13 Going on 30 -- Despite resemblances to many, many movies that have come before, this Big-like bite of bubble gum -- directed by Tadpole's Gary Winick -- is the kind of flawed but effervescent romantic comedy that soars on the chemistry of its central duo, Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo. (They're sublimely dorky together.) With Andy Serkis and Judy Greer. (RP) Rated: PG-13
Adrenaline Rush -- Adrenaline Rush is not only for those who turn to the IMAX for a bit of stomach-twisting, nausea-inducing, gravity-defying armchair extreme sport action; it's also for those who get all the adrenaline they need from approaching strangers. Following two young skydivers, the film offers a look at both the physical sensations and the psychological challenges of risk-taking. Not rated.
Anchorman -- Anchorman isn't so much a satire of TV news and 1970s sexism as it is an excuse for Will Ferrell to improvise for two hours in polyester. He does this better than most of his co-stars, and much of his dimwitted rambling reveals something like a genuine comic character. But director Adam McKay, whose only previous directing experience was on Saturday Night Live with Ferrell, stages everything like a TV show, and the result is more like a series of sketches than a movie. (MD) Rated: PG-13
Army of Darkness -- Army of Darkness, number three in director Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, finds our hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) transported back to a stinking cesspool of a dark medieval age where he is mistaken for a spy, discovers the powers of the Necronomicon (the Book of the Dead) and unwittingly unleashes an army of the undead. Fortunately, his quick wit and trusty chainsaw arm serve him well as he rallies the troops for an epic battle against the dark minions. The film's considerable violence and gore are balanced by terrific action sequences and Raimi's trademark slapstick humor. (Midnight Friday and Saturday at the Garland) (MC) Rated: R
Chronicles of Riddick -- 2000's Pitch Black was a great science-fiction film: It was dark, funny, occasionally creepy and came out of nowhere. Because we had no expectations for this tale of a ragtag group of intergalactic travelers, we weren't disappointed by its occasional cheesy effects and uneven pacing. Unfortunately, the stakes are higher for Chronicles of Riddick, which tries to encompass a universe in which threatening races populate under-explored planets and star systems. The struggle is epic, involving armies and civilizations instead of individuals. While one of its stars -- Vin Diesel -- is a genuine celebrity, the problem is that nothing else in Chronicles of Riddick is entirely believable. Director Kevin Twohy makes quite a few leaps here; the audience is just unable to follow. (MD)
A Cinderella Story -- This war-horse fairytale gets dragged out one time too many so Hillary Duff (Lizzie McGuire) can pout around as a San Fernando Valley high school student, persecuted by her cruel step-mom Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge of American Pie) and jealous step-sisters, while she prances closer to the romantic flame of jock king Austin (Chad Michael Murphy). The movie will wash over adolescent female audiences who don't know any better like melted Brie on 110-degree asphalt. But for the rest of us, it's a grueling waste of time. (Cole Smithey) Rated: PG
The Clearing -- Hey there, all you successful executives: Be careful when laying off your minions because you never know which one of them is going to up and kidnap you. At least that's the advice Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) would offer as disgruntled ex-employee Willem Dafoe marches him through the woods on a big ol' revenge trip. Rated: R
The Day After Tomorrow -- Roland Emmerich's newest film is his best, despite the fact that the dramatic premise of a father (Dennis Quaid) trying to rescue his son (Jake Gyllenhaal) is more preposterous than the special effects. Yes, you get to see the mother of all global-warming generated storms, and the visual effects are fantastic. Even though this is the end of the world as we know it, you'll feel fine. (ES) Rated: PG-13
Dodgeball -- Ben Stiller, again. This time he's the vain, shallow owner of Globo Gym, which is trying to drive away competitor Average Joe's Gym across the street. Vince Vaughan and the guys at Joe's decide to enter a dodgeball tournament and win the money they need. It's often randomly hilarious, and even when the jokes don't work, they at least keep coming. Plus, it's got Shatner and Chuck Norris. (MD) Rated: PG-13
Fahrenheit 9/11 -- Michael Moore's powerful, wrenching, drenching, heartfelt, ultimately patriotic polemic is a rapid-fire assemblage of what he finds awry in our nation's government over the past four years. It may be the electoral season's most controversial Rohrschach test. It's not a campaign commercial, but a hushed, mocking voice of outrage. (RP) Rated: R
Garfield -- The genius of the Garfield comic strip is in its brevity: It accomplishes nothing in just a few drawings. The movie adaptation does almost the same thing, but it requires an hour-and-a-half, a computer-generated cat and the voice of Bill Murray. (MD) Rated: PG
Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban -- The kids are all back at Hogwarts, but so is the presence of escaped convict and wizard Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) who is said to be gunning for Harry. The darkest of the three films to date, the story has Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and pals getting mixed up with teachers who may be good or bad -- or both. There's much slapstick, and a brilliantly realized creature called Buckbeak, and the possibility that something's going on between Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). Lots of fun, but ultimately convoluted storytelling. (ES) Rated PG
The Human Body -- It's the human body, like you've never seen it before! Seriously, consider what it means to see the inner workings of the lungs via endoscope and then picture that five stories up on the IMAX screen. In addition to lots of fascinatingly "ewwww" footage, The Human Body also features "the fusing of a father and mother's DNA inside a newly fertilized human egg, a sequence which took nearly a year to capture." Yeah, we can imagine. Not rated.
I, Robot -- For once the special effects are done right: computer-generated robots instead of computer generated-creatures. And could it be that Will Smith is growing as an actor? Possibly, but it's hard to tell much of the time in this well-polished but ultimately noisy thriller. Anyone looking for a deep meditation on the implications of artificial intelligence will be disappointed. But if you want this year's biggest, baddest Converse ad, plug yourself in. (MD) Rated: PG-13
IMAX Nascar -- For those of us who are always late to something, everyday is Nascar. For the rest of you, there's IMAX Nascar. Kiefer Sutherland is your personal pit boss on this up-close and personal look at life behind the wheel. With in-car footage reaching 180 miles an hour, a 12,000-watt sound system and five stories of heart-stopping racetrack action. Not Rated.
King Arthur -- There's nothing like approaching a familiar -- make that legendary -- story, and taking liberties with it to the extent that you come up with something brand-new. That's what's happened with the tale of future king Arthur -- here it's said that he was Italian, but fought in Britain -- his knights and his Lady Guinevere (here she's a vicious fighter as well as a hot lover). And the result is a surprisingly refreshing movie -- very violent, but with a minimum of onscreen blood, stunningly photographed and edited. Is this the way it really happened? Better yet, did Arthur really exist? (ES) Rated PG-13
Lewis & amp; Clark -- The IMAX folks have packed a lot into this vivid account of the two adventurers' travels across the American wilderness. (ES) Unrated
Mean Girls -- The new girl in town, Cady (Lindsay Lohan), has been home-schooled and now faces her first day as a junior in high school. And it's a whole new world. She finds a couple of friends, but is invited into the exclusive clique of three known as the Plastics, headed up by rich and vicious Regina (Rachel McAdams). Things get catty concerning old boyfriends and jealousy. (ES) Rated PG-13
The Notebook -- Get out the Kleenex, but be prepared to smile, too. Gentle James Garner spends his days reading a love story to Alzheimer's patient Gena Rowlands, and that 1940s story is played out with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams as the young lovers. With terrific performances by Joan Allen as a bitchy, self-centered, controlling mom, and by Sam Shepard as a thoughtful, free-spirited dad. Directed, with a great twist, by Rowlands' son, Nick Cassavetes. (ES) Rated: PG-13
Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed -- The crime-solving gang leaps to the big screen again, taking on a foe who's bringing their past enemies to life. This time, the live-action Velma is as pitch-perfect as Shaggy. But director Raja Gosnell doesn't know how to take the cartoon premise and make it fill a movie. So he crudely crams fart and underwear jokes next to drug and gay humor. The result is bad in entirely new ways. (MD) Rated: PG
Shrek 2 -- The story picks up right where the first one left off, with a little extra twist: Prince Charming arrives to rescue Princess Fiona, but it's too late; she's on her honeymoon with Shrek. And Charming's mom -- the Fairy Godmother -- is not happy about it. A visit by Fiona and Shrek to her parents' kingdom leads to marital strife and misadventures with magic potions, as well as introductions to new characters -- Puss in Boots is an expert swordsman, but when a hairball strikes, he's weak as a kitten. Lots of goofy product placement, and a skewering of many fairy tales. This may not be as fresh as the original, but it's just as hip and funny, and the advances in computer technology are mind-blowing. (ES) Rated PG
Sleepover -- It's the last day of school, and Julie (Spy Kids' Alexa Vega) is having a sleepover. Eager to prove that she and her friends are a force to be reckoned with, Julie challenges the popular girls (who crash the slumber party) to a scavenger hunt that involves, among other things, stealing a car, sneaking into clubs and kissing boys. Let the giggling and shrieking begin... Rated: PG
Spider-Man 2 -- Just as X2 outdid everything in X-Men, so too does this sequel outshine its predecessor. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is beset with problems -- no money, no personal life, many emotional demons and the fact that Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) has another fella. Enter Doc Ock, a well-meaning scientist who has gone wacko after an accident, and has become Spidey's new nemesis. He's a fantastic villain, and their fight on an elevated train is astounding. Lots of humor, action, angst and effects make this one of the most entertaining films of the year. (ES) Rated PG-13
The Stepford Wives -- While by no means the disaster it was rumored to be, The Stepford Wives (directed by Frank Oz) is still lumbering even at a trim 90 minutes or so. While an attempt to satirize consumerism and misogyny lingers in Paul Rudnick's script, it's too scattershot to be more than just plain boring. With a surprisingly colorless Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler and Christopher Walken. (RP) Rated: PG-13
The Terminal -- A quick visit to New York from the fictional Krakozhia turns into a long-term ordeal for non-English-speaking Viktor (Tom Hanks), who has his passport taken when his country is overthrown in a coup. Airport official Stanley Tucci can't let him leave but doesn't want him there. Viktor cunningly manages to survive within the big International Transit Lounge, and builds up entertaining relationships with workers and regular passersby, including flight attendant Catherine Zeta-Jones, who's having tons of man trouble. A warm, funny film that looks at many sides of the human condition. (ES) Rated PG-13
Troy -- If Brad Pitt falters a bit due to his pretty looks at the beginning of this epic telling of the Trojan War, he sure owns the part by the end. And Eric Bana, as Hector, one of his main foes, is strong throughout. Director Wolfgang Petersen goes the gigantic-scale route, with huge, bloody battles, yet tells a great story of the futility of war -- and accompanying shades of honor and dishonor -- in quiet, well-acted sequences. There's some miscasting in the role of Helen (German actress Diane Kruger looks and acts like a bored model), but the scope of the film, including a certain big wooden horse, and some nicely blustery performances, make it all work. (ES) Rated R
Two Brothers -- Two tiger cubs, one gentle, one feisty, are separated and brought up under very different circumstances by very different people. When they're reunited, they're not who they used to be, as one is somewhat domesticated and the other has been turned into a killer. An excellent family film with a strong performance by Guy Pearce, playing someone who's more complex than he at first appears. No CGI effects here. They're real tigers. The most common question is "How on earth did they make this film?" (ES) Rated: PG
Van Helsing -- Hugh Jackman plays the rugged lead character, a hunter of monsters who is on the Vatican's payroll. He meets up with fearless vampire killer Anna (Kate Beckinsale) and the two of them take on Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). But there are many other monsters waiting to attack, and the filmmakers have spared no expense in the visual effects department. There's much overkill in repetitive sight and blaring sound, but the relentless action and eye for detail is stunning. (ES) Rated PG-13
What the #$! Do We Know? -- Recently featured at the 2004 Body Mind Spirit Expo here in Spokane, What the #$! Do We Know? purports to examine the interplay between spirituality, science and good ol' quantum physics. Not Rated.
White Chicks -- White Chicks is, according to the credits, a Wayans brothers project, but you'd never guess that from watching it. Not only are the two onscreen brothers made-up like hideous-looking white girls through most of the movie, but there's hardly any of the edgy humor that made the Scary Movie films and In Living Color so hilarious. Unfortunately, what could have been a wicked, gleeful satire is a bland, white comedy that delivers neither entertainment nor insult. (MD) Rated: PG-13
Capsule reviews are written by Ed Symkus (ES), Ray Pride (RP) and Marty Demarest (MD) unless otherwise noted.
Publication date: 07/22/04