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June 6, 2008

"Baby Mama" The rare gangbusters comedy not driven by men. Tina Fey plays an executive who hires an uncouth slacker (Amy Poehler) to be a surrogate mother. The movie was written and directed by a male, Michael McCullers, but it cuts out the obligatory middleman and lets two women make us laugh, often very hard. (96 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

"Beaufort" A flat movie about Israeli soldiers waiting to leave an outpost in Southern Lebanon, during the South Lebanon conflict not long before Israel pulled out in 2000. The sensations of panic, dread, or outrage never take hold. In a sense, that's a curious testament to the contagious nature of the filmmaking. The soldiers feel stuck and so do we. One of this year's foreign-language Oscar contenders. In Hebrew, with subtitles. (125 min., unrated) (Wesley Morris)

"Before the Rains" British colonialist Henry Moores (Linus Roache) is building a road through the tea- and spice-growing region of India's southernmost state, Kerala. But 1937 means Indians are getting uppity about their independence, and poor T.K. Neelan (Rahul Bose), Henry's local right-hand man, feels caught in the crossfire. Then there's the matter of Henry's affair with house servant Sajani (Nandita Das). Competent, even suspenseful, "Before the Rains" offers enough dramatic elements for a dozen movies. But the territory is too familiar, orbiting us along a routine trajectory of innocence corrupted, politics infesting the domestic, and the powerful outsider messing with local tradition. (98 min., PG-13) (Ethan Gilsdorf)

"Children of Huang Shi" Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays George Hogg - a real-life Oxford-educated journalist who rescued 60 Chinese orphan boys during the Japanese invasion of 1937. It's a heroic tale, but what ought to be the pinnacle of the story - the orphans's odds-defying 500-mile march over snow-covered mountains toward the relative safety of the Mongolian desert - is obscured by a pro forma romance story line, and shunted toward the end of the film as a near-footnote. (114 min., R) (Sandy MacDonald)

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" A muscular fantasy epic that marks an improvement if not a leap in inspiration over 2005's "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." The four Pevensie children return to Narnia to find a swarthy band of invaders running the show. The series is more clearly than ever a junior-league "Lord of the Rings"; this entry is, less happily, a primer on the benefits of holy war. (144 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

"Constantine's Sword" A dense yet fiercely eloquent examination of how the Christian message of peace became perverted into an instrument of war, adapted by author (and Globe columnist) James Carroll and director Oren Jacoby from Carroll's 2001 book. With a cool sense of outrage, the film prompts us to see the outlines of state-sponsored religion in our history and our current affairs. In English, Italian, and German, with subtitles. (96 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

"The Fall" What you'd get if you told a gifted graphic illustrator the plot of "The Princess Bride" and sent him off to come up with his own version. Years in the making, shot with camera throttles wide open in 18 countries, this fairy-tale-within-a-tale is a personal labor of love for filmmaker Tarsem Singh and a work of gorgeous, lunatic ambition. As a movie, though, it's kind of a mess. (117 min., R) (Ty Burr)

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" The latest product from the Judd Apatow factory, and like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," it delivers belly laughs that explode from the meeting of wit and shock. Screenwriter Jason Segel stars as a shlump who loses his TV star girl-friend (Kristen Bell) to a preening British rocker (a very funny Russell Brand). Ordinary in a way other Apatow comedies aren't, it's still rudely funny. (112 min., R) (Ty Burr)

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" A rollicking if overly familiar class reunion that stands as the second-best entry in the venerable series. The year is 1957, the villains are now Russian Communists, and star Harrison Ford wears the fedora with believably weathered panache. All that's lacking is a genuine sense of surprise, possibly on purpose. (123 min., PG-13)

"Iron Man" Entertainment out of a jar. Robert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy, brilliant scientist, and extremely successful weapons manufacturer who becomes a weapon himself. The ear for dialogue is tin. The directing (by Jon Favreau) is full of lead. And the gases released are mostly sulfuric, although a few of them turn out to be noble. But it has some decent moments - nearly all of which involve Downey. This is not a part that makes great demands on his talent, and his slummy approach to it is very amusing. (126 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

"Made of Honor" A shameless retread - "My Best Friend's Wedding" with the genders reversed and the brains removed. Patrick Dempsey tries to shore up his newfound TV sex appeal as a Manhattan cad who realizes he loves his best friend (Michelle Monaghan) only after she gets engaged. Chick flicks this calculated should come with enough Scorpion Bowls to numb the pain. With Kevin McKidd in the old Ralph Bellamy role. (101 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

"Praying With Lior" It may look and act like your typical bar mitzvah video, but this deceptively simple documentary tells a complex story about faith, tolerance, and living with Down syndrome. Lior Liebling is the title charmer who davens (prays) day and night with unbridled joy. He's surrounded by candid supporters and filmmakers who don't filter out the politically incorrect. (88 min., unrated) (Janice Page)

"Radio Cape Cod" The basic human goodness powering this movie - loosely about very decent people falling in love - deserves a ribbon. But there's no drama or comedy or an actual character to speak of. And shots of birds on the beach and dewy grass at dawn are lovely in their naive way. But are they enough? (70 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

"Refusenik" From little old lady activists in Nebraska to Mikhail Gorbachev himself, Laura Bialis's film bears witness exhaustively - at points exhaustingly - to a history in danger of being lost to time and happy endings: the four-decade struggle to free Soviet Jews. The result is a documentary that plays like a fat, satisfying work of nonfiction literature - the final word because it seems to contain every word. (117 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

"Reprise" A vibrant Norwegian film that burns with the passions of literature and youth. Espen Klouman Hoiner and Anders Danielsen Lie play two friends who set out to be great writers; director Joachim Trier surrounds them with loutish pals, skittish girlfriends, and Joy Division songs. It's exceptionally well told, with a brio that feels as though we're riffling through the pages of a much-loved novel ourselves. In Norwegian with subtitles. (105 min., R) (Ty Burr)

"Roman de Gare" Claude Lelouch puts us back in luxury's lap with this story of a famous author's disgruntled ghostwriter (Dominique Pinon) and the hairdresser (Audrey Dana) who inspires him to demand that his name appear on the next book's cover. Lelouch's snobbery comes down hard on the novelist (Fanny Ardant), but the relationship between her aide and the hairdresser is truly warm. The director wants to tie a Hermès scarf around our hearts. In French, with subtitles. (102 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

"Sex and the City" The former HBO series is at the megaplex now, all 2 hours and 15 minutes of it. The movie, which was written and directed by Michael Patrick King, is just like a season of the show - a funny, sappy, clumsy, crude, rambunctious, argumentative, gleefully vulgar attempt to balance the fantasy of romance with the reality that the prescribed fantasy is impossible. Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, and Kim Cattrall reprise their roles, and it's a pleasure to see them together again. (135 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

"Shine a Light" A documentary record of the Rolling Stones's two-night stand in New York in the fall of 2006, the film marks a collision between two instinctive creative forces, director Martin Scorsese and Stones frontman Mick Jagger. The surprise is that the movie reclaims the notion of a Stones concert, building slowly yet inexorably until it seems as if the entire theater is vibrating with excitement. (122 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

"Son of Rambow" A delight: A cheeky comedy about two unlikely young friends in early-'80s England and the rip-off of "First Blood" they create with a video camera (it eventually involves the entire school). Bill Milner and Will Poulter are extremely funny in very different ways as the leads; the film, among other things, is about the joys and headaches of creative partnership. From the production company Hammer & Tongs (writer-director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith). (96 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

"Speed Racer" The new lollapalooza from the Wachowski brothers is like being force-fed a giant bag of your favorite candy. A CGI-enhanced live action version of the beloved 1960s Japanese cartoon show, it swamps actors like Emile Hirsch (as Speed), Christina Ricci (as Trixie), and Susan Sarandon (as the hero's mom) in a high-octane digital wonder-world. Hot Wheels on industrial steroids, it's enthralling and then it's exhausting. (129 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

½"The Strangers" Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play James and Kristen, a couple tormented by three masked killers - a young man and two young women - in the dead of night, in the middle of nowhere. The filmmaking is suspenseless and unclean. But neither Tyler nor Speedman seems to mind being turned into a gorgeous wooded knife block. (80 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

"Surfwise" Doug Pray brings us the bizarre story of Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz, his wife, Juliette, their nine children, and the many years (from the 1960s to the 1980s) they all spent living out of an RV. What you might expect from such a piece of non-fiction is a very Brady documentary. But the movie is an alarming portrait of a family's gradual collapse under the weight of so much bohemianism. (93 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

"Then She Found Me" Helen Hunt directed, co-wrote, and stars in this movie about a schoolteacher trying to conceive a baby while getting awkwardly acquainted with the woman who gave her up for adoption 39 years ago. Hunt deserves a lot of credit for agreeing to look like hell here, though it's hard to see how she had any other choice. The movie never gives her a moment's rest. It's as stressful for us as it for her. With Colin Firth and Matthew Broderick as the men in her life and a wonderful, if unexpected, Bette Midler as the birth mother. (100 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

"The Visitor" A widowed college professor (Richard Jenkins) undergoes a series of major emotional upheavals after he befriends a Syrian musician (Haaz Sleiman) and his Senegalese girlfriend (Danai Gurira). This is a melodrama whose dam refuses breaks. Partly that's because the writer and director Tom McCarthy, whose previous movie was "The Station Agent," trusts his human instincts. Half the story is told on the actors' faces. Hiam Abbass sweeps in as the Syrian's regal mother - she and Jenkins are wonderful together. (103 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

"What Happens in Vegas" Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher meet on the strip, get drunkenly married and proceed to stay that way in order to share a $3 million jackpot. The stars do beery versions of their usual airhead shticks. Sadly, none of the drinking makes us feel drunk. It actually leaves an audience in a custodial lurch. You don't watch the movie so much as hold its hair back while it bends over the toilet. (99 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

"Young@Heart" A documentary about a choir of Massachusetts old-timers belting out the likes of The Ramones's "I Wanna Be Sedated"? It sounds too cute to tolerate. The triumph of Stephen Walker's film is that it convinces us to stick around until we understand these people are literally singing for their lives. Yet the movie's a delight, too - a paean to harnessing punk's energy to rage against the dying of the light. (107 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

An archive of movie reviews may be found at boston.com, the Globe's online service. Use the key words "movie reviews."

Globe critics rate films: excellent, good, fair, poor.

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