THE ALAMO Forget The Alamo... again. John Wayne's 1960 take on the historic battle of 1836 was fairly useless as history and barely involving as entertainment, but it at least had the benefit of a sterling cast and a marvelous Dimitri Tiomkin score. This version can't even match those modest achievements -- it's the equivalent of one long drone from a stiff Social Studies teacher who can't be bothered to add any sort of relevance to the topic. Even with his charisma kept in check, Billy Bob Thornton still fares best as Davy Crockett. The other leads -- Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston, Patrick Wilson as William Travis and especially Jason Patric as Jim Bowie -- resemble waxworks at a history museum; if the characters they're portraying had been this boring, they simply could have lulled the Mexican invaders to sleep. 1/2
CONNIE AND CARLA Although it cribs shamelessly from Some Like It Hot and Victor/Victoria, this at least finds writer-actress Nia Vardalos breaking away from her bread-and-butter -- on the heels of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the TV series My Big Fat Greek Life, I was dreading My Big Fat Greek Divorce, My Big Fat Greek Funeral, etc. Instead, this finds Vardalos and Toni Collette cast as airport lounge singers who take it on the lam after they witness a murder. Hoofing it to LA, they hide out as drag performers -- in short, they're girls pretending to be guys pretending to be girls. As writer, Vardalos couldn't be less interested in the plot -- the crime escapades wouldn't even have been approved for an episode of Hawaii Five-O -- but the characters are engaging and the musical routines fun to watch. 1/2
DAWN OF THE DEAD George Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead has long been hailed by both critics and cultists as one of the few great "splatter" flicks ever made, so expecting anything but harsh words for a rehash would be nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of its creators. But hold on. This new version is that rare bird: a remake that actually succeeds on its own terms. Director Zack Snyder and writer James Gunn clearly knew that simply offering a lumbering retread of the original would be a fatal mistake; instead, it wisely presses forward in its own direction, retaining the mall location but offering different characters, different situations and a different outcome. The result is a crisp horror flick, a fast-paced picture that's exciting, icky and often quite funny.
ELLA ENCHANTED Freely adapted from the book by Gail Carson Levine but completely owing its body and soul to Shrek, this is yet another fractured fairy tale designed for kids living in a postmodern age. Anne Hathaway, the wide-eyed star of The Princess Diaries, plays Ella, a young woman who tries to break a spell that forces her to obey every command directly aimed at her. The film is largely missing any semblance of a through line -- plot points are brought up and then abandoned, and characters appear randomly for no pressing reason other than the story requires their presence at that exact moment -- but the movie's still reasonably entertaining, thanks to an able cast as well as its own infectious commitment to Happily Ever After principles. 1/2
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND Scripter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) has come up with another mindbender of a movie, an existential drama in which two people (Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet) meet and are instantly attracted to each other, not realizing that they were once lovers who underwent a scientific procedure to have the entire relationship wiped from their memories. For all its smart-aleck shenanigans and dense plotting, this delightfully different movie is no mere parlor trick. It takes a serious look at the value of remembrance and the dangers of monkeying with the mind (in a world ravished by Alzheimer's, a willful desecration of our memories seems downright insane), and its laughs are tempered by a sorrowfulness that dogs every scene. Eternal Sunshine is ultimately an odd sort of love story, a melancholy rumination that's as much about the head as the heart. 1/2
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR Risky Business comparisons are inevitable, but even with an R rating, this proves to be more frisky than risky, as studious high school student Matthew (Emile Hirsch) learns that his beautiful new neighbor Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert of TV's 24) is a former porn star trying to begin a new life. With its two aptly cast leads and some nicely realized moments in which the pair tentatively get to know each other, this clearly had the potential to succeed as a love story; instead, the focus is inexplicably drawn away from Danielle and placed on the slapstick antics of Matthew and his buddies, forcing the movie to eventually deteriorate into just another chaotic teen comedy more interested in elaborate pranks than emotional bonding.