Here Comes the Boom (PG). A weak and predictable family comedy, “Boom” goes for every boneheaded gag and bad-teacher stereotype. Even so, kids 10 and older will have fun watching star Kevin James get slammed. Scott is a burned-out high school biology teacher. But he gets inspired when he learns that the music program will be shut down and that Marty, the mild-mannered music teacher, will lose his job. A former high school wrestler, Scott finds out he can earn thousands just for being defeated in a mixed martial arts match. Soon Scott is grappling for music education and love.
THE BOTTOM LINE: There is major mayhem in the fight cages, and some of it looks painful. Scott projectile vomits in the ring. There’s discussion about Marty’s 48-year-old wife getting pregnant. The film features crude language, mild sexual innuendo and comic stereotypes of immigrants.
Frankenweenie (PG). This deliciously dark feature could transfix many kids 10 and older who like scary stuff, but it also could petrify some. Young Victor Frankenstein is a quiet, friendless science whiz. When his beloved dog, Sparky, is killed by a car, Victor digs him up, stitches him back together and brings him back to life. Victor tries to keep his experiment a secret, but soon, less-talented classmates hear of it and start experimenting on other dead animals.
The bottom line: Parents really need to think about what their own children can handle on a big screen and in 3-D. When dead animals are transformed, they emerge as monsters and terrorize the town. The adults react like a mob.
Alex Cross. This film is far too graphic and violent for middle-schoolers. Even high-schoolers may have to look away at times, though perhaps they’ll get interested in the cops-vs.-pschopath story. They’ll have to overlook the thuddingly corny script. Cross is thinking of joining the FBI. Meanwhile, he and his partner, Tommy, investigate a gruesome multiple murder. The cops quickly home in on a tattooed and sinewy psychopath assassin. Eager to checkmate Alex Cross, the killer brings tragedy down on the detective. Cross and Tommy resolve to get vengeance and justice.
THE BOTTOM LINE: It is nothing short of amazing that “Alex Cross” has a PG-13 rating. It includes scenes of strongly implied torture. A kinky though nongraphic sexual situation revolves around sadomasochism and turns lethal. Multiple murders are shown in a flashback with pointblank shootings. They are violent, not hugely bloody. The film includes thunderous shootouts, car chases, and explosions. The dialogue includes occasional mild-to-midrange profanity.
Tai Chi Zero. The first of a projected trilogy, this fun martial-arts epic follows the efforts of a kung fu prodigy named Lu Chan to master the energy-harnessing technique of tai chi. An ugly bump on his head, when struck, turns Lu Chan into a whirling dervish of feet and fists, but every time he fights he gets weaker. When Lu Chan’s mentor recommends that he switch to tai chi, Lu Chan travels to a remote village to learn it, only to find that the villagers don’t want to teach him. There are some good lessons here about stick-to-itiveness and practice.
The bottom line: Despite a battle scene and a couple of non-graphic deaths, most of the martial-arts action is at the low end of the PG-13 scale. Teenage fans of video games will probably enjoy the cartoonish way the action is filmed. The movie is also packed with cameos by celebrities from Hong Kong cinema, many of whom will be familiar only to older viewers.
Middle of Nowhere. This is the sort of character-driven drama that will appeal more to cinema buffs 17 and older. Acting students could learn a lot from the subtle performances here under writer-director Ava DuVernay. Ruby is a hardworking nurse. She gave up medical school in order to work double shifts while her husband serves a prison term for gunrunning. It takes a painful confrontation with her mother, a revealing parole hearing and a budding romance with a bus driver before Ruby steps out of the prison she’s created for herself.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The script includes crude language and a few instances of strong profanity. The prison scenes are grim. In flashbacks we see the arrest, which is also nonviolent. Ruby and Brian spend an implied night together, but other than steamy kissing, dancing and cuddling, no sexual situation is really shown. There are also romantic flashbacks of her earlier life with her husband.
Argo. The fact-based story in “Argo” makes for a crackerjack thriller. The brains, wit and tension will keep high-schoolers 16 and older as well as college film buffs totally engaged and impart a slice of history along the way. Six American foreign service personnel escaped the U.S. Embassy in Tehran just as revolutionaries took it over in 1979. They took refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s home, but it wasn’t safe. CIA agent Tony Mendez invents a sci-fi movie project called “Argo,” based on an actual script. Mendez then travels to Tehran under the guise of scouting locations. We know how it turns out, but the plan is risky, creating a heightened sense of tension.
The bottom line: The script is riddled with strong profanity. One scene shows Iranian revolutionaries shooting a man in the street. Scenes depicting angry mobs and armed revolutionary guards bristle with tension. Both real and reenacted footage of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy is upsetting to watch.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.
Michael O’Sullivan contributed to this report.