Little Miss Sunshine. (R) Like the shambling VW van its hapless characters steer from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, this antic extended sitcom from first-time feature makers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris is a rickety vehicle that travels mostly downhill. When his seven-year-old daughter (Abigail Breslin) gets a surprise slot in a beauty contest, a failed motivational speaker (Greg Kinnear) loads up his squabbling, despondent family to make the 700-mile road trip. The ensemble including Steve Carell as a suicidal Proust scholar, Paul Dano as a mute Nietzsche freak and Alan Arkin in the thankless role of a foul-mouthed, heroin-snorting grandpa works gamely, but this is the latest in a long line of Sundance clunkers that seems to have developed its impression of human behavior from incomplete space transmissions. There are strains of generosity in the script and performances, but the platitudinous payoff winning isn't everything, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, etc. would go down a lot easier if the movie didn't roam from scene to scene searching for new characters to patronize. (Jim Ridley) GL, PF
The Oh in Ohio. (R) Priscilla (Parker Posey) has never had an orgasm, and even though her high-school teacher hubby Jack (Paul Rudd) admits she's great in the sack, he's being driven to drink by the fact that there is no known way to satisfy her. Priscilla's job is to woo big business to Cleveland, which might be a lot easier if she were to realize what may be Ohio's biggest selling point: that the age of consent is only 16 which Jack's star pupil (Mischa Barton) knows well. First-time feature director Billy Kent seems proud that his movie deals with sex in such frank fashion. But if you're going to brag about your explicit sexuality, it doesn't quite work to go out of your way avoiding skin. Every actor here probably has a no-nudity clause, but for a film like this, it might have been better for the story and the box office to find a cast that doesn't. Except for Danny DeVito and Liza Minnelli their clothes can stay. (Luke Y. Thompson) TV
Pulse. Otherworldly beings hop on earth's frequency, thus burying themselves into our technology -- e-mail, cell phones, you name it. With movies like Pulse, it sort of makes you wonder why they'd bother. Kristen Bell stars. (NR) ARN, CGX, DP, GL, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH
Step Up. (PG-13) Borrowing heavily from predecessors like Fame and Save the Last Dance, choreographer-turned-director Anne "Mama" Fletcher has made a dance romance that might provoke the old Brooklyn disco king Tony Manero to grab a big hammer down from the hardware-store wall and go Italian-crazy on the plagiarists. Buff Channing Tatum, late of She's the Man, is a second-rate Eminem type from the seedy reaches of Baltimore, and his only outlet is busting a few moves. Pretty Jenna Dewan is the ambitious rich girl who needs a new dance partner for her senior-showcase number at the elite Maryland School of the Arts. Bingo. When the raw meets the refined, art heals all wounds and romance blossoms at least in this familiar vision of show-biz success. Fletcher ably blends ballet and hip-hop, but the filming itself is often clumsy, and Tatum's relentless African American impersonation quickly wears out its welcome. (Bill Gallo) ARN, DP, EG, GL, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL
World Trade Center. (PG-13) Reviewed in this issue. ARN, CPP, CGX, DP, EG, GL, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL
Zoom. Here's a great formula for a DIY movie: Take a group of ragtag (blank) and turn them into (blank)! In this case, the blanks would be "kids" and "superheroes," respectively. Peter Hewitt directs. (NR) ARN, CGX, DP, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, STCH, STCL
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