The Legend of Zorro (PG, 130 minutes)
Surprisingly violent for a PG, this sequel is nevertheless an exuberant, expansive, humorous and lavish popcorn cruncher. Yet it is too full of fatal-seeming mayhem to be appropriate for most preteens (or even younger kids). From the opening scene, the movie echoes with gunfire, booms with huge explosions (one set off deliberately to kill a man), clangs with swordplay, crunches with skull-slamming fights, grunts with dagger thrusts and grins at a variety of other implements used by villains who make vicious threats and don't fight fair. At other moments, we see a runaway train, an infant in danger of burning alive, two characters shot at point-blank range and an older child in jeopardy during action sequences and as a hostage. The violence draws little screen blood, except for a bad guy spitting out broken teeth, but it is intense. One villain grumbles crude slurs about "inferior races," and the movie includes mild sexual innuendo and implied male nudity during a steam bath/brandy/poker sequence with our Z-man hero (Antonio Banderas) and his pals.
Set in 1850, this sequel to 1998's "The Mask of Zorro" (PG-13! We rest our case) finds Alejandro (Banderas) and Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) married with a 10-year-old son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso), a spirited boy who has no idea his Popi is Zorro, the masked fighter of evil. Unable to resolve their differences over whether Alejandro should quit Zorro-ing for his family, the couple split up. Yet a new web of intrigue entangles both and requires all their skills: California is about to become a state; a mysterious Frenchman (Rufus Sewell) courts Elena and appears to be part of a plot to subvert American power with a weapon of mass destruction. The film's historical context seems as whimsical as the Spanish and French accents of the non-Latino cast members.
6 and Older
"Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" (G). Riotous, very British stop-motion delight about cheese-loving inventor Wallace (voice of Peter Sallis) and his smarter, silent dog, Gromit; W&G guard neighbors' vegetable gardens against rabbits (humanely), but find trouble when a huge Were-Rabbit threatens to spoil Lady Tottington's (Helena Bonham Carter) giant vegetable competition; her suitor, Victor (Ralph Fiennes), wants to shoot all bunnies. Mild comic sexual innuendo younger kids won't get; British slang for derriere ("arse"); a bare tush; tots could jump at 'toonish mayhem.
8 and Older
"Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story" (PG). Pleasant, if undistinguished film (loosely based on life of a real racehorse) about a girl (Dakota Fanning) in Kentucky horse country who persuades her dad (Kurt Russell), an embittered, unemployed horse trainer, to rescue a filly from death after she breaks a leg; she urges him and granddad (Kris Kristofferson), who are estranged, to rehabilitate and race her. Early scenes showing filly breaking her leg (harrowing but not graphic), nearly being put down; subtle ethnic slurs; mild sexual innuendo; barnyard humor.
"Kids in America." Brave, brainy, nicely acted, but narratively messy comedy (based on real events) about high schoolers who, encouraged by a stand-up teacher (Malik Yoba), organize protests against their politically ambitious, snarky principal (Julie Bowen), who censors, suspends, harasses kids who agitate for safe sex and sex education by taping packaged condoms to their clothes, are openly gay or defy her in other ways. Crude sexual innuendo for the rating -- "sliding into third" as sexual slang, joke about public restroom liaisons; fake suicide; alcoholic parent; profanity; talk of clitoral mutilation in Africa. High schoolers.
"The Fog." Pale, unscary, lamely acted remake of John Carpenter's R-rated 1980 film about an island off Oregon coast where townsfolk are visited by vengeful 19th-century ghosts traveling in a roiling fog; Selma Blair adds needed zip as a radio DJ. Flashback images show people on fire, being shot, drowning; other victims get a knife in the head, piercing by glass shards, outright disintegration -- all bloodless; child in jeopardy; corpses reanimate; sexual innuendo; muted sexual tryst in shower, implied nudity; rare profanity. Teenagers.
"Elizabethtown." Writer-director Cameron Crowe's sentimentalized adult coming-of-age tale has nice moments, but drowns in whimsy; pallid Orlando Bloom as sports shoe designer who loses his job and learns of his dad's death on same day; Kirsten Dunst in film-saving turn as charming, eccentric flight attendant who sets out to win his heart as he navigates his dad's relatives in Elizabethtown, Ky.; Susan Sarandon as his mom, who does stand-up comedy at the memorial celebration (whimsy overdose); comically tinged suicide theme; gently implied overnight tryst; one crude sexual innuendo; occasional profanity; drinking. Most teenagers.
"Prime." Meryl Streep has fun with the Jewish earth mother stereotype as a psychotherapist who gets tied in knots trying (and failing) NOT to meddle when she discovers her boyish 23-year-old son (Bryan Greenberg) is having a passionate affair with her newly divorced 37-year-old patient (Uma Thurman); nothing subtle about this Boomer comedy, but it is well acted and enjoyable and a celebration of family and tradition. Explicit discussion of sex and sex organs in therapist's office; implied sexual situations; other milder sexual innuendo; implied one-night stand; profanity; drinking; smoking. Not for middle schoolers.
"Stay." Ultra-stylized psychological thriller, designed to a self-conscious fare-thee-well, still intrigues with tale of psychiatrist's (Ewan McGregor) surreal experience treating a disturbed art student (Ryan Gosling) who says he'll commit suicide; the doctor's girlfriend (Naomi Watts), also an artist, once attempted suicide, which haunts him as he begins to share his patient's flashbacks and hallucinations. Strong profanity; sexual innuendo; bikini-clad women dancing suggestively; gun brandished; violent car crash; drinking. High schoolers.
"North Country." Charlize Theron in beautifully acted -- if long and a bit melodramatic -- gritty, fact-based saga about Josey, a single mom working in a Minnesota iron mine circa 1989 who decides to fight sexual harassment. Crude, obscenely misogynistic sexualized language; profanity, homophobic slurs; flashback to rape of teenage girl -- not graphic for an R, but intense; men (including her abusive estranged husband in early scenes) rough up and threaten Josey sexually; vicious jokes with feces, a rubber penis; non-graphic gynecological exam. Adult and teen characters drink, smoke, use pot. Eye-opener for 16 and older.
"Doom." Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as leader of a Marine squad in gory but rather dull futuristic thriller based on "Doom" video games about research station on Mars where a genetic experiment has gone bad; much gunplay in dark corridors, but a nice flutter near the end using game-player point-of-view; bloody attacks by grossly mutant monsters; limbs ripped or shot off; crazed man tears his ear off; slaughtered lab animals; suicide; graphic autopsy; profanity; mild sexual innuendo about strip searches, semi-nude poster of a woman; toilet humor; cigarettes; drug use. Violence with live actors on a big screen feels different than a video game. 16 and older.