Quick Flicks 

Capsule reviews of current movies.

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"The Covenant" — Director Renny Harlin phones in this thoughtless teen horror flick, with darkly lit blue-tinted fog taking the place of suspense, as a group of teenage descendants of witches turn their Massachusetts prep school into a chamber of minor horrors. The eldest of four superhuman brothers is on the verge of turning 18, at which time his already potent psychic and physical abilities will increase tenfold. Trouble comes to town in the form of a heretofore unknown evil twin. Apart from a few eye-popping CGI effect sequences that are more intriguing than effective, "The Covenant" never delivers any suspense or scares. It is more a paean to teenage wish fulfillment than a sincere suspense thriller. (PG-13) 97 min. *— Cole Smithey

"Crank" — Flying through an abbreviated and sped-up story informed by Rudolph Maté's 1949 film noir classic "D.O.A.," Jason Statham ("The Transporter") plays an ill-fated freelance hit man stricken with a poison that will kill him if he lets his adrenal gland slow down. With only one hour to live regardless of how amped up he can keep himself, Statham keeps his adrenaline pumping in order to hunt down the cocky thug who doped him while finishing off a prior hit assignment. "Crank" noticeably lacks Statham's signature martial arts moves in favor of vehicle-fueled sequences to keep the audience's pulse racing. Statham is at his best since debuting in Guy Ritchie's "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," and his work here carries a heretofore unseen comic sensibility. (R) 83 min. *** — C.S.

"Everyone's Hero — Christopher Reeve's final film project tells the simple story of a little boy who risks everything to restore order to his family's Depression-era existence. This well-tempered and heartwarming animated children's movie takes Yankee, our 10-year-old hero, on a journey from New York to Chicago, where Babe and the Yankees are playing out the 1932 World Series, to retrieve a stolen bat and save his dad's job. (G) 88 min. ***— C.S.

"Flyboys" — Director Tony Bill's "Flyboys" plays like a blustering CGI cousin of the far superior "Hell's Angels" from 70-plus years ago. James Franco stars as a Texas cowpoke who takes off for France to defend against the Germans during WWI. He gets a crash course as a fighter pilot with the French Air Service before becoming distracted from his military duties by a local farm girl. His flying skills improve much faster than his command of the French language, as his fellow pilots are gradually shot down during the film's interminable dog fight sequences that repeat at regular intervals. "Flyboys" is a fluffy war movie that regales a brand of civilized warfare that no longer exists. The characters, although based on real people, have been reduced to one-dimensional stereotypes. The superabundant air battles offer distraction but little reason to sit through everything else. (PG-13) 139 min. ** — C.S.

"Gridiron Gang" — A well-intentioned but hopelessly muddled vehicle for wrestling personality Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, this football yarn deals with the plight of inner-city kids who've landed in a grimy L.A. juvenile detention center. They've ended up there for a variety of offences: dealing drugs, knocking off liquor stores, murder. Based on a true story, the movie follows the efforts of probation officer Sean Porter (Johnson) to reform these hard-luck cases by teaching them to play football. That sounds like a sentimental cliché, and "Gridiron Gang" gives you very little reason to believe it's anything else. "Gridiron Gang" means well, but the small mountain of film clichés it deals in-the dying mom, the refractory teammate, the Big Game-turns its intended message of hope into just another bit of shtick. (PG-13) 120 min. ** — Thomas Peyser

"How to Eat Fried Worms" — Not "Snakes on a Playground," this shrill children's comedy based on a long popular book follows an 11-year-old boy who unthinkingly challenges a school bully by saying that he can eat 10 worms. The bully and his gang devise nefarious methods for cooking slimy night crawlers and earthworms into gross culinary forms for their little victim to consume without vomiting over the course of a single day. The movie's notion of fun seems to derive from an idea that boys will run back to their homes and relive the worm-eating aspects of the story. Gross, silly and small-minded, "How to Eat Fried Worms" is everything the title promises and less. (PG) 83 min. * — C.S.

"The Illusionist" — Neil Burger's film is many things: a costume drama set in the glorious decadence of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a love story, a peek into dynastic struggle, a murder mystery, a tale of the occult. Through detailed flashback we learn of the mysterious Eisenheim (Edward Norton), resolved from humble beginnings in rural Austria to further the teachings of an old wizard who introduced him to the ways of magic (and to love the heiress of an ancient, noble family in the neighborhood). Buoyed by strong performances and, by current standards, remarkably restrained use of special effects, "The Illusionist" is like a very good magic show, intermittently wowing us and filling the space between tricks with resolutely old-fashioned hokum that fondly recalls the historical pageants of film's early days. (PG-13) 110 min. **** — T.P.

"Invincible" — Mark Wahlberg brings out-of-step potency to this football yarn, a strung-together series of music videos by newcomer hack director Ericson Core. The spasmodic 1976 sports drama is based on the real-life rags-to-riches story of 30-year-old South Philly substitute teacher/bartender Vince Papale, picked from an open tryout to play pro football for the flailing Philadelphia Eagles. Elizabeth Banks adds effervescent charm to her role as Vince's too-cool-for-school love interest Janet, but the film falls far short of the end zone, largely because of a predictable script and a bothersome bombastic musical score akin to hammering a nail with a shotgun blast. (PG) 108 min. ** — C.S.

"Lassie" — Eric Knight's beloved novel gets a Scottish 1938 setting where impoverished young Joe (Jonathan Mason) is forced to sell his loyal dog, Lassie, to the wealthy Duke of Rudling (played impeccably by Peter O'Toole) for the Duke's young granddaughter Cilla (Hester Odgers). But Lassie knows who her real master is, and she repeatedly escapes from the Duke to return to Joe even after the Duke moves her to the far reaches of northern Scotland. Adapted with strict attention to the original's modest emotional underpinnings of family, devotion and a beautiful collie. (PG) 100 min. *** — C.S.

"Little Miss Sunshine" — Finding this kind of quirky, charming family adventure at the summer Cineplex is like finding a diamond in a junkyard. It feels safer to just applaud its gifts and not complain too much about its faults. Everything hinges on getting pudgy, bespectacled Olive to a California beauty pageant for little girls. But the movie turns on the relationships between her dad, Richard (Greg Kinnear), a motivational speaker, his frustrated wife, Sheryl (Toni Collette), her suicidal brother (Steve Carell) and his teenage nephew (Paul Dano), who hasn't spoken in nine months. "Little Miss Sunshine" is an entertaining and occasionally insightful story that just finds itself with too much to say. (R) 99 min. *** — Wayne Melton

"The Wicker Man" — Nicolas Cage gives the worst performance of his career in this latest ill-conceived update of Anthony Shaffer's 1973 novel. Provocateur writer/director Neil LaBute imposes a theme of baffled female misogyny on the story of a California highway patrolman, haunted by a recent accident that killed a mother and daughter, who travels to a remote island to search for the daughter of a former girlfriend named Willow (Kate Beahan). It turns out that Willow has other things on her mind than finding a little girl who everyone says never existed. You'd rather look at wicker furniture. (PG-13) 102 min. * — C.S.

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