The animation has an unlovely plastic look and the dialogue has no between-the-lines nuance, but “Norm of the North” has its share of easy laughs amid messages about climate change and exploitation of wilderness. Kids 6 and older will like the hero, a talking polar bear named Norm (voiced by Rob Schneider), his furry lemming pals and their slapstick hijinks. Norm has learned language from human visitors and lost his taste for killing and eating seals. But his easygoing view of humans changes when he sees that an unscrupulous New York developer, Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong), intends to airlift prefab homes into Norm’s wilderness and sell them. Norm confers with a wise seagull and hitches a boat ride to New York, hoping that a talking polar bear can persuade the humans to stop. He auditions to play the bear in Mr. Greene’s commercial (they think he’s an actor in a bear suit), which gets him into the guy’s headquarters. Norm finds allies, including Mr. Greene’s marketing executive and her daughter, but Mr. Greene fights back. (93 minutes)
THE BOTTOM LINE: Everything’s played for laughs, but there are gags about big animals eating smaller ones. And the cute lemmings get repeatedly squished, then pop back into shape. The frequent toilet humor mostly involves said lemmings, too. The script includes a few crass words and a “coming out” gag designed to amuse parents. There is sadness over a presumed death, but all is well.
Not nearly as big a hoot as the first film — which was no masterpiece, just knock-down, drag-out silly — this sequel offers the same buddy-movie shtick. It’s just that the distance between laughs can seem, well, distant. Some parents may view “Ride Along 2” as too profane and full of sexual innuendo, even within its PG-13 limits, for middle-schoolers. The violence is loud and sometimes lethal but largely bloodless. A year has passed, and Ben (Kevin Hart) has become a rookie police officer. Still the same manic, motor-mouth klutz, he tags along with James (Ice Cube), a homicide detective and the brother of his fiancée, Angela (Tika Sumpter). Ben ruins stakeouts, foments chaos and drives his soon-to-be brother-in-law nuts. With Ben’s wedding days away, he and James travel to Miami on a case. A criminal hacker (Ken Jeong) leads them to a murderous drug kingpin (Benjamin Bratt).
THE BOTTOM LINE: The PG-13 rating gets pushed to its limits: lethal but bloodless gunplay; wildly destructive car chases; and mid-range profanity including the S-word and mild sexual slang, plus a partially muffled F-word. The sexual innuendo is strong but comic, with Jeong’s character interrupted as he’s about to engage in sex play online, and with Ben’s fiancée clad seductively in his uniform. Many women appear wearing scant clothing.
About halfway through, this potentially intriguing teen-centric sci-fi thriller goes south. It might still give high-schoolers a decent chill early on, with its grim depiction of Earth taken over by a mysterious alien invasion that causes humans to start turning on one another. But they’ll get the giggles later on, when it melts into a mushy, wholly predictable teen romance. Meanwhile, the level of violence and nightmarish situations — child and teen characters brainwashed and forced into battle with the aliens — make the movie an iffy choice for middle-schoolers. It’s clear that “The 5th Wave” (based on the first novel in a trilogy by Rick Yancey) aims to tap into the audiences for “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” But it’s just “Hunger Games” or “Divergent”-lite. Chloë Grace Moretz plays the pouty heroine, Cassie, who recounts how an alien spacecraft appeared above her Ohio town and initiated worldwide destruction — earthquakes, floods, avian flu — that devastated humanity. With her parents dead and her little brother, Sam, bused off by the Army, Cassie sets out to find Sam, armed and on her own. But she gets shot and her mysterious rescuer, handsome Evan (Alex Roe), seems to have inside information. Meanwhile, her secret high-school crush, Ben (Nick Robinson) has been conscripted to fight aliens and nicknamed Zombie. Yeah, I know. (107 minutes)
THE BOTTOM LINE: The level of violence is startlingly intense, with point-blank shootings and scenes depicting many dead bodies — hundreds, in one case — mowed down in an indoor gun battle (heard but not seen), or by flying drones. Blood and graphic wounds are rare, hence the PG-13, but there’s blood when Cassie kills someone who turns out to be unarmed and later when she gets shot and stitched up. There is an implied, nongraphic teen sexual situation. The script includes rare use of the F-word and several S-words.
A respectably creepy psychological thriller, “The Forest” may delve too deeply into the topics of suicide, delusion and paranoia for middle-schoolers to handle. But high-schoolers may like its moodiness and its subtle, believably shivery visual style. Sara (Natalie Dormer) fears that her twin sister, Jess, who has been teaching school in Japan, may have gone hiking in the Aokigahara forest at the foot of Mount Fuji with the intention of committing suicide, something of a sad tradition there. With a freelance journalist and a local guide, Sara enters the dense woods. The guide warns her that the forest can cause people to become paranoid, to hallucinate and to do bad things. But Sara finds her sister’s tent and insists on staying after dark to wait for Jess. The reporter stays with her. The guide’s warnings prove right. (94 minutes)
THE BOTTOM LINE: Moments of violence show a good bit of blood and death for a PG-13, including a stabbing and repeated flashback images of a child seeing her dead parents in pools of blood — perhaps a double murder or a murder-suicide. The spooky imagery includes lurking figures with decomposing faces; ancient crones grabbing at Sara; a body hanging from a tree; and weird noises. The script includes occasional mild profanity.
This most excellent new “Star Wars” episode glows with excitement and nostalgia in equal measure and has more than enough action, humor and richly drawn characters to charm teens and most tweens. Director J.J. Abrams keeps things moving, whooshing from place to place like an old Saturday morning serial. “The Force Awakens” picks up 30 years after “Return of the Jedi” ended. The old Empire has evolved into the First Order, an even worse planet-vaporizing reich ruled by Supreme Leader Snoke, General Hux and the Vader-esque Kylo Ren. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are barely remembered rebel heroes; Princess Leia is a general in the struggling resistance. The promising newbies include Rey, a tough loner who lost her family; a stormtrooper, Finn, who deserts the First Order; and a pilot for the resistance, Poe Dameron, and his roly-poly droid, BB-8. Han Solo and Chewbacca rejoin the fight. There are big revelations. The war between the Force and the Dark Side rages on. (135 minutes)
THE BOTTOM LINE: Most of the aerial dogfights and hand-held gun battles show zero gore, but there are at least two bloodless but lethal runnings-through with lightsabers. The script contains rare mild profanity. Themes of loss weave throughout.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.