"The Greatest Game Ever Played" Actor/director Bill Paxton misses par with his sophomore directorial effort about the 1913 U.S. Open and a former caddie named Francis Ouimet who emerged from an impoverished background to shock the golf world by beating the greatest players of the game. Shia LaBeouf ("Constantine") emerges from the rough of his previous performances with an astute portrayal of the can-do caddie that enhances this otherwise unremarkable film. Stephen Dillane does a powerful turn as golf legend Harry Vardon, but Paxton's faulty direction leaves significant subplots abandoned in favor of predictable putting sequences. (PG) 115 min. **1/2 Cole Smithey
"In Her Shoes" - Presumably marketed for middle-aged females and their elderly mothers, "In Her Shoes" is a moralizing story about two feuding sisters Maggie (Cameron Diaz), a slutty petty thief, and Rose (Toni Collette), an uptight Philadelphia attorney. While wearing out her houseguest welcome on Rose's couch, Maggie goes one grievous offense too far by sleeping with Rose's shifty coworker boyfriend. This last incident sends the illiterate Maggie off to Florida to reunite with her long lost grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) on a cheesy quest of redemption that not surprisingly includes discovering that her nutty mother committed suicide. Based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner and directed by Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential"), "In Her Shoes" is an unbalanced movie that teeters between saccharine fluff and preachy self-help sentiment. (PG-13) 129 min. ** C.S.
"A History of Violence" Anyone paying attention to director David Cronenberg's work over the years "The Fly," "Dead Ringers," "eXistenZ" will have noticed that his gift for horror has always been a vehicle for an examination of human consciousness and, more specifically, reality. "A History of Violence" stars Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall, a small-town family man caught up in a case of what looks like mistaken identity. A drama with horror-film undertones, its inventively rendered violence startling, grotesque and heightened with uncomfortable humor carries with it a central investigation of our inherent duality. Likewise, it is itself two films in one. You can spend the brief hour and a half contemplating its deeper significance or simply enjoy its ability to frighten and shock. "A History of Violence" lives up to its name by offering the most compelling (pleasing?) screen violence since Kevin Costner's "Open Range." R 96 min. **** Wayne Melton
"Into the Blue" The movie version of Jessica Alba's posterior anatomy also contains a dopey story about four Generation Z adults who get into deep water when they discover sunken treasure and a downed plane full of waterproofed bricks of cocaine. Menacing sharks, drug dealers and a rival treasure hunter (Josh Brolin) give Alba and her fellow hotties a run for their lives as blood is spilled in luxurious Caribbean waters. Except as eye candy, "Into the Blue" is a miserable failure. Actually, even as eye candy, it's sunk. Directed by John Stockwell ("Blue Crush"), who evidently has a thing for saltwater. (PG-13) 110 min. *1/2 C.S.
"Just Like Heaven" This romantic farce (based on a book by Marc Levy) gets laughs with its light story about a comatose young woman (Reese Witherspoon) haunting a widower (Mark Ruffalo). He's moved into her former apartment only to find a woman who walks through walls telling him to clean up his beer cans. Soon the two are friends and getting friendlier while investigating why one of them is a phantasm. The screwball comedy moments are funny, but too much of the movie is old-fashioned. Witherspoon is a driven, talented doctor before her accident. The only thing that can save a wacko female like that, we learn, is a good man. (PG-13) 95 min. ** W.M.
"Oliver Twist" Perhaps the most appropriate thing to say about Roman Polanski's latest film is that it is not the best of adaptations, but it is not the worst of them either. It may be the most surprising, since the pairing of the filmmaker and the novelist, both radical artists known for their black humor, fails to gel. It's not even certain by the end that the former fully understands the latter. Polanski's "Oliver Twist" is harsh by contemporary standards, but at the same time it isn't harsh enough. If you can hold off judgment, the last half is worth the wait. After mishandling the satire of the workhouse, the Warsaw ghetto survivor and "Macbeth" director clicks with the murder of Nancy (Leanne Rowe), the death of Bill Sikes (Jamie Foreman) and more than one disturbing sequence with Fagin (Ben Kingsley). Barney Clark is quiet in the title role, but he is meant to be a representative rather than an individual. He is the 10-year-old victim of mobs and murders and a destitute existence, what ask for more of. (PG-13) 130 min. *** W.M.
"Proof" Trailing clouds of glory from its highly touted runs in London and on Broadway, this Pulitzer Prize-winning play dealing with a father-and-daughter team of mathematical prodigies has been almost reverentially adapted to the big screen. The cast, headed by Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins, is top-drawer. The screenplay has been faithfully reworked by the playwright himself, David Auburn. Director John Madden, who teamed with Paltrow previously in his "Shakespeare in Love" (1998), keeps our attention on the crisp dialogue and classy performances. We get the impression that every effort has been made not to sully this gem of the stage with Hollywood glitz. It's something of a surprise, then, to discover that the movie is simply a diverting, insubstantial confection that's been dressed up with a frothy dollop of math-talk, like a plain old brownie served … la mode. (PG-13) 100 min. **1/2 Thomas Peyser
"Roll Bounce" Director Malcolm D. Lee tries his hand at a revisionist history of the summer of '78 wherein a group of roller-disco obsessed Chicago kids root their existence in "jam skating." Rapper/actor Bow Wow plays Xavier, a roller-boogie kid still reeling from the death of his mother and his father's (Chi McBride) tentative attempts at supporting them. Saccharine sentimentality abounds as Xavier and his crew of skater buddies take their skills to a roller rink on the north side of town, after theirs is shut down, to face off against an older roller "god" named Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan). The movie barely keeps any narrative momentum as it lurches toward a drawn-out skating competition finale. Bow Wow's presence alone doesn't make it a dog, but it is one. (PG-13) 107 min. *1/2 C.S.
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" Tim Burton's macabre return to the stop-motion world of "A Nightmare Before Christmas" is more self-indulgent than fanciful. Burton and animator Mike Johnson set the action in a drab 19th-century English town where one very lonely groom, Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp), is uncomfortably poised to marry a poor little rich girl (Emily Watson). But Victor makes the mistake of practicing his wedding vows in a forest where the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter) receives the intended wedding ring. Victor is pulled beneath the earth, where a festive world of dancing and singing corpses await new additions to their number. As Victor struggles to get back to Victoria while falling in love with his Corpse Bride, the story becomes a muddled and unpleasant affair. Is it better to be happily dead or drearily alive? When you get past the ghoulish kitsch "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" leaves a lot to be desired. (PG) 76 min. ** C.S.
"Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" British Claymation geniuses Nick Park and Steve Box bring to life their best-loved characters Wallace (voiced by veteran actor Peter Sallis) and his faithful tongue-tied dog Gromit in a nifty children's movie filled with just the right amount of bawdy double entendres to make adults snicker. Through a painstaking filming process that takes a full day to shoot at most two seconds of screen time, the filmmakers create a vibrant rural British community obsessed with growing giant vegetables for their annual fairground competition. Wallace and Gromit run a brisk pest-control business called Anti-Pesto by humanely capturing garden-ravaging bunnies with Wallace's specially invented Bun-Vac 6000 contraption that "sucks as well as blows." But their Northern England clientele run when an enormous rabbit attacks during a harvest moon to devour every gigantic vegetable in sight. It's "the world's first vegetarian horror movie," even though there's nothing scary about it. (G) 82 min. **** C.S.
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