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Night at the Museum

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As with 2006's deviled-ham rehashing of The Omen, this stocking-snuffer remake of Bob Clark's nasty, unusually effective 1974 shocker seems to have been mandated by its release-date marketing hook: The product itself isn't so much afterthought as afterbirth—a bloody mess to be dumped discreetly. The proto-slasher original had a hidden psycho terrorizing sorority girls (including Margot Kidder and a pre-SCTV Andrea Martin) over an anything-but-merry Christmas break. The remake retains Martin, in a largely laughless house-mother role, but adds everything the first film was smart enough to skip: half-wit motivations, an elaborate backstory for the villain, and ridiculous gory killings by icicle, candy cane, and (holy Tennessee Williams!) glass unicorn. (Attention, trend-spotters in schlock horror: Eyeball-squishing is the new finger-snipping.) You'd expect writer-director Glen Morgan, a sicko talent, to have no trouble channeling the giddy nihilism of his Final Destination movies in this bad-Santa milieu. But the movie lacks the timing and visual wit that would make its splattery EC Comics gags either genuinely scary or funny—as silly as it may sound to carp about nuance when you're talking human-flesh gingerbread men and Christmas trees decked with eyeballs. (Jim Ridley) (Countywide)

See "Blade of Flying Sparks" (Edwards University, Irvine)

See "Out of the Past" (Select theaters)

See "Trust No One" (Countywide)

Although it's commercial Indian movie, writer-director Kabir Kahn's Kabul Express is not another Bollywood songspiel. It's a songless, two-hour drama about two clueless greenhorn journalists, played by fashion plate John Abraham (Water) and comic scene-stealer Arshad Warsi (Munna Bhai MBBS), who travel from to Afghanistan shortly after the fall of the Taliban to hunt for scoops. Together with their Afghan guide (Hanif Hum Ghum) and an American tag-long (Linda Arsenio), the journos are van-jacked by a refugee Talib fighter (Salman Shahid) for a quick trip to the Pakistani border. Kabul Express is the first foreign production shot in Afghanistan since the war, but Kahn makes surprisingly little of his unique opportunity. Most of the areas we get to see are just endless vistas of pale brown dust and pale brown rocks, and the story that is acted out in front of them is confined dramatically to some standard PC comments on cultural stereotyping. But the film does depict an aspect of the Afghan conflict that will be unfamiliar to most Americans: The large numbers of Pakistani regular Army personal who were assigned to fight with the Taliban, only to be disowned and left stranded post-9/11, when their government found it prudent to shift its allegiance to the U.S. Here, as in Bahman Ghobadi's Turtles Can Fly (which was set in Iraqi Kurdistan), the U.S. military is seen as a peripheral, occasionally lethal, flyover presence, suggesting that both the pro- and anti-war factions in the U.S. have an inflated sense of America's importance in the region. How typical that even America's dissidents should think of their country as the center of the universe. (David Chute) (Naz 8, Artesia)

Ben Stiller—as usual, frazzled with a touch of hipster frump—is a divorced dad in need of a gig, lest his cutie-pie kid (Jake Cherry) wind up spending all of his time with uptight bond-trading New Dad (Paul Rudd, wasted in a straightlaced cameo). So Stiller's Larry takes a job as night watchman at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, where things go bump in the night thanks to an Egyptian trinket that animates stuffed mannequins and waxworks, whatever. The first half-hour's too slow; the last half-hour's too manic, as if to compensate. But it's the first outing from director Shawn Levy (he of Cheaper by the Dozen and Pink Panther infamy) that actually entertains, thanks in large measure to it being essentially a buddy-pic, with Owen Wilson as a miniature cowpoke and Steve Coogan as his Roman counterpart. Stiller's almost irrelevant to the proceedings; his best scene involves a smartass monkey slapping him stupid, which is as dumb as it sounds. But he's boring because he has to be, lest Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) run off with Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck) while Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney (not wax figures, really) get away with the goods. Yeah, it's that kind of a holiday movie. (Robert Wilonsky) (Countywide)

See "Rocky V. Ahmadinejad" (Countywide)

"From the ashes, we rose," whispers the earnest narrator of this, the World Trade Center of college-football soapers. Based on the true story of the all-frosh season that followed a West Virginia team's 1970 plane crash, We Are Marshall gets the McG treatment. Tugging the film into post-9/11 allegory, the flashmaster who brought us both Charlie's Angels flicks squanders his primo period setting in favor of this-really-happened clichs involving the eager-beaver new coach (Matthew McConaughey), cautious college prez (David Strathairn), grieving girlfriend (Kate Mara), field goal kicker brilliantly plucked from the soccer squad, etc. Vietnam, campus unrest, and racial tension merit not a single acknowledgement in a heal-your-heart movie that even overdubs Coach's sacrilegious "damn" with a "darn" to complete the scrubbing. Most surprising is the fact McG, newly graduated to Storytelling 101, would strip the gridiron thrills to a bare minimum in order to emphasize his talky schmaltz; it's as if he thought he was directing a Brian's Song remake. Even by the low standards of the young-jocks-as-good-clean-soldiers movie, there's little at stake, unless you count the kids' hunger to win one for the Gipper. (Rob Nelson) (Countywide)


Opens Wed.; a review appears next week. (Edwards University, Irvine)

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