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In theaters this week

John Carter

With characters and a story based on a 95-year-old Edgar Rice Burroughs novel and inspiration borrowed from Star Wars, Gladiator, and Avatar, among others, John Carter is a big, loud, and overlong sci-fi epic that aims for genre mythos but settles for super-caffeinated 3D spectacle. The title character (played by Friday Night Lights' Taylor Kitsch) is a 19th-century cavalry captain who, thanks to a celestial medallion, ends up on Mars, where he gets caught up in a war between towering, four-armed CGI aliens and a race of people who look like they raided Flash Gordon's wardrobe. Pixar vet Andrew Stanton directs with the same wide-eyed wonder he brought to the animated WALL-E, so John Carter is a visual delight. But it's ultimately an empty experience, even with everything going on — and there's a lot in 135 minutes. Rated PG-13. (Michael Gallucci)

Act of Valor (PG-13) — U.S. Navy SEAL teams are many things: tough, focused, and cool under pressure. What they would freely admit they are not are Hollywood actors. The real-life soldiers and the movie itself hop around the globe, from Ukraine to Cambodia to Mexico, with each new mission bringing a new set of challenges, all of which equal roughly the same thing: Shoot everyone in the head. (Justin Strout)

The Artist (PG-13) — You won't find a lovelier valentine to the movies than Michel Hazanavicius' black-and-white and near-silent tribute to the silent screen. In 1927 Hollywood, matinee idol George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is on top of the movie world. But then talking pictures begin to revolutionize the industry, and George brushes them off, setting in motion his slow but steady downfall. The story is straight out of A Star Is Born, but the inspiration comes from 100 years of cinema. (Gallucci)

Friends With Kids (R) — Jason (Adam Scott) and platonic BFF Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) skip the whole marriage and commitment thing and decide to have a baby. Of course, this being a romantic comedy, you know it isn't going to be as easy as that. But Friends With Kids also offers some clear-eyed intrigue derived from the effects of their friends' stress — the kind of stress that comes from being married with children — and from Jason and Julie's attempt to ultimately not wind up like them. Still, the movie can't escape its formulaic essence, despite several valiant attempts. (Lee Gardner)

The Lorax (G) — Dr. Seuss traditionalists might have a few problems with this new adaptation — not least of which its romantic subplot — but there's plenty to like in this tale of the Once-ler (Ed Helms), an enterprising dude who markets a multi-purpose yet purpose-free product made from the leaves of a special tree. Soon, the Once-ler's greed drives him to cut down every tree in sight with his mass-production machines. The Lorax (Danny DeVito), the little furry guardian of the forest, is none too pleased. Not a bad way to learn how to protect the environment and distrust corporations. (Vince Grzegorek)

Safe House (R) — Denzel Washington plays Tobin Frost, a former CIA agent accused of trading secrets. Ryan Reynolds is a baby-faced CIA newbie who whiles away the time at a rarely used safe house in South Africa, pining for a tougher assignment. Then Tobin is brought in for questioning, followed by gunshots, fights, and assassins. It's an action-packed ride, but it would be nice if it slowed down for a minute. (Grzegorek)

A Separation (PG-13) — Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) are at a crossroads in their marriage. Simin wants to move their 11-year-old daughter to a country where there are more opportunities for women, but Nader wants to stay in Tehran to take care of his father. Their breakup isn't always the focal point of A Separation, but it's constantly there, hanging over everything that happens. Writer and director Asghar Farhadi doesn't take sides. Nader and Simin have their reasons. The film is matter-of-fact — occasionally devastating, sometimes infuriating, and always real. (Gallucci)

This Means War (PG-13) — When Reese Witherspoon's Lauren finds herself dating a smooth-talking CIA agent (Chris Pine) as well as his partner-in-espionage (Tom Hardy), she naturally recognizes their respective appeal and elegantly dissects it: One has "tiny hands" and the other is "British." Yes, This Means War is that dumb. Worse: It thinks you are too. (Strout).

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