"Basic Instinct 2" In spite of Sharon Stone's hearty encore performance as the ultimate femme fatale, "Basic Instinct 2" falls unbearably flat. Husband-and-wife screenwriters Leora Barish and Henry Bean employ such labored plotting and clinical bits of sex and violence that there isn't anything to savor. There is not a trace present of the Hitchcock-inspired suspense that director Paul Verhoeven powerfully exerted over the original. Instead, we get a futile change of locale for Catherine Tramell (Stone) who has moved her novel-writer's desk to London in search of high-risk episodes of sexual gratification. Director Michael Caton-Jones ("Scandal") proves himself incapable of handling the rigid demands of a suspense thriller, even a poorly written one. (R) 114 min. ** Cole Smithey
"Failure to Launch" This limp romantic comedy finds Sarah Jessica Parker playing the demoralized romantic Paula next to Tripp (Matthew McConaughey), a 35-year-old live-at-home bachelor whose parents (Terry Bradshaw and Kathy Bates) hire Paula to seduce and lure him away from the nest. Screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember toss in a dose of screwball animal antics to take our attention away from the actual movie. Zooey Deschanel spices up the proceedings in her well-worn trademark role as post-modern cynical "it" girl. (PG-13) 97 min. ** C.S.
"Slither" If there were still drive-in cinemas around, "Slither" would be a perfect B horror movie to sit in your car and watch to the sound of shrieks and one-liner jokes blasting around a hilly parking lot from so many tiny speakers. Small-town Americana is turned upside down when an alien-bearing meteor crashes in the woods only to be discovered by the rebuffed-but-loyal husband of the best-looking girl in town. Hubby gets impaled by an alien stinger that sends him on a feeding frenzy of livestock and the horny seduction of a local slut, who in turn blows up bigger than a Cadillac before releasing thousands of slug creatures, which turn nearly everyone in the town into walking zombies. "Slither" has just the right formula of humor, suspense and over-the-top gore to keep audiences jumping and laughing in their seats. (R) 93 min. *** C.S.
"Take the Lead" After the success of last year's documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom," Hollywood has thrown together a narrative riff on the idea of New York public school students learning ballroom dance as a way of socializing impoverished kids out of their lower-class traps. Antonio Banderas saunters through his performance based on a real-life ballroom dance teacher who brings his classical dance training to bear on a group of tin-eared, hip-hop-crazed high school misfits. Improper camera work worsens the ill-conceived choreography things you notice in a movie about people dancing. Even the subplots wilt on the vine. "Take the Lead" is a redundant movie lacking narrative focus. (PG-13) 108 min. *** C.S.
"Thank You for Smoking" Big Tobacco is indicted in "Thank You for Smoking," a satire based on a novel by Christopher Buckley about a spokesperson/spin doctor for the cigarette industry (Aaron Eckhart) or, as the character puts it, one of the few people in the world who "knows what it's like to be truly despised." Nick is so chipper and oily that he even triumphs on an "Oprah" episode featuring a 15-year-old lung-cancer patient. His son, Joey (Cameron Bright), asks questions about Dad's dubious propaganda, but Nick answers simply, "If you argue correctly, you're never wrong." The fact that there's a doctor who can back up Nick's slick sell with data says it all: "This man," Nick says, "could disprove gravity." (R) 92 min. **** Tricia Olszewski
"V for Vendetta" Like its namesake hero, who quotes Shakespeare and believes mass media is more powerful than the sword, or the occasional bomb, this not your everyday update of a comic book. Written by the Wachowski brothers of "The Matrix" series (and directed by James McTeigue) V (Hugo Weaving) is a masked vigilante of justice and an anarchist bent on reducing society to rubble, with the help of his sidekick Evey (Natalie Portman). "V" is more interested in reducing contemporary wars of ideology than pumping out a slick action film, and the results are alternately forceful and appalling. The movie demonstrates a steady wit, but also a shallow sense of history that risks undermining everything it tries to accomplish. (R) 132 min. *** W.M.
"Why We Fight" The real question motivating the documentary "Why We Fight" is, of course, "Why are we in Iraq?" Writer and director Eugene Jarecki steadfastly concentrates on America's homegrown incentives for the invasion, namely a thirst for oil and the voracious appetite of armaments manufacturers. This bracingly corrosive vision certainly has its place as an antidote to mindless, gee-whiz enthusiasm served up by the networks. But as history, "Why We Fight" is a flop. (PG-13) 98 min. ** T.P.
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