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New Releases

BEE SEASON For the sake of variety, we need more spirituality in the movies, which is why the very existence of Bee Season is a blessing even if its haphazardness makes it something of a curse. Based on the novel by Myla Goldberg, it centers on 9-year-old Eliza Naumann (excellent Flora Cross), whose lack of a defining skill initially makes her the odd person out in a gifted family that includes her college professor dad Saul (Richard Gere), her scientist mom Miriam (Juliette Binoche) and her musically inclined teenage brother Aaron (Max Minghella). But Eliza discovers she has a remarkable talent for spelling words, a skill that soon takes her through the ranks of the nation's bees. Yet Saul thinks there's more to Eliza's aptitude than meets the eye: Deeply immersed in religious studies, he suspects his daughter might be a modern-day mystic able to connect directly with God through language. As he devotes all his energy to her spiritual education, he fails to notice his son's burgeoning interest in a bubbly Hare Krishna (Kate Bosworth) or his wife's increasingly bizarre behavior. Binoche valiantly struggles to carry her unwieldy subplot, so clumsily presented that it repeatedly threatens to sink the entire project. Yet the efforts of the other characters to navigate their own spiritual waters remain compelling, even if it leads to a finale that isn't powerful as much as it's puzzling. Rating: ** 1/2

YOURS, MINE AND OURS A descent into the pits of hell disguised as a motion picture, Yours, Mine and Ours is the sort of broad, insincere schmaltz that moviegoers seem to eat up at this time of year (see: Cheaper By the Dozen in 2003 and Christmas With the Kranks in 2004). A widower (Dennis Quaid) with eight kids bumps into his former high school sweetheart, now a widow (Rene Russo) with 10 children. On a whim, they decide to get married, but managing a household comprised of 18 minors proves to be a formidable challenge, especially since each parent's brood seems incapable of getting along with the other group. The 1968 original is hardly a classic, yet with its mature handling of the romance between Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, as well as the inclusion of some memorable skits (Lucy unwittingly getting liquored up by Fonda's mischievous sons; doctor Tom Bosley paying a nocturnal visit), it's never less than pleasant. This new version jettisons all semblance of wit for the sake of one noisy, overwrought sequence after another. Most of these brats are annoying and some even unpleasant (of course, all abruptly turn into perfect angels in time for the climax), though it must be noted that Quaid and Russo labor mightily to inject a measure of professionalism into this dud penned by the team of Ron Burch and David Kidd (no strangers to one-star affairs, they also wrote Inspector Gadget and the Freddie Prinze Jr. debacle Head Over Heels). But how many times must we watch Quaid take a pratfall, or witness somebody getting doused with paint, or (the surest sign of desperation) be subjected to incessant reaction shots from the family's pet pig? Somebody please kill this before it breeds again! Rating: *

Current Releases

CHICKEN LITTLE With its hand-drawn animation division boarded up and its partnership with Pixar in flames, Walt Disney Pictures has taken the next step by creating its own fully computer-animated movie. Yet if Chicken Little represents the future of Disney animation, then the sky is indeed falling: This is as far removed from such old-school classics as Pinocchio and Beauty and the Beast as chicken gizzards are from roast duck. The story is serviceable, centering on a diminutive bird (voiced by Zach Braff) whose warnings about an alien invasion are ignored by the other animals. And to be fair, the film has its moments, most of them courtesy of a character known as Fish Out of Water (basically an animated Harpo Marx). But the central thrust -- a standard "underdog wins the day" slog that on a dime turns into War of the Worlds -- is the same sort of hollow experience that has all but drained the traditional 'toon tale of its potency over the past decade-plus. Rating: **

DERAILED The inaugural feature from The Weinstein Company recalls the formation of TriStar Pictures back in the 80s, when the quality of its initial slate was so dreadful that one critic suggested the company should change its name to OneStar. Certainly, Derailed is deserving of whatever critical scorn is tossed its way, whether it's in the form of a solitary star, a down-turned thumb or even an extended middle finger. The film stars Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston as unhappily married business drones whose attempt at an affair gets interrupted by a French thug (Vincent Cassel) with blackmail on his mind. Armed with only a plot synopsis, I (like many others) figured out the major plot twist even before stepping into the theater, yet this movie is so fundamentally brain-dead on so many levels that predictability turns out to be the least of its problems. Rating: *

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