'Croods' thrilling, 'Stoker' less so; 'Spring Breakers' wild

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A critical look at other movies opening in theaters today:

' The Croods'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

Grug may be a caveman but the double negative is intentional. "Never not be afraid" is his favorite bit of advice for his family. In other words, be afraid, be very afraid.

"Fear keeps us alive," Grug (voice of Nicolas Cage) reminds his wife, rebellious teenage daughter, thick-skulled 9-year-old son, wild toddler girl and the mother-in-law he could live without in the 3-D animated adventure "The Croods."

They live in prehistoric times -- they dress like "The Flintstones" but reside in the unpopulated wild where danger lurks in the form of animals who want to devour them -- and spend much of their time in their cave. As daughter Eep (Emma Stone) laments in her opening narration, curiosity is bad, anything new is bad, anything fun is bad.

All of that changes when she sneaks out and discovers the boy, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who has an ability to make fire, a sense of fearlessness, belief in ideas and even jokes, and sweet attraction to Eep. When the Croods' cave is destroyed, they have to strike out into uncharted territories where the overly protective dad loses his alpha male gig to the forward-thinking outsider but is given the chance to save the day, or at least his family.

While "The Croods" makes excellent use of Mr. Cage's distinctive voice along with those of Ms. Stone, Mr. Reynolds, Catherine Keener as Grug's wife and Cloris Leachman as the cranky grandma, it doesn't rise to the level of an animated classic.

Watching it is like being hopped up on sugar, with oddball critters such as a macawnivore (body of an enormous tiger, oversize head, colors of a macaw parrot) or crocopup (part canine, part crocodile), flytrap-style flowers, crumbling cliffs and other environmental disasters at every turn.

In its quieter moments, though, it makes a bid for adventure, not living in a prison of fear and even remembering to tell parents or children you love them. It skews young and doesn't rival last year's sophisticated, stellar string of animated movies, but it hits its mark.

Rated PG for some scary action.

-- Barbara Vancheri, PG movie editor

' Spring Breakers'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

"I'm starting to think," says one of the girls gone very wild in Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers," "that this is the most spiritual place I've ever been."

If you missed out on beer-bonging yourself into a spring-break stupor, Mr. Korine's loopy, lurid and hypnotic film could serve as a travelogue to that junction of heaven and hell.

With a cast of bikinied ex-Disney starlets and the ubiquitous James Franco, "Spring Breakers" re-imagines the annual beach bacchanal as an ultraviolent sexploitation drive-in movie.

Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine (the writer-director's wife) are college students desperate for a trip to Florida's St. Petersburg.

The neon-lit, pseudo-documentary style, with dreamy flashforwards and scenes repeated from varying perspectives, is a long way from "Where the Boys Are." With a fake gun and a real mallet, three of the girls rob a local Chicken Shack to fund their trip.

Once in Florida, they drink, do drugs, phone home ("Hi, Grandma!") and eventually land in jail. Too scared to call their parents, they accept bail from a courtroom lurker with cornrowed hair and a mouthful of silver.

That's Alien (Mr. Franco), a drug-dealing, gun-selling gangsta who seems a far worse option than jail for the naive revelers.

But here's where Mr. Korine, the former boy wonder who wrote Larry Clark's notorious 1995 "Kids," upends our expectations. Donning matching pink ski masks and brandishing semi-automatic weapons, three of the girls more than fit into Alien's violent world.

They blossom.

Like his heroines, Mr. Korine gets carried away with himself and has less to say about youthful amorality than he pretends. Recklessness has its own appeal, though, and that "Spring Breakers" has in spades.

R for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout.

-- Greg Evans, Bloomberg News

' Stoker'

2 stars = Mediocre
Ratings explained

Sitting through the thriller "Stoker" is like watching a beautiful ad for a product you have no interest or intention of buying. Sort of like that Brad Pitt commercial for Chanel No. 5 where he's stringing together a series of phrases that aren't any sillier than some of the dialogue here.

Take, for instance, what newly widowed Evie (Nicole Kidman) says to her 18-year-old daughter, India (a dark-haired Mia Wasikowska): "You and your father were always on your hunting trips. How could I compete with all of those dead birds you brought home?"

India's beloved father died in a fiery car crash and, on the day of his funeral, his younger brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode), suddenly appears. The teenager never even knew he existed, and she's initially wary of him; it's the opposite of the niece who takes to her Uncle Charlie in Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" before realizing his murderous impulses.

The grieving girl here is a sullen straight-A student and outcast, someone who cannot stand to be touched and who curls up with the "Encyclopedia of Funerals and Mourning."

"Stoker" is the first English-language film from Park Chan-Wook, director of the violent, slickly made Korean revenge thriller "Oldboy" (Spike Lee is doing an American version for release this year). The screenplay is by former "Prison Break" actor Wentworth Miller, a 1990 graduate of Quaker Valley High School.

The film is visually stylish, with flecks of light that devilishly dance in Mr. Goode's eyes, the sight of a spider crawling up a girl's leg, the symbolic exchange of saddle shoes for crocodile stilettos and even a scene where the image of Ms. Kidman's red hair, being stroked with a brush, gives way to tall grasses waving in the breeze.

It's all quite beautiful and thrumming with tension, but it seems hollow; it's like unwrapping a gorgeous box only to find tissue inside but no present.

R for disturbing, violent and sexual content.

-- Barbara Vancheri, PG movie editor


First Published March 22, 2013 4:00 AM


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