Charlie St. Cloud (PG-13) — After his 11-year-old brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) dies in a car accident, Stanford-bound sailing aspirant Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) becomes unglued. Consumed with grief and guilt — he was behind the wheel at the time of the smash-up — Charlie soon abandons his dreams and takes a job as caretaker at the cemetery where his brother is buried. Soon he's playing catch in the woods with Sam's ghost every night (can you say Field of Dreams?) and even reconnecting with old schoolmates who died in the war. It's not until he meets Tess (Amanda Crew) that Charlie begins to question the wisdom of holding onto the past at the expense of, well, living. Based on a novel by Ben Sherwood, this second collaboration between High School Musical alum Efron and director Burr Steers (who made the excellent Igby Goes Down) might sound like an icky Nicholas Sparks knockoff, but it's actually a good deal better and considerably more restrained. Credit Steers for his ability to avoid treacle (most of the time anyway) and for once again bringing out the best in his young star. If Efron isn't quite ready to graduate to Ryan Gosling or Joseph Gordon-Levitt roles just yet, his tutelage under Steers has proven that he's definitely more than just another pretty face with some really killer abs. (Milan Paurich)
Dinner for Schmucks (PG-13) — Dinner for Schmucks plays more like a Hollywood multiplex comedy than a remake of a French art-house hit. That's either good news or bad news to fans of 1998's Le Diner de Cons. The jokes are broader here, and the cast is topnotch, but there's also a little too much catering to mainstream tastes to completely pull it off. The always likable Paul Rudd plays Tim, an eager financial analyst who's invited to a monthly dinner held by his snooty boss, who challenges his guests to bring the dorkiest person they can find to be ridiculed. Enter Steve Carell as Barry, an IRS auditor who builds dioramas with dead mice in his spare time (which he apparently has a lot of). The setup mostly works; getting there, not so much. There are some funny scenes — an art opening featuring Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement as a pretentious artist, Zach Galifianakis' mind-reading displays, the dinner itself — and Barry's dioramas are hilariously inspired. But Dinner for Schmucks eventually becomes a lesson in friendship, and several jokes are artificially shoved into the script. The movie's awkward charm seems real enough though. (Michael Gallucci)
Eat Pray Love (PG-13) — It is what it is, goes the cliché. And given that this is an adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling new-age chick-lit memoir starring Julia Roberts, it's about as good as could reasonably be expected. Faithful to Gilbert's intelligent confessional prose, Eat Pray Love finds our materially successful but spiritually empty N.Y.C. writer/heroine ditching her unfulfilling marriage and passionate rebound affair to undertake a yearlong odyssey living abroad and alone to find her "balance" via food (in Italy), ashram meditation (India), and true love (Bali). If you can avoid the fact that it all adds up to a story about a chic Manhattan woman who learns to reconcile her flaws only after she realizes that she is indeed the center of the universe, you'll discover a sweet, well-acted armchair travelogue and treatise about inner forgiveness. The movie features the considerable virtue of being tooled for grownups during a summer season usually reserved for superheroes, buddy cops, and bad guys. It's all good here. (Charles Cassady)
The Expendables (R) — There's no denying that The Expendables boasts an awfully impressive cast for an action movie: Sylvester Stallone (who also wrote and directed), Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Mickey Rourke all show up. If that's not enough bad-ass for you, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis make cameos. And that's not even counting the guys who can't kill you with their bare hands, like Eric Roberts. With so many actors to juggle, it's no surprise the script is kinda clunky in its attempt to accommodate everyone. After Stallone's recent, somewhat enjoyable revivals of the Rocky and Rambo franchises, The Expendables is a bit of a letdown. Still, there are some cool action scenes and even a few enjoyable character moments (Rourke, in particular, gets a memorable monologue). The last 30 minutes amount to one extended fight scene, filled with carnage, mayhem, and lots of things going boom. You know, the real reason people want to see a movie like this. (Bob Ignizio)
Get Low (PG-13) — Robert Duvall made his screen debut as Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird. Felix Bush, the taciturn hermit he plays in Get Low, could be an older, slightly worldlier version of Boo. When Felix rides his mule-driven wagon into town after 40 years of seclusion, it's only to discuss his funeral. Felix has the crazy notion that he'd like to hear what folks have to say about him once he's passed. And the only way he can do that is to have a memorial service while still very much alive. Struggling funeral parlor operator Frank Quinn (Bill Murray, in another of his wryly minimalist performances) has the brilliant idea of selling lottery tickets to the event. The winner gets the deed to Felix's 300-acre property — once he's actually deceased, of course. Duvall has played lots of crusty, sly-as-a-fox old coots like Felix before, but his genius for understatement ensures that the character never devolves into a compendium of Southern Gothic clichés. If Get Low ultimately lacks a little artistic clarity and personal vision, there's more than enough warmth, wit, and beautifully judged performances to make it a refreshing, grown-up alternative to the mindless sensation of most hot-weather movies. (Paurich)
Inception (PG-13) — Christopher Nolan has already directed one unquestionable mind-fuck masterpiece: 2000's Memento. He can now add a second to his résumé. Inception goes so deep, so often, you'll want to watch it again immediately just to see if all the pieces add up. Even if they don't (but I bet they do), it's a visual feast of dreamlike splendor. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, an "extractor" who enters people's dreams to probe their innermost thoughts. He also carries a ton of personal baggage, which puts his faithful team (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page) in constant danger. Cobb's latest and presumably last job is to plant an idea — yes, it works both ways — into the mind of a young corporation head (Cillian Murphy) who's taking over the family business. That's when Inception really kicks into action. Think too hard about what you're seeing onscreen and you'll likely burn out your brain — but that's exactly what Nolan (who also wrote the screenplay) wants. Just know that various levels of dream states are involved, and detachment from reality is necessary. Once you're settled in, you're ready for one of the year's smartest and most thrilling adventures. Buildings crumble, streets flood, and entire cities fold into themselves in this wondrous landscape. It's all mind-blowingly magnificent and spectacularly deep. (Gallucci)
The Kids are All Right (R) — The Kids Are All Right finds an interesting balance between the revolutionary and the conventional. In a way, it's a fairly typical family comedy-drama. But it just so happens that the family is headed by two moms (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore). The movie is charming and slightly annoying, expertly made but a little too slick and enamored of its unconventionality. "He just seems so self-satisfied," says Nic, Bening's sharp-tongued doctor, after meeting Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the free-spirited restaurateur whose sperm donation fathered the kids she raises with wife Jules (Moore). She could be talking about the film, which simultaneously revels in and rails against political correctness. But this is not a lesbian movie designed to titillate; it's a human drama about relationships and evolving definitions of family. Ruffalo's woozy, beatific demeanor has seldom been used better. Bening is a kaleidoscope of toughness and vulnerability. And Moore is affecting as the conflicted Jules. Igor Jadire-Lillo's skillful cinematography caresses Bening's facial lines and Moore's freckles, underscoring another of the movie's endearing qualities: It's a romance about middle-aged people — not very glamorous, but beautiful nonetheless. (Pamela Zoslov)
Lottery Ticket (PG-13) — If you're holding a ticket to this movie — about a kid in the projects (played by rapper Bow Wow) who has a winning lottery ticket – you've already lost.
Nanny McPhee Returns (PG) — This sequel to the minor 2005 hit based on Christiana Brand's kid-lit series — about a Mary Poppins-like nanny who looks more like one of Macbeth's witches — is mildly charming and passably entertaining. But instead of taking place in Victorian England, like the previous movie, the action here picks up in World War II-era Blighty, where the title character (again played by the redoubtable Emma Thompson, who also penned the screenplay) goes to work for the stressed-out Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal with a British accent as counterfeit as her bogus southern twang in Crazy Heart), whose husband (Ewan McGregor) is off fighting the war. McPhee's charges include her employer's three rambunctious tykes and two miscreant houseguests (scene-stealers Eros Vlahos and Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Isabel's horrid nephew and niece). Once again, the crone-like nanny transforms into, well, the perfectly lovely Thompson after teaching her unruly brood five invaluable life lessons. Harry Potter devotees will get a kick out of cameos by Maggie Smith and Ralph Fiennes, while Babe fans will dig the menagerie of hyperactive CGI animals who, even without the distracting supplement of 3-D, still manage to do the darndest things. The most surprising thing about this otherwise fairly predictable romp is that it was directed by Susanna White, who helmed HBO's superb 2008 Iraq War miniseries Generation Kill. (Paurich)
The Other Guys (PG-13) — "Will Ferrell is back and Mark Wahlberg's got him" could be the tagline for this amiably goofy buddy-cop bromance by frequent Ferrell helmer Adam McKay (Talladega Nights, Anchorman, Step Brothers). Ferrell and Wahlberg play a pair of temperamentally mismatched NYPD doofuses who finally get the chance to prove themselves when the top dogs in their department (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) get temporarily sidelined. Because the movie ultimately devolves into the very thing it's poking fun at — '80s super-cop action flicks like the Lethal Weapon franchise, complete with explosions and car chases galore — it's not as satisfying as previous, more improv-friendly Ferrell-McKay collaborations. Still, the über-intense Wahlberg displays an agreeable knack for mocking his own patented alpha-male image (he's basically playing Ferrell's straight man here), and the first half consistently delivers more big laughs than just about any studio comedy this season. The boilerplate plot — in which the dependably wry Steve Coogan plays a crooked Wall Street bigwig — at least has the benefit of being topical. And for those not up to speed on the current financial crunch, there's an economics tutorial delivered over the end credits that just might be the funniest thing in the whole movie. (Paurich)
Piranha 3-D (R) — Killer fish jump in your lap, steal your popcorn, and nibble on your flesh. Sounds like fun, huh?
Predators (R) — Screenwriter Robert Rodriguez conceived Predators as a sequel to the first two Predator movies. So it's more about man vs. Predator than Predator vs. Alien this time around. The plot centers on a group of soldiers trapped in a foreign jungle where the sun never sets. At first they fight among themselves, but they soon realize something is hunting them and they're better off putting aside their differences. So they rally around Royce (a beefed-up Adrien Brody), who establishes himself as the pack's leader. "It doesn't matter what happened or why," he tells them. "The only question is, How do we get out?" Turns out it ain't easy, especially when there's a bunch of bloodthirsty Predators hunting you down with heat-seeking weapons. The first half of the movie is fairly suspenseful, but once the Predators show up, the whole thing goes to hell. (Jeff Niesel)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (PG-13) — In a world of comic-book heroes, Scott Pilgrim is even less super than the caped crusaders in Kick-Ass. In fact, he isn't super at all. And in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World — based on a six-volume graphic-novel series — the nerdy 22-year-old protagonist (Michael Cera, who really needs to look into expanding his résumé a little) falls hard for a girl, Ramona V. Flowers (geek dream Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But before he can even think of calling himself her boyfriend, he must defeat her "seven evil exes." The movie's comic-book and video-game style — short character bios pop up onscreen, exclamations splash out of people and objects, all of the battles look like video-game fights, complete with "finishing" moves — is fun, and there's plenty of visual pizzazz speckled across every scene (you can thank Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright for that). It feels a bit disconnected at times, which has as much to do with the source material as with the movie's inability to stay in one place for too long. Still, this is a total geekfest. Comic books, video games, indie rock — this is Scott Pilgrim's world, and at times it's an awesome one. (Gallucci)
Step Up 3-D (PG-13) — The third installment in Disney's lucrative urban dance flick franchise mostly delivers the guilty-pleasure goods. And for a welcome change of pace, the 3-D doesn't seem like just a cynical ruse to bilk gullible teens out of a few extra bucks of allowance money. Give returning director Jon M. Chu his due. Unlike most so-called dance movies these days, Step Up actually films his performers in full body shots (most of the time anyway), so we can see they're really dancing. I know this probably sounds like a small thing, but so many contemporary dance flicks tend to obscure their hoofers' lack of experience, grace, and talent with choppy, headache-inducing MTV editing. The cookie-cutter storyline and archetypal characters remain pretty much the same as in the previous Step Up movies. Sharni Vinson stars as dance-addled, hot-to-trot ingénue Natalie, Rick Malambri plays rakish boho-impressario Luke, and the whole thing builds to a big dance showdown in which Luke's pure-of-heart Pirates crew battles the boo-hiss Samurai posse. Shake your booty indeed. (Paurich)
The Switch (PG-13) — This disappointing, tonally discordant artificial insemination romantic comedy by the Blades of Glory directing team of Josh Gordon and Will Speck shoots more blanks than laughs. Jason Bateman plays a neurotic, self-absorbed Manhattanite (is there any other kind?) whose life is turned upside down when he discovers that he's the biological dad of platonic BFF Jennifer Aniston's chip-off-the-old-block six-year-old son (scene-stealer Thomas Robinson). Based on a 1996 New Yorker short story by Pulitzer-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides, the film squanders the charm of its two appealing leads by forcing them to behave in the most obtuse, off-putting fashion imaginable. You know that a rom-com is in serious trouble when the audience doesn't care whether the central couple ever gets together or not. For poor Aniston, this makes three clunkers in a row (including the equally moribund The Bounty Hunter and Love Happens). Unless she gets her big-screen career back on track PDQ, she might want to reconsider that Friends reunion movie. (Paurich)
Toy Story 3 (G) — For a studio as innovative and consistently terrific as Pixar, it's kind of odd that they're reaching into the Toy Story box for a third time. Not that we're complaining: The first Toy Story (and Pixar's first feature, from 1995) is a masterpiece of CGI storytelling. The 1999 sequel nearly tops it. The third outing achieves the near impossible: Toy Story 3 is the best of the bunch. This time, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the gang are accidentally shipped to a daycare center as all-grown-up Andy gets ready for college. And things don't go well. The toys run into some sticky situations and a hierarchy led by the pink, vindictive, and strawberry-scented Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty). It's the funniest, smartest, and most touching movie you'll see this summer. (Gallucci)
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (PG-13) — Bella (Kristen Stewart) finally chooses between emo vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and hunky werewolf/shape-shifter Jacob (Taylor Lautner) in the third chapter of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga. Directed by the gifted David Slade (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy), Eclipse is infinitely superior to last fall's pedestrian New Moon and is quite possibly the best, most stylish Twilight yet. Although the vapid Lautner continues to be a huge drain on the series (I've seen better acting in middle-school Christmas pageants), Slade proves that bigger can sometimes be better. This film's more extravagant budget and improved CGI effects and production values finally give the franchise the properly epic (read: Harry Potter-ish) feel it's been striving for all along. I just wish that the dialogue, most of it lifted directly from Meyer's books, weren't quite so tin-ear. (Paurich)
Vampires Suck (PG-13) — You know what else sucks? This spoof of blockbuster bloodsucker movies like Twilight.