March 26 2009 12:00 AM

Watchmen. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons hardboiled graphic novel is brought to stunning visual life by director Zach Snyder in a convoluted adult fantasy that provides an off-key political tone to its alternate reality of 1985 America, where Richard Nixon is still president and the Doomsday Clock forever sits at five minutes to the hour of imminent apocalypse thanks to a Soviet nuclear threat. Put out of work by Nixons decree outlawing masked avengers, unless they work for the government, a group of former superheroes known as the Watchmen variously reconnect after the violent murder of their macho former member the Comedian, AKA Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), whose demise implies a similar fate for the rest of the group. Rorschach (devilishly played by Jackie Earle Haley), in his ever-morphing inkblot mask and raspy voice, narrates the complex mystery that plays out with richly designed flashbacks that reveal the personal histories of the likes of Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman) and her atomically transmogrified, yet anatomically correct, love interest Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup). Outrageous sexual elements and extreme violence give "Watchmen" its well-deserved hard R rating. At over two and a half hours, "Watchman" is a full-frontal adult sci-fi satire thats as enjoyable as it is thematically confounding. For its salivating fans and audiences itching for something completely different from the Hollywood superhero model, theres much ferocity to sample here. (Warner Bros.) Rated R. 160 mins. (B) (Four Stars)

Madea Goes to Jail. Tyler Perry continues to preach to the choir with his entertaining, albeit stereotype-laced, blend of melodrama and comedy. Joshua Hardaway is a DeKalb, Ill., assistant district attorney (well played by Derek Luke) attempting to rescue an old friend named Candice from a life of prostitution and addiction. Joshuas attorney fiance Linda (Ion Overman) takes a dim view of his humanitarian efforts and sets about pulling some unethical legal strings. The comedy comes to life whenever Perry’s irrepressible lifelong criminal Madea takes over, turning her rage at the social misdemeanors of others into humorous action. As a filmmaker, Perry is content to recycle his talents and pad his pictures with self-congratulating cameos by the likes of Dr. Phil and the Rev. Al Sharpton. If he ever gets around to widening his worldview, he might surprise himself and his loyal audience. (Lionsgate) Rated PG-13. 103 mins. (B-)

Friday the 13th. Death by a surfeit of sharp objects comes to two groups of ill-fated young campers whose brief vacations to the Crystal Lake stamping ground of the infamous hockeymask-wearing Jason Voorhees (played by Derek Mears) incites prickly gasps and roller coaster laughs. Marcus Mispel (director of the "The Texas Chainsaw" remake) gets big budget assistance from producer Michael Bay for this enjoyable update of the classic horror flick that set off cinemas longest running slasher-movie franchise.
Our modern batch of victims are just as obsessed with sex, drugs and music as the murder fodder of the 1980 original, even if the barebones revenge story (if you can call it that) is closer to the series’ second installment. Aaron Yoo delivers an especially fun performance as Chewie, a stoner with a bottomless stomach for booze. (Warner Bros.) Rated R. 97 mins. (B)

Confessions of a Shopaholic. "Confusions of a Shopaholic" would be a more accurate title for this garish romantic comedy that wants to have its thematic cake and eat it to when it comes to inveterate shopper Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher). Huge credit card debt from compulsively purchasing overpriced clothing from every haute couture designer boutique in Manhattan has left Rebecca penniless when she flubs a job interview for a finance magazine. The interview backfires into a writing position that Rebecca miraculously fulfills with an immediately popular column, "The Girl In the Green Scarf," written from personal experience. Distilled from Sophie Kinsellas first two novels, the picture struggles to mitigate the importance of dressing in designer fashions for Rebeccas new high-profile job with the necessity of fiscal responsibility. Hugh Dancy plays Rebeccas editor/love interest Luke Brandon, but never strikes a spark with Fishers character. It might have helped if the movie ever got around to showing what Rebecca did with her seemingly nonexistent paychecks. Rated PG-13. 104 mins. (C-)

Fired Up! A shameless celebration of female nubility, "Fired Up!" is a peppy teen sex comedy that draws on a perfectly pitched pop music score, a bevy of scantily clad cheerleaders and the quick-fire camaraderie of its skirt-chasing buddies Shawn and Nick (Nicholas DAgosto and Eric Christian Olsen). The Illinois footballplaying pals have a systematic approach to conquering the legion of high school hotties that surround them. So it goes that the pair choose to forgo football camp in favor of catching fish-in-abarrel by attending cheerleader camp where their schools Tiger cheerleading team is outnumbered by pep rally girls from other competing national squads. Shawns well connected little sister Poppy (Juliette Goglia) gives the boys a crash course in the skills of male cheer leading. The movie hits its stride of athletic fun under Coach Keith (John Michael Higgins) and his wife Diora (Molly Sims). Nick sets his sites on seducing Diora, while Shawn goes for a more traditional route, pursuing the Tigers captain Carly (Sarah Roemer) in spite of her romantic involvement with a bratty frat boy. There isnt anything special here, but "Fired Up!" is still a lot more fun than the adult romantic comedies Hollywood has trotted out so far this year. Rated PG-13. 89 mins. (B)

The International. Packed with so much clumsy exposition about its antagonist multinational banks vaporous involvement in arms dealing, terrorism and third-world revolutions that the story frequently slips from director Tom Tykwers grip, "The International" still manages to invent meaty iconographic set pieces thanks to its great architectural backgrounds that include the Guggenheim Museum and Istanbuls Ayia Sofia.
Theres no denying that Clive Owen does more justice to a trench coat than most actors could as former Scotland Yard agent Louis Salinger, who is involved in a globetrotting investigation of the IBBC bank with the help of Manhattan Assistant D.A. Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts).
Debut screenwriter Eric Warren Singer should be eternally grateful to director Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") for elevating the muddy script with lush visual compositions and an energetic score that supports solid performances from its cast. A distant cousin to Daniel Craigs second James Bond outing ("Quantum of Solace"), "The International" is still worth seeing for fans of the genre. Rated R. 118 mins. (B-)

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