"Bad News Bears" How the game is played takes precedence over winning or losing in a remake of the classic baseball comedy from 1976. With only slight adjustments to the original story line, director Richard Linklater regulates the comic tone toward making a fundamental statement about sportsmanship and even about American political conduct with our global rivals. Billy Bob Thornton is enjoyable although not entirely comical as Morris Buttermaker, a former pro baseball player turned rodent exterminator who takes on a job coaching a team of Little League baseball misfits. Linklater's "Bad News Bears" doesn't approach the giddy comedy of the original, but it does inspire an attentive contemplation on the similarities and differences between adults and children in approaching the game of life. (PG-13) **1/2 Cole Smithey
"Batman Begins" Quirky young director Christopher Nolan ("Memento") promised some of the off-kilter energy that Tim Burton brought to the first installments in this superhero series. But like a certain Sith currently lording it over the box office, Nolan has given in to the dark side. In a prequel to the other Batman movies, we're taken back to the murders that scarred Bruce Wayne's boyhood, then whisked off to a Himalayan fortress where Wayne (Christian Bale), now a young man, is trained in the ways of the Ninja by a vigilante squad led by Liam Neeson. Ninjas? A double handful of current events and traditional Hollywood bogeymen give "Batman Begins" an air of the haphazard. The movie ends up just another bit of overdigitized Hollywood schlock, buoyed occasionally by its striking tableaux or a flash of wit. (PG-13) ** Thomas Peyser
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" Tim Burton's latest film is a more ambitious and much funnier adaptation of the Roald Dahl children's book. It is contemporary, sophisticated satire and spoof, whereas "Willy Wonka," with its melancholy titular character and obsession with spies, was mustier, Cold War Dickens. In the new version, the poverty of Charlie (Freddie Highmore) and his family (Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, David Kelly) is played for laughs rather than tears. Charlie, in fact, though returned to the title, is exiled to the background once he finds his golden ticket. The show is mostly Burton until we get to Wonka's extravagant lair, and after that moment all Burton as channeled through Depp, the zaniness culminating in a homage to "2001." Whether or not kids will think it's funny is hard to say, but their parents will surely wonder what happened to the book's message about honesty being its own reward. (PG) **** Wayne Melton
"Dark Water" This miserable remake of another Japanese thriller by Hideo Nakata splashes around in another water-themed ghost story about a little girl haunting a mom and her kid (… la "The Ring"). Jennifer Connelly plays the single mom whose young daughter develops an imaginary friend after they move into a faulty high-rise apartment building. Ceilings drip with moldy water, and every faucet exudes brown crud as Connelly's single parent seeks aid from her questionable attorney (Tim Roth) to protect her from her husband's accusations that she's losing her mind. Brazilian director Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries") made a bad decision to take this as his first Hollywood outing, a horror movie that will drown you in boredom. (PG-13) *1/2 C.S.
"Hustle & Flow" Steeping his tale of a drug-dealing pimp's (Terrence Howard) last-ditch attempt at a rap career within American values of redemption and ambition, writer/director Craig Brewer identifies subtle areas of American existence that are rarely exposed in the media or Hollywood films. He does so with such a highly developed sense of detail and loving regard for his characters that the film lifts the audience in a deeply emotional, yet unsentimental, way. The gritty raps that DJay (Howard) writes and records are unexpectedly catchy and stay with you long after the movie is over. "Hustle & Flow" is a perfect example of an American independent film that boldly embraces its rarefied subject and squeezes out sparks from every scene and every line of subtext-rich dialogue. (R) ***** C.S.,/i>
"The Island" Michael Bay stumbles as a director of action-movie kitsch and wannabe Jerry Bruckheimer ("Top Gun") in this action-packed chase movie about clones. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson take a payday as the duo on the run. The result is the worst blockbuster hopeful of the summer season, relegated to August and dead on arrival. Audiences are advised to take a pass. (PG-13) * W.M.
"Me and You and Everyone We Know" Performance artist Miranda July wrote, directed and stars in this meditation on relationships, about an estranged husband and father (John Hawkes) who meets a strange artist and part-time personal driver (July) at the shoe store where he works. Various side plots are introduced to echo the movie's themes, primarily the chilly nature of contemporary relationships, played out most often over the Internet. July's commentary works fairly well when it is purely visual, but the whole project is undermined every time her characters start droning on about it. (R) **1/2 W.M.
"Must Love Dogs" John Cusack and Diane Lane work strictly for their paychecks in cutout roles that reflect poorly on the similar parts each has played in the past. You'd think being single was the worst thing in the world based on the way our romantic duo's friends and family treat them, while pushing the disconsolate people into posting and responding to Internet singles ads. Based on Claire Cook's book of the same title, director Gary David Goldberg (TV's "Family Ties") lacquers the movie with heavy-handed music tracks as if he's spreading five pounds of peanut butter on a half slice of bread. "Must Love Dogs" is one movie you don't need to see unless you're head over heels for cinematic hay. (PG-13) * C.S.
"War of the Worlds" For subtext-plumbers as well as people just munching popcorn in the dark, there's no misinterpreting the war-on-terror imagery, with dust-soaked people running from a centralized catastrophe, a father assuring his kids it wasn't terrorists and a race being annihilated by a remorseless, mechanized occupying force. As for the pipe-laying and bloodsucking that follow, you can draw your own conclusions. Though Spielberg's sci-fi remake stumbles over a few "Jurassic Park" moments and makes little use of Tom Cruise, it is never lost in grandiosity or overdone special effects. "War of the Worlds" admirably goes beyond the H.G. Wells story, but the thrills are simply monsters chasing us around in the dark. (PG-13) ***1/2 W.M.
"Wedding Crashers" The premise seems full of raunchy promise: two good-for-nothings troll assorted nuptials in hopes of bedding women whose defenses have already been lowered by witnessing rites of love. Vince Vaughn, the embodiment of articulate sleaziness, and Owen Wilson, a Texas charmer going gently to seed, seem perfectly cast as the scoundrels in question. But sodden direction by David Dobkin and amateurish work by novice screenwriters Steve Faber and Bob Fisher have conspired to produce an astonishingly dreary, unfunny, and overlong comedy. (R) * T.P.
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