Escape From Planet Earth (PG). This animated interplanetary adventure should work best for kids 6 and older. It ranks well below the first tier of animated films we see nowadays, but it tells a fairly engrossing tale. Scorch Supernova is a muscle-bound celebrity astronaut on the planet of Baab. He flies off to rescue beings held captive or stranded around the universe. His brainy brother Gary works at Mission Control. They have a falling out over whether Scorch should fly solo to a distress call from the Dark Planet, a.k.a. Earth. Scorch heads to Earth anyway, and the military tranquilizes and takes him captive, under evil General Shanker. Gary goes to rescue Scorch and also gets captured.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Several scenes show Scorch and Gary in danger — frozen in cylinders or nearly falling to their deaths from space. Some of the interplanetary creatures play to American ethnic stereotypes.
Snitch. A businessman goes undercover in the world of drugs to save his relatively innocent son from a “mandatory minimum” prison sentence. “Snitch” is too intense and violent for middle-schoolers. John Matthews runs a good construction business. His teenage son Jason naively accepts delivery of a large bag of illicit drugs from a “friend.” DEA agents pounce as soon as the package arrives. Because of “mandatory minimum” drug laws, Jason faces 10 to 30 years in prison unless he gives up the names of other dealers. But he doesn’t know any. After the politically ambitious U.S. attorney explains the legal situation to John, he takes it on himself to go undercover and expose a drug dealer in return for a reduction in Jason’s sentence.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Action scenes include a couple of heavy gun battles but without a lot of blood or graphic injuries. It’s strongly implied by bruises and stitches on his face that Jason undergoes beatings and perhaps worse in jail. Families are shown at risk. The script includes mid-range profanity. Themes about divorce and how it can alienate children figure prominently.
Safe Haven. Teen fans of romance novels will nestle right into this predictable story. Moments of mostly implied violence occasionally cut into the love story, but not in ways that make the film too intense for middle-schoolers. At the start, we see a young woman running from one house and seeking shelter at a neighbor’s. The next thing we know, she boards a bus heading south out of Boston. We also learn that a police officer named Tierney is trying to find her. She disembarks at a small coastal town in the Carolinas and decides to stay. She changes her name to Katie, gets a job at the local cafe, rents a cabin and befriends a little girl whose dad, Alex, runs the general store. Alex is a widower who is instantly smitten. He tries to charm Katie with offers of neighborly help, but she’s wary.
The bottom line: A couple of flashbacks imply the possibility of murder and, later in the film, drunken spousal abuse. During the climactic confrontation at the end, lethal gunshots occur. At another point, a child falls off a dock and must be rescued. Tierney seems more and more unhinged and drunk. As Alex and Katie’s relationship warms up, they spend the night together, but aside from much kissing and removing of outer garments, nothing is shown.
Beautiful Creatures. Narrated by Ethan, a human who loves a teenage girl from a family of witches, the film unfolds in a contemporary Southern town caught in a time warp of big cars and banned books. Ethan, a motherless teen who loves books, can’t wait to go to college and break loose. He finds instant kinship with Lena Duchannes, the smart and sullen new girl at school. Parentless herself, she has come to live with her rich uncle, Macon Ravenwood. Lena will turn 16 in a few weeks and must go through a ceremony to learn whether she will use her powers for good or evil.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The acts of witchcraft involve a lot of special effects and lightning, but are not graphic. The film includes occasional profanity and one implied teen sexual situation. Nothing explicit occurs, but Ethan and Lena kiss and then drop out of camera view. The film features a potentially lethal shooting. Without preaching, the film says that good or evil is always a choice.
A Good Day to Die Hard. As long as action-movie fans 17 and older don’t require a story to make sense, they can appreciate the vehicular insanity, gun battles and explosions in this deafening and unnecessary sequel. Bruce Willis returns as police officer John McClane. He learns that his long-estranged son, Jack, is under arrest in Moscow, accused of assassinating a gangster. McClane discovers that Jack is a CIA agent, trying to salvage a quickly unraveling plan to spirit a jailed Russian billionaire named Komarov out of the country. Komarov has access to weapons-grade nuclear material and has grown a conscience about it. Needless to say, starting with massive explosions at the courthouse where Komarov is on trial, all is not what it seems. Grudgingly, Jack lets his father in on the action.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The movie consists mostly of eardrum-shattering gun battles and explosions and road-destroying, metal-shearing car chases and crashes. In all of this, the film depicts a few injured bystanders, but in reality the sort of violence they’re imagining would kill or injure many. Wounds are usually less than graphic. The dialogue includes strong profanity.
Horwitz is a freelance writer. Find her past reviews at the On Parenting page.