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What's in theaters this week?

The A-Team (PG-13) — Like the '80s TV series it's based on, The A-Team is incredibly simple-minded. The saving grace of both show and movie is the four likable main characters: Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), B.A. Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson), "Face" (Bradley Cooper), and Mad Dog Murdock (Sharlto Copley). Copley (District 9's Wikus) and Neeson get most of the film's best moments, but even supporting players Jessica Biel and Ray Liotta are given a chance to shine in between all the explosions and shoot-outs. There's not much to the plot about a special forces team that tries to clear its name after getting framed for stealing U.S. currency printing plates. But plenty of fight scenes, ridiculous stunts, and clever jokes keep you from noticing just how flimsy the whole thing is. Director Joe Carnahan, who made the equally dumb and entertaining Smokin' Aces, strikes just the right tone. Normally, movies like this have no business going past the 90-minute mark, but Carnahan's pacing keeps it from dragging. (Robert Ignizio)

Cyrus (R) — Still not over a divorce that was finalized years ago, John (John C. Reilly) is invited to his ex-wife's engagement party, where he makes an ass of himself with help from a lot of Red Bull and vodka. When he steps outside to pee in the bushes, cute Molly (Marisa Tomei) sneaks a peek. "Nice penis," she tells him. And so begins John and Molly's relationship, which surprises John and proceeds smoothly until John meets Cyrus (Jonah Hill), Molly's 21-year-old son. John soon realizes why this sexy woman wants to go out with him: Cyrus is a dysfunctional mama's boy who provides some major cock-blocking to his mom's personal life. Cyrus is funny, but it never goes for big, obvious laughs. It's also a simmering pot of menace, with the scheming Cyrus stirring the mix. Hill plays this borderline sociopath as a ticking bomb of mommy and daddy issues. The devious look in his eyes, his condescending attitude toward John and Molly, and his passive-aggressive actions say it all. Cyrus can't quite sustain this balance for 90 minutes, and the end feels a bit like a copout. But this is a dark comedy that makes room for a little light. (Michael Gallucci)

Despicable Me (PG) — The villains at the center of this amiable CGI movie are straight out of the James Bond playbook. After rival bad guy Vector begins to steal some of the planet's most notable landmarks, the borderline incompetent Gru hatches a plan to shrink the moon (it's basically a one-upmanship contest between these guys). He adopts three tiny orphan girls to help him, even though he knows as much about parenting as he does about taking over the world. It isn't long before Gru is squeezing in dance recitals and amusement park outings between world-domination plans. The great voice cast (Russell Brand, Jason Segal, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, and Julie Andrews) is headed by Steve Carell as the heavily accented and occasionally English-mangling Gru. The funny script is short on actual plot, but many scenes pop, thanks to the zippy animation and panoramic 3-D. And even if Despicable Me doesn't need a bunch of little yellow helium-voiced minions running around, they're a kick every time they're onscreen. (Gallucci)

Grown Ups (PG-13) — Adam Sandler plays a high-powered Hollywood agent who reunites with some boyhood friends (including former SNL castmates Chris Rock and David Spade) at the funeral of their grade-school basketball coach. Every character comes with a joke: Rob Schneider's new-age boob has a thing for older — really older — women; Rock's Mr. Mom is pussywhipped by his wife and harridan of a mother-in-law; Kevin James is, well, fat. None of them gets appreciably funnier with repetition. Lazy, witless, and aggressively coarse, this could very well be Sandler's worst and most cringeworthy film (and, yes, I'm including The Water Boy and Bedtime Stories). I don't know what's more offensive here — the rancid, vulgar humor or the icky sentimentality that permeates every frame like a congealed layer of Transfat. Hopefully, Sandler and his pals had more fun making Grown Ups than anyone will have watching it. (Milan Paurich)

The Karate Kid (PG) — This remake of the 1984 Ralph Macchio-Pat Morita kitsch classic (itself a Rocky rip-off) rethinks the clichés and bundles a spectacular Far East travelogue on the side. New Karate Kid on the block Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) arrives in Beijing with his single mom (Taraji P. Henson), who's relocated for business reasons from Detroit. Outgoing Dre runs afoul of Chinese boys from a mean-spirited kung-fu school, adding serial bullying to his culture shock. To Dre's rescue comes Mr. Han (a subdued Jackie Chan), the Parkers' taciturn handyman and a secret source of ancient kung-fu knowledge and philosophy. To end the bullying, Han mentors Dre for a tournament showdown against the bullies. The movie delivers on the master-disciple interplay and the dawning respect across races and generations that were always the strength of the series. (Charles Cassady)

Killers (PG-13) — Jen (Katherine Heigl) is on a trip to France with her parents (Tom Selleck and Catherine O'Hara) when she meets Spencer (Ashton Kutcher) in a hotel elevator. Shirtless and ripped, the guy isn't ashamed to show off his fab abs. Not so surprisingly, Jen falls for him. It's not long before they're having romantic picnics on the beach and taking long drives along coastal highways. Jen doesn't know it, but Spencer is a hit man. But he wants out of the game and tells his boss he's quitting so he can lead a normal life. His boss doesn't like it, but he lets Spencer go. Fast forward three years: Spencer and Jen are happily married, living the suburban dream in a quiet residential community. When one of their houseguests unexpectedly tries to kill him, Spencer realizes there's a bounty on his head. He returns to his hit-man ways, pulling a small arsenal of automatic weapons from his attic as he and Jen begin to suspect even innocent neighbors. Killers' premise isn't bad, but it takes far too long for any action to develop. (Jeff Niesel)

Knight and Day (PG-13) — This is the kind of film that practically encourages ADD, cobbled together out of stray parts from a slew of mostly better movies. North by Northwest (the standard-bearer for this type of escapist fluff), Romancing the Stone, the Mission Impossible flicks, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Groundhog Day, and even the under-loved Hudson Hawk are just a few of the titles liberally quoted here. The MacGuffin propelling Patrick O'Neill's connect-the-dots script is a super-strength new battery codenamed "The Zephyr." Rogue agent Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) wants to protect the contraption and its dweebish inventor (Paul Dano) from his former agency bosses (the overqualified Viola Davis and Peter Sarsgaard) and a slew of Euro weapons manufacturers. Cameron Diaz is the cutie Roy uses as a mule to help get through airport security then can't quite seem to shake. You'll forget most of the plot particulars before hitting the parking lot. (Paurich)

The Last Airbender (PG) — Disappointment in M. Night Shyamalan movies has become almost reflexive among fans, who bemoan the director's failure to match the success of his 1999 breakthrough film The Sixth Sense. Shyamalan's movies, though uneven and often reliant on twist endings, tend to be contemplative, with a spiritual component that seems to frustrate moviegoers seeking more obvious thrills. The Last Airbender, a live-action adventure film based on a Nickelodeon animated series, is likely to disappoint as well, since it emphasizes the narrative's cerebral elements over exciting action. The story centers on Aang (Noah Ringer), a preadolescent Airbender accepting his destiny as the reincarnated Avatar, the only person who can manipulate all four elements and maintain peace among the Air, Water, Earth, and Fire nations. (Pamela Zoslov)

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. With their glowing eyes and infrared vision (not to mention their cloaking devices), they look like cheesy creatures from an old Star Trek episode. Brody is an OK action hero, but he's a bit stiff in the role, and the supporting cast (including a brief cameo by Laurence Fishburne) practically shows him up. (Niesel)

Shrek Forever After (PG) — Sometime over the course of three sequels, the Shrek franchise stopped being a parody of super-saccharine kids' movies and became one itself. What started as an occasionally hilarious and sharp satire of Walt Disney (the animated features, the corporation's front office, the trusted trademark) in the first Shrek from 2001 had become repetitive and critically unfunny by 2007's Shrek the Third. So it's probably a good thing the gang (Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas — they're all back) is calling it quits after Shrek Forever After (in 3-D, of course). This time, Shrek thinks he's lost what it takes to be a big, bad ogre. So he makes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin that goes horribly wrong, ending up in an alternate Far Far Away (what is this, Lost?) where he's never met Fiona and ogres are hunted by villagers ruled by the evil Rumpelstiltskin. Thankfully, there aren't as many pop-culture references shoehorned into the script, and it's nice to see the familiar faces — Pinocchio, Gingy, the Three Pigs — doing something a bit different. There's more life in Shrek Forever After than there was last time, but the fairy tale ended a while ago for the series. (Gallucci)

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). Like the other two movies in the series, Toy Story 3 expertly mixes poignancy and humor. 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)

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Calendar

Staff Pick Events

  • Angels in America @ Cedar Lee

    • Wed., Aug. 23
  • Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk @ Capitol Theatre

    • Wed., Aug. 23
  • Kedi @ Cleveland Cinematheque

    • Sat., Aug. 26

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