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A star ({sstar}) denotes a movie recommended by our critics.

{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. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} CAPOTE (R, 98 minutes) -- It is a comical image: fey, mincing, piping little Truman Capote in his vicuna coat and cashmere scarf tiptoeing around the bleak wheat-field burg of Holcomb, Kan., in the wake of some horrific murders about which he admits he doesn't really care. Capote had come to Kansas to investigate the 1959 murders of a wealthy farmer named Clutter and his wife and two kids and to write what became his brilliant "nonfiction novel," "In Cold Blood." As Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman makes you believe in the man: an artist's personality, ruthless and shrewd; a hysteric's delicate grasp of his emotions; a charmer whose wiles could wear down even the wary Kansas lawmen. It's a performance, not an impersonation. The movie is astringent, almost shorn of rhetoric. It makes its points in brief scenes simply composed, without fretwork or flash. The writer and director, Dan Futterman and Bennett Miller, respectively, are extremely agile in this production, giving the movie a minimalist's purity, which feels refreshing in this age of excess. Contains violent language and images. Area theaters.

-- Stephen Hunter

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

-- Desson Thomson{sstar} THE CONSTANT GARDENER (R, 123 minutes) -- Vivid performances drive Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles's fine adaptation of the John Le Carre novel. Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a mild-mannered junior diplomat in Kenya, is shattered when his wife, Tessa (Rachel Weisz), is violently murdered on a "research trip" far up country. He learns quickly enough that Tessa, a social gadfly type, had acquired a "reputation" in the tight world of British diplomacy. The movie chronicles Justin's growth as he begins to understand what sort of a woman he had. Fiennes hasn't looked so good in years, playing a soft man become hard. Weisz is especially good. The quick evocations of diplomatic life, corporate dealings and even the world of anonymous travel off-passport are splendidly done. What is evoked best, though, is Africa, that maddening panorama of beauty, nobility, poverty and corruption. Contains sexuality, gore and violence. Area theaters.

-- S.H. DOMINO (R, 128 minutes) -- It seems the only true thing about this movie, which begins with the disclaimer that it is based on a true story . . . "sort of," is the name of its title character, the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey who, after the death of her dad when she was young, embarked on a troubled girlhood and ended up as a bounty hunter. (The real Domino Harvey died in June of a suspected drug overdose.) The film pivots around an ill-fated gig that Domino (Keira Knightley) is explaining to an FBI psychologist (Lucy Liu), entailing lots of doubling and tripling back in time. The effect is edgy, tough and sneakily seductive, as the ultimate Girl Gone Wild plies her trade, using whatever it takes -- assault weapons or lap dances -- to get her man. The filmmakers have added a subplot involving a reality TV show that is following Domino and her crew. There's a manic kind of pleasure in all this, but it turns out to be a tiresome trip. Contains strong violence, pervasive profanity, sexual content, nudity and drug use. Area theaters.

-- Ann Hornaday

DOOM (R, 95 minutes) -- A square-jawed, bull-necked leader named Sarge (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) heads a rapid response team of Marines dispatched to investigate a calamity at a remote scientific facility on Mars. The killer mutants they find there will be familiar to the many fans of Doom, the video game that has been keeping people from getting out of the house since 1993. The Rock is an enjoyable presence, not just for his statuesque build but for his occasionally comic moments. Another character called Portman (Richard Brake), a funny futuristic griper, is good for a few chuckles. Karl Urban makes an empathetic Reaper, the ultimate hero of the story, whose transformative finale the audience sees from that much vaunted first-person perspective of the game. But for the most part, "Doom" is a loud, standard-issue sci-fi action film. Contains profanity and intense violence. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

{sstar} DREAMER: INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY (PG, 98 minutes) -- This horse-race drama, in which young Cale Crane (Dakota Fanning) nurses a wounded horse back to racing shape, harnesses the Rules of Cute and Fuzzy Horse Movies (temporary setbacks, underdog horses, stand-up-and-cheer moments) and rides them all the way to the Breeders' Cup. But will her formerly hobbled horse win, despite the terrible odds, when Cale has staked all her hopes and dreams into that special horse (named Dreamer)? Writer-director John Gatins and his actors also fulfill the engaging-family requirement. Fanning, an extraordinary performer, makes a wonderfully sweet and unbratty Cale. Kurt Russell matches her charm as her good-natured father; and as Pop, the grandpa whose passion for horses has been handed down three generations, Kris Kristofferson is a pleasurably gruff-voiced presence. This is a family to root for, as much as the horse. Contains mild profanity and a disturbing horse injury. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

ELIZABETHTOWN (PG-13, 123 minutes) -- Cameron Crowe's misfired romance features Orlando Bloom as shoe designer Drew Baylor, whose latest creation has led to his firing, and Kristen Dunst as life-affirmative flight attendant Claire, who meets him on the plane he has to take to Elizabethtown, Ky. His father, while visiting his home town, just died there. It's Drew's duty to deal with the body and make nice with his estranged Southern relatives. Drew is mopey and despondent and contemplating suicide. Claire gives him driving directions to Elizabethtown and that other destination: her big, home-fried heart. But Drew has to deal with his father and family, as well as work out that, you know, shoe depression. There's not much specialness between Bloom and Dunst, other than the surface appeal of two attractive people making (or almost making) kissy face. Sweet delay before the inevitable coupling is a mainstay in every romance, but Crowe turns that delay into the waiting room from hell. Contains profanity and some sexual references. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

FLIGHTPLAN (PG-13, 88 minutes) -- The baby vanishes. Well, maybe not a baby, but a 6-year-old girl with a resemblance to Miss Froy, the lady who vanished in Alfred Hitchcock's 1938 thriller, "The Lady Vanishes." In that definitive film, the conveyance on which she disappeared was a train. In "Flightplan," it is a jumbo jet, with all sorts of compartments, bays and hidey-holes for a little kid to crawl into, and the movie gives viewers the impression of being on that plane as Jodie Foster -- playing the girl's desperate mother, who may or may not be mentally unhinged -- tries to lead her fellow passengers in a search. Foster, who projects strength and vulnerability in equal measure, is joined by Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean, both excellent. Striking just the right balance between claustrophobia and terrifying emptiness, the young German director Robert Schwentke ratchets up the tension with good taste and quiet, unfussy skill. It all falls apart with the Big Reveal. Contains violence and intense themes. Area theaters.

-- A.H.

THE FOG (PG-13, 100 MINUTES) -- There may be more narrative explanation and higher-priced special effects in this remake of horrormeister John Carpenter's 1980 ghost story, but there are far fewer chills, plenty of dead spots and some genuinely bad acting. A peaceful and prosperous island community off the Oregon coast plans to honor its founding fathers with the unveiling of a statue. Not so fast, though. A boatload of vengeful 19th-century spirits rises from the sea and moves upon the place in a roiling, spectral, insidious fog that picks and chooses where it will seep, engulf and kill. The local priest (Adrian Hough) starts drinking and looking, well, haunted. Tom Welling as a fisherman and Maggie Grace (who wins the expressionless acting award) as his sometime girlfriend play the pretty but pallid leads who eventually deduce why the town is so chosen. Only Selma Blair as the island's chatty radio DJ brings zip to the proceedings. Contains stabbings, drownings, people on fire, pierced by glass shards, or just plain disintegrating. It also includes an understated sexual situation and some profanity. Area theaters.

-- Jane Horwitz

{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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and Universal Mall Theatres.

-- M.O.

G (R, 96 minutes) -- This contrived exercise in vanity and product placement is being billed as a modern-day, hip-hop version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby." Summer G (potentially wonderful Richard T. Jones) is a hip-hop producer who has amassed a fortune and moved into a seaside mansion. True to Fitzgerald's original story, G has moved there to win the affection of a social climber who is the love of his life, a woman named Sky Hightower (Chenoa Maxwell), wife of snobby scion Chip (Blair Underwood). Things go wrong, really wrong, meaning not that illusions are shattered or hearts are broken or people are killed -- although they are, they are and they are -- but that the plot is a shambles, the acting is atrocious and there is too much concern with getting Heineken and Ralph Lauren labels in the shot. Contains language, sexuality and brief violence. Marlow Theatres.

-- A.H.

{sstar} GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (PG-13, 93 minutes) -- George Clooney, who directed (as well as co-wrote), retells the classic story of crusading journalist Ed Murrow, who stood up to braying political bully Joe McCarthy. The stylizations of '50s TV drama, including black-and-white cinematography, are terrific. Clooney casts himself as Murrow's producer, Fred W. Friendly, but hardly registers. Neither do any of the other CBS minions, even though they're played by such names as Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson. Only two people register, David Strathairn as Murrow and Joe McCarthy as Joe McCarthy. (The red-baiting senator from Wisconsin is shown in archival footage, as opposed to being performed by an actor. It's effective for chronicling his charisma and recklessness.) Strathairn's Murrow dominates the movie with furious intelligence, guts, will and nobility. It's a pleasure to sit through something this brisk and mesmerizing. Contains psychological intensity and mild profanity. Area theaters.

-- S.H.

GOSPEL (PG, 105 minutes) -- David Taylor (Boris Kodjoe), a successful, egotistical R&B star, returns to his estranged father, the Rev. Fred Taylor (Clifton Powell), to find him suffering from a terminal illness. Not only that, David's longtime enemy Frank (Idris Elba) is poised to assume the bishop's duties. Should David return to his music life or deal with more urgent matters? Intended for gospel- and faith-appreciating audiences, this is a movie about the struggles for virtuousness in a world of temptation and compromise. It's also filled with some gospel numbers that should uplift its intended audience. Unfortunately, Rob Hardy's writing and directing don't soar quite as high as his spiritual intentions. Contains suggestive themes of sexuality and mild profanity. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED (PG, 120 minutes) -- The story was so strong, you wonder, why did the director, actor Bill Paxton, kill it to death and then wrap a four-iron around the corpse's neck with so many overwrought stratagems? Did we have to ride every putt into the hole courtesy of computer imagery in his re-creation of the 1913 U.S. Open? I felt like Slim Pickens at the end of "Dr. Strangelove"! Whether or not you agree that young amateur Francis Ouimet's playoff win in that event over two stalwart British pros, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, was the greatest game ever played, you have to say it was extraordinary. But Paxton can't let the superb performances (by Shia LaBeouf as Ouimet and Stephen Dillane as Vardon) carry the story. Everything is teased, tricked and forced; then the music is pumped up until finally it's not a sporting event, it's a battle between God's squads, Valhalla vs. Heaven or Nirvana vs. Paradise. Golf, played well, is too elegant a sport for bombast. Contains some brief cursing. Area theaters.

-- S.H.

{sstar} A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (R, 95 minutes) -- Like a Trojan horse, David Cronenberg's film has a hidden and powerful purpose. Seemingly a mainstream shoot-'em-up flick, in which the soft-spoken Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) defends his family against a horde of hoodlums, the movie's really about our Pavlovian conditioning to violence. Life seems permanently asleep in a Midwestern hamlet until two men barge into Stall's diner one night. When Tom tells them it's closing time, he finds himself staring at a drawn gun. Tom emerges the victor, but then the questions begin: How did this unassuming diner owner dispatch the gunmen so effortlessly? Why do more gangsters, led by scar-faced Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), keep coming for him? Ultimately, though, Cronenberg's drama isn't about western-style heroism; it's about why we're cheering when Tom plugs them dead. Contains extreme violence, sex scenes, nudity and profanity. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

IN HER SHOES (PG-13, 131 minutes) -- Curtis Hanson's movie about two sisters may be one better than "chick lit," but it's about two worse than drama. In a pedestrian display of opposites, Rose (Toni Colette) has a law firm career, money and smarts but few men. Party girl Maggie (Cameron Diaz) lands the guys but always ends up drunk, penniless and miserable on Rose's sofa. When Maggie casually steals Rose's smooth-operator boss, Jim (Richard Burgi), sisterly tension becomes official breakup. The women branch off into self-discovery subplots. Maggie buses to Florida to confront (and cadge money from) estranged grandmother Ella (Shirley MacLaine). Maggie discovers herself as a fashion consultant and, a closet dyslexic, learns to read. Rose quits her job, walks dogs and realizes former co-worker Simon (Mark Feuerstein) may be Mr. Right. When the sisters meet again, it's not a harmonic convergence. It's just the end of 131 minutes. Contains thematically disturbing material, language and some sexual content. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

{sstar} INNOCENT VOICES (R, 120 minutes) -- For most 11-year-olds, a 12th birthday is something to look forward to. For Chava, a boy growing up in rural El Salvador, it's a date with terror. In Luis Mandoki's tough and tender film, it's the 1980s and Chava's country is embroiled in a 12-year civil war. When boys turn 12, they're spirited away and pressed into the government army. If they return alive, they come back as hardened machines, their innocence lost. What makes the ordeal more acute for Chava (Carlos Padilla) is his natural empathy for the rebels, one of whom is his beloved uncle. Mandoki, director of such English-language movies as "Angel Eyes" and "Message in a Bottle," finds a satisfying blend of sentimentality and hard-core realism. You're so caught up in this story's cruelties and injustices -- he never lets the war become just a backdrop -- you crave sentimentality. Contains profanity and disturbing violence. In Spanish with subtitles. AMC Mazza Gallerie and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- D.T.

JUST LIKE HEAVEN (PG-13, 101 minutes) -- All that some filmgoers need to know about this romance is that it features three shots of Mark Ruffalo getting out of the shower. Ruffalo, who has won a following for his roles in such smart movies as "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Collateral," also has carved out a winning sideline as a scruffy, thoroughly charming romantic leading man, in this case the credible love interest for Reese Witherspoon. When David Abbott (Ruffalo) moves into a fantastic San Francisco apartment and is immediately told to move out by its former tenant -- Elizabeth Martinson (Witherspoon), who three months earlier was hit head-on by a truck -- their banter crackles with tart, unforced verve. In a bummer of a bait-and-switch, though, the whimsical romance undergoes a fatal shift in tone, raising troubling end-of-life issues more at home in the pronouncements of Tom DeLay than in a date movie. Contains some sexual content. Manassas Cinema.

-- A.H.

KIDS IN AMERICA (PG-13, 91 minutes) -- Those tapped into the gossip-sphere know about a girl-on-girl kiss between Nicole Richie and Caitlin Wachs, who plays Geena Davis's conservative daughter in television's "Commander in Chief." Richie (in her feature film debut) is a blip in this comedy about a group of disparate high school students who band together to protest their tyrannical, free-speech-opposing principal, Ms. Weller (played by Julie Bowen, formerly of television's "Ed"). Short on real teenage angst, the film is long on caricatures. Leading the pack is the brooding teenage stud Holden (played by "Everwood's" Gregory Smith), who organizes a rebellion after running afoul of Ms. Weller. Any teenager who has felt put-upon by an overbearing administrator will appreciate the outcome. The best moments in the film come from another kissing scene -- in which Holden and his girlfriend re-create great screen kisses, drawing on such teen classics as "Say Anything" and "Sixteen Candles." Contains sexual material, profanity and mature themes. Area theaters.

-- Jennifer Frey

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. P&G Old Greenbelt and Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

-- M.O.

{sstar} MAGNIFICENT DESOLATION: WALKING ON THE MOON 3D (Unrated, 41 minutes) -- The next best thing to going to the moon? Rocketing up there on the Imax screen sporting 3-D eyewear. Narrated by Tom Hanks (also a producer), this gee-wonderful, virtual visit to the arid orb uses ingenious technical sleight of hand to -- let's face it -- fake it beautifully. Contains nothing objectionable. National Air and Space Museum.

-- D.T.

{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. University Mall Theatres.

-- D.T.

MIRRORMASK (Unrated, 101 minutes) -- Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is a reluctant supporting act for her circus-performing parents and dreams of living in "the real world." When her mother (Gina McKee) takes ill, Helena finds herself lost in an alternative dream world full of strange beings. Accompanied by a masked juggler named Valentine (Jason Barry), Helena learns she must find a "mirror mask" to save her mother, the good queen of this shadow world. Dorothy -- excuse me, Helena -- also has to escape the clutches of the Queen of the Darkland (also played by McKee), who wants Helena as a surrogate for her missing daughter. The storyline is a monotonous spin-cycling of elements from "The Wizard of Oz," "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and other fairy tales in which an innocent girl faces up to an evil queen. Doppelganger dramas, too, are thrown in for bad measure. Contains mildly scary thematic elements. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- D.T.

{sstar} NORTH COUNTRY (R, 130 minutes) -- Charlize Theron, as a fictionalized version of the first woman to file a sexual harassment lawsuit in the United States, proves her acting chops yet again in an engrossing, well-crafted story of a grave injustice avenged. Based on a real-life 1984 case in which Lois Jenson sued her employer, a Minnesota mining company, this drama tells the story of Josey Aimes (Theron), a young woman who flees an abusive marriage with two kids in tow, arriving on her parents' doorstep in Minnesota's bleak Mesabi Iron Range. At the encouragement of a friend (Frances McDormand), Josey gets a well-paid job at one of the mines, which have only recently begun to hire women. There, the women are routinely groped, verbally abused and physically threatened, culminating, in Josey's case, in a near-rape on a pile of taconite. Director Niki Caro's depiction of the unspoken tribal codes that hold an insular community together and the severe price of transgressing them is observant, even elegant. Contains profanity, sequences involving sexual harassment, including violence and disturbing dialogue. Area theaters.

-- A.H.

PROOF (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- Where can movies go that theater can't? Close up, and that's where director John Madden parks his camera as Gwyneth Paltrow fights madness and grief in this adaptation of David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Catherine (Paltrow) is the daughter of a legendary math professor who lost his mind (Anthony Hopkins). Now he's dead, and Catherine is a mess: Does she have his gifts? Is she getting his disease? Is there proof? The story, adapted by Auburn and Rebecca Miller, retains the clever twists and entertaining, logic-driven dialogue of the original. For better and worse, "Proof" is now explicitly a star vehicle, and Paltrow will impress a lot of people. Yet by ruthlessly zooming in on Catherine's morbid obsessions, Madden makes Auburn's probing but lively stage material darker, more cloistered and less fun. Contains drug references, profanity and some sexual content. Area theaters.

-- Nelson Pressley

{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. University Mall Theatres.

-- M.O.

ROLL BOUNCE (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- If you were a junior-higher back in the day, the '70s and early '80s, then your idea of a hot Saturday night was hanging out at the local roller rink, and director Malcolm Lee captures that time, with the insult-a-thons, the preening and posturing of polyester-clad lotharios and the angst of young love. And for the most part, he got the cast right, with rapper Bow Wow as X, a young Chicago teenager with a jones for skating, and the sturdy Chi McBride as his widowed father (though supporting players Khleo Thomas, Rick Gonzalez and Jurnee Smollett prove much stronger, more natural actors than Bow Wow). What Lee doesn't pull off is the story: The film can't get its rhythms right, fluctuating wildly between comedy and pathos. Contains profanity and crude humor. Area theaters.

-- Teresa Wiltz

SEPARATE LIES (R, 85 minutes) -- In this psycho-emotional thriller, three members of the English upper class behave terribly well when they find themselves in a spot of trouble involving adultery, manslaughter and obstruction of justice. In Hollywood's hands, this would also feature steamy sex scenes, Oscar-worthy histrionics and someone avenging his honor with a gun. But the directorial debut by Julian Fellowes is all about restraint, good taste and discretion. Mendacity and avarice may form the toxic heart of the story, but they're nearly obscured by a civilized polish. "No life is perfect," says James Manning (Tom Wilkinson) by way of introduction, and as James, a high-powered London lawyer, kisses his pretty wife, Anne (Emily Watson), goodbye on their posh doorstep, it's clear that only carnage can ensue. And it does, in the person of one William Bule (Rupert Everett), whom James and Anne meet that weekend at their country house. Some very bad things happen, which in terms of movie logic are entirely predictable. Contains profanity and some sexual references. AMC Courthouse and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- A.H.

{sstar} SERENITY (PG-13, 119 minutes) -- When Joss Whedon's imaginative sci-fi series, "Firefly," was canceled, fans went into deep mourning. But thanks to their enthusiastic snapping up of the show's DVDs, Universal ponied up $40 million for "Serenity," a movie version that brings back Capt. Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his lovable, outer-space mercenaries. In the retelling, writer-director Whedon has boiled off a lot of the complexity and introduced a new character, the ruthless Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an agent for the evil Alliance, the Big-Brotherish federal government that runs Mal's galaxy. The result is a sort of amphetamine-fueled reprise, designed to give fans their sentimental jolt but also drum up new devotees. It's entertaining, especially because of Mal's colorful followers and Whedon's snappy, witty and often poignant pen. Contains sci-fi violence, sexual situations and profanity. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

STAY (R, 99 minutes) -- In Marc ("Finding Neverland") Forster's stylistic, ultimately empty film, we get a tip, a la "Carrie," from the background. As psychiatrist Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) walks along with troubled patient Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling), students pour out of an auditorium behind them in strange groupings: They're wearing matching clothing or carrying the same briefcases. Unfortunately, that's the movie's subtlest touch, and, even worse, the backgrounds tend to outmatch the characters or the story. Sam's personal mission to stop art student Henry from committing suicide on his 21st birthday is just grist for repeddled psychological artiness. Naomi Watts, who plays Sam's artist girlfriend, is, narratively speaking, pretty much a decorative fifth wheel. When the movie finally "explains" everything, there is no relief, just a visually beautiful, yet completely unfulfilling, conclusion on the Brooklyn Bridge. Remind yourself not to jump. It's only a movie. Contains violent images and an alarming car wreck. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE (PG, 76 MINUTES) -- The Corpse Bride is indeed dead. Sure, she's cute, but she has a wayward eye that pops out at inopportune moments, thanks to the talking maggot renting space in its socket. Not exactly marriage material, as Victor, voiced by Johnny Depp, discovers when he's dragged from the Land of the Living by the Corpse Bride (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter). Will true love -- with a living lass (voiced by Emily Watson) -- prevail over the Corpse Bride's ferocious determination? The movie is breathtaking viewing, shot in sumptuous shades of blacks, whites and grays, using not computerized means but older-school stop-motion animation. The film is tongue-in-cheek and wry, with kitschy musical numbers. But we can't quite figure out whom the film is intended for: Animated talking maggots does not a kiddie movie make. Contains scary images. Area theaters.

-- T.W.

TWO FOR THE MONEY (R, 132 minutes) -- Al Pacino has played the dark mentor so many times, he ought to get a kingmaker's award. So when you see Pacino playing betting-firm capo Walter Abrams and leading ex-football player Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey) into the greedy underworld of high-stakes sports gambling, well, you know to expect certain things. Walter introduces Brandon to his factory of speed-dial score gurus and expounds loquaciously about this hidden world of ecstatic highs and suicidal lows, where fortunes are won or lost over the quirky bounce of the pigskin on "Monday Night Football." Unfortunately, "Two for the Money," directed by D.J. Caruso, hedges on its lurid promise. Sure, it takes us to the dark side, but it does so with such a fat dose of equivocation, the fight between good and evil feels fixed in favor of Hollywood redemption. Contains perverse profanity, a sexual scene and some violence. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

THE UNTOLD STORY OF EMMETT LOUIS TILL (Unrated, 70 minutes) -- In this documentary about the notorious killing in Mississippi in 1955, we see how a grieving mother created a landmark moment in American history. The sheriff in the Delta county where Till was murdered, for supposedly whistling at a white woman at a country store, ordered the boy's mutilated corpse to be buried almost immediately, relatives recount in this fast-paced retelling. But then the call came from Chicago: Mamie Till Mobley, the 14-year-old's mother, ordered the pine box containing her son to be sent home. She then had it pried open and displayed what was inside to all and sundry. The two killers were acquitted by an all-white jury in nothing flat. This is powerful, and often-told, material. But for a documentary that bills itself as "untold," director Kevin Beauchamp never makes clear what he's telling that is new. You leave the theater feeling moved by a mother's courage, sickened by the crime and a little frustrated. Contains some disturbing images, racially offensive terms (in older footage) and explicit discussions of violence. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Neely Tucker

WAITING (R, 93 minutes) -- This teen gross-out comedy is a puerile, pointless piece of work in which a group of young waiters and waitresses engages in a collective obsession with genitalia, bodily excretions, sexual put-downs and free-floating misanthropy. Recycling humor from "American Pie" and the Farrelly brothers' oeuvre to derivative excess, "Waiting" is a proud member of the rank and vile, a sex comedy for people who found "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" too philosophically arcane to comprehend. The movie follows a day in the life of Shenanigan's, a strip-mall family franchise. A waiter named Monty (Ryan Reynolds, epitomizing unctuous insincerity) trains a newcomer named Mitch (John Francis Daley) and along the way introduces the newbie to the dirty secrets of restaurant culture. Set pieces include a nightmare scenario of what vindictive waiters do with food that is sent back. Contains strong, crude and sexual humor; pervasive profanity and some drug use. Area theaters.

-- A.H.

{sstar} WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (G, 85 minutes) -- Directed by animators Nick Park and Steve Box, the feature film debut of Wallace and Gromit opens with the dotty English inventor and his quietly superior dog working at yet another ingenious business called Anti-Pesto, which humanely removes four-legged creatures from their town's vegetable gardens. The stakes are unusually high, as the villagers -- including canine Gromit -- are lovingly preparing their produce to compete in the annual vegetable growing contest. Things are just swell until one of Wallace's schemes -- involving a gizmo that "extracts unlovely thoughts and desires" -- goes awry, and the gardens are soon being vandalized by the King Kong of rabbits. Yes, the clay duo have gone a bit high-tech -- Park and Box reportedly used hundreds of computerized effects in this film -- but they're still the same old W&G, right down to the barely discernable thumbprints on their faces. Gromit, who might be the most expressive silent movie star since Buster Keaton, is pure magic. Contains nothing objectionable. Area theaters.

-- A.H.

{sstar} THE WAR WITHIN (Unrated, 90 minutes) -- Toward the end of this unsettling film, a brown man with a Muslim name sits in a car, contemplating a bridge leading to a city where twin towers once pierced the sky. In a nasty bit of racial profiling, he's quickly arrested, but they've got nothing on him, so they let him go. The irony: Hassan, the man in the car, really is up to no good. Therein lies the power of this taut tale of terrorism and the fundamentalist ties that bind. Hassan believes he is doing God's work. He didn't start out this way. As a student in Paris, Hassan (Ayad Akhtar) is kidnapped by American intelligence officials for suspected terrorist activities. After being tortured, Hassan, an avowed secularist, becomes radicalized. Soon, he's heading to America, ready to make jihad. But he is forced to reconsider his commitment as he bonds with a childhood friend and his family, who are enjoying the good life New Jersey. The film teases out complex and uncomfortable questions about faith and the impact of American actions on the rest of the world. Contains images of violence and torture, and adult themes. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- T.W.

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

-- D.T.

WILD SAFARI 3D (Unrated, 45 minutes) -- Untrue to its name, this Imax tour of some of the most beautiful parks and game preserves in South Africa is pretty tame, harmless but surprisingly thrill-free. It takes viewers on a photographic hunt for Africa's "Big Five." And filmmaker Ben Stassen bags his elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos and cape buffalo, along with a few zebras, giraffes and sundry antelopes thrown in for good measure. Still, the 3D that "Wild Safari" was filmed in proves to be more of a distraction than a benefit in a movie that, while photographed with the same amazing detail and intimacy that has made "March of the Penguins" such a hit, never reaches out to grab viewers, literally or figuratively. Contains a very brief shot of animals doing what comes natural and brief carcass eating. National Museum of Natural History.

-- A.H.

Repertory

AFI SILVER THEATRE -- "Meetings With Remarkable Men," Sunday at 11. 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. 202-885-5950.

AIR AND SPACE Museum/Downtown -- At the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater: "Fighter Pilot," daily at 11:25, 1:25 and 4. "Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon (3D)," daily at 10:25, 12:25, 3 and 5. "To Fly!," daily at 2:25. At the Albert Einstein Planetarium: "Infinity Express," Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday at 10:30, 11, 11:30, 12, 12:30, 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, 4, 4:30 and 5; Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday at 10:30, 11, 11:30, 12, 12:30, 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, 4 and 4:30. "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 and 4. "Space Station," daily at noon, 3 and 5. "To Fly!," daily at 2. 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly. 202-357-2700.

ALDEN THEATRE -- "Israel Today," Wednesday at 8. McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave. 202-432-7328.

AMERICAN CITY DINER -- "Diner," Friday at 8. "Breakfast at Tiffany's," Saturday at 8. "Sabrina," Sunday at 8. "The Exorcist," Monday at 8. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

ARLINGTON PLANETARIUM -- "Our Place in Space," Friday and Saturday at 7:30; Sunday at 1:30 and 3. 1426 N. Quincy St., Arlington. 703-228-6070.

BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF ART -- "Frenzy," Friday at 8. BMA Auditorium, 10 Art Museum Dr., Baltimore. 410-396-7100.

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

CINEMA ART BETHESDA -- "Facing Windows," Sunday at 10. Landmark's Bethesda Row Theatre, 7235 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda. 301-365-3679.

CINEMA FRANCAIS A MOUNT Vernon -- "Les Choristes," Sunday at 5. Free. George Washington University's Mount Vernon Campus, Eckles Library Auditorium, 2100 Foxhall Rd. NW. 202-242-6673.

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.

FILMS ON THE HILL -- "The Mummy" and "The Black Cat," Saturday at 7. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh St. SE. 202-547-6839.

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

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Footsteps in the Fog," Friday at 7. "Sweet Love, Bitter," Monday at 7. "The Light of Faith," Tuesday at 7. "The Wrong Box," Thursday at 7. Free. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

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

NATIONAL ARCHIVES -- documentary shorts, Friday at noon. William G. McGowan Theater, Constitution Avenue between Seventh and Ninth streets NW. 202-501-5000.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Imagining America: Icons of 20th-Century American Art," Saturday at 2. "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Sunday at 4:30. "Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time," Wednesday-Thursday at 12:30. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN Art -- "Ndeysaan (The Price of Forgiveness)," Sunday at 2. Free. Ripley Center's Lecture Hall, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. 202-357-4600.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL History -- Johnson Imax Theater: "Into the Deep (3D)," Friday-Saturday at 10:20, 12:10, 2, 3:50 and 6:40; Sunday-Thursday at 10:20, 12:10, 2 and 3:50. "Wild Safari: A South African Adventure (3D)," Friday-Saturday at 11:10, 1, 2:50, 4:40, 5:40 and 7:30; Sunday-Thursday at 11:10, 1, 2:50 and 4:40. Baird Auditorium: "Northern Lights: The Ethereal Aurora Borealis," lecture and film, Sunday at 4:30. 10th and Constitution NW. 202-633-7400.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WOMEN IN The Arts -- "Lady of the Night," Tuesday at 7. 1250 New York Ave. NW. 202-783-7370.

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

RETURNED PEACE CORPS Volunteers Film Festival -- Friday: "John Kennedy Speaks to Peace Corps Volunteers" at 4:45. "Jimi Sir" at 5. "Mujaan" at 6. "Daughters and Sons" at 7. "I'll Bring My Lobster" at 7:30. "Mitarusu Sapukai" at 8. "Bridges Over Cultures" at 8:30. Saturday: "John Kennedy Speaks to Peace Corps Volunteers" at 2. "Jimi Sir" at 2:30. "Giving Back: The Return of the Native" at 3:30. "Mujaan" at 4:30. "I'll Bring My Lobster" at 5:30. "Bridges Over Cultures" at 6. "Daughters and Sons" at 6:45. "Mitarusu Sapukai" at 7:15. "Is It Right to Be Always Right?" at 7:45. "We Are All Smith Islanders" at 8. DC Cares building, 1725 I St. NW. 703-475-3577 or www.rpcvfilms.com.

TOWSON UNIVERSITY -- "Rope," Monday at 7:30. Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium, 8000 York Rd., Towson. 410-704-2787.