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by THE INLANDER & r & & r & THE DARK KNIGHT & r & & r & Seldom do follow-ups ring so true to the original, then do them one better. Director Christopher Nolan revisits what he did with Batman Begins and improves everything. Christian Bale is gloomier, lonelier and angrier, both as Bruce Wayne and as the Caped Crusader, while Heath Ledger's intense, frightening and funny Joker might make the world forget that Nicholson ever played him. Violent, action-packed, brilliantly realized. An outstanding sequel. (ES) Rated PG-13





DEATH RACE


Jason Statham stars in a high-octane remake of the paranoid classic of '70s sci-fi. A NASCAR driver wrongly imprisoned is given a chance at freedom if he can just win Death Race, a competition where convicts try to murder their way to the finish line. Expect this one to have conspicuously less pathos and social commentary than the original, but a hotter co-pilot. (LB) Rated R





HAMLET 2


There's an Ed Wood kind of urgency in the whole-body railing against the mundane in schoolteacher Dana Marschz (the brilliant British satirist Steve Coogan) as he struggles to produce the titular musical play. This insightful satire is actually painful to watch at times, when it pricks so close to home. For all its broad absurdity, in anyone who yearns for a creative, passionate life, you'll cry as much as you'll laugh. (MAJ) Rated R





HANCOCK


Will Smith plays John Hancock, a man of unknown origins who can fly, beat up villains and bounce bullets off his chest. But he shouldn't fly when he drinks because a sloppy path of destruction usually results. Here's a film that starts off funny, and is loaded with fantastic visuals, but ends up becoming a rumination on family relations as well as public relations. (ES) Rated PG-13





THE HOUSE BUNNY


Written by the same people who brought you Legally Blonde, this is a carbon copy with a Girls Next Door/Hugh Hefner twist. Anna Faris (of Scary Movie fame) stars as a Playboy Bunny who gets kicked out of the mansion and becomes a housemother at a sorority full of freaks and weirdos. She teaches them to be glamorous and shallow. They teach her to be human. Touching. Faris might be worth a few laughs. (JS) Rated PG-13





JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH


Be careful, you'll poke your eye out. At least that's how you'll feel when objects come flying at you in this 3D version of the Jules Verne novel. A scientist (Brendan Fraser) and his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) go to Iceland to study volcanoes, hire a guide (Anita Briem), and fall down to the... well, you know where. The story is kinda ridiculous, and many of the visual effects are hokey. (ES) Rated PG





THE LONG SHOTS


Ice Cube's a football fanatic and loser who needs a break. He also needs a lesson in gender roles. He'll get both when his little niece proves to have better pigskin skills than any of the little twerps on the Pop Warner (or whatever) team he's coaching. "Inspired by a true story," so you know it'll be filled with Disney clich & eacute;s. (LB) Rated PG





Mamma Mia!


Young Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), on the eve of her wedding to young Sky (Dominic Cooper), has decided that now is the time to figure out who her father is: It could be any one of three former lovers of her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep). Mostly it's wacky comedy of a brand that went out with Technicolor. (MJ) Rated PG-13





MIRRORS


Alexandre Aja has already made the worst thriller ever (P2). Now with a bigger name cast (well, Keifer Sutherland anyhow), he goes for the repeat, crafting a horror film about the demons that live in mirrors that looks to have every supernatural clich & eacute; we can think of. (LB) Rated R





THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR


This charmless exercise in overblown action steals shamelessly from its predecessors, but not what it should have stolen: the cheeky attitude. The Mummy would have winked at this; Tomb doesn't even know it's something to be winked at. (MJ) Rated PG-13





PINEAPPLE EXPRESS


And now, a haiku: Mmmm, the best dope in town. Ooohh, the cops are bad. Bullets fly. Inhale. Laugh. (ES) Rated R





THE ROCKER


Shades of Pete Best! When a drummer is kicked out of an '80s metal band just before they get their big break, he becomes bitter and remains that way 20 years later. But when his nephew asks him to sit in as a drummer in his band for one night, old dreams come alive. Rainn Wilson overacts as the drummer, and Teddy Geiger underacts as the new band's singer-guitarist. Very few clich & eacute;s remain unturned; many comic opportunities are lost. (ES) Rated PG-13





THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2


Those pants are still traveling as our four heroines go off on more adventures. It's all about emotions as they wrestle with boyfriend troubles, learn about themselves and discover how hard families can be -- all handled here with such sentimentality that it couldn't be more phony. (MAJ) Rated PG-13





Star Wars: The Clone Wars


Pretty awesome, as overblown Saturday morning cartoons go. It's nonstop battles with a few funny lines thrown in, but the battles are highly entertaining, way more coherent than anything George Lucas created for his recent I-III trilogy. Anakin Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi are off on a mission to rescue Jabba the Hutt's son. Sure, it's cheesy, but the original Star Wars was cheesy, too -- we just didn't realize it because we were only in third grade. (MJ) Rated PG





STEP BROTHERS


Rude and crude and stomach-ache funny, this stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as two really immature 40-year-olds whose single parents (Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen) marry. The "boys" must move in and share a room, with each trying to figure out and act on the best reasons to hate the other. Toilet humor abounds, along with naughty jokes, cussing and, because Judd Apatow is involved, a bit of male nudity. Dumb-ass movie of the year. (ES) Rated R





TROPIC THUNDER


High-octane action, smartly written satire and wild comedy come together in a story of contemporary actors making a movie about a daring rescue during the Vietnam War; suddenly, they get caught up in dangerous events. Highlights include an edgy, Oscar-worthy performance by Robert Downey Jr. (in blackface) as a "Method" actor, and a riotous extended cameo by a well-known Scientologist as a repulsive producer. Directed by (and co-starring) Ben Stiller. (ES) Rated R





VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA


Two gal pals (Scarlet Johansson and Rebecca Hall) go to Spain for the summer, where both of them get romantically involved with a carefree fellow (Javier Bardem) who has never come to terms with his beautiful and troublemaking ex-wife (Penelope Cruz). Woody Allen wrote and directed this breezy comedy, and it's his best film since Sweet and Lowdown. (ES) Rated PG-13





WALL-E


The newest Pixar release jumps some 700 years into the future, offering a look at our garbage-strewn planet, a condition so out-of-control, humankind has left. Worker robots were put in place to clean things up, but they, too, left -- except for clunky little Wall-E. Great storytelling, with very little dialogue, exquisite visuals and a dash of Hello, Dolly! Ideal for every age imaginable. (ES) Rated G

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