Benji: Off the Leash! Joe Camp (PG) Um, it's another Benji movie. This time around, the good-hearted mutt and a shaggy pal help save Benji's mom from an unethical backyard breeder. Oh, and the tagline is "Some rules are made to be housebroken." Tee-hee. Opens Friday, August 20, multiple locations. (NR)
Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi Shemi Zarhin. (unrated) This Israeli dramedy is certainly not the most maudlin boy-meets-world movie released here this year (that'd be Valentin), but writer-director Shemi Zarhin doesn't exactly bust out surprising bells and whistles either. Precious Shlomi (Oshri Cohen) is essentially a mildly autistic teen Rain Man, master of instantaneous mathematical solutions but, you know, misunderstood. His parents split up because his busybody mother (Esti Zakheim, like Bette Midler on meth) caught her "hot-blooded Moroccan Jew" husband (Albert Illouz, doing ha-ha hypochondria) fooling around with some fez-fondling floozy. Shlomi thus seeks solace with his curmudgeonly Francophile grandfather (Arie Elias) and by deciding whether to get his first sexual "upgrade" with the local bad girl or to get googly-eyed with the local good girl, who, naturally, also happens to be Moroccan -- coincidence or conspiracy? There's some enjoyable slice-of-life material scattered throughout (wannabe rock-star tripping, school-faculty romance), but the delivery feels like mediocre television, right down to the musical interstitials between the "episodes." In Hebrew with English subtitles. Opens Friday, August 20, at the Tivoli. (Gregory Weinkauf)
Exorcist: The Beginning Renny Harlin. (R) From the let's-milk-this-thing-for-all-it's-worth school of Hollywood filmmaking comes this, the "prequel" to the Exorcist films. The idea: Years before Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) exorcised little Regan MacNeil, he encountered the demon Pazuzu in East Africa. The Beginning documents this and more as Father M. comes face-to-face with "unspeakable Evil," rediscovers his faith, goes on to a life of serious demon-busting, etc. Hold on to your popcorn! Opens Friday, August 20, multiple locations. (NR)
Garden State Zach Braff. (R) Opens Friday, August 20, at the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed in this issue.
Open Water Chris Kentis. (R) Opens Friday, August 20, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.
Riding Giants Stacy Peralta. (PG-13) Following the phenomenal success of his skateboarding documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, former pro skateboarder and lifelong surfer Stacy Peralta takes up the camera to idealize three generations of "big wave" surfers in Hawaii and California -- brave obsessives who thought nothing of sliding across the face of 30- or 40-foot waves produced by just the right combination of treacherous reef configurations and extreme ocean weather. If you believe, as Peralta does, that the all-surfing, all-the-time lifestyle of 1950s pioneers like Greg Noll was as important as the Civil Rights movement or the Summer of Love, you'll love this doc. If not, you might see it as another engaging sermon delivered by a slightly crazed missionary. To be sure, Peralta is no less committed a propagandist than, say, Michael Moore. Not since Bruce Brown's The Endless Summer (1966) has surfing been shown in such a worshipful light. Opens Friday, August 20, at the Tivoli. (Bill Gallo)
Without a Paddle Steven Brill. (PG-13) Summer movies don't get much sillier or more empty-headed than this low-wattage buddy flick about three nerdy boyhood friends, now 30 years old, who try to shed the last vestiges of adolescence by traipsing off into the Oregon woods on a disastrous treasure hunt. Inspired -- in a trashy, no-conscience way -- by the Hollywood classic Deliverance (Burt Reynolds even drops in, as a bearded hermit), this crime against the funnybone stars Dax Shepard, Matthew Lillard and Seth Green as the boys lost in the wilderness and Ethan Suplee and Abraham Benrubi as the requisite well-armed hillbillies who terrorize them. Where are the murderous forest spirits of The Blair Witch Project when we really need them? Opens Friday, August 20, at multiple locations. (Bill Gallo)