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Meet the Robinsons, Perfect Stranger, The Reaping

New Releases

MEET THE ROBINSONS Select theaters across the nation (including a couple in Charlotte) are showing this latest Disney animated feature in 3-D, and I'm sorry I didn't catch the film at one of those venues -- at least it would have added an extra dimension to what is otherwise a shallow cartoon that somehow manages to be slow-moving and hyperactive at the same time. Imagine The Incredibles made by profiteers and that's pretty much Meet the Robinsons in a nutshell -- it's not surprising that, like Chicken Little (to name but one dud), this is Disney operating without the safety net of John Lasseter and his Pixar team. This obnoxious film focuses on obnoxious Lewis, an orphan whose scientific contraptions are coveted by an obnoxious villain known as the Bowler Hat Guy. In a bit of time-hopping not worthy of Back to the Future (I, II or III), a member of the obnoxious Robinson family of the future comes to help out Lewis, thereby leading to a scattershot adventure involving obnoxious singing frogs, obnoxious food fights and an only-slightly-less obnoxious dinosaur. The final 20 minutes include a pair of decent plot pirouettes, but by then, I was so bored out of my skull than even a wayward reel of Raiders of the Lost Ark somehow slipping onto the projection booth platter probably wouldn't have stirred me out of my comatose state. *1/2

PERFECT STRANGER As far as Halle Berry thrillers go, this one beats Gothika and The Rich Man's Wife hands down -- though it still isn't up to the challenge set forth by Catwoman, which had us on the edge of our collective seats wondering if it would ever get better. Unlike the aforementioned trio, Perfect Stranger is at least fairly competent -- at least for a while -- although "fairly competent" doesn't exactly translate as "very good." Berry plays Rowena Price, an investigative reporter who seems to specialize in scandalous "gotcha" exposes (making her less New York Times and more National Enquirer). Her childhood friend Grace (Nicki Aycox) claims she's been having an affair with advertising king Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), so when Grace turns up dead, Rowena and her colleague Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) suspect that Hill, a notorious womanizer, was responsible. Grace creates two fake identities in an attempt to nail Hill -- she poses as a temp at his office and as an online party girl looking for action -- but as she continues to juggle separate personas, she begins to realize that other parties might also be involved. This might be the first film in history in which product placement (in this case, Victoria's Secret) might indirectly infer the guilt or innocence of a major character, though it's certainly not the first movie in which the tiresome Ribisi plays a patented nutjob. At any rate, the picture only skims the surface of potentially intriguing issues (specifically, the use of the Internet as the ultimate predatory tool), and its unveiling of the killer (and the ludicrous scenes that follow) is sure to elicit more shrugs than shrieks. **

THE REAPING Chalk it up to wishful thinking or poor taste (or both) for Warner Bros. to have released an R-rated, FX-driven horror yarn about the Biblical plagues on the day before Good Friday, but at any rate, studio suits are probably more fearful of the apathy of disinterested moviegoers than the wrath of God. Hilary Swank, whose second Oscar still wasn't enough insurance to save her from shoddy efforts like this, stars as Katherine Winter, a university professor who, after losing her faith in God about the same time she lost her husband and daughter to tragedy, has gone 48-for-48 in exposing so-called "miracles" through scientific means (with so much globe-trotting, when does she have time to grade test papers?). Her latest investigation takes her to the small town of Haven, La., where a blonde child (Bridge to Terabithia's AnnaSophia Robb) is believed to be a satanic emissary sent to unleash the 10 plagues on this quiet hamlet. Stephen Hopkins, who directs every film as if it were a NASCAR vehicle gunning for the finish line, doesn't have much faith in the screenplay by Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes, since he orchestrates much of the picture (most notably the flashbacks, dream sequences and CGI orgies) with all the delicacy of a lumberjack in ballerina slippers. (Then again, maybe he merely saw that dreadful House of Wax remake -- written by the Hayes -- and panicked.) A last-minute twist adds some drama, but a last-second twist merely leaves a bad taste. *1/2

Current Releases

BLADES OF GLORY Unless he keeps his eye out for innovative fare like Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell might find himself driving his career into a rut. Blades of Glory shows the strains of the comedian trying to keep himself contained in a box: His Chazz Michael Michaels, a coarse sex addict who's also an unlikely skating champion, mines the same comic territory as most Ferrell performances ranging from Talladega Nights to Anchorman and beyond. Since Ferrell is only playing variations on a theme, it's costar Jon Heder (of Napoleon Dynamite fame) who provides most of the modest chuckles. As Jimmy MacElroy, a rival figure skater who's forced by circumstances to team with Chazz to become the first male-male figure skating team in history, Heder plays up his character's delicate traits to the point that they offer a pointed contrast to Ferrell's predictable boorishness. "You're like a 15-year-old girl," taunts Chazz, "only not hot." After a sluggish beginning, the laughs pick up during the midsection, and I appreciate that Queen's Flash Gordon theme plays a prominent role in the finale. Otherwise, this is one more assembly line comedy by the Ferrell-Stiller-Vaughn-Wilsons conglomerate (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are AWOL, but Ben Stiller serves as a producer and Luke Wilson pops up in a tiny role). For a similar yet superior film, rent the Farrelly brothers' 1996 bowling flick Kingpin. Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid and especially Bill Murray offer moments of lunacy so inspired, they make Ferrell in Blades of Glory look like a visitor to the comedy genre. **

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