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Roy McCormick (Martin Lawrence) is a college basketball coach with an anger management problem. When he’s fired from his job, his only option is to coach middle school kids. Naturally, this “Bad News Bears” bunch is clumsy and talentless. But with Lawrence’s unorthodox, cranky coaching style and the addition of a talented bruiser of a girl team member, the bumbling squad becomes a well-oiled hoops machine. This family comedy is a ramshackle collection of movie plot references, relying on material lifted from numerous other kid-oriented sports films. It’s a formula that succeeds, if only because there are always new kids born who don’t know they’re being hustled by Hollywood’s plot-recycling program. But that doesn’t make the movie funny, and as comedy it deserves to be benched.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Among the co-stars, Megan Mullally is bisexual and stars on “Will & Grace”; Breckin Meyer was in “54”; and Horatio Sanz had a cameo in “Boat Trip” and regularly impersonates Elton John on “Saturday Night Live.” Comedian Laura Kightlinger appears as a repo woman, but her day job is as consulting producer and writer for “Will & Grace.”)
War of the Worlds
A sudden, thunder-less lightning storm signals an alien invasion, and giant, roving machines simultaneously emerge from underground, vaporizing or eating everyone in their paths. For divorced dad Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), the war is personal as he struggles to protect surly teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning). Imaginative special effects and John Williams’ thundering score abet director Steven Spielberg in creating a real sense of dread in this loose adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel. Sadly, it all falls apart, thanks to a denouement that’s downright silly and three whiny main characters who invite more derision than sympathy. Spielberg further blows it by directing Fanning to shriek constantly at eardrum-threatening levels – and her shrill voice is far scarier than any man-eating extraterrestrial.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Fanning once played Ellen DeGeneres as a child on “The Ellen Show.” Co-stars Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto, Daniel Franzese, and Rick Gonzalez have all either played gay characters or appeared in queer-themed films. Screenwriter David Koepp co-wrote the homoerotic thriller “Apartment Zero.”)
The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D
When half-boy/half-fish Shark Boy (Taylor Lautner) and magma-spewing Lava Girl (Taylor Dooley) spirit shy, geeky Max (Cayden Boyd) away to Planet Drool, he realizes that his dream life has become reality. But evil Mr. Electric (George Lopez) is threatening to destroy the kids’ paradise that Max’s mind invented, and only Max has the power to stop him. Director Robert Rodriguez based this family drama on his 7-year-old son’s stories; and while it is admirable that he wants to encourage his child’s imagination, inflicting the results on the general public is incredibly self-indulgent and just plain cruel. The story defines insipid, the characters are noxious stereotypes, the acting is nonexistent, and the bargain-basement CGI and 3-D effects are so badly executed as to be migraine-inducing.
Grade: F Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Kristin Davis starred in the queer-friendly series “Sex and the City,” while co-star David Arquette played a gay hustler in “Johns.”)
After witnessing his parents’ murders, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) leaves Gotham City seeking to acquire the means to fight injustice. A vigilante society, the League of Shadows, recruits him as a member, but he rejects their nihilistic approach to crime fighting. Instead, he returns home and dons the bat suit, vowing to clean up Gotham and keep the city safe. Director Christopher Nolan re-invigorates this superhero franchise with a smart hybrid of brooding psychological drama and dazzling adventure, filling the screen with spectacular sets, awesome CGI, fantastic gadgets, and plenty of larger-than-life action sequences. Bale’s sensitive performance and a superior screenplay that emphasizes character and suspense ensure that this drama, so rooted in comic books, never crosses the line to become a live-action cartoon.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bale played a queer rock fan in Todd Haynes’ “Velvet Goldmine.” Co-stars Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson, and Gary Oldman have all appeared in gay-themed films.)
Hollywood has-been Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) hopes to rescue his career by starring as the guy who marries a witch in a retooled “Bewitched” sitcom. When he spots Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) adorably twitching her nose, he thinks he’s found his perfect TV wife, but their relationship turns rocky when he discovers she really is a witch. Director Nora Ephron performs quite a trick with this lame romantic comedy, as she takes funnyman Ferrell and a talented cast of comedians and renders them unfunny. Even more painful is the complete lack of chemistry between the leads and Kidman’s nausea-inducing turn as the baby-voiced, kittenish, and clueless Isabel. With its precious few laughs and complete lack of magic, this movie is hardly bewitching – more like disenchanting.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 2 (Lesbian actress Agnes Moorehead and gay comedian Paul Lynde appear in clips from the real TV series, a queer favorite. Actor Steve Carell channels Lynde in a fantasy sequence. Kidman, Ferrell, and co-stars Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine, Stephen Colbert, Richard Kind, and Amy Sedaris have either appeared in queer-themed or queer-friendly projects.)
At the height of the Great Depression, journeyman boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) re-enters the ring to put food on the table for his wife (Renee Zellweger) and kids. His unexpected win against a legitimate contender begins a fairy-tale run culminating in a heavyweight-title fight against fearsome Max Baer (Craig Bierko). Ron Howard’s biopic is strictly hagiography, as he transforms Braddock into a bland paragon of virtue. Crowe, sporting a bad dye job and an uncertain New Jersey accent, struggles to inject life into a role that he is both too old and too scrawny to play effectively. Although it is a handsomely mounted production, there is a sameness to the overlong boxing sequences that renders them dull, while Braddock’s story becomes mired in pointless and lengthy exposition.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Crowe played gay in the Aussie comedy “The Sum of Us,” and was suggestively bisexual in “A Beautiful Mind,” also directed by Howard. Bierko appeared in “Johns.”)
While a detective (Don Cheadle) investigates an African-American policeman’s murder at the hands of a white fellow officer, a racist beat patrolman (Matt Dillon) disgusts his liberal partner (Ryan Phillippe) when he humiliates a black TV director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) at a traffic stop. Those are just two story threads in this multi-layered, mosaic-like drama that investigates issues of race and class among Los Angelenos. “Million Dollar Baby” scribe Paul Haggis’ script is overly schematic in its dependence on coincidence to move the interlocking stories forward, but his characters are unforgettable, and the situations in which they find themselves are as fresh as today’s headlines. The awesomely talented ensemble is terrific, particularly Cheadle and Dillon as jaded cops who undergo unexpected epiphanies.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Haggis could have delved even deeper into society with the addition of gay or lesbian characters, but he limits himself to issues of race and class. Dillon, Phillippe, Howard, and co-stars Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, and Keith David have all appeared in gay-themed films.)
Herbie: Fully Loaded
Maggie (Lindsay Lohan) finds a beat-up vintage Volkswagen at a junkyard, unaware that she’s discovered the formerly famous Number 53 Herbie. When the all-but-human auto takes Maggie for a few joyrides, she realizes that she could continue her father’s (Michael Keaton) NASCAR-winning legacy behind Herbie’s wheel. This is a G-rated Disney comedy, so naturally there’s a benign bad guy (Matt Dillon) who’s out to ruin the fun, but who doesn’t stand a chance when faced with the wholesome goodness and mischief that Herbie has up his sleeve, er…exhaust pipe. Lohan may be a tabloid fixture these days, but that won’t matter to the target audience – it’s a sweet, likable family movie the elementary school crowd will adore. And their parents won’t feel run over by it, either.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (This is lesbian director Angela Robinson’s second feature. Co-screenwriter Thomas Lennon plays gay police officer Dangle on Comedy Central’s “Reno 911.” Co-star Breckin Meyer was in “54,” and co-star Jill Ritchie was in Robinson’s first feature, “D.E.B.S.”)
Land of the Dead
The zombies rule the world in this, the fourth installment of a series that began with director George Romero’s horror classic, “Night of the Living Dead.” As in many disintegrating cultures, the rich humans, led by the self-satisfied Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), have retreated to luxurious fortress towers while the poor scramble for survival on the streets below. Two street mercenaries (John Leguizamo, Simon Baker) take different paths to escape the nonstop carnage that surrounds them, but not before the zombies wreak just a little more frightful havoc. This incredibly tense, smart, and gory sequel rivals the strength and quality of Romero’s earlier zombie films and will be a welcome treat for both his hardcore fans and newcomers just looking for a great blast of well-made horror.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (Leguizamo played gay in “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.” Co-star Asia Argento, daughter of famed Italian horror director Dario Argento, recently directed the screen adaptation of queer author JT LeRoy’s “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.”)
The Longest Yard
After violating his probation for taking part in a point-shaving scheme, NFL quarterback Paul Crewe (Adam Sandler) winds up in a Texas prison. Once inside, he and an inmate known as Caretaker (Chris Rock) recruit other prisoners for a practice game against the prison-guard football team. Crewe sees it as a way to redeem himself; the other inmates just want to pummel the guards. Burt Reynolds appears in this unnecessary but surprisingly faithful and funny remake of the original 1974 film, in which he starred as Crewe. Newcomers like rapper Nelly and wrestler Bill Goldberg round out the ensemble cast. Attempts to satirize media fascination with the exhibition game (ESPN obtains the broadcast rights) fall flat, but that doesn’t get in the way of the overall fun, even if sports movies are last on your “to see” list.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 2 (This movie combines two gay male fantasies – jocks and prison – so it would automatically be homoerotic even without the beefcake presence of Goldberg and Nelly, not to mention wrestler Steve Austin and former NFL player Brian Bosworth. “Saturday Night Live”‘s Tracy Morgan co-stars as a transgendered prisoner, and some innocuous – but still tired – gay prison-sex humor is present, too. “Six Feet Under”‘s James Cromwell co-stars as the warden.)
After rebellious penguins foment an abortive escape attempt, the Central Park Zoo reacts by sending the offending animals to a Kenyan wildlife preserve, but a detour lands them on Madagascar. Marty (Chris Rock), a zebra who has long romanticized the wild, is overjoyed – until he gets a taste for what the wild is really like when his starving lion buddy Alex’s (Ben Stiller) appetite for zebra kicks in. This hilarious cartoon feature scores with eye-popping, state-of-the-art computer animation; a story that satirizes the anthropomorphic cliches associated with both zoo and wild animals; and flurries of smart, pop-culture-inspired jokes. Funniest of all are the supporting characters – hypochondriac giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer), a pair of erudite monkeys, and especially the determined rogue penguins. Pure genius.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (When none of the zoo animals eat the native lemurs, the lemur king pronounces them “pansies.” Stiller wrote, directed, and starred in the metrosexual comedy “Zoolander,” while co-star Jada Pinkett-Smith appeared in the lesbian-themed “Set It Off.” Schwimmer’s character Ross on “Friends” had a lesbian ex-wife.)
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Mr. Smith (Brad Pitt) and Mrs. Smith (Angelina Jolie) are married assassins for rival covert agencies. The catch: Neither one knows the other’s true identity. When the truth comes out and they’re assigned to terminate each other, their strained, chilly marriage becomes a literal battleground. The movie’s gleaming production values and the gorgeous stars’ crackling erotic chemistry softens the ensuing domestic violence – which involves flamethrowers and high-speed, gunplay-riddled car chases, by the way, so any complaints about its possible effect on the real-life social problem of partner abuse are pretty much irrelevant. Add in cartoonish knife-fights, comically brutal martial arts, and sassy dialogue and you’ve got a fast-paced and fun fantasy battle of the sexes where everyone comes out smiling.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Jolie is openly bisexual and played a lesbian in “Gia.” Pitt starred in the gay-ish “Interview with a Vampire.”)
My Summer of Love
When troubled Yorkshire teenager Mona (Nathalie Press) meets spoiled Tamsin (Emily Blunt), the spark between them ignites into a hot affair. As Tamsin pledges her undying love, Mona believes her, blind to her rich new lover’s penchant for manipulation and habit of making mischief. Press is outstanding in this coming-of-age drama that deftly explores the girls’ volatile relationship and the psychology that drives them together. Brief erotic scenes outline the couple’s passion, but sex and romance are secondary to the friendship that seems to offer Mona an escape from her dead-end existence. The tension inexorably rises as Tamsin plays a dangerous game with her new girlfriend’s emotions, and director Pawel Pawlikowski impressively transforms what begins as a love story into a small-scale thriller.
Grade: B Kinsey: 6 (The young actresses are gorgeous together in scenes that are sexy but discreet.)
The Perfect Man
Life in the Hamilton household is only too predictable: whenever Jean (Heather Locklear) gets dumped, she packs up her two daughters and moves. Desperate to stay in one place, 16-year-old Holly (Hilary Duff) invents an e-mail secret admirer for Jean, using info she’s gleaned about her pal’s Uncle Ben (Chris Noth) and his photo to keep the charade going. The twin premises of this romantic comedy – namely, that single mothers are desperate and a little bit stupid and that it is okay to play what is an essentially cruel practical joke so long as it is well-intentioned – are unsavory in the extreme. That the film manages to overcome much of that and actually generate laughs is a credit to its engaging and amiable cast.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 2 (“Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”‘s Carson Kressley has a small role as a queer bartender who is also looking for the perfect man. Noth co-starred on the gay-friendly “Sex and the City” and played a tranny hooker in “Smithereens.”)
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
When teenage friends Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), Lena (Alexis Bledel), Carmen (America Ferrera), and Bridget (Blake Lively) happen upon a pair of jeans that magically fits all of their bodies, they decide to share the pants over the course of a summer that will see them traveling in different directions. The charmed pants make their way from Greece to Mexico to Washington, D.C., as the girls experience romantic heartaches, familial headaches, and other growing pains. That’s a lot for one movie to juggle, but this one succeeds with unexpected grace, unforced sentimentality, and strong performances from its four lead actors. It wins where other teen movies – notably the pack of shallow “princess” films – lose. And that’s rarer than a pair of perfectly fitting jeans.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 0 (Absolutely no queer content and no queer-related credits associated with cast or crew.)
Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith
Kindly Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) trained his apprentice, Annakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), to be a force for good, only to see his young charge move inexorably toward the dark side. But Skywalker’s transformation into evil Darth Vader will not be complete until he meets his former mentor for one last fiery showdown. George Lucas’ six-part space opera ends in an impressive orgy of the best special effects and CGI that technology has to offer. The acting, even by the normally dependable McGregor, is wooden and the dialogue is moronic, but the spectacle is astounding. The dazzle will no doubt satisfy hardcore fans, but the less devoted may well resent the nagging feeling of being trapped inside a video game.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (McGregor has appeared in both gay and bisexual roles. James Earl Jones – the voice of Darth Vader – appeared on an episode of “Will & Grace,” while Frank Oz – the voice of Yoda – directed “In & Out.”)