Film Openings

Week of August 2, 2006


Barnyard. (PG) Even an advanced case of critter fatigue shouldn't stop you from rushing out to see this delightfully cheeky animated tale of a farm full of good but misguided beasts under siege from wily coyotes and their own social disarray. Protected by wise, brave old cow Ben (voiced by Sam Elliott), the animals, egged on by Ben's irresponsible party cow of a son, Otis (Kevin James), spend their time boogeying — until Ben goes the way of all benign parents in studio movies, leaving the barnyard a rudderless ship and forcing Otis to consider mending his prodigal-son ways with only a clapped-out horse (Danny Glover) to mentor him. As earnest as this sounds, Barnyard, written and directed by Steve Oedekerk of Ace Ventura fame, is jazzed by breezy irreverence and a mischievous use of rock and roll. The giddily indeterminate approach to bovine gender — Otis is as generously endowed with udder as is the pregnant lady cow (Courteney Cox) for whom he falls with a thud — and charmingly sappy adoption subtext lend ample appeal to this decidedly non-Orwellian story of four legs good, two legs irrelevant. (Ella Taylor) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, GL, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Boynton Beach Club. (Not Rated) With due respect for older moviegoers hungry to see the pains and pleasures of aging represented on the big screen, it hurts to think that some of them are willing to be fobbed off with this execrable excuse for a senior comedy, which only got a distributor after it screened through the roof among the Early Bird crowd in Florida. Sloppily cooked up by Desperately Seeking Susan's Susan Seidelman and her mom, Florence, Boynton Beach Club is set in an active-adult retirement community, with a fairly distinguished cast trying to bend itself around a gag-ridden screenplay about bereaved seniors looking for love and friendship. A threadbare plot peeks through the shopworn jokes about Viagra, stashed-away dildos, and eager old dames delivering unsolicited casseroles to freshly widowed men. Sally Kellerman and Len Cariou bring some sorely needed self-respect to a couple going through dating pains, and Dyan Cannon, once you get over the shock of what the surgeons have done to her face, makes a warm and lively friend to newly widowed Brenda Vaccaro. The rest is best seen as a pilot for a Golden Girls spinoff, ready for cancellation in week two. (Taylor) PF

The Descent. (R) If Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers is Platoon at war with Predator, the Brit writer-director's follow-up is an underground Aliens, once its army of slithering, sharp-toothed hominoid fiends traps a half-dozen women spelunkers in their subterranean lair. In the great B tradition, Marshall gets a lot out of nothing, the dark in particular: A good half of the wide screen is pitch-black much of the time; although this genre excavator begins his adventure with a half-dozen flashlights, one strapped to each woman's helmet, that number quickly decreases as horror conventions require. Exploring gender as well as genre, Dog Soldiers and The Descent play out very differently (let's just say the Lone Wolf is no Final Girl), but both are barebones survivalist shockers by a fanboy populist who clearly relishes the challenge of being out of time, low on ammo, down to his last two shots. (Rob Nelson) ARN, CGX, DP, J14, MR, NW, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

The Night Listener. (R) As a consideration of the power of storytelling — and the urge to mythologize one's own life as well as the lives of others — The Night Listener could serve as creepy paranoid cousin to the current Lady in the Water. The specters of J.T. LeRoy and James Frey haunt this muted psychological thriller about a radio yarn-spinner (Robin Williams, effectively underplaying) beguiled by a 14-year-old fan's lurid memoir of rape and victimization. The closer he gets to the dying boy, who's accessible only by phone, the more he starts to wonder if the kid really exists — a possibility the boy's caretaker (Toni Collette) extends as either a lifeline or a noose. Armistead Maupin helped adapt the screenplay from his novel, itself spun from a real-life anecdote involving a suspicious fan, and Patrick Stettner's stealthy film version seethes with the ambivalence of a writer who treats the people around him as straw to be spun into gold. Even when the script overstates the obvious, Stettner mines every nuance of unease from the head games between Williams and the unnerving Collette, who embodies the moment passive aggression stops being passive. (Jim Ridley) ARN, CGX, DP, J14, MR, MOO, OF, RON, SP, STCH

Peaceful Warrior. (PG-13) Reviewed this issue. (Luke Y. Thompson)

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. (PG-13) Reviewed this issue. (Robert Wilonsky) ARN, DP, EG, GL, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

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