Anchorman (PG-13) Co-written by star Will Ferrell, this plays like a series of outtakes strung together. There's a vague plot, about the fall and rise of San Diego newsman Ron Burgundy (Ferrell), whose sole talent is reading anything put in front of him, but this doesn't propel the movie forward so much as keep it from spilling off the edges of the screen. By far, Ron is the smartest of the news-dispensing quartet: Paul Rudd has a nickname not only for his penis, but also for each testicle; David Koechner's urban cowboy is "all about having fun"; and Steve Carell here possesses an IQ of 48. Their cozy ratings-topping world is thrown into chaos when Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) arrives to share Ron's precious desk. At its best, this plays like modern-day Marx Brothers. It exists solely to get a laugh, not to make a point, earning extra points for carrying on an erection joke for so long that it stops being funny and starts being funny all over again in the same scene. Opens Friday, July 9, at multiple locations. (Robert Wilonsky)
Before Sunset (R) Opens Friday, July 9, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.
The Clearing (R) When car-rental company mogul Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) disappears one day, there are no big pyrotechnics. Just a car found abandoned in a parking structure, and no ransom demand of any kind. Knowing nothing, the family can do little but sit around waiting in vain for the FBI to turn anything up. Taken to the forest by an armed assailant (Willem Dafoe), Hayes is on an extended, forced hike. Dafoe's Arnold Mack is a former co-worker whose life has disintegrated since he was laid off, but he doesn't blame Hayes for that. He claims to bear his captive no ill will at all; he's merely doing work for hire, taking Hayes to a cabin where the real kidnappers will tell him exactly what they want with him. By cutting back to the family on a regular basis, director Pieter Jan Brugge makes us feel their impatience and frustration even as they do. He's aided greatly in this by the casting of the wonderful Helen Mirren as Mrs. Hayes. Opens Friday, July 9, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Luke Y. Thompson)
King Arthur (PG-13) Opens Friday, July 9, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.
The Mother (R) The first exceptional drama of 2004, The Mother feels like life itself, sharpened to its finest points. Imagine an impeccably crafted series of domestic scenes, each portraying, unraveling, and exploring the life of a provincial woman (wonderfully portrayed by Anne Reid) who has until now, in her sixties, been half-dead, playing the role of the dutiful wife and mother without bothering to inhabit it. When she wakes up to herself, it's not simply a stirring, fortuitous surprise (though it is that too); it's also a bother and an inconvenience to those long accustomed to her absence. Acknowledging one's feelings -- and acting on them -- is not always benign; sometimes it is altogether damaging. Hanif Kureishi's script is flawless, the performances are unflinching, and director Roger Michell frames the shots to comment, piercingly, about the action. Opens Friday, July 9, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Melissa Levine)
Sleepover (PG) Here are 88 minutes of highly commercialized teenybopper fluff, likely to please the tweenie girls but sorely lacking in anything original or even interesting. Rising high school freshman Julie (Alexa Vega) hosts a sleepover party that morphs into an all-night adventure when "the pleathers" (the popular girls, la Mean Girls' "the plastics") challenge them to a scavenger hunt. The prize is the high school lunch spot, the tables by the fountain that connote social status. Never mind that freshmen of any standing wouldn't have access to the best place to eat: Sleepover, which introduces critical-yet-random character traits at precisely the moment when the plot demands them, is breezily unconcerned with anything approaching reality. The most egregious crime in this film, blessed with dialogue as fresh as "Oh, for the love of carbs" and "She seriously thinks I'm like ten or something," is its obviousness: Nobody watching has to form a single opinion, since everything has been worked out ahead of time. If you really want a good teen movie, see Napoleon Dynamite. Opens Friday, July 9, at multiple locations. (Melissa Levine)