JULY 2008

HANCOCK: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Jae Head, Eddie Marsan (Directed by Peter Berg; Written by Vince Gilligan, Vincent Ngo; Columbia) Will Smith knows how to make difficult tasks look easy. With infinite skill, he comes to the aid of kids in trouble, makes unhappy women happy, tells terrific jokes, bashes the bad guys, flies unfriendly skies without the benefit of a plane--all of which he does in this darkly comic futuristic thriller. What’s the down side for Will--or rather Hancock, the superhero he's playing here? The people he rescues from harm are frequently turned off by the chaos the drunken, foul-mouthed do-gooder creates in the process of performing his heroic deeds. Fortunately, a PR consultant (Jason Bateman) takes pity and does a splendid makeover on him. How does Hancock reward this image expert? He makes out with his luscious wife (Charlize Theron). Go figure. Now Playing

DEATH DEFYING ACTS: Guy Pearce, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Saoirse Ronan, Timothy Spall (Directed by Gillian Armstrong; Written by Tony Grisoni and Brian Ward; The Weinstein Co.) According to this mischievous thriller, there was nothing magical about Harry Houdini’s guilt complex. It was very real and very huge, and it stemmed from the fact that the extraordinary escapologist, played by Guy Pearce, was off performing tricks instead of being at his mother’s bedside when she passed on in 1913. If only poor Harry could have had the opportunity to at least apologize to his neglected mom’s ghost. Actually, that’s precisely the chance he thought he was being given 13 years later by a conniving Scottish psychic and her deceitful daughter (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Saoirse Ronan). And this little miracle would only cost the gullible magician $10,000. Could it be that somebody was about to follow Mother Houdini into the great hereafter? Now Playing

THE DARK KNIGHT: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Caine, William Fichtner, Eric Roberts, Cillian Murphy (Directed by Christopher Nolan; Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan; Warner Bros.) Batman (Christian Bale) and good-guy lawman James Gordon (Gary Oldman) have got trouble, BIG trouble, right here in Gotham city. And the biggest part of the big trouble is The Joker, a lethal lunatic brought memorably to life by Jack Nicholson in the 1989 Batman extravaganza. This time, the sicko murderer is played by Heath Ledger, the charismatic actor who recently died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. If you flipped for “Batman Begins” (2005), chances are that “The Dark Knight” will please you, since it too has been helmed by that film's director, Christopher Nolan, and many cast members are doing encores. Katie Holmes, however, does not return as delectable Rachel Dawes. That role, we’re pleased to say, has been inherited by Maggie Gyllenhaal. For a critics roundup on "The Dark Knight," click here. Now Playing

MAMMA MIA!: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Hemi Yeroham (Directed by Phyllida Lloyd; Written by Catherine Johnson; Universal) We’re all aware that Meryl Streep can do anything--in any medium and with whatever accent is required. So we shouldn’t be the least bit surprised to hear that she will sing out, loud and clear, in the movie version of the smash ABBA-loaded musical “MamMa Mia!". If you’ve seen the show, you know the mama she’ll be playing is the proud mother of a bride-to-be. You also know that she’s never revealed the identity of the man to whom she owes her motherhood and that her daughter, determined to come face to face with dad, has invited the three most likely sires to her wedding on a Greek isle. (Could daddy be the cool architect played by Pierce Brosnan?) The big question is, can Meryl put over a song? If you had the pleasure of hearing her warble in “Postcards From the Edge” or “A Prairie Home Companion,” you know the answer is an emphatic yes. And once she gets “Mama Mia” out of the way, let’s hope she moves on to “Gypsy,” “Wonderful Town,” “Mame,” "Applause" and “Pal Joey.” Click here to read about more new movie musicals. Now Playing

THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Xzibit, Mitch Pileggi (Directed by Chris Carter; Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz; Fox) Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, the (very) special agents and occasional lovers who attained cult status on TV and then, in 1998, on film, are back in a long-overdue new big-screen installment of “The X-Files.” Happily, Mulder and Scully are again being played by the magnetic combo of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, and they will undoubtedly rekindle that old spark, either here on earth or on some other thrill-packed planet. Joining them will be Billy Connolly as an irreverent man of the cloth, plus Amanda Peet and Xzibit as a flashy pair of FBI agents. Now Playing