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Film Openings

Week of July 26, 2006

The Ant Bully. (PG) This is based upon a very short children's book by John Nickle, a beautifully drawn if crudely told tale of a boy named Lucas, who sports Coke-bottle glasses and a propeller skull cap and is picked on by a buzz-cut bully named Sid. Lucas, prone to tantrums and crying jags, decides he too will become a tormentor of those smaller than he — in this case, the ants living in the pile in his front yard. John Davis, the director of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, has made small alterations to Nickle's tale in order to render it a feature; he's also cast it with the requisite big names, among them Nic Cage, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Paul Giamatti. And though it lacks the Pixar razzle-dazzle of A Bug's Life or the neurotic charm of Antz, The Ant Bully isn't meant to play grown-up; it's a kids movie for kids, and Davis approaches it as though he and his cast are merely storytellers trying to reach kids rather than show-offs trying to impress their parents. The Ant Bully's just a little movie about a little guy who turns into a little bug for a while, and learns some big things along the way. And a little can, sometimes, go a very long way. (Robert Wilonsky) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, GL, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL Can Mr. Smith Still Get to Washington? (unrated) Reviewed in this issue. TV

John Tucker Must Die. (PG-13) If only. No one buys the farm in this Heathers-wannabe teen "satire," a term used so loosely it'll fly off in a stiff breeze. But the title's difficult to argue with, unless it's to maintain that we'd all be better off if the film's entire roster of characters had been shot in the head at the dump, greyhound-style. But enough about me: John Tucker (the plasticine Jesse Metcalf) is a rich-boy high school demigod boffing three princesses (Arielle Kebbel, Ashanti, Sophia Bush), to the revulsion of shy unpopular kid Kate (Brittany Snow). The trio discover his supa-player scheme, and plot revenge — which quickly devolves from dreams of violence (my dream, too), to spiking his sports drink with estrogen and, eventually, setting Kate up as his new honey with the intent to crush his inviolable heart. The script-performance synergy is pure Disney Channel sitcom with moderate relief provided by Bush, the only hireling here who seems to have actually watched a comedy once in her short little life. Whatever the target demographic was in the pre-production phase, now it's limited to sexually active 14-year-olds still retaking the sixth grade. (Michael Atkinson) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Miami Vice. (R) Reviewed in this issue. ARN, CPP, CGX, DP, EG, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Scoop. (PG-13) Woody Allen might have done well to end his expatriate adventure in London with last year's intriguing morality tale Match Point. This alleged return to comedy — starring Point's nubile Scarlett Johansson as a naive American journalism student, Allen himself as the phobia-rattled magician who poses as her father, and Hugh Jackman as a dashing English nobleman who may be a serial killer — is so flat, dull, and off-form that its seems to have been conceived in a fog. When Allen's famously neurotic one-liners start to bomb, there's real trouble, and Woody's performance here comes off as stammering self-parody: He's a pent-up bundle of tics and quirks so irritating that, halfway through, you may feel like ending the misery — his and yours. With Deadwood's Ian McShane as a recently deceased London newspaper legend who, from beyond the grave, puts the young heroine onto the story of a lifetime. (Bill Gallo) CPP, PF, RON

Who Killed the Electric Car?. (PG) Admit it: For years you've been burning to know what ol' Phyllis Diller really thinks about electric cars, which first (dis)appeared in her youth. "They were very quiet," she recalls. The real question is why this purportedly impassioned documentary investigation of a great subject — American culture's conspiratorial dismissal of eco-friendly alternatives to the gas-guzzler — would assume such massive viewer disinterest that it coats the pill with C-list celebrity NutraSweet, including Martin Sheen voiceovers that would sound unforgivably hackneyed even on basic cable. An opening vignette in a California cemetery has GM's produced-and-abandoned EV-1 being "buried" by tearful mourners; subsequent title cards finger so many of the usual suspects (carmakers, lawmakers, big oil, us) that the titular question might as well be Who Didn't Kill . . .? Director Chris Paine's choice of talking heads leads you to think that famous people were the only ones lucky enough to have leased GM's now-flattened roadster. Another few of these squandered opportunities for art-house muckraking and we'll need someone to ask who killed the left-wing documentary. (Rob Nelson) HP

 
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