Dir. Alexander Payne; writ. Louis Begley (novel), Payne; feat. Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates (R)
Schmidt is a road movie set on the other end of life's cycle from Nicholson's Easy Rider, as full of metaphoric ambition and as devoid of solid meaning. The actor is utterly convincing as a generic citizen forced to confront the pointlessness of his life, and the film wrings some startlingly funny moments out of this situation - but Payne wants to make something more than a comedy, and his attempt to weave pathos into farce leaves both aspects of the tale feeling slightly insincere. JD

Dir. Spike Jonze; writ. Susan Orlean (novel), Charlie Kaufman; feat. Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Maggie Gyllenhaal (R)
Yes, it's a meta-meta-movie in-joke, drooled over by film-buff brainiacs. It's also a frigging funny movie, with Cage the most entertaining he's been since he started showing us his biceps, and Streep in the funniest scene she's shot since, um, ever. Go in expecting a big shift in tone around 30 minutes from the end. If you wanna figure that out, good; if you don't, the first hour is enough fun to make up for it. JD

Dir. Harold Zwart; writ. Ashley Edward Miller; feat. Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon (PG)
Teenaged CIA operative Cody Banks has all the concerns common to adolescence, and some that aren't so common - his mission is to woo a foxy girl so he can learn more about her scientist father, who works for the world's most color-coordinated terrorists. What follows is stupid semi-fun that follows every rule and strays from nary an entrenched convention of the genre. The film's vision of the CIA, folksy agents who will help you wash dishes and who ride around headquarters in fleets of Segways, is a candy-coated image difficult to reconcile with reality - but this is a kids' movie, neither eager nor able to look beneath the polish of adolescent fantasies. JW

Dir. John McTiernan; writ. James Vanderbilt; feat. John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen (R)
A convoluted mess of a mystery that defies logic and explanation, Basic offers a few good characterizations, a lot of screaming by Travolta and Jackson (though the two only appear together in one scene), and Giovanni Ribisi puking blood from a hospital bed. In this time of war, Basic offers little in the way of social commentary; sadly, it even fails as a conscience-free action film. SM

Dir. Adam Shankman; writ. Jason Filardi; feat. Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart (PG-13)
Queen Latifah is an escaped convict who intends to disrupt tax attorney Steve Martin's life until he helps clear her name. Blacks and whites may truly live in different worlds, but the filmmakers behind House don't know much about either one; only Eugene Levy, as a repressed white man in lust with a black woman, grasps the absurdity of this, and as a result gets most of the laughs in this bland, mechanical film. JD

Dir. Rob Marshall; writ. Bill Condon; feat. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, Christine Baranski (PG-13)
Never mind that the story's moral is stale and the musical's Bob Fosse roots are dyed beyond recognition. Chicago has the kind of infectious flash and flair that could make people take musicals seriously again. Marshall could have let some of his song-and-dances play out with fewer edits, but other sequences are perfect. And who'd have guessed? - Zeta-Jones was born for this stuff, and proves it in every scene. JD

Dir. Fernando Meirelles; writ. Paulo Lins (novel), Bráulio Mantovani; feat. Alexandre Rodrigues, Firmino da Hora, Phelipe Haagensen, Johnathan Haagensen, Matheus Nachtergaele, Seu Jorge (R)
A Brazilian Gangs of New York, City is less spectacularly produced but better at integrating revenge

and romance into a turf war that devours two or three generations of ghetto youth. The town's slide into chaos is mirrored by the legions of kids who start off plaing at being bandits and end up at war. The youths have names like Li'l Dice, Shaggy, and Carrot, and the viewer watches them as the decades shoot by; new actors come in to play them as adults while another brood kids more feral than the first, emerges to mip at their heels. The rise and fall of bloodthirsty drug dealer Li'l Zé is chronicled by the story's one pure heart, an aspiring photographer called Rocket - and director Fernando Meirelles makes Rocket's tale as exciting to watch as it was to live. JD

Dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak; writ. Channing Gibson, John O'Brien, Reggie Rock Bythewood; feat. Jet Li, DMX, Mark Dacascos, Anthony Anderson, Tom Arnold, Kelly Hu, Gabrielle Union (R)
This is the sweetest exploitation movie since Starship Troopers. The combination of whirlwind plot disintegration, needless gory violence, excessive gadgetry and arbitrary booty makes this two-and-a-half hour chop-fest. A voiceover by a newscaster at one point of the film provides a concise explication of the plot: "This is the most Xtreme chase we've ever seen!" Jet Li is woefully underused, and in his few fighting scenes, grace and finesse are replaced with crunch as he breaks forearm after forearm. But in the category of "so bad, it's fantastic," Cradle 2 the Grave truly is, (as its tagline indicates): "Bad 2 the bone." LMF

Dir. Mark Steven Johnson; writ. Johnson, Bill Everett; feat. Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Jon Favreau, Joe Pantoliano (PG-13)
Look at it this way, true believers: There's no chance that the comic book gods were going to allow all three of the year's big Marvel adaptations tobe any good. At least we're getting this one out of the way. Full of lousy dialogue, moronic music, and narrative holes a blind man could walk through, Daredevil dares to be mediocre. JD

Dir. Lawrence Kasdan; writ. William Goldman; feat. Morgan Freeman, Damian Lewis, Tom Sizemore (R)
This mostly faithful, generally effective adaptation of Stephen King's bestseller is stocked with alien beings who incubate inside human stomachs and exit, as revoltingly as you'd think, through the anus. It's an obvious amalgam of King's past ideas, but with source material as good as It and Stand by Me, business as usual makes for enjoyably squirm-inducing viewing that revels in the human form's grotesqueries and our society's obsession with them. JW

Dir. Julie Taymor; writ. Hayden Herrera (book), Clancy Sigal, et al; feat. Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush (R)
Frida's screenplay is too conventional to bring its unorthodox characters to life. Depicting a woman whose physical pain was legendary, Salma Hayek is as lithe as a dancer, with only occasional gestures thrown in to remind us she is supposed to be crippled. And despite the movie's name, the filmmakers don't seem very interested in Frida's life except as it relates to Diego. JD

Dir. Martin Scorsese; writ. Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan; feat. Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson (R)
Scorsese at his worst is still an event, and although this compromised film hardly shows the director at his best, it is at least enormously personal: Catholic immigrants, viciousness, and the Big Apple make for a heady Scorsese stew. There are wonders here, such as two extended street fights and an over-the-top Daniel Day-Lewis, but the characters will mean little to most viewers, and the story seems to have been lost somewhere in the gritty grandeur. JD

Dir: Stephen Daldry; writ. David Hare, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham; feat. Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Jeff Daniels, Claire Danes, Miranda Richardson, John C. Reilly (PG-13)
An extraordinary act of homage (nay, femage) to the woman who wrote Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf, The Hours is a lushly

layered fulfillment of Woolf's aspiration "to look life in the face and to know it." The film does not attempt to explain despair, merely to confront it in all its intricacies, through a single day in the lives of three women living in different cities and eras - women portrayed by an ensemble that provides a workshop in the intricacies of the acting art. SGK

Dir. Donald Petrie; writ. Kristen Buckley, Brian Regan, Burr Steers; feat. Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, Adam Goldberg, Michael Michele (PG-13)
The screenwriters based their script on the dating guide The Rules, which is apt considering this movie's slavish reiteration of chick-flick conventions. If a romantic comedy with a bet is funny, hilarity is bound to ensue with two cross-purpose bets! Aside from Hudson's winning combination of beauty and goofiness, there's not much new in this cheeseball. LMF

Dir. William Friedkin; writ. David & Peter Griffiths, Art Monterastelli; feat. Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen, Jenna Boyd, Leslie Stefanson (R)
In some ways, it more than resembles a Fugitive remake: Jones is the ubermanhunter, his prey escapes after the van ferrying him to his doom overturns in an accident, and the chase takes a dramatic turn involving a surprise plunge in deep water. A few viewers will empathize with Del Toro, whose years as a black ops military man may have made him a paranoid killer. Friedkin strips his manhunter story to its bones, which works perfectly for this testosterone showcase. He stumbles briefly with a couple of contrivances near the end, but more than compensates with two extraordinarily brutal scenes of hand-to-hand combat, maybe the best sequences of their kind ever shot. JD

Dir. Peter Jackson; writ. J.R.R. Tolkien (novel), Fran Walsh; feat. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom (PG-13)
The second installment in what is shaping up to be the greatest fantasy film of our age jumps right in, skipping the exposition that bothered some in the first film, and emphasizing the slow-motion icons it has created. JD

Dir. Todd Phillips; writ. Scot Armstrong; feat. Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Elisha Cuthbert (R)
Old School is what you make of it. If you've checked your brain at the door, abandoned any notion of propriety, and are comfortable with the film's utterly derivative nature, you ought to enjoy yourself. The tale of middle-agers who return to campus to start a frat is not without its charm, especially when Ferrell is onscreen- his love for what he does is infectious enough to elicit the laughter the story and remaining cast members fail to produce, all despite giving the old college try. JW

Dir: Susanne Bier; writ. Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen; feat. Sonja Richter, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Mads Mikkelsen, Paprika Steen, Stine Bjerregaard (R)
This Danish film seems like cinema verite, a veritable piece of open-heart surgery that bares irreconcilable feelings between and within people who have to contend with a world of accident and pretend they are responsible agents. Caught in a romantic maelstrom, its characters - a rececntly paralyzed grad student and those who cope with the events surrounding his misfortune - are all utterly credible and compelling. Hearts is a film without villains or heroes, merely human beings struggling to do their best with limited powers. SGK

Dir. Roman Polanski; writ. Wladyslaw Szpilman (book), Ronald Harwood; feat. Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Ed Stoppard (R)
A beautiful and delicately calibrated film that moves gracefully from small indignities to epic devastation, this true chronicle of a Jewish pianist trying to survive Nazi-occupied Warsaw is not a Holocaust film you've seen before. Centering on one man - hauntingly portrayed by Adrien Brody - it makes genocide personal, and survival less a matter of will than of simple animal instinct. SGK

Dir. Philip Noyce; writ. Graham Greene (novel), Christopher Hampton, Robert Schenkkan; feat. Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen, Rade Sherbedgia, Tzi Ma, Robert Stanton, Holmes Osborne, Quang Hai, Ferdinand Hoang (R)
A moving, beautifully rendered apaptation of Graham Greene's '50s novel, it frames the tensions of the Vietnam War within a complicated love triangle between a jaded British newspaper man (Caine) enjoying a life of decadence in Saigon, his Vietnamese mistress, and a corn-fed American idealist (Fraser) who has arrived on a humanitarian mission. Caine, in particular, sinks his teeth into a part any actor would fight to get. JD

Dir: Rose Troche; writ. Troche, based on stories by A.M. Homes; feat. Glenn Close, Dermot Mulroney, Patricia Clarkson, Joshua Jackson, Moira Kelly, Robert Klein, Timothy Olyphant, Mary Kay Place (R)
Basing her screenplay on self-sufficient stories by A.M. Homes, director Rose Troche links characters and incidents through frequent crosscuts and flashbacks. Aside from montage, though, there's not much reason for these plots to be linked together. "God has a wicked sense of humor," observes Esther, but the sensibility behind The Safety of Objects is not wicked - or credible - enough to be humorous. Particularly in its ending, the film is merely sentimental. SGK

Dir. David Dobkin; writ. Alfred Gough & Miles Millar; feat. Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Fann Wong, Donnie Yen, Aaron Johnson, Aidan Gillen, Tom Fisher (PG-13)
This Shanghai Gump misses no opportunity for anachronism, having Chan and Wilson cross paths with English celebrities whether they were alive n 1887 or not. The film's full of references and homages that feel more forced than fun - but Chan delivers a few fight scenes that, while shorter than you'd like, are as inspired as any he has made. JD

Dir. Antoine Fuqua; writ. Patrick Cirillo, Robert Orr; feat. Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser (R)
What could have been a powerful glimpse into the plight of war-pocked Africa is denigrated by clunking Hollywood

convention: good and evil are unequivocally demarcated, characters are either angelic or beastly. Willis plays a Navy S.E.A.L. who decides to go beyond his mission to rescue an American doctor - an act of macho, messianic selflessness that sets in motion two hours of the most blithely pro-American-intervention propagandizing this side of "Fox News." JW

Dir. Bruno Barreto; writ. Eric Wald; feat. Gwyneth Paltrow, Christina Applegate, Mark Ruffalo, Kelly Preston, Mike Myers, Candice Bergen (PG-13)
In this soulless "girl follows her dream" fable, Gwyneth Paltrow plays a rural gal whose plans to become a flight attendant threaten to get between her and true love. The filmmakers don't know whether they're making slapstick, a parable about empowerment, or a romantic comedy, and wind up delivering none of the above. JD

Writ. & dir. Glen Morgan; feat. Crispin Glover, R. Lee Ermey, Laura Elena Harring, Jackie Burroughs (PG-13)
The age of PG-13-rated horror fare continues with this surprisingly deft and almost touching remake of a 1971 cult film about a lonely loser befriending an army of ravenous, intelligent rats. This time, however, the nature-run-amok subgenre eschews its usual, ahem, cheesiness, and comes alive with a quirky, comically demented pulse, largely thanks to Crispin Glover's proficient lunacy. With an array of real, animatronic, and CGI rats, the filmmakers give Willard's vermin friends complexity and verve. AL

Films reviewed by:
AL: Albert Lopez
JD: John DeFore
JM: Jonathan Marcus
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
LMF: Laura Fries
JW: Joe Weiss
AP: Alejandro Pérez

Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.