Angels & Demons (PG-13)
If Ron Howard's snore of a film of Dan Brown's bestseller The Da Vinci Code was characterized by people sitting at tables and talking, then his sequel-set film of the prequel book is characterized by people walking briskly and talking. That right there points up the fundamental difference between the films; if the first film's (and book's) selling point were provocative ideas (that would make an interesting read but not so much an interesting watch), then this is more of a standard potboiler suspense film--and not surprisingly is much better at these far more modest ambitions. The four leading candidates to replace the recently deceased Pope are kidnapped by a madman armed with a powerful explosive substance; it's up to Tom Hanks's ultrabrilliant professor Robert Langdon (this time sporting a much more flattering hairdo) to untangle the mysteries and conspiracies before disaster strikes. Howard does keep things moving briskly for a film that runs at nearly two and a half hours, and the ticking-clock plot keeps the interest from flagging. Ultimately, though, the film is too formula for its own good, with what would be its key surprise undone for me by what I call The Law of Casting--if a name actor in a mystery film spends most of the run time in what appears to be a throwaway background role, chances are said actor plays the culprit.
Terminator Salvation (PG-13)
If McG's destruction-and-mayhem-packed sequel were simply Generic Future Robot Wars Movie 101, then it would be perfectly adequate as a mindless summer timepass. The problem is that it bears the name Terminator, which is not exactly synonymous with "mindless"; as seen in James Cameron's seminal first two films and the best episodes of the now-axed television spinoff The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the saga of man versus machine has also served up doses of involving, character-driven drama as strong as the jolts of slam-bang excitement. Between the big set pieces, there isn't much to hang onto here, as Christian Bale is largely just called on to yell and glower as the adult John Connor; Anton Yelchin's young Kyle Reese (saddled with a Token Mute Ethnic Kid Sidekick) isn't bad but isn't memorable; and as mysterious new character Marcus Wright (the actual lead of the piece), Sam Worthington is adequate given that he doesn't have a whole lot to work with beyond taking part in action scenes. Worse though is that, for all the sound and fury, this film's rather inconsequential story set in the post-"Judgment Day" apocalyptic future, adds virtually nothing, much less anything of concrete value, to the established mythology; that the film's overall basic point has already been conveyed by the closing lines of T2 some 18 years ago shows just how completely superfluous this cash grab is.
Battle for Terra (PG)
Independently produced animated films intended for a mass audience haven't had the greatest track record (Fly Me to the Moon anyone? Fucking Delgo?!), and so it was a most pleasant surprise to find a bit of visual imagination on display from the first minutes of this Lionsgate-released sci-fi yarn. Terra is an idyllic planet inhabited by peaceful creatures and exotic animals, and of course such lovely conditions are bound to be upset, thanks to some conquesting invaders--none other than the human race, looking for a new world to call home after destroying Earth. That Aristomenis Tsirbas's film has a fair amount on its mind (war, environmentalism, tolerance) and expresses its concerns in an effectively restrained manner is just gravy on top of a true visual feast; even if it weren't shown in digital 3-D, the detailed design of Terra and its inhabitants and the decaying squalor of the humans' spaceships would be impressive.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (PG-13)
Matthew McConaughey takes his shirt off in only one scene! And that's the only the surprise to be had in this thoroughly by-the-numbers rom-com. The title says it all, with director Mark Waters and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore grafting the format of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol onto the tale of an avowed womanizer (McConaughey, of course) visited by three ghosts giving him a sobering glimpse of his romantic past, present, and future on the eve of his brother's (Breckin Meyer) wedding. Could this journey through time possibly set him on the course of settling down with the childhood friend (Jennifer Garner) who's the only one to ever truly capture his heart? It's no spoiler to say there's no suspense as to the outcome, but the perfunctory execution and sparse laughs do spoil whatever attempt at crafting an appealing romantic air. Adding to the disappointment is that McConaughey and Garner do share a genuinely charming chemistry just begging to be employed in a more clever context; and Michael Douglas, apparently auditioning for the lead in an as-yet-unmade Robert Evans biopic based on his look here, is good for a few chuckles as the spirit of McConaughey's womanizing uncle.