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'Hulk' of Crap

Plus: The Shyamalyster says it's us versus the trees

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Previews

Opening Friday, June 20, is a new version of Get Smart directed by Peter Segal (50 First Dates). Maxwell Smart, played here by Steve Carell, began life in a TV series created by Mel Brooks that ran from 1965 to 1970 with Don Adams as Agent Smart. Chipping in as Agent 99 is Anne Hathaway and in the role of Agent 23, Dwayne Johnson, who seems to have dropped "The Rock" from his moniker, perhaps in a move to a more sensitive masculinity. The cast also includes Terence Stamp and Alan Arkin as the Chief. Will this version of the spy spoof add up to anything? It seems to have potential. Rated PG-13 for some rude humor, action violence and language. 110 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.

The Love Guru stars Mike Myers as an American raised by gurus in India. Hoping to cash in on the spirituality business, he moves back to the States in order to find gullible people to pay for his brand of self-help. His biggest test comes when he has to mediate a marital dispute between a Maple Leafs hockey player and his wife, who is revenge-dating an L.A. Kings star played by Justin Timberlake. Adding frosting to someone's cake, Jessica Alba is the Maple Leafs' owner. No doubt, gullible people will pay to see this film. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language, some comic violence and drug references. 88 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.

For viewers looking for a different sort of film — and who wouldn't be? — The Visitor stars Richard Jenkins (the dead father in Six Feet Under) as a burned out college professor in Connecticut who travels to Manhattan to deliver a paper at a conference. He discovers that his city apartment has been taken over by a drummer from Syria and his Senegalese girlfriend. The unlikely friendship that develops between the three is the film's subject, along with the consequences of illegal immigration. The film is directed by Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent). I saw this film in Portland and thoroughly enjoyed it. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. 108 m. At the Broadway.

Reviews

THE HAPPENING: If you think of tree leaves shaking in the wind as a spiritual bit of nature, you might reconsider after seeing M. Night Shyamalan's latest film.

Since the release of The Sixth Sense in 1999, a film I greatly admired, Shyamalan has taken his lumps from audiences and critics alike. His 2006 film Lady in the Water, in particular, garnered a lot of negative reviews and didn't generate a lot of audience. Maybe for Hollywood you're only as good as your last film, but I've found a lot of things to value even in Shyamalan's "lesser" or less successful efforts, and while I had some mixed feelings about The Happening, the good things easily dominated.

For one thing, one of the elements I've most admired about Shyamalan's films is his visual style: the way he creates clarity and mystery at the same time by how he focuses on everyday images and mystifies them. Here, bushes, grasses and trees swaying in the wind become objects of potential terror even on a completely sunny day. This is one film where I really regret seeing the trailers, because the opening scene in Central Park would have been much more effective had I been totally unprepared.

The ever-reliable Mark Wahlberg, who slips into Shyamalan's vision as easily as Bruce Willis did in Sixth Sense, is high school science teacher Elliot Moore, who we first see trying to rouse some interest in his students about why bees are disappearing. The answer is one of the film's keys: science will probably never be able to fully explain it. He also seems to have a troubled marriage; at least his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), acts mighty strange.

But the personal history is not Shyamalan's interest. The film begins with two women on a bench in Central Park. The fact that one starts speaking strangely soon turns out to be the least of their problems. Narratively, the film tracks a group of people, including Elliot, Alma and two young students, as they try to escape the eerie affliction that threatens a sizable portion of the country, and Shyamalan gets in a few political shots as well when early reports blame unnamed "terrorists."

In regard to acting, Wahlberg's solid performance carries the film. John Leguizamo's role was all too brief, and I'm not sure what Deschanel was doing with her character here. Her main attribute seems to be her large, round eyes and given the number of shots of them, I can only guess that Shyamalan was somehow hypnotized by them.

But good acting is not a reason to see his films. The best moments, and the scariest, occur in relative silence when nature and facial reactions tell the essential story. The words too often just get in the way. The fact that Shyamalan can't seem to marshal all of his film's elements with equal effectiveness is too bad, but he manages just enough here to create a reasonably effective film. Maybe he'll get it all together someday. Rated R for violent and disturbing images. 91 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK: I was never a fan of the Hulk comics or the TV series, so it is something of a surprise that my partner tolerates me, as the Hulk is her favorite superhero. I guess there's just something about those clothes gradually being ripped apart as Bruce Banner's inner beast emerges that taps into one of her archetypes. Apparently, size does matter.

It certainly matters to Marvel Studios who, apparently disappointed with the approach and performance of Ang Lee's 2003 adaptation, gives us not one but two creatures and an apparent return to the spirit and "substance" of the comic and TV series. I think there was a reason I was not a fan of the original.

A significant portion of director's Louis Leterrier's (the Transporter films) Hulk film owes a lot to the classic beauty and the beast narrative, with a slight nod to the version seen in King Kong. Except, love is no longer fatal to the beast; now it's a gooey positive force.

To be fair, there are some very effective elements in this film. One is the acting, particularly that of Edward Norton as Banner. In fact, the film's opening section set in Brazil, where Bruce is hiding, working in a soda factory and trying to discover a cure for his condition by sending blood sample to a person known only by his screen persona of "Blue" and taking lessons in keeping his blood pressure low was the best portion of the film for me.

But he is soon discovered by the power-hungry General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt, who seems to be specializing in villains these days), forcing a return to the States, where he has to deal not just with the general, but also his daughter Betty (Liv Tyler) and British Special Forces officer Emil Blonsky (an effective Tim Roth), who wants to be more powerful than the Hulk. Unfortunately, Bruce disappears too often into the Hulk (although Betty still recognizes the essential Bruce) so the film can have its tiresome battle pieces, including the climactic one between the Hulk and Abomination. I suppose one could say Abomination is actually the beast within Hulk that he hasn't dealt with, but why ruin a good superhero fight scene? And all those civilians, cops and ordinary soldiers: just collateral damage.

But haven't we seen all this too many times? Norton is eminently watchable, Tyler is certainly an ideal "Beauty" (too bad she's not asked to do much more; I thought she had a "Dr." before her character's name), Hurt is Hurt and Roth is appropriately implacable. Hurt does have the film's best line: when Betty's wimpy psychotherapist would-be suitor defies him, he walks away saying, "Where does she find these guys?" But in the end, this is just another summer superhero action film with little panache. But what's being sought here is not originality, just box office; the two concepts don't belong in the same sentence. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images and brief suggestive content. 114 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.

Continuing

BABY MAMA. Infertile business woman hires working-class woman as unlikely surrogate. Rated PG-13. 99 m. At The Movies.

CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN. Newest installment of series based on C.S. Lewis's sci-fi/fantasy books. Rated PG. 144 m. At The Movies.

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Intrepid archaeologist becomes entangled in Soviet plot to uncover secret behind mysterious Crystal Skulls. Rated PG-13. 112 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

IRON MAN. Action/adventure flick based on Marvel's iconic comic book super hero. Rated PG-13. 126 m. At the Broadway.

KUNG FU PANDA. Po the Panda Bear lays down bamboo shoots, takes up martial arts. Rated PG. 92 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

SEX AND THE CITY.Continuing adventure of HBO series four main characters as they live out their Manhattan lives. Rated R. 145 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

SPEED RACER.Full-length live action film adaptation of classic Japanese anime series. Rated PG. 135 m. At The Movies.

STRANGERS.Couple's getaway turns terrifying when masked strangers invade their home. Rated R. 85 m. At The Movies.

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS.Two strangers wake up married after a night of debauchery in Sin City; comic chaos ensues. Rated PG-13. 99 m. At The Movies.

YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN. Adam Sandler as the titular Israeli commando-turned-hairdresser. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

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