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

{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} THE ARISTOCRATS (Unrated, 87 minutes) -- The joke whose punch line lends this documentary its title isn't especially funny. Filthy, yes, but not a laugh riot, except in the way its structure lends itself to extended riffs of jazz-like improvisation on the part of the 100 or so comedians who line up to tell it. What makes us laugh is the joke's sheer excess. Far more fascinating, however, than its many tellings and retellings, is the footage of comics like Bob Saget and Sarah Silverman talking about the joke, which has been a staple of backstage banter among comedians since vaudeville. Sometimes analyzing why something's funny is enough to kill it, but here it's what makes "The Aristocrats" most interesting. Contains numerous foul-mouthed interpretations of a single filthy joke. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS (Unrated, 111 minutes) -- Sent to a rural reeducation camp during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, two city-bred teenagers (Kun Chen and Ye Liu) cope with the rigors of manual labor and the anti-literature attitudes of the village elder (Shuangbao Wang) in a drama based on director Dai Sijie's own experiences in the 1970s. When one of the teenagers befriends a pretty, illiterate seamstress (Xun Zhou), he resolves to "cure her of her ignorance," reading banned books to her that he smuggles in. In the way Dai's film reinforces the notion that stories are about remembering, not forgetting, the past, the film possesses a documentary lyricism. Contains some violence and some intense material. In Mandarin Chinese with subtitles. Cinema Arts Theatre and Avalon Theatre.

{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. Majestic Cinema and National Amusements Fairfax Corner.

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. University Mall Theatres.

{sstar} BROKEN FLOWERS (R, 106 minutes) -- Bill Murray is a charm as Don Johnston, who learns from a mysterious letter that one of his liaisons, 20 years earlier, produced a son. So he takes a road trip to look up some old flames, including Laura Miller (Sharon Stone), whose teenage daughter, Lolita (Alexis Dziena), thinks nothing of parading around the house naked; Dora (Frances Conroy), who has married a cheesy real estate salesman; and Carmen Markowski (Jessica Lange), who communicates with animals. Murray's enigmatic expressions suggest a hangdog Mona Lisa, who's as much a mystery as his quest. What's going on in there? His deadpan is the lure. Take this trip with him and chances are, you'll find the journey increasingly funny and touching. Contains nudity, sexual situations, obscenity and some violence. Area theaters.

THE BROTHERS GRIMM (PG-13, 118 minutes) -- More enchanted than enchanting, filmmaker Terry Gilliam's adventure reimagines real-life brothers Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm not as the doughty German folklorists they were, but as British-accented con men (Matt Damon and Heath Ledger) who make money by pretending to "exorcise" barns of nonexistent witches, goblins and sprites. When they stumble upon a village whose children seem to have been abducted by a malevolent -- and very real -- boogeyman, their patience is sorely tested. Unfortunately, so is ours, in a story that is supposed to be all about the power of storytelling but is really only about itself. Contains spooky, supernatural goings-on, some gruesome imagery and occasional obscenity. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

THE CAVE (PG-13, 97 minutes) -- When an underground cave filled with water is discovered in Romania, a team of hotshot cave divers is brought in to explore it. One by one, they are eaten by some salivating thingie you can barely see but which looks a little too much like the creature from the "Alien" movies. Soon, very few will be left besides Cole Hauser, Lena Headey, Eddie Cibrian and Morris Chestnut (plus the three or four people in the audience who are still awake). Contains intense action and violence. Area theaters.

-- 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. 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. AFI Silver Theatre, Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

DEUCE BIGELOW: EUROPEAN GIGOLO (R, 77 minutes) -- Was there really that much demand for a sequel to "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," a crude comedy about a male prostitute with a heart of gold? If there's any justice in the world, this entry in the franchise, which stoops even lower than the first film without bringing anything new to the table, ought to put an end to thoughts of a third "Gigolo" vehicle for star Rob Schneider. It's not that I don't want to see the guy get work. I actually think Schneider's kind of funny in a stupid way. Just not when his material, like some paid sex, is this tired, joyless and perfunctory. Contains obscenity, partial nudity, crude and sexual humor, drug use and comic violence. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (PG-13, 106 minutes) -- There's a lot of armchair outlaws out there who fondly remember that long-running Friday night TV show with Bo, Duke and Daisy, and that '69 orange Dodge Charger, the General Lee. This movie, starring Seann William Scott as Bo and Johnny Knoxville as Luke, is smart enough not to mess with a good thing. "Dukes" is more charmingly lowbrow than screamingly funny, and it doesn't seem the slightest bit interested in straying from the formula of screeching cars, barroom brawls and other southern cliches. Anyone going to this movie would want no less and, it seems, no more. Contains obscenity and mild sexual situations, crude and drug-related humor, and comic action violence. Area theaters.

{sstar} THE EDUKATORS (R, 126 minutes) -- Young roommates Jan (Daniel Bruehl) and Peter (Stipe Erceg) break into rich homes, rearrange the furniture and leave threatening graffiti -- all this to protest capitalism's excesses. But when Jan becomes attracted to Peter's waitress-girlfriend, Jule (Julia Jentsch), the trouble starts. In short order, all three find themselves holding a wealthy businessman (Burghart Klaussner) hostage, with no idea what to do. Director Hans Weingartner has created a deft, entertaining story that mixes menace with charm and satire with seriousness, while he purposefully leads his characters, and the audience, into a full-circle dialogue with themselves. Contains sexual scenes, obscenity and some drug use. In German with English subtitles. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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. Annapolis Harbour and Majestic Cinema.

{sstar}THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN (R, 111 minutes) -- Filthy, funny and sweet in equal measure, the feature directorial debut of "Freaks and Geeks" writer-producer Judd Apatow (who co-wrote the script with star Steve Carell) is a Rob Schneider movie with the soul of a chick flick. Wait. That's not actually fair. While it's true that the comedy -- revolving around the efforts of three friends (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen) to get their geeky nice-guy co-worker (Carell) deflowered -- has a lot of smutty humor, it's also pretty smart. In the end, the organ it's really all about exercising is not the one you think, but the human heart. Contains raunchy sex humor, drug use, obscenity, partial nudity and glimpses of a porn film. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

FOUR BROTHERS (R, 108 minutes) -- Director John Singleton's Detroit-based Western-without-cowboy-hats pits four thuggish adopted brothers (Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Garrett Hedlund and Andre Benjamin of the musical duo OutKast) against the gangsters who had their saintly mother killed. It's a diverting enough thriller but one that ultimately doesn't expect -- or even want -- its audience to participate in it, except as a passenger. It would be twice as engaging if it spent half as much energy making us care about the vengeance-seeking siblings as it does making us not care about their victims. Contains obscenity, sexual content and violence. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

THE GREAT RAID (R, 132 minutes) -- Based on one of modern history's boldest and most inspiring rescue missions, the story of how 500 POWs were freed from captivity by the Japanese in a remote corner of the Philippines during World War II is unnecessarily long, with lame dialogue, un-fleshed-out relationships between central characters and a formulaic romance between prisoner Joseph Fiennes and nurse Connie Nielsen. The film's epilogue, in which we see actual footage of the participants after the rescue, is touching in ways this dramatization just can't muster. Contains obscenity, war violence and atrocities. Area theaters.

{sstar} GRIZZLY MAN (R, 103 minutes) -- Filmmaker Werner Herzog has a knack for turning his films -- whether fictional or documentary -- into intense visions of new worlds, literal or spiritual. "Grizzly Man" is no exception, in the way it takes us into both the heart of Alaska and the soul of author, wildlife activist, surfer and failed TV actor Timothy Treadwell, who in 2003 was killed and eaten by one of the grizzly bears whose preservation he championed (and among whom he lived for long stretches). It's an extraordinarily moving portrait of a strange man, but by gazing at the seemingly distant horizon that is Treadwell's life, we are brought disconcertingly closer to our own. Contains disturbing, macabre material and obscenity. Area theaters.

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} 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. University Mall Theatres.

{sstar} JUNEBUG (R, 112 minutes) -- When George (Alessandro Nivola), a Southern transplant to Chicago, brings Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), his Japanese-born, British-accented new bride, back to his family's North Carolina home for a visit, you'd expect something of a culture clash. What you might not expect is a story that turns gradually from the hilarious to the profoundly moving. At the center of first-time director Phil Morrison's wonderful little fish-out-of-water tale is not Madeleine, but her pregnant sister-in-law, Ashley (Amy Adams), whose humor, simple wisdom and ability to be comfortable in her own skin are the family's -- and the film's -- heart and soul. Contains obscenity and sexual content. Area theaters.

-- 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. AMC Courthouse.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} LILA SAYS (Unrated, 89 minutes) -- Set in a predominantly Muslim inner-city French neighborhood, "Lila Says" is a startlingly sexy and surprisingly touching story of the relationship that develops when a shy aspiring writer named Chimo (Mohammed Khouas) befriends a dirty-talking young Frenchwoman (Vahina Giocante). Though there's little actual physical contact (beyond some initial heavy petting), the film is as hot as a sauna, which shows that the most important sex organ is not the one between your legs, but between your ears. Contains, obscenity, sex talk, sexuality, partial nudity and some violence. In French with subtitles. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- 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. Majestic Cinema and University Mall Theatres.

-- 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, AMC Courthouse and AMC Mazza Gallerie.

-- 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} 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. AMC Courthouse and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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 ("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

PRETTY PERSUASION (Unrated, 149 minutes) -- "Pretty Persuasion" is neither pretty nor persuasive. Populated by characters that are either over-the-top cartoonish (James Woods as a scenery-chewing father) or drawn with all the depth of stick figures (almost everyone else), there is only one reason to watch this latest entry in the high-school-as-Dante's-ring genre -- Evan Rachel Wood. Wood is intriguing as Kimberly Joyce, the ultrabright, Machiavellian high school sophomore who manipulates everyone around her to achieve her twin goals of fame and revenge. The movie tries hard to be shocking with lots of sex, talk about sex, casual slurs and other "my, aren't we daring" devices. And it isn't without an occasional laugh. Had it stuck with being a teen amorality play and just ridden Wood's effortless magnetism (which you may recall from the far superior teen angst film "Thirteen"), "Pretty Persuasion" might have been more satisfying in spite of its wearyingly smug self-awareness. Instead it crashes into a somber wall of seriousness, pulling back from the provocations and dark comedy of the first hour and undercutting the strength of Wood's blithely evil performance with an attempt at humanizing her. It just rings false, like having Hannibal Lecter take up vegetarianism. The result is that you feel as used and empty as one of Kimberly's pawns for having sat through it. Contains profanity, sexual situations, violence and drug use. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Curt Fields

{sstar} RED EYE (PG-13, 85 minutes) -- Filmmaker Wes Craven's airplane-set thriller -- about a traveler (Rachel McAdams) held hostage by a smooth-talking criminal (Cillian Murphy) -- is taut and supple entertainment, especially when it has nowhere to go but inside the characters' heads. Although it doesn't exactly fall apart in the film's final reel, when the action leaves the plane's cabin for the larger world, it does lose some of the pressure-cooker intensity of the film's first hour. Still, like a venti coffee from the airport Starbucks, the movie's caffeinated enough to keep you awake and on the edge of your seat for pretty much the entire flight. Contains obscenity and violence. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{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 SKELETON KEY (PG-13, 104 minutes) -- As voodoo-themed thrillers go, "The Skeleton Key" delivers on all formulaic counts, except one: It never serves up any truly nightmare-inspiring scares. Still, even though it elicits as many giggles as gasps, "Key" isn't such a bad little movie. Kate Hudson bravely allows her mascara to repeatedly run in her role as Caroline Ellis, a live-in caretaker to stroke victim Ben Devereaux (John Hurt), who happens to live in a creepy mansion in the swampy outskirts of New Orleans with his overprotective wife, Violet (Gena Rowlands). Immediately, Caroline senses something weird about the place. To paraphrase the lyrics of Carlos Santana, it appears the Devereauxs have got a black magic attic. Like almost every psychological horror flick spawned from Hollywood these days -- from "The Forgotten" to 2001's exceptional "The Others" -- "The Skeleton Key" creates a mood of general foreboding, sprinkles in a few spine-straightening jolts, then caps it all off with a twist ending that, in this case, viewers may not see coming. It's all ultimately made watchable by the exceptional cast, which also includes the compelling Peter Sarsgaard, and a story that, despite some unsavory racial undertones, holds the audience's interest even when it veers toward the downright silly. Contains violence, disturbing images and partial nudity. Area theaters.

-- Jen Chaney

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

UNDISCOVERED (PG-13, 92 minutes) -- Revolving around a group of photogenic young actor-model-singer-

songwriter hyphenates who have come to Los Angeles to find fame and fortune, "Undiscovered" is little more than yet another one of those romantic movies about two crazy kids (Pell James and Steven Strait) who don't seem to realize that they're meant for each other until just before the closing credits. The film brings nothing new to the table besides some pabulum about the perils of instant celebrity and the importance of staying true to yourself. Contains some obscenity, a drug reference, post-coital canoodling, a catfight and scantily clad booty shaking. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

VALIANT (G, 76 minutes) -- This World War II-set animated adventure about a plucky carrier pigeon (voice of Ewan McGregor) is proof that it isn't easy to make movies that appeal both to kids and their parents. Too reliant on a knowledge of Nazi history for children, and too short and tepid for the grown-ups who will get the references to old war movies, the movie makes a valiant attempt to be a double agent, but ultimately hasn't figured out who it really wants to work for. Contains some slapstick violence, avian predation and war themes. Area theaters.

-- 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.


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 Stepford Wives," Friday at 8. "Garden State," Saturday at 8. "The Set-Up," Sunday at 8. "High Sierra," Monday at 8. "Dark Passage," Tuesday at 8. "To Sir, With Love," Wednesday at 8. "12 Angry Men," Thursday at 8. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

CHARLES THEATRE -- "All the President's Men," Saturday at noon, Monday at 7 and Thursday at 9. 1711 N. Charles St., Baltimore. 410-727-3456.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Cruising," Friday at 7. Free. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- Imax Theater: "Fighter Pilot," Friday-Monday at 10:30, 12:40, 3:55 and 7:10; Tuesday-Thursday at 2:10 and 4:20. "Bugs! (3D)," Friday-Monday at 11:35, 1:45 and 5; Tuesday-Thursday at 12:10 and 3:20. "Titanica" and "Hubble: Galaxies Across Space & Time," Friday-Monday at 2:55 and 6:05. Davis Planetarium: "The Sky: Live!" Friday at noon, 3 and 5; Saturday-Sunday at 3 and 5; Monday at noon and 3; Tuesday-Thursday at 3. "The Sky Above Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Friday-Monday at 1. "Entertaining Einstein," Friday- Saturday at 2, 4 and 6; Sunday-Monday at 2 and 4; Tuesday-Thursday at 1 and 4. "Live From the Sun," Saturday-Sunday at noon. 601 Light St., Baltimore. 410-685-5225.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES -- "The Constitution: That Delicate Balance," daily at noon. Free. William G. McGowan Theater, Constitution Avenue between Seventh and Ninth streets NW. 202-501-5000.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Zem Spieva," Saturday at 2:30. "It's Been a Lovely Day," Sunday at 2. "L'Atalante" and "A propos de Nice and La Natation," Sunday at 4:30. "Brooklyn Stories" and "Nor His Donkey," Monday at 2:30. 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, 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.

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

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