Capsule reviews of films opening this week:
"27 Dresses" " So chock full of romantic-comedy cliches, it almost plays like a parody. It might be fun, though, if they handed out lists at the multiplex door to allow you to check them off as you go along " could be an interactive thing.
You know, to help pass the time. Katherine Heigl's Jane is always a bridesmaid and never a bride, a role she's performed 27 times already because she's so adept at anticipating and meeting her friends' every prenuptial need.
She's secretly in love with her boss (Edward Burns) but, naturally, there's another guy out there (James Marsden) whom she initially clashes with, and who obviously will end up being the one to keep her from having to wear bridesmaid dress No. 28.
Director Anne Fletcher ("Step Up") and writer Aline Brosh McKenna ("The Devil Wears Prada") also cram in a wisecracking best friend (Judy Greer), the obligatory trying-on-clothes montage featuring all the hideous taffeta concoctions in Jane's closet, and a cringe-inducing sing-along to Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets."
Of course, the whole thing wraps up with a mad dash to blurt out some very painful, public I-love-yous. Heigl has such an intriguingly different presence for a rom-com heroine, though " there's nothing cutesy about her, nothing self-conscious " she makes you long desperately to see her work with more inspired material.
PG-13 for language, some innuendo and sexuality. 107 min. One and a half stars out of four.
"Cassandra's Dream" " Totally forgettable Woody Allen, a blip in a storied career, and a film that feels especially inferior when compared to "Crimes and Misdemeanors," which touched on some of the same themes and is one of Allen's best.
The third movie in a row he's set and shot in London, following "Match Point" and "Scoop," is also one of his darkest.
Or at least it strives for darkness " there are repeated references to Greek tragedies, and while Allen is clearly aiming for that specific type of gravitas, he never finds the right tone. (Philip Glass' typically insistent score signals early and often that everyone involved is doomed.)
But Allen does get some intriguing moments out of co-stars Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor as brothers who are so desperate to escape their working-class upbringing that they're willing to commit a murder for hire.
Farrell is especially good " he isn't afraid to be weaselly and pathetic and get a little dirty for his performance as a gambling addict in over his head.
McGregor is slicker and more nuanced " his character is a little better at hiding his desperation, pretending to be a hotel developer and borrowing classic cars to impress an actress (charismatic newcomer Hayley Atwell) who's out of his league but shares his ambition.
PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexual material and brief violence. 105 min. Two stars out of four.
"Cloverfield" " Go ahead and call it gimmicky, but it's effective. The trailer, with its image of the Statue of Liberty's severed head bouncing down a Manhattan street, created huge buzz online and at Comic-Con.
The title gave away nothing " it's just the name of a street near producer J.J. Abrams' Los Angeles office, a code word the filmmakers used to keep the project secret " but it stuck and added even more mystery.
And the premise seems tailor-made for the YouTube generation: a monster attack on New York City as seen entirely from the perspective of a partygoer's hand-held video camera.
The "Blair Witch" technique does grow dizzying but, again, it's effective because it feels so authentic and gives the movie an interactive quality.
Truly, if a creature several stories high came stomping and roaring through your town, wouldn't you document it, too, and wouldn't it look just like this? (Well, you would if you were 25 or younger.)
But this monster mash-up is a lot of fun, creating some intense gross-out moments and maintaining suspense throughout its speedy running time.
Adding to the feeling that you're watching a real attack as it happens is the casting of mostly unknown actors. Michael Stahl-David stars as Rob, who's about to move to Japan for work and whose going-away party is interrupted by the arrival a very large, angry reptile.
Mike Vogel plays his brother; Odette Yustman is Rob's gorgeous would-be girlfriend; and T.J. Miller is the guy behind the video camera.
PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images. 84 min. Three stars out of four.
"Mad Money" " Practically a remake of the 1980 comedy "How to Beat the High Cost of Living," which starred Susan Saint James, Jane Curtin and Jessica Lange as friends who scheme to steal cash from a giant money ball at the mall.
This time, we get a more motley trio: Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes, who scheme to steal cash from the Federal Reserve Bank where they work.
For a female empowerment movie, this one's pretty weak. Truly, it's hard to believe it comes from director Callie Khouri, who won an Oscar for writing the ultimate female empowerment movie, "Thelma & Louise." (This time the script comes from Glenn Gers, based on a British TV movie.)
Keaton plays an upper-middle-class wife and mother whose husband (Ted Danson) gets downsized out of his job, leaving the couple $286,000 in debt and forcing her to take a job as a janitor at the Fed.
Latifah plays a single mother of two boys whose job is to shred the bills that get too worn out. And Holmes, who carts the cash from one place to another, is young, wildly ditzy and lives in a trailer with her doofus husband (Adam Rothenberg).
That it's nearly impossible to imagine that Keaton's sheltered, pampered character would come up with such a devious, complex plan isn't just a nagging plot point. It's a fundamental flaw.
And except for Latifah's character, it's tough to muster much sympathy for any of them.
PG-13 for sexual material and language, and brief drug references. 104 min. One and a half stars out of four.
"Teeth" " The title may ring a bell with you. It's a film that had audiences laughing and squirming simultaneously last year at Sundance, where it earned an acting prize for its fresh-faced, fearless star, Jess Weixler.
But if not " and there's really no polite way to phrase this, so we're just going to throw it out there " it's about a teenage girl who discovers that her vagina has teeth.
Yes, she is a living example of the vagina dentata myth, a concept that actor Mitchell Lichtenstein explores in writing and directing his feature debut.
Lichtenstein's movie is a darkly funny homage to 1950's sci-fi flicks (the nuclear plant cooling towers looming behind the girl's nondescript tract house, which may have caused her deformation, are an amusing touch) but it's also a female revenge tale.
It's an interesting mix that eventually goes haywire toward the end, when Lichtenstein seems intent on one-upping the gross-out factor he'd established early on. (You do see severed, um, parts.)
John Hensley from "Nip/Tuck," Hale Appleman and Ashley Springer co-star.
R for disturbing sequences involving sexuality and violence, language and some drug use. 87 min. Two and a half stars out of four.