Film Capsules

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

Openings

THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY (R) -- See review on Page 31.

BROKEN FLOWERS (R) -- See review on Page 30.

THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (PG-13) -- See review on Page 30.

THE EDUKATORS (R) -- See review on Page 31.

GUS VAN SANT'S LAST DAYS (R) -- See review on Page 30.

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. University Mall Theatres.

{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. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

{sstar} BAD NEWS BEARS (PG-13, 111 minutes) -- Sure he's just reprising the same grumpy type he played in "Bad Santa," but Billy Bob Thornton's shtick never seems to get old. In this remake of the 1976 classic, he's a beer-swilling misanthrope who turns a ragtag, trash-talking gang of kiddie misfits into Little League contenders. The movie, directed by Richard Linklater, is a faithful remake of the Tatum O'Neal-Walter Matthau movie of the same name, with only minor updates and changes. If truth be told, the movie is dull without Thornton. The young actors (including Sammi Kraft and Jeff Davies) aren't the most stellar thesps to swear their way through a film. And the plot, which involves the Bears going up against nasty Coach Bullock (Greg Kinnear) and his arrogant Yankees team, is trite. But this movie's enjoyable for that hangdog coach, whose slurry, sour-mouthed retorts knock 'em out of the park every time. Contains obscenity, a little baseball violence and adult boozing in front of children. Area theaters.

{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.

THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (Unrated, 107 minutes) -- This French drama, a remake of writer-director James Toback's 1978 "Fingers," about a man torn between thug life and his love of the piano, plays like a piece of mediocre music, gorgeously rendered. Romain Duris is excellent as Thomas Seyr, a punk on the periphery of the real estate business who dreams of resurrecting the shot he once had at being a concert pianist like his mother, but which he abandoned 10 years ago to follow in his disreputable father's footsteps. With his ability to convey deep misanthropy, creative passion and the anguish that lies in the gap between them, Duris almost makes me care about which side of Thomas's personality will win out, but not because this song is one I've never heard before. Contains obscenity, violence, sensuality and nudity. In French with subtitles. Avalon.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

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. AMC Courthouse and Regal Fairfax.

{sstar} CATERINA IN THE BIG CITY (Unrated, 106 minutes) -- High school movies about not fitting in are a dime a dozen, but this Italian offering from filmmaker Paolo Virzi gets something right that's not so easy to do. That's because it knows that it isn't a question of whether the title character (beguiling Alice Teghil), a girl from the sticks adjusting to life in downtown Rome, ultimately aligns herself with the rich, preppy kids, led by spoiled brat Federica Sbrenna, or the alternative crowd, led by hard-drinking grunge queen Carolina Iaquaniello, but whether she figures out that life isn't a label. "Who are you really?" Caterina keeps getting asked. Virzi's delightfully open-ended coming-of-age film would rephrase that as "Who are you becoming?" Contains obscenity and sexual references. In Italian with subtitles. Cinema Arts Theatre and the Avalon.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (PG, 115 minutes) -- People enamored with Gene Wilder's manic, sweet performance in the 1971 "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" may be disappointed in Johnny Depp's oddball eccentricity as this Wonka. Depp's version is an unsettling amalgam of Michael Jackson, Edward Scissorhands and Lisa Kudrow's Phoebe from the TV show "Friends." But there are other watchable delights: Director Tim Burton takes us on a ride of over-the-top proportions, entertaining us while tacitly scolding our mass consumptiveness. Wonka's factory is a wonderland of chocolate lakes and candy-grass banks. There are some hilarious routines performed by the diminutive Oompa Loompas (their songs created by Burton's regular collaborator, Danny Elfman). And Freddie Highmore is a charmer as Charlie, a poor kid who wins a ticket to tour Wonka's factory. Contains offbeat humor and situations, and some mild obscenity. 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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

{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.

DARK WATER (PG-13, 102 minutes) -- Director Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries") brings almost-unheard-of class and style to this pretty creepy (but also pretty silly) remake of a Japanese thriller about a woman (Jennifer Connelly) and her young daughter (Ariel Gade) who have moved into an apartment plagued by plumbing problems. Part "Repulsion" in its focus on the mother's buried psychological trauma and part "Amityville Horror" in its focus on seemingly demonically possessed faucets, "Dark Water" also plays like a rather prosaic how-to (or rather how-not-to) film on dealing with incompetent maintenance men, shifty building supers and two-faced rental agents. Now that's scary. Contains some obscenity and disturbing images. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (R, 101 minutes) -- Meet the Firefly family, a southern fried version of Charles Manson's murderous clan that includes Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook), Otis Firefly (Bill Moseley) and his sister Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie). They kill innocents with giddy abandon as they trade endless, graphic obscenities. In Rob Zombie's follow-up to the gruesome "House of 1,000 Corpses," the psychos are on the run from Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), who wants to avenge his brother's death. The movie's a return to the cold-slab murderousness of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and the anything-goes mayhem of midnight movies in general. For the right audience, this movie is the butt-kicking, dirt-talking, blood-spurting equivalent of beautiful music. Speaking of which, the soundtrack is a stomping kick of its own, with songs from Joe Walsh, the Allman Brothers and other hard-drivers. Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" is part of a grand shoot-'em-up finale that invokes the collective spirit of Sam Peckinpah, Butch & Sundance and Thelma & Louise. Contains gruesome violence, pervasive obscenity, drug use and nudity. Area theaters.

FANTASTIC FOUR (PG-13, 105 minutes) -- This movie version of the comic book series, which stars Jessica Alba (as Susan Storm), Michael Chiklis (the Thing) and others, feels like a rote adaptation. We go through the opening history and learn how four astronaut-scientists were caught in a wave of radioactivity and became the Fantastic Four team of superfreaks. But the movie lacks oomph. Despite some nice moments of computer-generated imagery, which includes a human fireball and a well-done scene on a Manhattan bridge in which the Thing uses his brute strength to stop a fire engine from plunging into the water, this "Four" ain't so "Fantastic." And the less said about the dialogue the better. The Fantastic Four never topped my personal short list, as far as comic book heroes went. And this so-so movie doesn't do much to change that feeling. Contains intense action and some sexual suggestiveness. Area theaters.

{sstar} HAPPY ENDINGS (R, 130 minutes) -- Lisa Kudrow reunites with Don Roos, her director in "The Opposite of Sex," for another darkly comic look at the search for love and the meaning of family. Less jaundiced than "Sex," this film -- whose central story has something to do with a mother's search for the child she gave up as a teenager -- is nevertheless rich in humor and byzantine in plot, a fact that is somewhat mitigated by Roos's use of silent-movie-style on-screen titles that help viewers navigate the vast web of interconnectedness linking one character to another. "It's a sick, sick bond," says one character to another, referring to the love of a mother for her child. The same could be said of the connection between sister and brother, father and son, lovers and spouses in this twisted, but kind of sweet, take on human bondage. Contains obscenity, sex, nudity, brief violence and drug use. Landmark's Bethesda Row and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

HEIGHTS (R, 93 minutes) -- If there's anything good to be said about this film, it's Glenn Close's strutty, booming performance as Diana, a veteran actress who lords it over her stage and acting students, while she casts a controlling, lascivious eye over a promising new actor (Jesse Bradford). Unfortunately in this Merchant-Ivory production (which marks the second to last film of Ismail Merchant), Diana is about the only character of interest. The others, though played by estimable performers, including Elizabeth Banks, James Marsden and Matt Davis, feel like cardboard-cutout New Yorkers. The movie trades on a secondhand conceit about New York City as the storied citadel of countless artistic dreams. And George Segal, Isabella Rossellini, Rufus Wainwright and Eric Bogosian are thrown into the cast, as if their mutual presence will lend the project a weightier New York mystique. Contains strong language, brief sexuality and nudity. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

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.

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. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} HUSTLE & FLOW (R, 114 minutes) -- In Craig Brewer's charming, gritty hip-hop fairy tale, DJay (Terrence Howard) is a Memphis pimp heading nowhere slow, who dreams of making the music big time. He's always had a way with rhymes, and he has an idea for a song. With the help of an old buddy and sound engineer (Anthony Anderson), and a scrawny white musician (DJ Qualls), DJay makes his new song, "Whup That Trick," take foot-stomping shape. He even gets his hookers, bottle-blonde Nola (Taryn Manning) and Shug (Taraji P. Henson), involved and liberates them in the process. Writer-director Brewer doesn't go light on the obscenity, which is part and parcel of the language of the characters. But his story is so affecting, it threatens to make crossover audiences sing out: "You know, it's hard out here for a pimp." Contains sexual scenes, drug content, pervasive obscenity and violence. Area theaters.

{sstar} THE ISLAND (PG-13, 127 minutes) -- Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, buffed and dressed in sparkling white, play harvested beings, or replicants -- to borrow a term from "Blade Runner," which Michael Bay's movie has ransacked. McGregor is a cloned human called Lincoln Six Echo, and Johansson, named Jordan Two Delta, is also a copy of someone else. When they realize they are spare parts for their original molds, they make a run for it. Cue the helicopters and a paramilitary troubleshooter named Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou) who gives chase. As pretty, very human stars, McGregor and Johansson put the main sizzle into "The Island," since we've seen this plotline, and this Brave New World, in better sci-fi films. Thanks to their performances, it's still fun to watch. Contains action violence, some sexuality and obscenity. Area theaters.

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.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{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 Bruehl) 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. Cinema Arts Theatre, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and the Avalon.

-- 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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

-- 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. Landmark's Bethesda Row and Regal Ballston Common.

-- 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. Area theaters. Landmark's Bethesda Row, Cinema Arts Theatre and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

{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} MURDERBALL (R, 86 minutes) -- This isn't just the best smash-mouth rugby documentary featuring muscular dudes in wheelchairs ever made. It's also a powerful movie by any standard. Actually, the sport, played on basketball courts, is "quad rugby." Four players per team, most of whom suffered injuries to the spine or neck, roll around in "Road Warrior"-style chariots and throw a ball around. We watch likable Mark Zupan and his national teammates take on the world's best, including Canada -- coached by arch rival Joe Soares, who was so miffed at being cut from the American team, the forty-something behemoth became the Canadian coach. Though the movie follows the American-Canadian rivalry in big clashes at the 2002 World Championship in Sweden and the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, "Murderball" isn't just about sports. It's an emotional visit with some determined young men (and one middle-aged guy in major denial) who refuse to accept limitations in every aspect of their lives. Contains sexual content and frank discussion, sports violence and obscenity. Area theatres.

MUST LOVE DOGS (PG-13, 88 minutes) -- This listless, cliche-ridden tale of two divorcees who meet through an online dating service stands as yet another example of how easy it is for filmmakers to fail at romantic comedy. The usually radiant Diane Lane loses some of her luster as Sarah Nolan, a preschool teacher who ventures into the world of online dating after her sister posts her profile on Perfectmatch.com. ("Must Love Dogs" may not succeed as a movie, but as product placement for a Web site, it gets two thumbs way up.) Eventually Sarah must choose between a quirky boat builder (John Cusack) and the flirtatious father of one of her students (Dermot Mulroney), but many viewers will lose interest long before she makes that decision. Like most modern romantic comedies -- perhaps Hollywood's most consistently mishandled genre -- "Must Love Dogs" is so busy copying from better films that it forgets to present anything approximating real life. Contains sexual content.

-- Jen Chaney

{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.

{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. Annapolis Mall.

{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 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. University Mall Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

SKY HIGH (PG, 99 minutes) -- "Sky High" is a slight but sure-footed, live-action comic fantasy from Disney. Director Mike Mitchell deftly blends two genres -- the high school romance and the special-effects-laden superhero comic book adaptation -- and manages to spoof yet salute both with a refreshing lack of pretension. Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano), son of Captain Stronghold (former Disney kid star Kurt Russell in blustering, eye-crinkling form) and Josie Jetstream (Kelly Preston), knows his parents expect him to follow in their world-saving path. Will arrives at Sky High, a school for superheroes' kids, without powers, but that begins to change. The younger actors all avoid ham-acting, and their more seasoned colleagues have fun with the witty material.

-- Jane Horwitz

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. Majestic Cinema, National Amusements Fairfax and AMC Mazza Gallerie.

STEALTH (PG-13, 117 minutes) -- "Stealth," a silly movie about Navy pilots who must fly alongside a new robotic drone, is so clueless it makes its best actor, Jamie Foxx, play dispensable sidekick to Josh Lucas and Jessica Biel. The filmmakers liberally rip off "2001: A Space Odyssey," along with such lesser fare as "Top Gun," "Behind Enemy Lines" and the 1980s talking-car TV show "Knight Rider."

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{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

{sstar} WEDDING CRASHERS (R, 119 minutes) -- Jeremy (Vince Vaughn) and John (Owen Wilson) are scoundrels who crash weddings so they can score with women in this often-funny caper. But when they attend a big-time Washington wedding party for the daughter of Secretary of the Treasury William Cleary (Christopher Walken), things change. John falls a little too sincerely for Claire (Rachel McAdams), one of the secretary's daughters. And Jeremy gets in a little over his head with another Cleary daughter, Gloria (Isla Fisher), who soon declares her undying, bunny-boilingly permanent love for Jeremy. Vaughn is definitely the best man in this wedding comedy. As Jeremy, he's a cad and a half who can motormouth like a machine gun, spraying men, women and children with manic, rat-a-tat outbursts of toxic insincerity. It's often dirty, yes. But it's also manic and inspired. Contains nudity, sexual scenes, obscenity and slapstick violence. Area theaters.

{sstar}YES (R, 100 minutes) -- In Sally Potter's boldly original film, a passionate liaison between an Irish American married woman (Joan Allen) and a Lebanese surgeon (Simon Abkarian), who are both living in London, is something more than an extramarital fling. Their relationship becomes the jagged interface between two clashing worlds, cultures, genders and personalities in the post-9/11 universe. Their running arguments have another significant element: They're recited in verse. In fact, everyone in the movie speaks in rhymed couplets, mostly in iambic pentameter. It's as if Shakespeare, Ingmar Bergman and Dr. Seuss had decided to collaborate on a movie. Thanks to the wit and inventiveness of Potter's language, a risky venture stays vital and alive. And the movie's very sensual, thanks to the note-perfect partnership between Allen and Abkarian, who throw themselves into the parts with persuasive conviction. Contains obscenity and sexual content. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

Repertory

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DOWNTOWN -- At the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater: "Fighter Pilot," daily at 11:25, 1:25, 4 and 6. "Space Station (3D)," daily at 10:25, 12:25, 3 and 5. "To Fly!" daily at 2:25. At the Albert Einstein Planetarium: "Infinity Express," daily at 10:30, 11, 11:30, 12, 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 -- "The Defiant Ones," Friday at 8:30. "All the President's Men," Saturday at 8:30. "American Graffiti," Sunday at 8:30. "Niagara," Monday at 8:30. "Some Came Rushing," Tuesday at 8:30. "The Asphalt Jungle," Wednesday at 8:30. "A Place in the Sun," Thursday at 8:30. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

CHARLES THEATRE -- "Rancho Notorious," Saturday at noon, Monday at 7 and Thursday at 9. 1711 N. Charles St., Baltimore. 410-727-3456.

DC ANIME CLUB -- "Black Heaven," "Samurai Deeper Kyo" and "Full Metal Panic," Saturday at 1. Martin Luther King Library, Room A9, 901 G St. NW. 202-582-2492.

EVERGREEN HOUSE -- "Our Hospitality," with live accompaniment by Boister, Friday at 9. 4545 N. Charles St., Baltimore. 410-516-0341.

FILMS ON THE HILL -- "The Disciple," "The Last Trail" and "Billy Blazes," Wednesday at 7. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh St. SE. 202-547-6839.

FILMS ON THE VERN -- "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," Wednesday at 8:30. Free. George Washington University's Mount Vernon Campus, 2100 Foxhall Rd. NW. 202-242-6673.

FREER -- "Come Drink With Me," 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 -- "Easy Living" and "Young Ironsides," Friday at 7. "French Connection II," Tuesday at 7. "Lost Command," Thursday at 7. 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.

MOVIES IN THE MORNING -- "Bringing Up Baby," Friday-Sunday at 10. "Topkapi," Friday-Sunday at 10:10. "The Verdict," Friday-Sunday at 10:20. "Pat & Mike," Friday-Sunday at 10:30. "Alexander Nevsky," Wednesday-Thursday at 10. "Arsenic and Old Lace," Wednesday-Thursday at 10:10. Fair City Mall, Cinema Arts Theatre, Rt. 236 and Pickett Rd., Fairfax. 703-978-6991.

NATIONAL BUILDING MUSEUM -- "Do the Right Thing," Wednesday at 8:15, preceded by music from Lianna at 7:15. Free. 401 F St. NW. 202-272-2448.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Babar: King of the Elephants," children's film, Saturday at 10:30 and Wednesday at 11:30. "Pather Panchali," Saturday at 2:30. "The Man From Planet X" and "Edgar G. Ulmer -- The Man Off-screen," Sunday at 4:30. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN -- "Into the Circle: An Introduction to Oklahoma Powwows and Celebrations," Friday at noon. "The World of American Indian Dance," noon. "Come Drink With Me," Sunday at 2. Free. Rasmuson Theater, Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW. 202-633-1000.

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

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

PROVIDENCE REC CENTER -- "Good Boy!" Thursday at 7:30 (rain date is Friday). 7525 Marc Dr., Falls Church. 703-698-1351.

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

SHEPHERDSTOWN FILM SOCIETY -- "North by Northwest," Friday at 7. Free. Shepherd University's Reynolds Hall, King Street, Shepherdstown, W.Va. 304-876-1837.

STARLIGHT CINEMA AT TRINITY CENTRE -- "ET: The Extra-Terrestrial," Saturday at 7:30. Free. 5875 Trinity Pkwy., Centreville. 703-324-7469.

New on Video

ALEXANDER

(R, 2004, 175 MINUTES, WARNER HOME VIDEO)

Oliver Stone's epic, which takes us from Alexander the Great's earliest childhood to his final undoing in India at age 32, is enjoyable in some places, but dreadful in others. It's boring here and exciting there. And it's almost always goofy. It's $150 million worth of large-scale battles, bacchanalia and overwrought writing -- particularly in its rendition of Alexander (Colin Farrell) as an emotionally unstable child-warrior who just can't say no to Olympias (Angelina Jolie), his manipulative, vivacious and python-stroking mother. Despite nearly three hours of screen time, Stone and co-writers Christopher Kyle and Laeta Kalogridis give us a little bit of everything and, ultimately, a whole lot of nothing. Contains nudity, rape scenes, battlefield violence and obscenity.

-- Desson Thomson

DOWNFALL

(R, 2004, 155 MINUTES, COLUMBIA/TRISTAR)

Oliver Hirschbiegel's German film is about Adolph Hitler's final days. The movie, set mostly in the Fuehrer's bunker, spends time with Hitler's inner circle of Nazi cohorts, including personal secretary Traudl Junge (whose testimony informed much of this movie), Josef (Ulrich Matthes) and Magda Goebbels (Corinna Harfouch) and their family, and many other architects, direct and indirect, of the Holocaust. The events are historically compelling to watch and yet "Downfall" feels like coldblooded, made-for-television material. The most powerful element is Bruno Ganz's persuasive performance as Hitler, a figure of gentility and irrationality, who speaks with pride of his all-but-eradication of the Jewish people of Europe. The movie does not bring us any closer, however, to a human understanding of Hitler. Of course, that task may be impossible. Contains violence and emotionally harrowing themes.

-- D.T.

GUESS WHO

(PG-13, 2005, 103 MINUTES, COLUMBIA/TRISTAR)

It's never a good sign when the characters in a film laugh harder at their own jokes than the audience. It's particularly troubling when some of those jokes -- as in this limp, race-reversal version of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," in which Bernie Mac plays a man horrified to discover that his daughter's boyfriend (Ashton Kutcher) is white -- are themselves racist. That dinner-table scene, in which Kutcher's character repeats a series of offensive jokes he's heard, to the initial delight of his African American girlfriend's (Zoe Saldana) family, is meant, I suppose, to show that the film is honest, but it just ends up making it look desperate for laughs. Contains vulgarity and sexual humor.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

Jennifer Connelly, right, and Ariel Gade play mother and daughter in the creepy thriller "Dark Water." Jesse Bradford and Lisa Kudrow star in Don Roos's "Happy Endings."Bringing up baby is a challenge -- especially in Antarctica -- as documented in the film "March of the Penguins."Michelle Krusiec plays a doctor in the romantic comedy "Saving Face."