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12 Rounds — At their best, Hollywood action movies can be exciting thrill rides that make audiences cheer; at their worst, they’re pointless exercises in property destruction. 12 Rounds falls somewhere between those extremes. The premise is a blend of Die Hard and Speed, with a police detective (John Cena) trying to save his girlfriend (Ashley Scott) from a European terrorist (Aidan Gillen) by completing a series of timed challenges. Former WWF wrestler Cena certainly looks the part, and he’s not a terrible actor. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the necessary screen charisma to keep viewers engaged in this by-the-numbers nonsense. Gillen’s bad guy isn’t particularly interesting, either. So with plot and characters a bust, we’re left with the action scenes. At least those are staged well, and if you’re an action junkie desperately in need of a car chase and explosion fix, this might do it for you. Everyone else should give this one a pass. ** (Robert Ignizio)

Crossing Over — Wayne Kramer’s immigration drama has had a troubled release. First, the producers demanded it be cut considerably from its original length, and then Sean Penn reportedly insisted his scenes be removed because he objected to the movie’s portrayal of Iranians. With Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd and a variable cast of lesser-knowns, the movie is a multi-storyline saga in the manner of Traffic and Crash, focusing on the travails of illegal immigrants from various countries trying to achieve legal status. Kramer, a South African immigrant who spent years struggling to get his green card, has undoubtedly informed the movie with his own experience, and many scenes are powerfully moving, especially those involving a little African girl stranded in a detention facility while her mother is dying of AIDS. Other scenarios lean toward the trite and predictable, and the “honor killing” story, though modified after complaints by Iranian groups, is still culturally questionable. But this is a well-intentioned, heartfelt plea for tolerance, made quite watchable by Kramer’s distinctive directorial trademarks — complex crane shots, interesting transitions and frank sexuality, particularly in the story about a pretty Australian actress (Alice Eve) who’s sexually exploited by a sleazy immigration official (Liotta). ** 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)

Duplicity — Julia Roberts and Clive Owen play a pair of über-competitive corporate spies who fall in love (sort of) while attempting to pull a multi-million dollar scam. Or maybe they’re just scamming each other. It’s hard to tell who’s on the level in writer-director Tony Gilroy’s screwy follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton. Gilroy plays so many tricks with point of view and jumbles the chronology in such a seemingly random, pell-mell fashion that you could get a migraine just keeping track of all the glamorous locales (New York, London, Miami, the Bahamas, Rome, Dubai) fleetingly glimpsed along the way. Two actors who can class up any joint (Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, reuniting following their roles as John Adams and Ben Franklin in HBO’s John Adams miniseries) contribute a few stray moments of welcome mirth as Roberts and Owen’s conniving bosses, but Gilroy’s stubborn refusal to tell his story straight makes this more of an exercise in frustration than the larkish screwball romp he seems to think it is. ** (Milan Paurich)

The Haunting in Connecticut — Sara Campbell (Virginia Madsen) rents a house so her family can be near the hospital where teenage son Matt (Kyle Gallner) is undergoing experimental cancer treatments. The rent is cheap, and with good reason — the house used to be a mortuary, and if that’s not enough, séances were once conducted there. One such séance led to the deaths of several people, and the disappearance of the young medium conducting it. Considering the movie’s title, it should come as no surprise that this place is haunted. Spookiness ensues, and, given the PG-13 rating, the scares are surprisingly creepy and effective. Dramatic license has been taken with the alleged “true story” this is based on, but does that really matter? As a movie, this is a gripping, well-acted ghost story in the vein of Poltergeist or the original Amityville Horror that delivers chills and thrills without all the gore and sleaze of most modern horror flicks. *** (Ignizio)

I Love You, Man — This isn’t a Judd Apatow production; it was directed by John Hamburg (Along Came Polly), who wrote the script with Larry Levin. But it pays homage to the formula, and stars Apatow alumni Paul Rudd and Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Rudd plays Peter Klaven, an L.A. realtor who has just proposed to Zooey (Rashida Jones), whose parents apparently named her in a fit of Salinger worship. Peter is a dream boyfriend: handsome, ambitious but not aggressive, talented in the kitchen and bedroom, and a man who enjoys an evening watching Chocolat with his fiancée. But he has, in Apatovian terms, a problem: he’s a “girlfriend guy.” He has no close male friend who can be his best man. Quelle horreur! The movie advances the notion that men can enjoy greater intimacy with men than with women, though of course, they’re not gay. Wobbly premise aside, the movie, while not raucously hilarious, has a breezy likeability, mainly owing to the charismatic Rudd, whose character spends much of the movie trying to master the art of casual banter. *** (Zoslov)

Knowing — In this sci-fi thriller, a time capsule is unearthed containing a sheet of paper predicting every major disaster of the last 50 years. Three dates and locations remain, including one that portends the very end of the world. Can John Koestler (Nicholas Cage) find a way to avert destruction? Cage is in full over-the-top mode here, at times literally tearing apart the scenery in his efforts to sell the simplest of scenes. But then, he’s only following the lead of director Alex Proyas, who seems more interested in CGI destruction than exploring human nature in the face of armageddon. Knowing is a film that has nothing of substance to say, despite its weighty subject. Even its vision of the apocalypse seems calculated to be as inoffensive as possible, as it awkwardly blends elements of the Christian rapture, new-age “space brothers” mythology and dubious science. And lest anyone say they just want to be entertained, there’s precious little in the way of fun here, either. * (Ignizio)

Last House on the Left — Keep telling yourself, “It’s Only Another Useless Remake ... It’s Only Another Useless Remake.” Given the wobbly acting, meat-cleaver editing and a soundtrack with more mood swings than your psycho ex-girlfriend, Wes Craven’s cult 1972 cheapie Last House on the Left might have been interesting with a big-budget makeover. But ... no, not really. An a la mode torture-porn treatment and sharp (albeit filmed economically in South Africa) production values little enhance 2009’s Craven-produced revisit to the splatterfest about teen girls abducted and abused by an escaped convict and his killer gang/extended family. Thinking they’ve disposed of the bodies, the assailants seek shelter at the title summer house, which, fatally for them, turns out to be the residence of one victim’s parents (Cleveland actress Monica Potter plays the murdering mom). The original had some ambiguity (or was it just blurry cinematography?) about the awful revenge; this one’s just a vigilante death-fest, with sink-disposal unit and microwave-oven-icide prompting the only moral question: Why are we watching this? Between them all, best version is still Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. * 1/2 (Cassady)

Monsters vs. Aliens — Even though Monsters vs. Aliens incorporates new characters to the talking-animal genre (actually, Pixar got there first eight years ago with the otherworldly creatures of Monsters, Inc.), it’s still the same mix of animated elements. The opening scenes set up the plight of Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), a bride hit by a piece of space junk on her wedding day. She soon begins glowing and growing. The government tosses her into a cell with other imprisoned oddities: Dr. Cockroach, an oversized, lab coat-wearing roach (Hugh Laurie); a fish-man called the Missing Link (Will Arnett); Insectosaurus, a ginormous bug; and B.O.B., a jumbo blob of blue Jell-O that sounds like (and is) Seth Rogen. When a four-eyed, tentacled alien attacks Earth, the monsters are recruited to save the planet from the imminent invasion. Monsters vs. Aliens certainly makes good on its promise of the titular creatures. And it looks great (be sure to see it in 3D — the sci-fi spectacle leaps off the screen). But there isn’t much of a story here. ** 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)

Race to Witch Mountain — Extraterrestrial siblings Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) crash-land on earth, only to be pursued by a predictably unfriendly secret branch of the U.S. government. Fortunately for them, they wind up in a cab driven by Jack Bruno (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a cynic with a checkered past who, along with some help from UFO researcher Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), tries to protect the kids. This live-action Disney film sticks pretty close to the formula the studio used in their original Witch Mountain films from the ’70s, even as it deviates from the plot considerably. There’s plenty of PG-level action, the heroes and villains are presented as black and white, and the special effects and general tone have a decidedly low-budget feel. There are logical issues and plot holes galore, but director Andy Fickman manages to keep the film engaging enough. ** 1/2 (Ignizio)

Sunshine Cleaning — This bittersweet comedy about two sisters who launch a crime-scene cleanup business was produced by the team responsible for Little Miss Sunshine, which it resembles in its mordant affection for its hard-luck characters and the casting of Alan Arkin as an eccentric grandpa. Amy Adams is Rose, an Albuquerque ex-cheerleader who cleans houses and is having an affair with a married cop (Steve Zahn), who tells her there’s money to be made cleaning up after murders and suicides. Rose, who needs to pay for private school for her imaginative young son (Jason Spevack), recruits her hapless sister Norah (Emily Blunt) and plunges into the messy business. The sisters, who along the way meet a gentle, one-armed janitorial-supply salesman (Clifton Collins Jr.), are affected by the tragedies they encounter, particularly Norah, who’s so moved by a dead woman’s family photos that she tries to befriend the woman’s daughter (Mary Lynn Rajskub). Eventually, the sisters begin to heal the wounds left by their mother’s premature death. Some situations are strain credulity, and Megan Holley’s script wanders a bit, yet the movie achieves moments of sublime poignancy. The acting is superb, and the mood artfully balanced between sadness and hope. Shaker Cinemas. *** (Zoslov)

Watchmen — Set in 1985 in an alternate United States, where costume-clad heroes used to be as common as the threat of nuclear war that hangs over the world, Watchmen tells the story of a group of banned and retired crime fighters who reluctantly reunite after one of their colleagues — the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), whose blood-stained smiley-face button serves as the story’s iconic linchpin — is killed. Now that the film is finally here, after more than two decades of delays, false starts and lawsuits, fans are in for a dizzying thrill. Director Zack Snyder — whose other movies, 2004’s Dawn of the Dead and 2006’s 300, are stylized visual feasts — treats the work with all the reverence of a stammering geek. Last year, The Dark Knight forever changed the comic-book movie. Watchmen isn’t that good, but Snyder’s faithful adaptation captures the essence of Moore’s existential masterpiece. *** (Gallucci)

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