Brick. (R) Calling Rian Johnson's high school noir a piece of stuntwork might seem tantamount to hitting it with a pie. But Brick represents an impossible dream: the recycling with conviction of cinema's most calloused and beloved genre, as applied to contemporary middle-class life. Opening with a found corpse, the film then flashes back in time to show us a heartbroken teen named Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), lured into his ex-girlfriend's drug troubles with a single mysterious phone call. Thereafter, he starts investigating how deeply she was involved with the local drug kingpin (Lukas Haas) and why she was killed. Every step of the process is a deft shadow of noir logic just showing up at the right party, or beating the tar out of the right thug, sends unspoken messages to "the right people." Noir's inherent cynicism is deployed here as a near-tears metaphor for pre-adult isolation, insecurity, and self-destruction; it's such a simple fusion of potent American cultural ideas that it ends up seeming seminal. (Michael Atkinson) HP
Killer Diller. (PG-13) Even with the rough edges of its Clyde Edgerton source novel sanded away, this tall tale about a delinquent car thief (William Lee Scott) who introduces demon boogie to a Christian halfway house's decrepit gospel band has a loopy, lackadaisical charm. Yes, it's yet another movie in which a white boy proves the savior of the blues; yes, the hero's friendship with a piano-pounding autistic savant (Lucas Black) hits every predicted note, while their black bandmates are barely sketched. But writer-director Tricia Block, a TV veteran, steeps the movie in southern college-town atmosphere, and her sauntering, unhurried pace lets the actors breathe. Fred Willard effectively ditches his trademark smarm as the house's hopelessly square minister, and Deadwood's W. Earl Brown exudes a credible threat (and equally plausible tenderness) as the savant's surly, burly mechanic dad. And with Taj Mahal, Keb' Mo', Furry Lewis, and more on the soundtrack, the music kicks ass. For more on Diller and its director, see this week's film section. (Ridley) CGX, CC12, DP, J14, RON, STCH, STCL, WO
Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School. (PG-13) This flatfooted male weepie musters an insurance ad's worth of clichés about the importance of busting a move in middle age and it strains so hard to do so that it's almost perversely compelling. Grieving the loss of his wife, a timid bakery owner (Robert Carlyle) on a routine delivery happens upon a car-wreck victim (John Goodman) who remains near death and chatty for much, much longer than it takes him to explain that he was en route to meet a childhood sweetheart at the titular school when fate thumbed a ride. Persuaded to keep the dying stranger's appointment for him, our widowed baker hero ends up scoring on the dance floor with a fellow wallflower (Marisa Tomei), leading to a risible love scene wherein co-writer/director Randall Miller yearns to do for sexy breadmaking what Ghost did for sexy pottery. A veteran of Sinbad and Kid 'n' Play vehicles, Miller apparently couldn't secure studio financing even for this, a 12-step movie of square-dance convention. (Nelson) PF
RV. (PG) There is probably a level of hell built around cross-country road trips with Robin Williams. So it's quite a surprise that RV, in which Williams treks from L.A. to Boulder with his wife and kids, isn't actively painful to watch. Thankfully, he plays it relatively straight, sparing the world from yet another round of his trademark gibbering, in favor of aping the hapless but earnest Clark Griswold of the Vacation films, RV's obvious source material. The result is a workmanlike family comedy with enough pratfalls and poo jokes for tykes and enough sentimentality for parents (Williams still pours the schmaltz with a heavy hand). Add a few points for the funny and foxy Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) in the wife role and Jeff Daniels as a roving redneck. Then take the points back for director Barry Sonnenfeld's decision to film his American road movie . . . in Canada. (Jordan Harper) ARN, CGX, CW10, DP, EG, EQ, GL, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, WO
Stick It. (PG-13) This thing sucks it in comparison to the charming Kirsten Dunst cheerleading movie Bring It On, which was also penned by Stick It writer-director Jessica Bendinger. That film was charming in its exploration of teenage-girl athletics; too bad this one shares all of Bring It On's flaws while lacking most of its appeal. Some of the gymnastics footage is fun to watch, and those interested in the politics of the pommel horse may be enthralled. But the rest is populated by cardboard characters and creepiness Jeff Bridges can't transcend the ick factor of a male gymnastics coach and there's nothing at stake for the girls before the final scenes arrive. The message? Gymnastics is hard. Girls, be yourselves. And stick together in the face of outmoded, arbitrary sports judging. Any other questions? Go seek the answers in Bring It On. (Harper) ARN, CGX, CW10, CC12, DP, GL, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, WO
Stoned. (Not Rated) In July 1969, Rolling Stones founding member Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool, at a house that once belonged to Winnie the Pooh creator A.A. Milne. This movie documents the last three months of Jones' life, as well as his business relationship with builder Frank Thorogood, hired to renovate the place after having done work for Keith Richards. On his deathbed, Thorogood (played by Paddy Considine) apparently confessed to murdering Jones (Leo Gregory), but the movie doesn't give us much of a clue why. Yes, Jones as depicted here is thoroughly unlikable an arrogant rocker far less important than he thinks he his, and contemptuous of all others. But Thorogood could have left Jones' company at any time and chose not to; Considine and director Stephen Woolley (a regular producer on Neil Jordan's films) fail to make it clear what would have pushed him over the edge. As Jones' dream girl Anita Pallenberg, Monet Mazur undoubtedly draws on her own firsthand experience with Dave Navarro's junkie years. (Luke Y. Thompson) TV
United 93. (R) Paul Greengrass' September 11, 2001 movie uses the hijacking of one plane to tell the story of what happened to all four aircraft seized that morning, and it may be the most wrenching, profound, and perfectly made movie nobody wants to see. Those who view United 93 as a case of too much way too soon are right to say that none of us needs to be told once more what happened that day; we're reminded of it each time George Bush invokes the date to explain or excuse his actions. But that is precisely why United 93 needs to be seen: Even as a work of fiction, it wrests from politicians' sweaty hands the cynical battle cry that date has become and shrinks September 11 down to a human-sized tragedy. Those killed are eulogized here mourned over, cried for, at last considered. You will feel something during every single second of United 93 anger, fear, hate, hope, and most of all grief, which is all anyone can ask of an endeavor such as this. (Robert Wilonsky) CPP, CGX, CW10, CC12, DP, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, WO
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.