Film Openings

Week of March 30, 2006

 ATL. (PG-13) What an age of wonders we live in when we can say, "Oh, another roller-skating black teen dramedy." But here is ATL, hot on the heels of last year's Roll Bounce, revealing that this genre may already be tapped out. The movie often sounds great (which is to be expected from a film produced by music guru Dallas Austin and TLC diva T-Boz), and there are some decent performances from the young cast. As a piece of Atlanta teen sociology, it's fun to watch for about 30 minutes. But the movie is sick at the screenplay level, lazily juggling six or so subplots that offer no connection or sense of urgency. And anybody expecting feats of skating-do, beware: This is not You Got Served on wheels. For something that's supposed to be the passion of these kids' lives, the whole skate-rink motif feels tacked on. And dammit, if you're gonna spend the whole movie talking about the "Monster Skate-Off," you'd better show the thing before the credits roll. (Jordan Harper) DP, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Basic Instinct 2. Our favorite nutty, nekkid novelist is at it again. Under investigation for murder, Catherine Tramell manages to seduce the very psychologist who's supposed to be evaluating her. And if by "evaluating her," you mean becoming Tramell's love slave, then he did a bang-up job. Starring Sharon Stone. Duh. (not reviewed) CPP, CGX, DP, J14, KEN, OF, RON, STCH

Before the Fall. (Not Rated) Dennis Gansel's disturbing feature explores a little-known detail of the Nazi horror: the recruitment of more than 15,000 young men into elite training schools, where they were groomed as athletes, soldiers, and "ideologically correct" scholars. These youths, Adolf Hitler proclaimed in 1938, "will learn to think German and to act German — and nothing else." Set in 1942, as the military fortunes of the Third Reich began to wane, the film focuses on a promising young boxer from a working-class family, Friedrich Weimer (Max Riemelt), who has a taste for violence in the ring, and on his aristocratic friend, Albrecht Stein (Tom Schilling), whose sensitivity contradicts the regime's obsession with Aryan supermen. Trained to be a soulless killer, Friedrich nonetheless undergoes a crisis of conscience when several tragedies, including the slaughter of some young Russian prisoners of war, envelop the students. As this fascinating moral drama turns its attention to the battle for the young man's soul, Gansel finds in him the deeper concerns of an entire society blinded by a lie. (Bill Gallo) TV

Find Me Guilty. (R) It's a movie about the longest criminal trial in U.S. history, it's directed by Sidney Lumet, and it stars . . . Vin Diesel in a wig? Can Lumet be serious? Actually, no. The characters may be based on real people, with much of the dialogue culled directly from court transcripts, but Find Me Guilty plays the whole thing as comedy, and as everyone knows, putting a self-serious egomaniacal movie star in a bad hairpiece is comedy gold. Diesel plays Jackie DiNorscio, a low-level Mafia crook offered a reduced sentence if he'll agree to testify against other members of the Lucchese crime family. DiNorscio refuses, even though doing so will land him on trial alongside them. Disillusioned with his previous lawyer, he decides to represent himself, and his clumsily amusing antics proceed to charm the jury and aggravate the judge and lawyers. Lumet (Network, Dog Day Afternoon) is probably never going to be as good again as he was in the '70s, but his work here with the actors is strong. (Luke Y. Thompson) RON, STCH

Ice Age: The Meltdown. (PG) A merry saga of death, extinction and migratory depletion, this sequel may be the grimmest entertainment for kids since Uncle Walt killed Old Yeller. Underneath the intermittently funny slapstick, there's a worldview in which everything exists to eat, be eaten, and die. Struggling to stay off the menu are Diego the saber-tooth tiger (voice of Denis Leary), Sid the sloppily sibilant sloth (John Leguizamo) and Manny the lonely mammoth (Ray Romano), who head for higher ground to escape a flood. (That's as compelling as the story gets — a long walk.) A romantic subplot about a possum-raised mammoth (Queen Latifah!) tries to put the warm in global warming, but the unappealing character designs, incessant celebrity-voice chatter and slickly inexpressive 3-D animation thwart any emotional pull. The only feeling that registers is hunger — that of show-tune-singing vultures, of unfrozen sea monsters and especially of the starving scene-stealer called the Scrat. Watching this zoo of long-vanished quadrupeds, you're left with an eerie message for our own warming times: They fought the thaw, and the thaw won. (Jim Ridley) ARN, CPP, CGX, DP, EG, GL, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Neil Young: Heart of Gold. (Not Rated) The concept couldn't be more simple: Get Neil Young and some pals on a Nashville stage to play all of his Harvesty new album Prairie Wind and some classic-rock standards, then stand out of the way and film the whole blessed thing. Jonathan Demme, director of the immortal Talking Heads concert doc Stop Making Sense, keeps it simple this time around; it would have been hard to fuck this up, and no Demme or dummy could manage any such thing. The skeptic walked into the screening doubting the first half of the film would hold up; Prairie Wind is good Neil, not great Neil. Yet it works, because it plays like a low-key Last Waltz, with a string section and gospel choir and backup singers parading on and off stage to keep things moving (and moving, especially "Fallin' off the Face of the Earth," with Neil's wife as one of the background muses). Even the treacle ("God Made Me") soars, as do the standards you thought you were sick of hearing. (Robert Wilonsky) TV

Slither. (R) Here's a true slugfest for you: The entire movie is crawling with space slugs — the kind that turn some people into people-eating slug men, others into acid-loogy-hawking zombies, and others still into giant globular slug-sows. Writer-director James Gunn honors his B-movie influences while managing to be truly original. Sci-fi star Nathan Fillion, who has the looks and sense of humor to be the next Bruce Campbell, plays a small-town police chief hunting for a man infected by a parasite from outer space. Once the chase begins, Slither starts running and never really stops. Character development is kept to a minimum, and the proceedings are too tongue-in-cheek to generate any actual shivers (just laughs and ewwws). But whether or not you'll like this movie comes down to taste: Either you've got worms in your heart or you don't. (Harper) ARN, CGX, DP, GL, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, STCH, STCL

Thank You for Smoking. (R) "You want an easy job, go join the Red Cross," someone says well into this gleeful farce about capitalist mendacity based on Christopher Buckley's 1994 bestseller. But what seems worthy of modern satire is often a hair's breadth from pillorying itself, and the gray zone between unamusingly tedious and roaringly redundant is ever shrinking; if only first-time director Jason Reitman (son of Ivan) had more muscle in his whip arm. Trying, and essentially failing, to plumb the rational depths of a tobacco lobbyist's moral vacuum, Reitman regales with the trials of Ned Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), who must negotiate the ethical morass between his job and his intentions as a father. Buckley is best at sharp-tongued one-liners, which constitute a lion's portion of the script. But instead of hitting the gas and allowing the scenario to rock and roll with g forces, Reitman keeps his movie small, unvaried, slack, and — deliberately and oddly — completely smoke-free. How deep can a satiric bite be when the object of outrage has been wrung out of the mix? (Michael Atkinson) PF

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