Diary of the Dead
dir. George A. Romero
Opens Fri Feb 15
Well, this is awkward. Watching George A. Romero—the grandfather of the genre—make one of the worst zombie movies in recent memory is pretty depressing. Leaving 1968's great Night of the Living Dead and '78's Dawn of the Dead far, far, behind him, Romero's zombie flicks have been sliding for a while, from 1985's so-so Day of the Dead to the cinematic NyQuil of 2005's Land of the Dead. But as middling as those flicks were, they're masterpieces compared to Romero's latest, the ludicrously titled Diary of the Dead.
A few months ago, Diary would have been branded a Blair Witch wannabe, but now it just feels like a bargain-bin Cloverfield. The story: Several profoundly annoying students and their drunky professor hop in a Winnebago when a zombie apocalypse hits, grabbing their camcorders and filming everything. Cartoony gore, amateurish CGI, and weird plugs for MySpace ensue. There's shark-jumping to spare (the film's best character is—wait for it—a deaf Amish dude who kills zombies with dynamite and a scythe), but worse are the labored references to Hurricane Katrina and illegal immigration. In earlier films, Romero cleverly dealt with subjects like racism and consumerism; here, his once-sharp allegories are forced and lazy. When one agonized character tells whoever's holding the camera, "Shoot me," I guess I was supposed to be all, "Ooh, what a profound statement about the YouTubing of our society!" Instead, I just knew exactly how the kid felt. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Step Up 2: The Streets
dir. Jon Chu
Like any chick, I've seen my fair share of dance movies. The well-worn complaint: Not enough dancing. Well, Step Up 2: The Streets is the soothing salve for your dancing movie bunions.
If you saw Step Up, you've got a handle on the premise, except now it's a street-smart girl from the 'hood cozying up to a rich guy at a Baltimore dance school, instead of vice versa. Not that the story matters much—there's lots of dancing! Hiphop dancer Andie (Briana Evigan) has a hard time fitting in at a swanky arts school, so she befriends an adorable bunch of braces-wearing, mullet-sporting, thick-accented outcasts (oh, and one pretty boy). Together they team up to take on Andie's former dance crew at the local dance-off. Dance-off!
Step Up 2: The Streets is all about sitting back and watching some crazy kids spin on their heads. It doesn't get much more entertaining than that–besides, the climatic splashy dance-off has a troupe of rain-drenched hotties shaking their stuff. 'Nuff said. COURTNEY FERGUSON
The Spiderwick Chronicles
dir. Mark Waters
The Spiderwick Chronicles has a few things going for it that other recent kids' movies haven't: Seth Rogen as a CG hobgoblin. A lack of an overt religious agenda. Some genuinely tense moments. It doesn't sound like a lot—but hey, with cinematic pickings for the future leaders of this country (dear Christ) as slim as they are, a little goes a surprisingly long way.
Spiderwick's protagonist is the surly young Jared (Freddie Highmore), whose mother (Mary-Louise Parker) has just moved with her three children to their ancestral home in the country. (A nasty divorce is hinted at.) The creepy old house has secrets—chiefly, the attic contains a notebook compiled by the kids' great-great uncle, which documents all sorts of magical phenomena (all of which are whimsically brought to computer-generated life: dandelion fairies! griffins! Martin Short as a house elf!) The kids must protect the book from the forces of evil, who manifest as a variety of slimy, semi-cool looking frog things—oh, and along the way, Jared has to come to terms with the fact that his parents aren't getting back together.
For a fantasy movie, elements of Spiderwick are refreshingly grounded. Other elements are predictably overwrought and terrible. But hey, it could be worse! It could be Bridge to Terabithia. ALISON HALLETT