Report Card

October 16, 2008

Appaloosa

What it's about : A taciturn marshal (Ed Harris) and only slightly more talkative deputy (Viggo Mortensen, above) tame the title town and rule supreme - until the love of an elusive gal (Renee Zellweger) complicates law and order.

Rated : R

The scoop : Harris and Mortensen deliver delicious, virtuoso understatement, and as a director, Harris makes this old-fashioned Western go down like a single malt aged for 25 years.

Grade: *** 1/2 (3 1/2 STARS)

Beverly Hills Chihuahua

What it's about: A spoiled Chihuahua named Chloe (voice of Drew Barrymore) gets dognapped and taken to Mexico City, where some newfound friends (including a German shepherd named Delgado) try to help her and her million-dollar Harry Winston collar get home.

Rated: PG

The scoop: Lots of talking dogs, little of anything else.

Grade : * 1/2 (1 1/2 STARS)

Body of Lies

What it's about: Leonardo DiCaprio's (above) deceptively rugged CIA agent masterminds the capture of a new world-class terrorist (Alon Abutbul) despite the bungling and interference of his Langley, Va.-based boss (Russell Crowe).

Rated: R

The scoop: DiCaprio's Roger Ferris is an existential juggler throwing a fistful of knives up in midair - and DiCaprio doesn't drop a single blade. The movie is emotionally as well as intellectually gripping because most of the time we can read every impulse that races through his mind.

Grade: *** (3 STARS)

City of Ember

What it's about: The builders of the subterranean city of Ember wanted humanity to survive an unspecified apocalypse. Two hundred years later, though, the city is falling apart, and only the intrepid young Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) and his alert, nimble friend Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan, above) intend to escape its slow death.

Rated : PG-13

The scoop: It may sound irretrievably gloomy and doomy, but it boasts a loony originality that grows on you. The director, Gil Kenan, gives Ember itself a higgledy-piggledy design that's engaging.

Grade: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 STARS)

Eagle Eye

What it's about : A mysterious woman who seems able to control any electronic device coerces an aimless slacker (Shia LaBeouf, above) and a single mother (Michelle Monaghan) into implementing a plot that may bring down the U.S. as we know it.

Rated: PG-13

The scoop : It's moderately gripping, but, too often, watching this movie is like seeing someone else crack a jigsaw puzzle.

Grade * * 1/2 (2 1/2 STARS)

The Express

What it's about : Ernie Davis (Rob Brown, above), the first African-American winner of the Heisman Trophy.

Rated : PG

The scoop: Many inspirational sports movies provide only junk food for thought; this one contains some authentic reflections on sport in the civil rights era, as well as flesh-thwacking game footage that for once conveys what a coach means when he looks at a runner and declares him "a thoroughbred."

Grade: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 STARS)

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

What it's about : Two high school seniors (Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, above), who are meant for each other but don't know it, spend a long night searching for a cult band and stumbling into romance.

Rated: PG-13

The scoop : It contains some intelligent humor and high-SAT comedy as well as hijinks so crude they're really low jinks; the movie's attitude veers between hipper- and more-sensitive-than-thou.

Grade: ** 1/2 (21/2 STARS)

Religulous

What it's about : Bill Maher (above) brings his disarmingly direct humor to the topic of religion in this bracing and funny documentary.

Rated: R

The scoop : Maher's central subject is religion as it is practiced in the suburbs, the country and the streets; until the heavy-handed ending, he manages to debunk blind faith with a twinkle in his eye.

Grade: *** 1/2 (3 1/2 stars)

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