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New releases: Jumper, Spiderwick, etc. 

Jumper ** 1/2

This fantasy flick may be based on the novel by Steven Gould, but while watching it, I felt like I had jumped back in time to 1986 and was again catching Highlander during its original theatrical run. Jumper is Highlander for a new generation: a cheesy, globetrotting film certain to be savaged by most critics, but also a mindlessly entertaining yarn likely to lead to a string of sequels and/or TV adaptations. Hayden Christensen, still struggling with that wooden aspect of his acting, plays David Rice, a kid who discovers he has the ability to “jump” to any location on the planet in a matter of seconds. In a nice if cynical twist, David doesn’t use his powers to benefit mankind; instead, he’s too busy robbing banks to finance a lifestyle generally reserved for the rich and famous. But his partying days come to an end once he encounters Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), a member of a secret society (“Paladins”) which has spent centuries trying to wipe out all jumpers. David receives some helpful pointers from a more seasoned jumper (Sean Connery’s regal Highlander role, here re-imagined as a surly punk played by Jamie Bell), but they may not be enough to prevent Roland from drawing David’s innocent girlfriend (Rachel Bilson) into the fray. As a heady piece of sci-fi philosophy, Jumper burrows no deeper than the ends of the eyelashes, as director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and scripters David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg are content to make a movie that offers little more than surface thrills. But on that level, Jumper is a fairly effective action tale, with some nifty effects and enough international locales to power a few Bond installments.

The Spiderwick Chronicles ***

Another movie season, another attempt to jump-start a film franchise aimed at family audiences. Yet The Spiderwick Chronicles, based on the books by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, is one of the better adaptations in this field, which has taken some severe body blows lately with the dismal failures of the cluttered The Golden Compass and the dreadful The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising. Smoothly directed by Mark Waters, the miracle worker responsible for Lindsay Lohan’s two best performances (Freaky Friday and Mean Girls), Spiderwick displays a lighter touch than other fantasy films of this nature, meaning that its thrills are all the more unexpected — and effective. Freddie Highmore, the talented young star of Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, essays the roles of twin brothers Jared (troublemaker) and Simon (bookworm), who, along with mom Helen Grace (Mary-Louise Parker) and older sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger), take up residence in an ancestral home that harbors some interesting inhabitants. And residing in the woods beyond the house are a murderous ogre (voiced by, of all people, Nick Nolte) and his goblin minions, all hell-bent on obtaining a book (presently in Jared’s possession) that would wreak havoc both on our world and the one inhabited by fairies and other mystical creatures. The CGI characters (including ones voiced by Martin Short and Seth Rogen) are sure to delight the kids, but for older viewers, they represent the least memorable aspect of this movie; far more affecting (and reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s earliest blockbusters) are the sequences that center on the relationships between the Graces — all struggling to cope with Helen’s impending divorce — and how the notion of family directly plays into their interactions with the fantasy world in their backyard.

Definitely, Maybe ***

When it comes to a worthy romantic comedy, Definitely, Maybe certainly isn’t fool’s gold (or Fool’s Gold) — on the contrary, it’s the real deal, a diamond in the rough that could use some polishing but overall sparkles with warmth and wit. Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin (suddenly more overexposed than fellow moppet Dakota Fanning) plays Maya Hayes, a precocious child whose parents are getting divorced. While staying with her father Will (Ryan Reynolds), Maya begs to hear how he and her mother met, so he turns the bedtime story into a mystery, changing all the names and leaving Maya to guess which of the women from his past ended up becoming his wife. As he details his escapades during the early 1990s — as a fledgling political consultant for the Clinton campaign — he presents three possibilities: his college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks), his campaign co-worker April (Isla Fisher), and his reporter friend Summer (Rachel Weisz). By casting three comparably drop-dead-gorgeous actresses in sympathetic and intelligent roles, writer-director Adam Brooks keeps the mystery going longer than might be expected; still, the focus isn’t on the identity of Mom as much as it’s on Will’s romantic travails as he keeps sorting out his shifting feelings for these women as they repeatedly enter his life over the years. Affable Reynolds manages to keep pace with his gifted leading ladies, while an unbilled Kevin Kline appears as a literary boozehound with an eye for young college girls.

Vantage Point ** 1/2

Imagine the TV hit 24 crossed with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, and you’ll get some idea of what to expect from Vantage Point, a dizzying thriller that relates the same catastrophic event from eight different POVs. In Salamanca, Spain, U.S. President Ashton (William Hurt), on the verge of making a speech concerning the War on Terror, becomes the target of an assassination attempt, and various occurrences that take place immediately before and after the shooting are filtered through the actions of several participants and witnesses. Chief among these characters are Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), who stopped an assassin’s bullet during a prior attempt on the president’s life; Barnes’ fellow bodyguard, Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox); Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), an American tourist who catches some startling images with his camcorder; and Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver), a TV producer whose own newsreel footage might help Barnes crack the case. By splintering the material in such a fashion, writer Barry Levy has added some snap, crackle and pop to what would otherwise be a routine action film had it been presented in chronological order. Even so, director Pete Travis can’t keep the momentum going for the entire 90 minutes, with the final act marred by a ludicrous plot twist as well as an endless car chase that drains away much of the narrative tension.

Favorite

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