Coach Carter Thomas Carter. (PG-13) Not even the thundering dynamism of ace tough guy Samuel L. Jackson can lift this inspirational story about an uncompromising basketball coach from mediocrity. Businessman Ken Carter came to Northern California's Richmond High School in 1997, and he quickly cleaned up the place's failing academics and lousy sports programs, but it wasn't until 1999, when he locked his players out of their own gym until their grades improved, that he became a controversial local celebrity. Then he led his ragtag bunch to redemption. You've seen it all before, in everything from Knute Rockne, All-American to Miracle to Stand and Deliver. Director Thomas Carter (no relation to Ken) relies on processed emotion and stock characters, and not even the inevitable Big Game excites us very much. With Rob Brown, Rick Gonzalez and Channing Tatum as players, and Ashanti as a pregnant girlfriend. Opens Friday, January 14, at multiple locations. (Bill Gallo)
Elektra Rob Bowman. (PG-13) A super-buff Jennifer Garner reprises her Daredevil role, this time with top billing. This go-round, assassin-for-hire Elektra must defy the wishes of her ninja pals, who've assigned her to kill a man and his young daughter. Based on the work of Marvel whiz Frank Miller. Opens Friday, January 14, at multiple locations.
Hotel Rwanda Terry George. (PG-13) Opens Friday, January 14, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.
House of Flying Daggers Zhang Yimou. (PG-13) Opens Friday, January 14, at the Tivoli. Reviewed in this issue.
In Good Company Paul Weitz. (PG-13) Opens Friday, January 14, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.
Racing Stripes Frederik Du Chau. (PG) The importance of vocal performance becomes painfully apparent while watching Racing Stripes, a live-action family picture about a zebra who longs to be a racehorse. Accidentally left behind when the circus leaves town, Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz) is rescued and raised by farmer Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) and his daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere). Nolan won't let Channing pursue her dream of a racing career. Stripes is heartbroken when he discovers he is a zebra and not a thoroughbred. Together, of course, the two can make their shared dream come true. The digital computer work is smooth and convincing; the animals look as if they are talking. But their voices, courtesy of Muniz, Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg and Mandy Moore, are either devoid of personality or -- in the cases of Joe Pantoliano, Jeff Foxworthy, David Spade and Steve Harvey -- grating and annoying. Opens Friday, January 14, at multiple locations. (Jean Oppenheimer)
Straight-Jacket Richard Day. (unrated) This surprisingly enjoyable piece of high camp makes plenty of glaring mistakes, but they don't really matter. The setting is 1950s Hollywood, and leading man Guy Stone (Matt Letscher) wants to have his beefcake and eat it, too. Stone is a star, vying for the role of Ben-Hur, but he's also gay and unable to keep his hands off anything in pants. When he's caught leaving a telltale nightspot, his agent (Veronica Cartwright) marries him to an unsuspecting young secretary (Carrie Preston) to distract the media. For a contractual year, Guy must endure the constant, jabbering intrusion of a woman -- not to mention her porcelain elephants -- in his personal playboy palace. But when Guy meets Commie writer Rick (Adam Greer), he considers abandoning it all for true love. Despite a misguided use of digital animation and an equally wrongheaded impulse toward sincerity, Straight-Jacket is a delightful lollipop of a movie, a Technicolor romp through a landscape of arch situation comedy. Some jokes don't land, but many do. Opens Friday, January 14, at the Tivoli. (Melissa Levine)