Feb. 11 2009 12:00 AM

The Uninvited. Unrelated to the 1944 ghost story that gave birth to the great jazz standard “Stella by Starlight,” this "Uninvited" is a clunky Americanized remake of Kim Ji-Woons 2003 Korean horror film "The Tale of Two Sisters." The upstart sibling directing team of Charles and Thomas Guard create Hamburger-Helper scares in a story about a suicidal girl named Anna (Emily Browning) who returns from a stint in the loony bin to live with her father Steven (David Strathairn in a squandered performance) and his new girlfriend, Rachel (Elizabeth Banks). Annas sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) is quick to fill Anna in on how their now-deceased mothers former nurse has dug her nails into their fathers heart. Anna suffers from hallucinations of her corpse-like mother crawling around the familys lakeside mansion that point to Rachel as her assassin. Perfunctory scares lead up to a would-be surprise plot reveal that instead carries the odor of a day-old tuna sandwich left out on the counter. (Paramount) Rated PG-13. 87 mins. (D )

Taken. The ever-capable Liam Neeson takes a well-earned payday as retired CIA-agent Bryan Mills, whose 17-year-old daughter is kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers when she runs off to Paris with her best friend. Hamfisted screenwriting over-establishes Mills desperation to win his daughters affection before he gets to use his special skills to impose a hearty body-count during his rescue and revenge quest. French cottage film industry maverick Luc Besson co-produced and co-wrote the project that takes special pleasure in spicing up violent surprises for a revenge fantasy thats spelled out in capital letters. Perhaps the biggest revelation is Neesons impact as a 55-yearold super spy whose physicality is undiminished in spite of his age. Leave your brain at the door to enjoy this smash-and-grab spree of fast-twitch carnage. (20th Century Fox) Rated PG-13. 93 mins. (C )

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. Kate Beckinsale jettisoned the “Underworld” franchise for this third installment prequel thats made bearable only by Michael Sheens strong presence as the werewolf slave Lucian. Beckinsale look-alike Rhona Mitra plays Sonja, the vampire princess daughter to coven king Viktor (Bill Nighy). Sonja and Lucian enjoy a tempestuous affair thats threatened by daddys wrath should he ever find out about their intimate bond that promises to birth a new kind of creature. Hokey CGI graphics display bloody battles with hordes of Lycans being split in two as Lucian and Sonja attempt to overthrow the Vampire dynasty that condemns their union. Director Patrick Tatopoulos is in over his head with a movie that should, but probably wont, put a final nail in “Underworlds” monochromatic coffin. (Screen Gems/Sony) Rated R. (C-)

The Unborn. "The Unborn" goes from soft-core adoration of stalked subject Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) to dark nightmares involving bugs for a tedious “Exorcist”-themed horror show. Writer/ director David S. Goyer overreaches with a story about a Jewish girl haunted by a dybbuk, a demon from Hebrew mysticism. Casey desperately wants an exorcism to get rid of the gothic monkey on her back and secures the help of Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman) and multi-denominational priest Arthur Wyndham (Idris Elba) to perform the ritual that will not be without incident. Oldman steals what there is to take from his scenes, but a nonsensical B-movie like "The Unborn" is beneath is skills. Rated PG-13, 88 mins. (C-)

Valkyrie. For its significance as the first film about the actual events around an assassination attempt on Hitler led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), "Valkyrie" is an anachronistic movie that wants to be less than it should be. After losing his left eye, two fingers on his left hand and his right hand in an allied aerial attack, von Stauffenberg turns against Hitler along with an elite group of military conspirators seeking to enact a coup fired by Hitlers death. Accents are all over the place for would-be German officers played by Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Terence Stamp, who like the underused Eddie Izzard, come at their roles with conviction. Director Bryan Singers vision of an old-fashioned Hollywood thriller redone, with style and panache, falls short on both accounts. Theres no one in the movie to empathize with, and the story goes by like a checklist. Perhaps if the actors all spoke in German, with English subtitles, then the movie might have been more entertaining. Rated PG-13. 120 mins. (C)

Revolutionary Road. Richard Yates 1961 novel about a young couple staring into the abyss of the American Dream provides director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") with plenty of emotional ammunition to fuel this gorgeous but devastating drama. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are perfectly cast as Frank and April Wheeler, a married couple with two kids and a dream of abandoning their cookie-cutter suburban lifestyle for a new start in Paris. Everyday 30-year-old Frank commutes into Manhattan from their perfect home in Connecticut while April keeps house. Both are smart and articulate enough to see the dead-end before them, but April has a sharper sense of the immediacy of their plight. Michael Shannon pulls off a high-wire supporting performance as John Givings, a mentally indigent visitor who all-tooaccurately assesses the couples problems. This is an intense drama that barley allows viewers to catch their breath. Rated R. 119 mins (A )

Frost/Nixon. Ron Howard delivers a highly competent film transformation of Peter Morgans Broadway play that features Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprising their stage roles. Sheen plays British celebrity talk show host David Frost working in Australia, when he devises a plan to conduct a series of four interviews with former President Richard Nixon, just four months after Nixons resignation. Assisted by a crack team of advisors, consisting of Oliver Platt as a veteran D.C. journalist and Sam Rockwell as an activist Nixon biographer, Frost leverages his own financing for the show and self-syndicates it in spite of jeers from the world of professional journalists.
This is a study of two wildly ambitious men engaging in a public test of intelligence, wit and strategy. (Universal Pictures) Rated R. 122 mins. (B )

The Wrestler. After disappointing audiences with "The Fountain" (2006), Darren Aronofsky bounces back with an affecting portrait of an aging wrestler (brilliantly played by Mickey Rourke) coming to grips with his waning health and need to reconnect with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). Years of working the wrestling circuit have taken their toll on Randy "the Ram" Robinsons heavily scarred body, when he takes one last stab at the pro wrestling circuit. Broke and lonely, Randy frequently visits stripper Cassidy/Pam (Marisa Tomei) at the club where she dances to woo her into his life. With limited options available, Randy reaches out to his disenfranchised daughter Stephanie, who he has never been able to support. Tomei gives a fearless performance as a nude dancer whose days of entertaining are winding down. "The Wrestler" is an independent gem. Rated R. 109 mins. (B )

For more reviews visit www.colesmithey.com

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