Rated G. Sun score: **
All the energy in Disney's Return to Never Land, the sequel to its 1953 animated classic, Peter Pan, has gone into the framing story. What's left within the borders is ragged and frenetic.
In this new cartoon, the time is World War II, and the blitz is on. The same Wendy who became the beloved girl companion of that eternal child Peter and his frolicsome gang of Lost Boys now is the mother of a precocious daughter, Jane - and the wife of a soldier who is swiftly called to the front. The sequence of planes bombing London while troops and tanks surge through the city and trains hurtle children away from their parents and into the country are exciting and frightening.
Determined to protect her mother and little brother in her father's absence, Jane comes to regard Wendy's tales of Peter Pan and Never Land as nonsense. Against this realistic backdrop, Captain Hook's pirate ship suddenly descending on Jane's home has a shivery storybook majesty.
The movie opens with gorgeous views of characters and images from the first story depicted as puffy outlines in the sky, or as cut-outs seen through a cloud, darkly. It's the closest Disney will probably ever come to exotic shadow puppetry. But once Hook kidnaps Jane, thinking that she's Wendy and will lure Peter into his clutches, the magic dissipates. Hook does his usual campy slapstick while Peter, the Lost Boys and Tinker Bell lead Jane on aerial high-jinks and turn her into the same sort of True Believer in "faith, trust and pixie dust" as her mother.
It's less a variation on the original Disney feature than a distant replay - then, a crocodile chased Hook, now it's an octopus; Tinker Bell nearly dies again; and so on.
The animation has the feel of a straight-to-video quickie. Too many cracks show between the computer work and the traditional drawing, and the action, while full of zigs and zags, has none of the balletic joy of movement animators can convey only when they have time to put themselves into their characters.
Emotion briefly rises when Peter and Wendy reunite. But they can't recapture their old youthful magic. Neither can this movie.
- Michael Sragow
Rated PG-13. Sun score: *
Crossroads wastes no time before establishing its credibility as a serious artistic endeavor. The first time we see star Britney Spears, she's singing. Alone. In her underwear.
And there you have it. Go see Crossroads if you want to hear Britney sing or see her wear next-to-nothing. But otherwise, avoid this train wreck at all costs.
For this isn't just a bad movie, it's groaningly, achingly, embarrassingly bad. It may not be worse than Glitter, which last year sent poor Mariah Carey spiraling toward a nervous breakdown. But hoo boy, it sure ain't any better.
As Lucy, one-third of a band of former friends who use their high-school graduation as a chance to renew bonds and escape their native Georgia for sunny California, Spears' Pepsodent smile never dims. Even in a major scene of heartbreak, as she visits the mom who long ago abandoned her (an embarrassed Kim Cattrall), she seems ready to start chirping prettily at any moment.
But it would be unfair to lay all the blame at poor Britney's feet. She's certainly trying, and there's no disputing her telegenic qualities or her on-screen charisma (even if 90 minutes of it proves rather deadening). Her co-stars - Britney's the pretty white girl, Taryn Manning's the pretty black girl and Zoe Saldana's the pregnant, spike-haired trailer park girl - are no help, especially since they're given nothing to work with. Dan Aykroyd, as the auto-mechanic father who pushes Britney to be the success he never was, acts as though he's still on Saturday Night Live.
The real blame rests on the cliched and contrived script, and a passel of filmmakers (and, I suspect, film executives) who, convinced that throwing Britney up there onscreen is enough, didn't give a single thought to what she'd do once she got there.
- Chris Kaltenbach
Rated R, Sun score: **
Super Troopers is puerile, offensive, degrading, dumb, pointless, insipid and may just well be a harbinger for the end of Western civilization as we know it.
But I laughed. Sorry.
Truly I am ashamed. But there are moments during this 100-minute attack on every standard society holds dear that got the frat boy in me laughing out loud. And that's way better than most comedies do these days.
Talking about the plot is pretty pointless. Basically, a bunch of overgrown pranksters who somehow have become Vermont state troopers works tirelessly to pull practical jokes on unsuspecting speeders and act as moronic as possible whenever possible. The stars here are members of the comedy troupe Broken Lizard, and their specialty is a mix of ironic and laconic humor that never lets up.
Admittedly, much of the humor in Super Troopers is of the leaden variety. Still, the movie has its moments. A hyper-enthusiastic, dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks trooper named Farva (Kevin Heffernan) is a riot. A sequence in "Afghanistanimation" is inspired. And having the great Scottish actor Brian Cox play the captain in charge of this gang is an odd piece of casting that reaps often-hilarious benefits.
Here's betting you'll be plenty offended by Super Troopers. And when you stop laughing, you'll probably promise never to see a movie this stupid again.
- Chris Kaltenbach