In 2004, “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” was a surprise slice of adorableness, funny and uncomplicated. This new film, in 3-D of course, is droll for the first 10 minutes or so, but then the laughter slows and the plot thickens like old tartar sauce. Kids 6 and older will have fun watching the ever-cheerful sponge and his pals from the TV show, but this feature fizzles when it should bubble. The funniest and most inventive moments are live-action sequences with Antonio Banderas as the pirate Burger-Beard. He reads a picture book about SpongeBob to a coterie of sea gulls, then tries to rewrite it. Down in the undersea haven of Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob still cooks the Krabby Patties at the Krusty Krab eatery. When Mr. Krab’s secret recipe goes missing, the cooking of patties ceases. Deprived of their fast food, the locals go berserk and trash the town. Everyone except SpongeBob suspects Mr. Krab’s rival, Plankton. SpongeBob and Plankton go on land in search of the villain. (93 minutes)
THE BOTTOM LINE: For a movie aimed at little kids, “Sponge Out of Water” uses a lot of war imagery and even implied torture. Mind you, the action is always comic and the ammo consists of condiments, but the imagery is still violent.
A sports saga that defies the limits of its genre with subtlety, heart and a strong sense of place, “McFarland, USA” is a little gem. (Kids might like an early film by the same director, Niki Caro: “Whale Rider,” PG-13, 2002.) Thoughtful kids 10 and older should find this story hugely involving and an eye-opener about a pocket of the country they may not be aware of. Based in part on real events and people, the film is set in McFarland, Calif., an impoverished agricultural town populated by Latino workers who pick produce. It is 1987. A new PE teacher and assistant football coach, Jim White (Kevin Costner at his best), comes to McFarland’s high school after losing his last job for blowing up at a player. White and his wife and two daughters feel alienated and a little scared in this poor Latino town. As the film unfolds, the family absorbs the culture and makes friends. White sees running talent among the boys in his PE class and gradually turns them into a prize-winning cross-country track team — a fact that alters their futures. The best part of the film is watching the kids teach White about their lives, as when he picks cabbages with them — something the boys do every day before and after school. Critiques of the movie as one more “white savior” story are not wholly wrong, but not wholly fair, either. It’s about a teacher and students who save one another. (128 minutes)
THE BOTTOM LINE: There is a minor scuffle and a mere threat of gang violence that does not play out onscreen. One character has a bloody bandage on his stomach, seemingly from a knife wound, but no one dies. In the prologue, Jim throws something at a player in his previous job and the boy gets a bloody scratch on his face. The dialogue includes mild ethnic slurs and insults but little or no profanity.
A brainy high school senior both narrates and lives through this irreverent, amusing tale about the day she realized she was the opposite of “hot” and how it nearly wrecked her life. Loosely based on the 2010 novel by Kody Keplinger, “The DUFF” is a tad too profane and sexually knowing for middle-schoolers. The twin morals of the story — it’s what’s inside that counts and celebrate your weirdness — are nothing new, and the plot is a cliche complete with a mean girl (Bella Thorne) and crossed romantic vibes. But “The DUFF” rises above all that with crackling performances and wit. Bianca (Mae Whitman) is short, shlumpy and too sarcastic to flirt. Her gorgeous best friends drag her to every party, but she hates it. Wesley (Robbie Amell), a hunky-but-nice jock who has been Bianca’s neighbor since childhood, informs her that she is a classic DUFF, i.e. the Designated Ugly Fat Friend whom hot girls keep around as ego-boosters. Hurt and furious, Bianca un-friends her besties and gets Wesley to teach her how to dress and flirt in return for tutoring him in chemistry. Eventually she learns how better to read people’s hearts and where her own heart lies. (104 minutes)
THE BOTTOM LINE: It’s not as profane as the book, but the dialogue features midrange profanity and barnyard epithets, including the S-word, the B-word and a single F-word used by an adult. It is strongly implied, but not shown, that the high-schoolers are sexually active. At parties they sip what could be beer. There are bawdy references to private parts.
At first blush, “The Last Five Years,” a totally sung-through (i.e. little or no dialogue) musical about the disintegration of a young marriage, might not have a huge appeal for high-schoolers. (It’s too sexually charged for some middle-schoolers.) Those who prefer pop-rock shows such as “Wicked” may be underwhelmed by a two-character musical, and those who want screen romances to be cheery may be crestfallen. But if they give the film a chance, their emotional and musical appreciation of it could surprise them. The show has been gracefully adapted from Jason Robert Brown’s 2002 off-Broadway hit. Anna Kendrick breaks your heart as Cathy, a struggling actress in Manhattan, who falls for Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), a brash novelist on the brink of success. They’re young and in love, but their careers don’t move at equal speeds. Their story, sung in solos and duets, unfolds on contrasting timelines. Cathy’s begins with their breakup and travels back to the giddy days of falling in love. Jamie’s begins with that and rolls ahead to the breakup. Teens may find the complex songs and offbeat storytelling a reasonably cool combo. (94 minutes)
THE BOTTOM LINE: The two characters engage in sexual friskiness and a few steamy moments, but none of it is truly graphic. An adulterous tryst in partial undress includes a sexually frank lyric. The songs also feature midrange profanity and a rare F-word. Characters drink.
Too profane and violent for many viewers younger than 17, this overlong but deliciously droll spy flick pokes fun and pays tribute to the James Bond movies and their imitators. The tailored suits, the killer gadgets and the dry martinis all get cleverly sent up, but the Bond-style casual sex a little less so — just one jokey situation. Suave gentlemen from a super-secret spy agency in London have been foiling evildoers for 100 years. Agent Harry Hart, a.k.a. Galahad (Colin Firth), feels guilty about the death of a colleague years ago and tries to make up for it by recruiting the man’s son, nicknamed Eggsy. But Eggsy is a blue-collar kid with a brutish stepfather, no job and a chip on his shoulder. Still, he aces the training and joins Harry to stop a maniacal cellphone billionaire (Samuel L. Jackson) intent on decimating humankind. (130 minutes)
THE BOTTOM LINE: Action sequences depict heads exploding and taking bullets, lopped-off limbs and impalements, but the comic-bookish mayhem allows for little graphic gore. A few scenes show more realistic violence: A mother, her mind controlled by a cellphone virus, nearly stabs her baby, and a wild killing spree erupts in a church run by a hate group. It is strongly implied that Eggsy’s stepfather hits his mom. There is brief, lewd sexual innuendo and a bare behind. The script bristles with F-words.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.