"The Aviator" Biographers of the late moviemaker and aviation mogul Howard Hughes summarized the typical Hughes film as high in entertainment, low on philosophy and message, and packed with sex and action. The same could be said of Martin Scorsese's Hughes biopic, "The Aviator," though it could have used a bit more sex. The film follows Hughes' intense public career as Hollywood icon and airline baron and his gradual decline into paranoia and an obsessive disorder. It tries to keep up with his many loves, but leaves out his control and near ruin of RKO pictures, the half of his life spent holed up in Las Vegas and Acapulco, and his equally bizarre long-distance marriage to actress Jean Peters. Otherwise it is an exciting and competent portrayal of a fascinating life, and one that goes past the tabloid material of later years to find the man when he was flying high. (PG-13) ***1/2 Wayne Melton
"Bad Education" The latest film by bad boy Spanish director Pedro Almod¢var ("Talk to Her") is a peculiar and somewhat tedious story about two gay men who were abused by a Catholic priest before growing up to be filmmakers. Mishmash film-noir references abound in scenes illuminated by the grace of Gael Garcia Bernal ("The Motorcycle Diaries"), who plays a cross-dressing drama queen. Loud primary colors mark the director's style, and his latest outing also features somewhat graphic gay sex in the midst of an ode to "Double Indemnity." You'll blink, you'll wince, and you might fall asleep in this immensely overrated movie that feigns complexity rather than telling a full-blooded story. (NC-17) **1/2 Cole Smithey
"Be Cool" If this John Travolta/Chili Palmer retread had simply been a sequel, things might have turned out fairly cool. But it is also an ensemble picture. Aerosmith's Steven Tyler is in it. So is a professional wrestler. Instead of a crisp, twisty crime story, we get a half-hearted showcase of entertainment icons. Plot, character development and all the other meaningful ingredients that go into a solid tale are afterthoughts in favor of superstar attraction, a somewhat obvious ploy to pack in the opening weekend. But the most amazing fact about "Be Cool" is that it doesn't make fun of the music industry, at least not from any realistic perspective. It's downright shameful when you're promised a joke, but end up the butt of one. (PG-13) 1/2 W.M.
"Because of Winn-Dixie" Based on an award-winning children's book by Kate DiCamillo and set in the very small town of Naomi, Fla., this story is about a 10-year-old (AnnaSophia Robb) who adopts a winsome, but sometimes skittish, pup that helps her connect with a handful of depressives and misfits. In less thoughtful hands, this story could have been an oppressively heartwarming mishmash of mindless uplift and computer-generated doggie smiles. But under director Wayne Wang ("The Joy Luck Club"), it is something better and more novel: a film that includes the nuance and moral messiness currently out of fashion in Hollywood entertainment for children. Unlike other children's films one is likely to see, it has something to do with human life. (PG) ***1/2 Thomas Peyser
"Constantine" It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a chain-smoking, postmodern Keanu Reeves. He's playing superhero exorcist John Constantine, of the DC Comics "Hellblazer" graphic novels, in an overlong movie that falls somewhere between "Van Helsing" and "Hellboy." Constantine's youthful attempt at suicide leaves him wandering a noir Los Angeles world between heaven and hell, where he tries to earn salvation into heaven by exorcising demons. Another suspicious suicide involving at least two women played by Rachel Weisz forces Constantine to do some serious butt-kicking and soul-saving. Impressive special effects don't compensate for the film's muddled plot and inarticulate dialogue, but the source material's dark tone is consistent, and Peter Stormare relishes his turn as a tar-footed Satan with infectious glee. (R) ** C.S.
"Hitch" Will Smith plays a consultant for hapless dudes who can't get the girl or, in the contemporary parlance of urban myth, a "date doctor." When not coaxing feebler males into relationship heaven, he's busy with Sara (Eva Mendes), a crabby, distrustful drama queen he's just crazy about. Perplexing, given he can win a more hospitable woman with a snap of his fingers. But then another pan of Sara's cleavage reminds us of, well, boobs exactly the sort of people who put these kinds of projects together. There are plenty of funny pratfalls and lively jokes, probably written by writers who should be engaged in loftier pursuits. The always high-spirited Smith is also undeniably watchable. But this overly polished farce is the stitched-together work of movie doctors, and no one else. It is a fitting accompaniment to a box of assorted chocolates. You like a few bits here and there, but the whole has no appeal. (PG-13) ** W.M.
"Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" Sandra Bullock is an interesting actress. She's lovely, quick-witted and has a silky charm that smoothes her rough edges. Unfortunately, she seems forever tied to ill-fated fare like "Miss Congeniality 2," a movie that tries too hard at its theme and forgets the simple goal of being funny. A poorly written comedy-action sequel, the film's motor turns on the rescue of a kidnapped Miss United States (Heather Burns) and drags along as nearly every identically paced scene lies on the big screen like a dried egg on day-old toast. Pageant emcee William Shatner adds some surprisingly lively moments, but most of "Miss Congeniality 2" seems hurried and forced. (PG-13) ** C.S.
"The Ring Two" Naomi Watts' Rachel tiptoes around this sequel about a creepy young girl who dwells in the innards of a videotape. Hideo Nakata, who helmed the Japanese originals "Ringu" and "Ringu 2," seems to have gone buck wild with his new Hollywood-sized budget. His film explodes with visual devices and camera trickery, before imploding into a heap of symbolic nonsense and visual crud. This one's weird even for horror movie sequels, a highly stylized, glittering monument of nothing. A brief appearance by Sissy Spacek seems like the icing on a cake of empty spectacle. (R) * W.M.
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