Clifford's Really Big Movie Robert C. Ramirez. (G) Clifford is one BIG red dog, beloved by legions of kids, and his first foray onto the big screen follows him on a really BIG adventure. Based on the Scholastic Books series written more than 40 years ago by Norman Bridwell and turned into a phenomenally popular animated TV series in 2000, the film finds the friendly, oversize canine (voiced by John Ritter) and his best dog friends, T-Bone (Kel Mitchell) and Cleo (Cree Summer), running off to join a traveling carnival that features a tightrope-walking cow, an acrobatic ferret, a weightlifting Chihuahua and a skateboard-riding dachshund. Meanwhile Clifford's owner, tyke Emily Elizabeth (Grey DeLisle), misses her buddy terribly. Filmmakers wisely avoid trying to make the picture both kid and adult-friendly and just concentrate on pleasing young fans of the giant dog. The movie also imparts a lesson: Clifford's carnival success prompts feelings of rejection and jealousy from the ferret, who acts out but then mends fences. Opens Friday, April 23, at multiple locations. (Jean Oppenheimer)
Japanese Story Sue Brooks. (R) Seeing as how it is neither particularly Japanese nor much of a story, this Outback rambler should have been called Muckabout. An uptight young corporate heir (pretty Gotaro Tsunashima) becomes the charge of a rambunctious industrial-software designer (not-so-pretty Toni Collette) as they meander through mediocre tableaux in western Australia's Pilbara desert. Both characters skirt the edge of utter stupidity and strongly dislike each other, then instantly fall into bed, then a terrible -- but honestly quite implausible and hilarious -- "twist" occurs (foreshadowed perhaps by the flies constantly buzzing around Tsunashima's face). Scribbled by Alison Tilson and barely directed by Sue Brooks, the movie is watchable but silly, filled with unflattering shots of Collette and her trendy ass tattoo, Tsunashima's fetishized thighs and buns, and whatever. Small assistance comes from Elizabeth Drake's tribal-Eastern score, assisted by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Aboriginal artists Yothu Yindi. Otherwise, pretentious yet devoid of poetry, left-of-center yet artless, this well-intentioned trudge does not exist to be enjoyed or appreciated so much as to be coddled and patronized as one would a small child. Opens Friday, April 23, at the Tivoli. (Gregory Weinkauf)
Man on Fire Tony Scott. (R) Denzel Washington plays an embittered former U.S. Marine who is hired as a bodyguard for a wealthy family in Mexico City. When an unspeakable crime is perpetrated on the family, the bodyguard devotes his life to exacting revenge on those responsible. Christopher Walken and Dakota Fanning also star. Opens Friday, April 23, at multiple locations. NR
13 Going on 30 Gary Winick. (PG-13) Opens Friday, April 23, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.