"Asylum" This thriller about a woman who has an affair with a member of the criminally insane is lurid, but otherwise pretty nuts. Based on a best seller by Patrick McGrath, it follows the adventures of Stella (Natasha Richardson), wife of a remote institute's new deputy director (Hugh Bonneville), as she ruins careers and her family to get into the arms of Edgar (Marton Csokas), a handsome inmate and former sculptor who killed his wife in a jealous rage. "Asylum" is a potboiler, a wacky tale from an old tabloid come to life. Ian McKellen almost walks away with the movie, a la Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs," as a mysterious psychiatrist at the institute. Alas, this is not that kind of movie. (R) 96 min. **1/2 Wayne Melton
"The Brothers Grimm" Terry Gilliam's much anticipated film is a visually impressive but viscerally blank movie thanks to Ehren Kruger's ("The Skeleton Key") irksome script. Without concern for veracity about the celebrated authors of such fairy-tale classics as "Cinderella" and "Rapunzel," Kruger imagines the erudite brothers as fictional 19th-century con men, fooling German villagers about monsters. The gypsy brothers, cynical Will (Matt Damon) and gullible Jacob (Heath Ledger), are found out and captured by French authorities, who assign them to dispel the mystery behind the disappearance of some young maidens. Even fairy tales don't need to be this tediously gimmicky. (PG-13) 118 min. ** Cole Smithey
"The Constant Gardener" - Kenya is filmed within an inch of its life as we learn of the machinations of pharmaceutical companies using the Kenyans as guinea pigs to test their wares. A fine-looking journalist (Rachel Weisz) is on the case while her husband (Ralph Fiennes) is wrapped up in low-level diplomatic work for the British government. Both are being watched by the conniving powers that be, including nasty big pharma execs and their own colleagues. "City of God" director Fernando Meirelles uses every crazy angle, rapid montage, color saturation and panning technique he was able to squeeze in his first film and then some as he tells this story (based on a novel by John le Carré) in a mix of flashback and present-day action. The tale and its implications are rare and worthy subjects, and the mystery is tightly wound and naturalistic. If only you didn't have to sit through all the masturbatory artistry to take it in. (R) 128 min. **1/2 W.M.
"Cry_Wolf" Much of this suspense thriller was filmed on the University of Richmond's stately campus, and it was directed and partly written by Virginia native Jeff Wadlow, who got the money to make the film by winning a contest sponsored by Chrysler. Those are among the few things worth knowing about this negligible slasher pic, whose October DVD release date is oddly blazoned on some of its ads (supporting the notion that theatrical releases are more and more merely ads for DVDs and video games.) Filmed on a modest budget for a horror movie, it brings together weak performances, fidgety direction and a cliché-ridden script, achieving a trifecta of lousiness. (PG-13) 90 min. * Thomas Peyser
"The Exorcism of Emily Rose" Audiences seeking the rush of fear so eloquently delivered in the bar-setting 1973 horror classic "The Exorcist" will be disappointed by writer/director Scott Derrickson's imbalanced attempt at stirring similar emotions. Purportedly based on actual events, the story commences just after the death of a teenaged girl (Jennifer Carpenter) during an exorcism performed by a priest (Tom Wilkinson) who suddenly finds himself the target of murder charges based on his assumed negligence. Father Moore (Wilkinson) refuses to cop a plea and instead insists on publicly airing the girl's story in a jury trial with the assistance of his ambitious attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney). The movie unsuccessfully toggles between snappy courtroom testimony and creepy flashback episodes. These build toward an anticlimax that fails to adequately reveal the circumstances of Emily Rose's death. PG-13 114 min. **1/2 C.S.,/i>
"Lord of War" -Can you say "Blow" with AKs instead of coke? Full of catchy one-liners and pat plot developments, this story about an arms dealer (Nicolas Cage) playing cat-and-mouse with an upright Fed (Ethan Hawke) suffers from a hurried pacing and slick tone, but it captures a cynicism infecting world politics since the Cold War in its own composite-story kind of way. Director Andrew Niccol ("Gattaca") has made a marked improvement, however, on last year's "The Terminal," bookending it with a wonderful opening montage featuring the life of a bullet and the wittiest Hollywood ending in years. The only problem is that Cage is a limited, hit-and-miss actor who shows up half-asleep when he's supposed to be jaded and smarmy. Funny and forgivably preachy, the film's only risk is that people will look up to its lord rather than despise him. (R) 122 min. *** W.M.
"Red Eye" Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth's admission that he wrote the movie with inspiration from Joel Schumacher's notoriously hokey "Phone Booth" speaks volumes about the tedious straight-line narrative Ellsworth gives horror master Wes Craven to direct. Rachel McAdams is a hotel manager on an overnight flight to Miami. Her fear of flying is overshadowed by the threat to her father (Brian Cox) by her seatmate Jackson Ripper (Cillian Murphy). Something about switching hotel rooms, the plot is too hokey by half to recount. Craven fails to elevate the lackluster script and does surprisingly little to add scares. (PG-13) 85 mins. *1/2 C.S.
"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.
"Transporter 2" French film industry heavyweight Luc Besson continues his "Transporter" franchise (producing), with Jason Statham returning as a hair-challenged professional driver with a penchant for Jackie Chan-style stunts. Set in Miami, the picture follows Frank Martin (Statham) as he attempts to rescue the son of a wealthy family from kidnappers intent on spreading a fatal virus. The bare-bones story serves as a skeleton on which to hang stylized car chases, martial arts mayhem and explosions galore. The "Transporter" franchise has picked up the slack left over from the lack of James Bond movies in recent years. Sure, it's a smaller-scale knockoff, but the overall effect is similar. PG-13 88 min. **1/2 C.S.
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