In theaters this week

Film Capsules 

In theaters this week

Savages Sex. Drugs. Violence. How can you possibly go wrong? In Savages, director and co-writer Oliver Stone shows us some of the ways in which a good idea turns bad. A Mexican drug cartel becomes interested in an extremely powerful brand of chronic distributed by a pair of California potheads. When they refuse to go into business with the mob, the head of the cartel (Salma Hayek) kidnaps the boys' shared girlfriend (Blake Lively), hoping to persuade them to change their minds. That's when things go bad. Savages as a whole isn't awful; it's the details that sink it. For one thing, various plot twists are hinted at but never materialize. And there's no way ruthless drug lords would put up with Lively's princess act. Plus, the movie takes forever to go anywhere and really only pops when a heartless thug played by Benicio Del Toro is onscreen. He's a welcome distraction from the poor writing and framing (Lively's character has rambling monologues that open and close the movie). Through it all, Savages tries hard to be something that it isn't. (R) (Julia Eberle)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (R) The concept is even more mind-blowingly awesome than Cowboys & Aliens': It turns out that before he became our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) was a kickass slayer of the undead. And these aren't just your average vampires out for some blood or whatever; they've been trying to take over the world since civilization began. Their latest plan includes tearing apart the United States with a Civil War. According to legend, or at least this movie (and the novel it's based on), Honest Abe was still a boy when his mother was killed by a man who turns out to be a vampire. Years later, Abe hooks up with a vampire hunter who sends him on a Buffy-like quest to rid the Midwest of the undead. Campy, geeky, and wrapped up in its own mythology, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has a good time rewriting American history, even though it occasionally gets weighed down by its premise. And once you get that out of the way, you're left with not much more than a bunch of cool-looking vampire slayings and a movie that takes itself a little too seriously. Fun yes, but also a bit too much in the end. (Michael Gallucci)

The Amazing Spider-Man (PG-13) — Everyone is asking the same question: Isn't it a little soon to be rebooting Spider-Man? After all, it's been only a decade since director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire teamed up for one of the best superhero movies ever made, and only five years since they called it quits after the underwhelming third movie. So why are Marc Webb, who directed (500) Days of Summer, and Andrew Garfield, who was in The Social Network, scrapping everything and starting over? Good question, and one that you'll probably forget once The Amazing Spider-Man slips into gear. It doesn't have the same energy as the first two Raimi films, as Webb builds to the action, slowly stacking characters so that you have a pretty good idea what makes them tick by the time Peter puts on the Spidey suit for the first time. It certainly gives his Spider-Man more heart, but it's also less exciting in the action department. (Gallucci)

Brave (PG) Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) has a problem with authority, especially her nagging mom, who just wants her to settle down with a nice boy in their medieval Scottish village. But she's a super-strong heroine who can show the guys a thing or two about charting their own paths, even when another one has been laid out for you. Plus, she totally kicks ass with a bow and arrow. Pixar's latest 3D extravaganza is filled with the studio's usual knockout CGI and attention to detail, but the animation studio's genre-busting storytelling stalls a bit in its most Disneyesque movie. Brave is pretty much an old-fashioned fairy tale spiked with some modern girl-power themes and few surprises. Even the witch from whom the free-thinking princess obtains a spell to change her fate has been kicking around Disney movies since the 1940s. But redheaded Merida is a great character, strong enough to carry the film, even if her story isn't exactly a new one. (Gallucci)

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (PG) — The third outing in this increasingly tiresome animated franchise gives the penguins — along with their lemur and monkey co-stars, all originally supporting characters — more screen time. The focus is still on the main quartet of animals (voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, and Jada Pinkett Smith), still trying to find their way home to America and now traipsing across Europe as part of a traveling circus. But the movie only comes to life when the action shifts away from them. The plot and gags are basically variations on those found in the other two movies, with European landmarks standing in for the African plains and New York City streets. The few moments of inspiration and absurdity are, as Alex the lion tells the circus animals, just going through the motions. (Gallucci)

Magic Mike (R) — Director Steven Soderbergh doesn't make Magic Mike just about painfully sexy men. He also stuffs a plot, along with dollar bills of course, into the cast's G-strings. Mike (Channing Tatum) and "The Kid" (Alex Pettyfer), all chiseled abs and asses, star in an all-male revue in Tampa. Mike supports his newbie pal from that first trip to the thong shop to his mounting drug problems, while trying to reach his own dream of starting a handmade-furniture business. He even places his tips under a book to flatten them so he doesn't have to apply for loans with crinkled cash. The movie's raunchy but honest comedy offers a refreshing, role-reversed look at selling sex. (Tatum actually supported himself as a male stripper before turning to acting). Themes like coming-of-age and financial freedom manage to sneak into the strip club, but the movie never takes itself too seriously: The stage shows pair cheeky tunes like "It's Raining Men" with phallic props. Next step: Make this gem in 3D. (Christina Sterbenz)

Moonrise Kingdom (PG-13) — Moonrise Kingdom is the quintessential Wes Anderson movie, falling together with an equal mix of the director's childlike charm and hipster coolness. It's 1965 New England, and 12-year-old orphan Sam (Jared Gilman) falls for 12-year-old Suzy (Kara Hayward), so they decide to run away from it all. All the grownups freak out, especially since a big storm is on the way. That's pretty much the plot. But as any Anderson fan will tell you, it all comes down to the details. Moonrise Kingdom moves quicker and more effortlessly than Anderson's past few movies – it's his liveliest film since The Royal Tenenbaums. And the excellent cast keeps up with the pace, with the young couple at the center of the movie following every step. Most of this will bug the shit out of Anderson's detractors, and you can see their point if you don't settle into Anderson's groove. But there's so much joy here – with words, filmmaking, and that moment in life when adolescent whims give way to young-adult desires. (Gallucci)

People Like Us (PG-13) -In his directorial debut, Alex Kurtzman (who co-wrote Star Trek and Cowboys & Aliens) dials it down with a fairly conventional dysfunctional-family tale. But People Like Us is shot and edited with such jittery energy that it feels like a court-ordered sci-fi detox. Sam (Chris Pine) is a slick salesman whose buzz gets harshed by his father's death. When he learns his father left him $150K and instructions to deliver it to his heretofore-unknown half-sister Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), Sam begins stalking her and her troubled son in vaguely creepy, yet miraculously character-specific ways. Because Sam, for reasons unexplained, refuses to reveal his mission to Frankie, she interprets his interest in her as romantic. The movie looks great and feels lived-in, especially by Pine and Banks, who are so charismatic and innately intelligent that they can make almost any plot mechanism seem organic. Sam has a long road to haul if he wants respectability, and Pine makes him earn it. (Justin Strout)

Prometheus (R) — They're claiming that Prometheus isn't technically a prequel to Alien, despite the same universe and director. But that's not quite the truth. And that's not going to stop comparisons to Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi classic. Set roughly a quarter-century before Ripley's fateful space run, Prometheus follows a crew of explorers (played by Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, and Charlize Theron, among others) in search of nothing less than the origin of mankind on Earth. What they discover is a monumental testament to grand set design and spectacular CGI ... and a planet oozing with monsters directly related to the ones that destroyed the Nostromo. Bigger issues loom – faith, creationism – but the movie is smart and savvy with its scares, even if it doesn't pack the visceral punch of the first two terrific parts of the saga. Much of this has been covered before – the slow, scientific build-up, the alien-infested landscape, the robot crew member – but the mythos that Scott and the writers construct here open up a new world of possibilities. (Gallucci)

Rock of Ages (PG-13) — The razor-thin story in this musical — about an idealistic, fresh-off-the-bus bottle blonde (Julianne Hough) who lands a job at a club, falls for the musically confused busboy and, naturally, ends up a stripper — feels like a glossy approximation of the 1980s Sunset Strip era and attitude it's supposed to pay homage to. In other words, it's a jumbo-sized Glee. Besides Russell Brand, who plays an assistant to Alec Baldwin's mom-jeans-sporting club owner, every single writhing body populating the joint looks like a professional pop dancer, especially Hough, who never stops glittering. And then there's Tom Cruise, who overstays his welcome as a booze-and-sex-obsessed rock god with the unbearably stupid name Stacee Jaxx. In the end, it's all just too goddamn much(Strout)

Safety Not Guaranteed (R) — Fresh out of story ideas, a Seattle magazine decides to investigate a mysterious classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. Jumping at the chance to escape the bitch-work of her internship, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) joins her man-child boss and another intern to a beachfront town to track down the weirdo who placed the ad. Their search leads to Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a socially awkward grocery clerk who not only believes that he can time travel, but also that he's being followed by government spooks. The movie's plot isn't always as strong as the characters, especially Plaza's Darius, who makes giant steps for angry girlkind by showing that cynical bitches have hearts too. A refreshing change of pace from summer's usual overcooked blockbusters, the decidedly more quiet Safety Not Guaranteed is odd, funny, and kinda sweet.(Eberle)

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