Opening: Akeelah and the Bee (PG) Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Keke Palmer, Jeff Marlow, Sara Niemietz. Precocious 11-year-old Akeelah Anderson (Palmer) and her brother live in a poor Los Angeles neighborhood with their world-weary mother, Tanya (Bassett). Akeelah has a gift for spelling and is urged to set the National Spelling Bee as her goal. Will there be hardships? Will the cute little girl realize her dream? Of course you know everything that is going to happen in this elaborate after-school special, but it really doesn’t matter. As films like Hoosiers have shown, even the most clichéd story can work with the right people behind it. Palmer is good enough to hold her own with Fishburne and Bassett. Contrived, but sweet and inspirational nonetheless. 112 minutes. —EJO Hard Candy (R) Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh, Jennifer Holmes, Gilbert John. Whew! First they flirt online. Then they meet at a coffee shop. She’s a sweet-faced 14-year-old. He’s a 30-something fashion photographer. They chat. They flirt. They go back to his place. And then everything turns upside down as the young girl (Page) turns the tables on her would-be abuser (Wilson). The film is a stylish, harrowing thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Really. Guys will be squirming when … oh, I can’t even talk about it. The acting is so good that you don’t think about the implausible parts until the drive home. 103 minutes. At AMC Clearwater Crossing. —EJO RV (PG) Robin Williams, Jeff Daniels, Cheryl Hines, Kristin Chenoweth. At first glance, a light comedy about a family man trying to break out of the rat race and bond with his wife and kids. The Monro Family hits the road in an RV so Dad (Williams) can preserve his job and his family’s lifestyle. With lots of physical comedy, poop jokes, precarious run-ins with feral animals and high/low culture clashes, RV is a gag reel with a moral about family togetherness. Upon closer inspection, it’s a commentary on the end of convenience. 98 minutes. —AL Stick It (PG-13) Jeff Bridges, Missy Peregrym, Vanessa Lengies, Tarah Paige. Haley Graham (Peregrym) is a rebellious 17-year-old who is forced to return to the regimented world of gymnastics after a run-in with the law. A judge sentences Haley to her ultimate nightmare: attending an elite gymnastics academy run by legendary hard-nosed coach Burt Vickerman (Bridges). Haley’s rebellious spirit and quick-witted banter shakes things up at the strict school. She discovers an unexpected ally in the form of her new coach and learns respect is a two-way street. Ah, but what about the big match? 105 minutes. United 93 (R) David Rasche, Ben Sliney, JJ Johnson, David Alan Basche, Cheyenne Jackson. The third feature about the hijacked plane that crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside on Sept. 11, 2001, following two well-done TV productions. Writer-director Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) brings a bigger budget and a slightly more immediate feel to his theatrical recreation. The most interesting thing about his approach is what he leaves out. The two earlier productions devoted time to the passengers that made phone calls and the people they called, but Greengrass does not offer even a glimpse of the recipients of the calls. Moreover, he mostly avoids even identifying the passengers by name. The focus is on the group rather than the individuals — everybody matters the same. We watch as a group of strangers come to realize that they are aboard a suicide flight and that they have to do something. Regardless of the occasional reality tweak, United 93 succeeds as a gripping recreating of one nightmarish part of what is probably the worst day in American history. 111 minutes. —EJO Limited Run Gay Sex in the ’70s (NR) A documentary look at the unbridled sexual passion and exploration that marked the 12 years from Stonewall (1969) to the first reported cases of AIDS (1981) — with a filmic and photographic treasure trove of erotic life on New York’s West Side piers, trucks, bars, dance clubs, baths and beaches. The cast of storytellers take us from the remarkably repressed pre-Stonewall period to an era of sexual excess unparalleled since ancient Rome. 72 minutes. In Cold Blood (R) Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsythe, Jeff Corey. Richard Brooks’ powerhouse 1967 drama adapted from Truman Capote’s novel about a shocking real-life murder case, with a moody jazz score by Quincy Jones. Two aimless drifters, Perry Smith (Blake) and Dick Hickock (Wilson), target the home of Kansas businessman Herbert Clutter. After breaking into the house, they find no money, and Smith and Hickock brutally kill the entire Clutter family. They escape the scene of the crime and head for Mexico, but they eventually go back to the States, ultimately returning to Kansas. After being chased for almost a year, the troubled drifters are captured and sentenced to death. 134 minutes. Held over at Key Cinemas Beech Grove for one more week. International Film Festival One hundred and seventeen titles will be screened today through May 9 at Landmark’s Keystone Art Cinema, the Indiana History Center and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. For details go to www.indyfilmfest.org. First Run American Dreamz (PG-13) Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Marcia Gay Harden, Chris Klein, Jennifer Coolidge, Willem Dafoe. Comedy with Hugh Grant playing the Simon Cowell-ish host/judge of an American Idol style TV talent show. In addition to typical contestants like perky blonde (Moore), the program includes a Hasidic b-boy (Adam Busch) and an Iraqi immigrant with a love of show tunes (Sam Golzari). But wait — the president of the United States (Quaid) is slated to appear as a guest judge on the season finale and the Iraqi contestant is a sleeper agent! My, what a busy premise. Written, produced and directed by Paul Weitz (writer/director of In Good Company, co-director/co-screenwriter of About a Boy and co-director of American Pie). 115 minutes. ATL (PG-13) Clifford “T.I.” Harris, Lauren London, Albert Daniels, Keith David, Jackie Long. Coming-of-age story about four teens in a working-class Atlanta neighborhood where hip-hop music and roller skating rule. The acting is strong enough to more or less compensate for the routine storyline, which is loosely based on Dallas Austin and Tionne Watkins’ experiences growing up in Atlanta and hanging out at a local skating rink called Jellybeans. 100 minutes. —EJO The Benchwarmers (PG-13) Rob Schneider, David Spade, Jon Heder, Jon Lovitz, Craig Kilborn, Tim Meadows, Molly Sims. Three dorky adults take on several obnoxious Little League baseball teams in a tournament. That’s really all there is to the story. I chuckled a couple of times. Fans of Schneider, Spade and Heder (reverting to his Napoleon Dynamite ways) will best enjoy the film, along with booger and fart joke aficionados everywhere. 80 minutes. —Matthew Socey Deep Sea 3D (G) Narrated by Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet. A corker, one of the best IMAX movies ever. Filmed over the course of a year, the production introduces viewers to an absolutely incredible array of undersea creatures. Remember the first time you saw the cantina scene in the original Star Wars? Welcome to the underwater version, only the life forms here are even weirder than the freaky denizens of that sci-fi gin joint. What you will see here is far more alien than anything George Lucas ever cooked up. And, thanks to some very effective 3D photography, these alien entities appear to be floating about as close to your face as this newspaper is right now. 40 minutes. At the IMAX Theater in the State Museum. —EJO Failure to Launch (PG-13) Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Justin Bartha, Kathy Bates, Zooey Deschanel. Harmless formulaic romantic comedy. Thirtysomething Tripp (McConaughey) is still living with his parents. In desperation, they hire Paula (Parker) to coax/seduce their son out of the house. Guess what happens. McConaughey and Parker can do this kind of stuff in their sleep, which they more or less do. Bradshaw and Bates make an enjoyable set of parents, though. 97 minutes. —EJO Friends With Money (R) Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack. This enjoyably low-key film doesn’t have much of a plot. The impressively cast film, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing), visits a group of female friends in Los Angeles. Three of them are married and well-to-do, while the fourth isn’t. Three of them are unhappy to varying degrees, while the fourth seems relatively content. Holofcener’s screenplay doesn’t build to a climax; it just chugs along for a while, then stops. But it works, thanks to the great cast and the way Holofcener creates a sense of intimacy that allows us to become invested in the characters, even when they aren’t particularly likeable. 88 minutes. —EJO Ice Age: The Meltdown (PG) Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Dennis Leary, Queen Latifah. As far as sub-Pixar computer-generated cartoon features go, this is a perfectly serviceable little sequel. The filmmakers work in a steady stream of gags and some of them are quite funny. At the screening I attended, the kids seemed to enjoy themselves and the adults didn’t fidget much. But there is no story to speak of, just a series of episodes about three prehistoric animal buddies and their new acquaintances. Thankfully, Scrat, the twitching, bug-eyed acorn-pursuing hybrid of a rat and a squirrel from the first film, makes a welcome return here in riotous Looney Tunes-inspired vignettes spaced throughout the movie. 90 minutes. —EJO Inside Man (R) Denzel Washington, Christopher Plummer, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Spike Lee’s new movie about a bank robbery is an utterly forgettable retread full of great actors doing very little with very little. Dafoe is in it and he does nothing! Yet, people seem to love this flash-filled film. Maybe it’s because the story, written by a first-time screenwriter, has the advantage of being more original than a remake of the Pink Panther. —Jim Walker Lucky Number Sleven (R) Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu, Ben Kingsley, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman. This slightly off-kilter crime/suspense drama is an enjoyable ride, even if you’re an armchair detective like me, and you figure out the surprise ending during the first 10 minutes. The dumbed-down story isn’t a deal breaker as Hartnett, Kingsley and Freeman make it a pleasure to watch. Beautifully shot, this film is not the new Pulp Fiction, but it’s certainly worth seeing. —Jim Walker Roving Mars (G) A giant-screen IMAX visualization of an amazing story that is still going on. On the surface of the planet Mars right now — right this very second — there are two manmade robotic vehicles capable of navigating the rocky surface. Powered by solar panels, they explore the red planet, sending information back to eager scientists on Earth. Steve Squyres, lead science investigator at the NASA/Jet Propulsion laboratory, provides commentary for the 40-minute Disney film, recounting the fascinating story of the building, launching, landing and tasks of the space rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The film uses extensive computer animation to present the travels of the separately-launched rovers. Especially fascinating are segments depicting the separation stages following the launches and the complicated — and quite cool — landing procedures. 40 minutes. At the IMAX Theater in the Indiana State Museum through June 8. —EJO Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (PG) Joan Plowright, Rupert Friend, Zoe Trapper, Anna Massey. Sweet and touching film about a widow (Plowright) who asks a young writer (Friend) to pose as her grandson and visit her and the other aging residents of an English hotel. A friendship blossoms and no, not like Harold and Maude. However, the theme of embracing life to the fullest is still there. Wonderful chemistry between Plowright and Friend. Throat lumps are possible at the film’s climax. 108 minutes. At Landmark’s Keystone Art Cinema. —Matthew Socey Phat Girlz (PG-13) Monique “Mo’Nique” Imes, Godfrey Danchimah, Joyful M’Chelle Drake, Jack Noseworthy, Eric Roberts. Starring Mo’Nique as Jazmin Biltmore, a smart-mouthed aspiring fashion designer, Phat Girlz is a comedy about two frustrated plus-size women obsessed with their weight while struggling to find love and acceptance in a world full of “hot bodied” babes. The Phat Girlz are thrown a major curve ball when they meet the men of their dreams in the most unexpected of ways. 99 minutes. Preaching to the Choir (PG-13) Darien Sills-Evans, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Tichina Arnold, Eartha Kitt, Ben Vereen, Patti LaBelle, Tim Reid. Drama set in Harlem about twin brothers that take divergent paths when they grow up. One becomes a minister, while the other becomes a gangsta rapper. The siblings’ relationship has been tenuous for years, but suddenly the rapper brother, Zulu, finds his life in danger due to a contract dispute with a record company owner, and he seeks his brother’s help. At the same time, the young minister’s church is losing membership and is becoming stale and steady as opposed to progressive. As a result, the two brothers begin to work through their issues so that they can help one another. 105 minutes. At Regal Shiloh. Scary Movie 4 (PG-13) Anna Faris, Regina Hall, Craig Bierko, Leslie Nielsen, Bill Pullman, Chris Elliott. The best thing about Scary Movie 4 is that it is really short at about an hour and 15 minutes. Its jokes are in poor taste way too often — making light of injured children — and its send-ups aren’t very sharp (sometimes it seems like the filmmakers barely watched the movies they are parodying). Some great talent — like Bill Pullman and Chris Elliott — is wasted here. With only a couple of scenes that work, this movie barely competes with a regular episode of Mad TV or Saturday Night Live. —Jim Walker The Sentinel (PG-13) Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria, Kim Basinger, Martin Donovan. Thriller. A secret service agent (Douglas) is having an affair with the first lady. When another agent assigned to the White House is murdered, the agent becomes a suspect in what may be a plot to assassinate the president. 108 minutes. She’s the Man (PG-13) Amanda Bynes, James Kirk, Channing Tatum, David Cross, Alex Breckenridge. Just about everything and everybody in this teenybopper movie is cute. Turns out, that’s not so bad. While formulaic and sophomoric, She’s the Man — which was inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night — makes good points about girls being able to accomplish what they want and offers a great message about how boys and girls should look past their assumptions and stereotypes of the opposite sex and see everybody as an individual. This is a good film for parents to take their adolescent or teen kids to on a family outing. It’s bearable for adults and fun for teens. —Jim Walker Silent Hill (R) Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden, Deborah Kara Unger, Kim Coates. The eerie and deserted ghost town of Silent Hill draws a young mother (Mitchell) desperate to find a cure for her only child’s illness. Unable to accept the doctor’s diagnosis that her daughter should be permanently institutionalized for psychiatric care, Rose flees with her child, heading for the abandoned town in search of answers — and ignoring the protests of her husband. It’s soon clear this place is unlike anywhere she’s ever been. It’s smothered by fog, inhabited by a variety of strange beings and periodically overcome by a living “darkness” that literally transforms everything it touches. As Rose begins to learn the history of the strange town, she realizes that her daughter is just a pawn in a larger game. 120 minutes. Take the Lead (PG-13) Antonio Banderas, Rob Brown, Yaya DaCosta, Alfre Woodard, John Ortiz. Family drama inspired by a true story. The film revolves around internationally acclaimed ballroom dancer Pierre Dulane (Banderas), who volunteers to teach in the New York City public school system. But when his classic methods clash with his students’ hip-hop instincts, he teams up with them to create a new style of dance and becomes their mentor in the process. 117 minutes. Thank You for Smoking (R) Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes, David Koechner, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy. Smart, snappy R-rated comedies that aren’t about overgrown frat boys trying to get laid do not come along very often, so please take note of Thank You for Smoking, an exceptional satire for grown-ups. Based on the novel by Christopher Buckley, the story of Nick Naylor (Eckhart), a charismatic lobbyist for the tobacco industry, is focused and very funny. Eckhart is wonderful as a master of the art of persuasion who truly loves his work. “The beauty of an argument is that if you argue correctly, you’re never wrong,” he tells his son, and he almost makes us believe him. 92 minutes. —EJO V for Vendetta (R) Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Roger Allam, Stephen Fry. Moderately entertaining, highly stylized mystery/drama with impressive art direction and a muddled, overly talky script that is reminiscent of 1984 and Batman Begins. V (Weaving, Neo’s most bothersome adversary in The Matrix), his identity hidden beneath a Guy Fawkes mask and, I think, a Cleopatra wig, sets out to topple the fascist government of future-England with bombs and murder and poor Evey (Portman) gets dragged into his crusade. An adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (Moore had his name removed from the film), V for Vendetta offers bold visuals, sweeping movement, but little that will linger after you leave the theater. 131 minutes. —EJO The Wild (G) Voices of Kiefer Sutherland, James Belushi, Greg Berg, Don Cherry, Greg Cipes. Computer-animated comedy-adventure from Disney (NOT Disney/Pixar, just Disney) that sounds a lot like a cross between Madagascar and Finding Nemo. When a lion cub (Cipes) is mistakenly boxed up and shipped from the New York Zoo to the wild, his father (Sutherland) and assorted animal buddies break out to rescue him. Janeane Garafalo, William Shatner and Eddie Izzard also provide voices. 85 minutes.