SKY HIGH Kurt Russell will also punch your face and do your girl.
The Calamari Wrestler
dir. Kawasaki
Opens Fri July 29
Clinton St. Theater

"I want to be loved," the pro wrestler says. "People will love me if I win." It's touching: This wrestler's goal is a simple one--to win, and thus be loved, perhaps even gaining the favor of Miyako (Kana Ishida).

Just one thing: The Calamari Wrestler (Osamu Nishimura) is a giant, rubbery squid. Miyako has concerns ("I can't love a squid! How will he support me?"), but they're nothing compared to the prejudice of Japan's pro wrestlers.

And so it goes: The Calamari Wrestler goes grocery shopping (sardines). He prepares for his matches (meditation and NordicTrack). And he searches for himself in a wrestling organization and country that want to squash his individuality.

There's no way to analyze the ridiculousness of the film's isolated images or plot threads, other than to say that they're hilarious. But maybe the weirdest thing about the film is its unexpected lucidity--the plot, for all of its insanity, feels logical and involving; the characters (even the rubber-clad ones) are interesting and real; the wrestling matches are fun; the plot twists are as bizarrely fun and imaginative as the film's concept. In other words, it's a movie about a giant wrestling squid, and it's awesome. ERIK HENRIKSEN

The Beautiful Country
dir. Moland
Opens Fri July 29
Cinema 21

There are actually two beautiful countries in this quiet film: Vietnam and America. The former is where Binh (Damien Nguyen), half-Vietnamese and half-American, has grown up ostracized by his community. The latter of his origins is where Binh treks in search of his lost GI father.

In Vietnam, Binh's life is miserable, and the misery is only compounded once he tracks down his mother in Saigon, where he finds her working as a servant for a wealthy couple. Shortly after Binh's arrival, however, he's forced to flee the country; the journey to America isn't pretty, and once Binh arrives, things don't get much better, as he finds America not just confusing, but relentless. Living not even a notch above his former status, Binh is still a nobody--and he still has to track down his father.

Gorgeously photographed, and patiently directed by Norwegian Hans Petter Moland, The Beautiful Country refuses to hold your hand and lead you along; it wanders, but always with an ultimate destination in mind (be it physical or spiritual). And despite some minor stumbles along the way (beware the arrival of Tim Roth), by the time you arrive at its delicate ending, you'll find it hard to shake. BRADLEY STEINBACHER

Sky High
dir. Mitchell
Opens Fri July 29
Various Theaters

Hey! I've got an idea! What if there were these teenagers, right? But they're not normal kids--these're kids with super powers. Cool? And then what if they went to this secret school, right? Where they learn to use their powers and stuff? And then what if a super villain showed up, and the kids would have to team up and defeat the bad guy? Yeah! That movie would rule!

Or, rather, it already did--back when it was called X-Men. Sky High--in which Disney does its best to first rip off, then retardify all things X-Men--is largely a harmless piece of fluff that should be perfectly entertaining for mentally challenged toddlers. For everyone else, the few things that Sky High offers that X-Men doesn't justify the price of admission: There's a cute, Lizzie McGuire-esque angstiness, some wasted appearances from Bruce Campbell and Kids in the Hall Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald, and the guiltily enjoyable pleasure of watching a thoroughly Botoxed Lynda Carter--as Sky High's principal--desperately cling to her rusting Wonder Woman tiara even as Kurt Russell morosely acquiesces to his inevitable fate of playing a Disney Dad. In short, it's painless, and stupid, and unnecessary, and unoriginal, and unentertaining, and the special effects suck. And now I'm going to go watch X-Men. ERIK HENRIKSEN