlandish, lonely but always sweet characters. There are 7-year-old Robby (Brandon Ratcliff) and his 14-year-old brother, Peter (Miles Thompson), who find themselves caught in an uncomfortable, but increasingly hilarious e-mail encounter with a stranger; there's Richard Swersey (John Hawkes), a doe-eyed shoe salesman who wants to light up his hand in a dramatic gesture of closure to his divorce but doesn't seem to realize lighter fluid really burns. And finally, there's July herself, who plays a sweetly kooky performance artist who falls in love with Richard. Everyone operates on eccentric impulse rather than formulaic predictability. The children speak like adults, and the adults speak like children. "Me and You" is really about the found poetry of everyday life. Contains obscenity and momentarily disturbing content involving children. Landmark's Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema and Cineplex Odeon Shirlington.

MONSTER-IN-LAW (PG-13, 101 minutes) -- It doesn't seem right that Jane Fonda, playing the titular harridan, Viola Fields, allows her character, a woman bent on sabotaging the impending nuptials of her doctor son (Michael Vartan) to an impoverished artist (Jennifer Lopez), to be consistently upstaged by her own wisecracking personal assistant (Wanda Sykes). Shouldn't the character of Viola be a scenery-chewing comic shrew? She's not. Just a tiresome and unpleasant woman who could take some tips on how to diss the competition from her smart-mouthed secretary. Contains some obscenity, sexual humor and comic violence. University Mall Theatres and Regal Countryside Stadium.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} MR. & MRS. SMITH (PG-13, 112 minutes) -- The premise is admittedly slight: Husband-and-wife hit men (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) are hired to kill each other as bullets and romantic sparks fly. Nevertheless, Pitt and Jolie's monumental charisma, coupled with director Doug Liman's stylishly jaundiced staging, makes this allegory of modern love and marriage a summer diversion that's fast-paced, fun and sexy enough for the multiplex crowd and blackhearted enough for those with a taste for something more acidic. It's a grown-up popcorn movie. Contains obscenity, violence and sexual content. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}MYSTERIOUS SKIN (Unrated, 99 minutes) -- Gregg Araki's psychodrama is a helter-skelter ride of the soul, an unblinking, white-knuckle crash landing into the mushy mysteries of the subconscious. It makes an ingenious, dark metaphor out of extraterrestrial visitation and is not for the fainthearted, the squeamish or the inflexibly decent. The story has two characters: 18-year-old Brian Lackey (Brady Corbet), who believes he may have been the victim of an alien encounter, and Neil McCormick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a gay hustler who had formative sexual experiences as a child with his male baseball coach Heider (Bill Sage). Why these two men's histories are in the same drama becomes apparent later. But until that time, we watch -- fascinated, appalled and powerfully moved. Corbet is note perfect as the crushed, anguished Brian, and Gordon-Levitt is memorably harrowing as the risk-embracing Neil. Contains intense thematic material, pedophilia, rape, obscenity and sexual scenes. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

{sstar} MY SUMMER OF LOVE (R, 81 minutes) -- Two young women (Emily Blunt and Nathalie Press) meet by chance in the Yorkshire countryside and instantly understand they are meant for each other. Tamsin (Blunt) is a rich, horse-riding bon vivant without a care in the world. Mona (Press) is a working-class girl who lives over, and runs, a local pub. But their budding relationship is threatened by Mona's brother and born-again Christian Phil (Paddy Considine), who doesn't like their fast growing union. Things get ugly. Whether or not director Pawel Pawlikowski's dark, almost biblical finale brings things to a satisfying conclusion is a matter for debate. But for all its melodramatic excesses, "My Summer" remains highly watchable for atmosphere and performances. Pawlikowski, a Polish filmmaker working in England, has made an urgent, often compelling chamber piece about the lurking forces underneath our finer intentions. Contains sexual scenes, obscenity and violence. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

THE PERFECT MAN (PG, 96 minutes) -- Loosely based on a true story, in which a teenage girl courted her own single mother by means of a fictitious suitor the girl had created, "The Perfect Man" is disturbing on many levels. Unfortunately, it doesn't even have the good sense to know how disturbing it is and have a little fun with it. As a result, the fluffy romantic comedy, starring Hilary Duff as the girl, Holly, Heather Locklear as her mother, and Chris Noth as Holly's unwitting co-conspirator, is something even worse: creepy and boring. Contains a joke about flatulence and mildly suggestive humor. Area theaters. AMC Courthouse, Regal Fairfax and AMC Mazza Gallerie.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

REBOUND (PG, 87 minutes) -- Just like the character played by star Martin Lawrence here -- a cocky, indolent college basketball trying to rehabilitate his bad-boy image by coaching a bunch of inept 13-year-olds at his former junior high school -- this formulaic underdog sports comedy is lazy and arrogant. Lazy because it relies on a plot that's been around since God was a boy, and arrogant because it thinks it can get by on mugging and physical shtick that Lawrence has been flogging since his days on TV's "Martin," but which now feel as tired as the comedian looks. Contains comic violence, including the killing of a bird, and a running gag about vomiting. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}RIZE (PG-13, 85 minutes) -- David LaChapelle's film documents the South Central Los Angeles-rooted subcultures of clowning and krumping, hyperkinetic styles of hip-hop dance far more athletic, and aggressive, than break dancing. Clowning originated in the early '90s with Tommy Johnson, aka Tommy the Clown, whose act included exuberant, exaggerated dance moves. Soon young men started painting their faces and forming "clown" groups to compete against one another, a highly energized alternative to gang activities and team sports that became a way of life, and in many cases a way to life, for those involved. Later came krumping, with the first wave of clowners developing a harder, more cathartic freestyle form that seemed to tap more deeply into the pain and frustration of their social circumstances. "Rize" traces the form's evolution from "krump sessions" in people's homes and back yards to playgrounds and streets to informal competitive "circles" that grew into annual Battle Zones that filled the Great Western Forum arena, pitting teams of clowns and krumpers against one another in a cacophonous swirl of posturing, put-downs and body quakes. The stars of "Rize" are the dancers themselves, but more impressive is their common resolve and strength of character in the toughest of circumstances. For LaChapelle, "Rize" is part valentine, part invitation to the dance. Contains suggestive content, drug references, profanity and brief nudity. Area theaters.

-- Richard Harrington

{sstar} ROBOTS (PG, 91 minutes) -- A young robot named Rodney (voice of Crawford Wilson and, later, Ewan McGregor) grows up to be a resourceful inventor with aspirations to put together new robots out of old parts. But in this ever-modernizing world, reconditioned robots -- known as outmodes -- are rapidly obsolete. Rodney's dream puts him at odds with the dastardly industrialist Phineas T. Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), who plans to turn everyone into a revamped, expensive model. "Robots," directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, moves along at an entertaining, if increasingly familiar clip. It isn't superior to such computer-animated hits as "Shrek" and "The Incredibles," but it's still visually inventive; and Robin Williams is amusing as a quippy robot named Fender. Contains slightly risque sexual humor and bathroom gags. University Mall Theatres.

{sstar}SAVING FACE (R, 97 minutes) -- Ambitious doctor Wilhelmina Pang (Michelle Krusiec) and dancer Vivian Shing (Lynn Chen) meet cute but awkward in writer-director Alice Wu's affecting tale of overcoming love's obstacles. Set in the Chinese immigrant community of Flushing, Queens, where Wil, as she's known, faces quiet parental disapproval for her lesbianism -- even as her divorced mother (Joan Chen) is ostracized for getting pregnant by a mystery man -- "Saving Face" isn't really about saving face at all. At heart, what this romantic comedy is really about is showing face, or, in other words, about being who you really are. Contains sexual content, partial nudity and brief obscenity. Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS (PG, 120 minutes) -- Four teenage girls. One pair of secondhand jeans that clearly could not possibly fit -- but somehow, miraculously, does -- four very differently sized derrieres. What might have worked on the pages of Ann Brashares's best-selling novel, about the life-changing experiences of four friends who share a single pair of pants as an emblem of their friendship, emphatically does not in living color. While America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel and Blake Lively are fine actresses, I never bought the fact that they could all squeeze into the same trousers, let alone that they would even be friends with each other. Consisting of the sporty blonde sexpot (Lively), antisocial punk (Tamblyn), volatile Latina (Ferrera) and mousy artist (Bledel), the quartet is more like a group of underage Spice Girls, archetypes rather than real people. Contains thematic material related to teen sexuality and the death of loved ones. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

STAR WARS: EPISODE III -- REVENGE OF THE SITH (PG-13, 140 minutes) -- In this final installment of the "Star Wars" mega-ology, we learn about the circumstances that led to the creation of Darth Vader. But this most potentially compelling episode of all is marred by the disappointingly ordinary Hayden Christensen, whose evolution from Anakin Skywalker to the baddest, heavy-breathing villain in sci-fi popular culture, amounts to a sort of tizzy fit. It seems he just can't get invited to the inner circle of Jedi knights, run by Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and all, so he joins forces with Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who doubles as the hissable Sith Vicious, uh, Darth Sidious. There are some enjoyable spectacles involving lightsaber battles between Obi-Wan and Anakin. But the whole subplot between Anakin and his wife, Padme (Natalie Portman), is dramatically flat, and the story shows us nothing that we didn't expect. Contains sci-fi violence. Area theaters.

{sstar} WALK ON WATER (Unrated, 94 minutes) -- The black-and-white moral world of an assassin (Lior Ashkenazi) working for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency starts to look mighty gray when his assignment to track down and terminate a fugitive Nazi leads him to befriend the old man's grandchildren, a pretty young German woman living on a kibbutz (Caroline Peters) and her gay brother (Knut Berger). Eytan Fox's film is rich with ideas about what ethical living means, making connections between homophobia, Nazism and the desire for -- and spiritual costs of -- revenge. It's a beautiful, complex film about friendship, letting go of the past and embracing forgiveness. Contains obscenity, some violence (both actual and theoretical), nudity and discussion of sexuality. Landmark's Bethesda Row.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}WAR OF THE WORLDS (PG-13, 118 minutes) -- As he did with "Saving Private Ryan," director Steven Spielberg bursts out of the starting gate in the first half-hour of his adaptation of H.G. Wells's 1898 science-fiction adventure about Earth under attack by aliens. Starring Tom Cruise as a divorced father trying to protect his children (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin) from annihilation by ruthless visitors from outer space, this "War of the Worlds" spends a considerable amount of time exploring the interior life of a man and the kids he seems to have just discovered he has, but not at the expense of the film's profound, sustained thrills. It's a rip-roaring popcorn flick with heart. Contains violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

Repertory

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DOWNTOWN -- At the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater: "Fighter Pilot," daily at 11:25, 2, 4 and 6. "Space Station (3D)," daily at 10:25, 12:25, 3 and 5. "To Fly!" daily at 1:25. 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 and 4:30; Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday at 5. "The Stars Tonight," Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday at 5. Seventh and Independence SW. 202-357-1686.

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DULLES -- "Fighter Pilot," daily at 11, 1, 3 and 5. "Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk," daily at 12 and 4. "To Fly!," daily at 2. 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly. 202-357-2700.

AMERICAN CITY DINER -- "Casablanca," Friday at 8:30 "Million Dollar Baby," Saturday at 8:30. "Runaway Bride," Sunday at 8:30 "King Kong," Monday at 8:30. "Dial M for Murder," Tuesday at 8:30. "Witness for the Prosecution," Wednesday at 8:30. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," Thursday at 8:30. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

DOCS IN PROGRESS -- "14th and U: The Soul of a Neighborhood," "Give 'Em Belle!" and "The Bayou," Tuesday at 7. GWU's Media and Public Affairs Building, Jack Morton Auditorium, 805 21st St. NW. 240-505-8696.

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

FREER -- "Throw Down," Friday at 7 and Sunday at 2. Free, but tickets required. Meyer Auditorium, 12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW. 202-633-1000.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Happy Anniversary" with "The Dick Van Dyke Show," Friday at 7. "The Picture of Dorian Gray," Tuesday at 7. "Alice Chops the Suey" with "The Rifleman" and "How the West Was Won," Thursday at 6:30. Free. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- Imax Theater: "Fighter Pilot," daily at 10:30, 12:40, 3:55 and 7:10. "Bugs! (3D)," daily at 11:35, 1:45 and 5. "Titanica" and "Hubble: Galaxies Across Space & Time," daily at 2:55 and 6:05. Davis Planetarium: "The Sky: Live!" Friday and Monday-Thursday at noon, 3 and 5; Saturday-Sunday at 3 and 5. "The Sky Above Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," daily at 1. "Entertaining Einstein," Friday, Saturday and Thursday at 2, 4 and 6; Sunday-Wednesday at 2 and 4. "Live From the Sun," Saturday-Sunday at noon. 601 Light St., Baltimore. 410-685-5225.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES -- "Preserving the Charters of Freedom," daily at 10:30, 11, 11:30, noon, 12:30, 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30 and 4. Free. William G. McGowan Theater, Constitution Avenue between Seventh and Ninth streets NW. 202-501-5000.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Baby Face," Saturday at 3 and Sunday at 4:30. "Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time," Friday and Wednesday-Thursday at 12:30. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY -- Johnson Imax Theater: "Into the Deep (3D)," daily at 10:20, 12:10, 2, 3:50, 5:40 and 7:30. Tuesday at 10:20, 12:10, 2 and 3:50. "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous (3D)," daily at 11:10, 1, 2:50, 4:40 and 6:30. 10th and Constitution NW. 202-633-7400.

NATIONAL THEATRE -- "The Natural," Monday at 6:30. Free. Helen Hayes Gallery, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Free. 202-783-3372.

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

New on Video

BRIDE & PREJUDICE

(PG-13, 2004, 111 MINUTES, MIRAMAX HOME ENTERTAINMENT)

Gurinder Chadha, the British-Punjabi filmmaker who made "Bend It Like Beckham," has Bollywoodized Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" into an east-meets-west musical. The lovebirds are headstrong Indian Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) and rich-kid yank Will (Martin Henderson), who dance romantic rings around each other. The movie's cross-cultural changes from, and similarities to, the novel are intriguing. But in the end, the plot's not so much an Austen-like story as a click track. "Bride & Prejudice" is a we-are-the-world encounter full of colorful ribbons, scarves and saris, and foot-stirring spice-pop. Lalita and Will's sitcom-like jousting lacks the wit and resonance of the conflict between Austen's Elizabeth Bennet and the haughty Mr. Darcy, but the couple certainly engages the eyes. Contains some sexual references.

-- Desson Thomson

{sstar} DEAR FRANKIE

(PG-13, 2004, 104 MINUTES, MIRAMAX HOME ENTERTAINMENT)

Set in Scotland, the surprisingly charming tale centers on a cute 9-year-old boy, Frankie (Jack McElhone), whose mother, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), has been on the run from the boy's father for years, ever since the old man hit Frankie hard enough to make the boy go deaf. All these years, Lizzie has been sheltering Frankie, who, having been too young at the time of the incident, never learned the truth about his father's abuse. Thanks to the fake letters that Lizzie has been writing to Frankie from his absent "father," who Frankie thinks is a globe-trotting seaman aboard a cargo ship, Frankie still has a good relationship with his imaginary parent. The problem is that dad's ship is actually about to come in, docking in Frankie's town any day now -- without, of course, dad on it. Enter the fake father (Gerard Butler), a stranger Lizzie hires to act as Frankie's daddy for a day. Wouldn't you know it? The stranger turns out not just to be great with the kid, but to be tall, dark and handsome, too. Something for Frankie and something for mommy. I know, I know: way too easy. Actually, it isn't. I'm pleased to report that, within this overly familiar trope, there's plenty of room for small surprises, not the least of which are delightful, understated performances all around. Contains some vulgar language.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} HIDE AND SEEK

(R, 2005, 100 MINUTES, 20TH CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT)

This movie leaves no horror cliche unturned, but it turns them over well. It works because it knows all the emotional buttons to push. Robert De Niro stars as the widowed father of preteen Emily (Dakota Fanning) who moves to rustic New York to escape the trauma of his wife's suicide. Unfortunately, Emily develops an imaginary friend called Charlie who is murderously jealous of anyone being close to her, including dad. Cue the family cat for its familiar comeuppance. The movie has a pretty terrific twist, too, and Fanning is one eerily haunted child. Contains scary stuff and violence.

-- D.T.

IN MY COUNTRY

(R, 2004, 104 MINUTES, COLUMBIA/TRISTAR)

Set in the aftermath of apartheid in South Africa, the story's about the 1995 Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, which were convened by Nelson Mandela's government to bring together the executors of institutionalized

racism and their victims and families. But in their desire to humanize the big story, director John Boorman and screenwriter Ann Peacock have resorted to groan-inducing cliches and clunky narrative. And despite the presence of Samuel L. Jackson, Juliette Binoche and Brendan Gleeson, the performances fail to improve the problem. Jackson is a self-righteous Washington Post reporter who has come to cover the hearings and believes in no quarter for whites. Binoche is an Afrikaner poet, but her French-accented attempt to sound authentic is miserable. Gleeson is the best of the lot as a white police

officer accused of atrocities, but there's only so much he can do to save the film. Contains descriptions of atrocities and violence.

-- D.T.

Take a journey on the frozen continent with emperor penguins in the documentary "March of the Penguins."A divorced father (Tom Cruise) faces an alien invasion in Steven Spielberg's thrilling "War of the Worlds."Christian Bale is Batman and Katie Holmes plays Rachel in "Batman Begins."Richard (John Hawkes) and Christine (Miranda July) find each other in "Me and You and Everyone We Know," a quirky film directed by July.