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Hallelujah? 

Watchmen stumbles its way onto the big screen

Previews

The reinvented Dwayne Johnson, formerly known as "The Rock," stars in Race to Witch Mountain, itself a "reimagining" of the 1975 film Escape to Witch Mountain. Johnson is a Las Vegas cab driver who teams up with an astrophysicist (Carla Gugino from Watchmen) to rescue siblings (Anna Sophia Robb, Jumper and Alexander Ludwig) who have special powers from the usual villain (CiarĂ¡n Hinds). The 1975 film was based on the 1968 science fiction novel by Alexander Key. Rated PG for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, and some thematic elements. 99m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek

It's a weekend for do-overs. Last House on the Left is a remake of the 1972 Wes Craven horror thriller, which at least represents a change from picking over the bones of an Asian horror film. Arriving at a remote lake house (don't they ever learn?), Mari (Sara Paxton) and a friend are kidnapped by prison escapees and left for dead in the middle of the woods. Unluckily for the equally brain dead escapees, they end up at Mari's parent's house. Maybe they should have stayed in prison. Rated R for sadistic brutal violence including a rape and disturbing images, language, nudity and some drug use. 100m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

If these films don't thrill you then there's Miss March, a comedy wherein a guy wakes up from a four-year coma (probably induced by too many stoner comedies) to discover that his high school sweetie has graduated to a centerfold. What's a guy to do? Obviously, travel across the country (road trip!) to crash a party at cleavage mansion. For those viewers who don't have a Hooters nearby. Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use. 89m. At the Broadway.

Review

WATCHMEN: As I paged through the graphic novel, a compilation of the Watchmen comic series published in 1986-87, I saw a very dark universe with a very interesting mythology and an intriguing group of masked heroes. As I have a penchant for dark material, I started to look forward to the film version of the comic series written by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. After all, The Dark Knight was one of my more enjoyable movie experiences in 2008.

As it turns out, Watchmen was at least a partial pleasure. Director Zack Snyder, whose previous film was the imaginative 300, is very faithful to the comic as I understood it. Many of the images and much of the dialog hews closely to the graphic novel, and the story remains a sort of philosophical detective narrative.

The film begins with the murder of Edward Blake/The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the final image of which, a smiley-face button with a streak of blood, provides an effective segue into the back story as we see a series of images of well-known events from just after World War II into the 1980s. We also discover that this universe represents an alternate history when it is revealed that Nixon is now into his fifth term as president.

Flashbacks throughout the film continue to fill in the history of the masked heroes, and we discover that much of it is very dark, including an attempted rape of one hero by another. In the present story, the heroes are struggling. Nixon has forbidden masks. Some of the heroes' identities are public, and one, Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), has become a wildly successful businessman.

In the world at large, Russia is poised to invade Afghanistan, held back only by Nixon's ace-in-the-hole, Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), the only hero to actually have superpowers, thanks to a radiation mishap at a lab when he was scientist Jon Osterman. Dr. Manhattan doesn't just have great powers -- he seems virtually a god, capable of changing anything in the universe at will. I might note parenthetically that not surprising, this god makes a very poor lover; multitasking while having sex with his putative girlfriend Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) doesn't quite do it for Laurie, who ditches Dr. Manhattan for retired hero Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson).

Meanwhile, Rorschach/Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley), easily the most interesting of the heroes, is busily (and violently) investigating The Comedian's death, which he is convinced is part of a conspiracy to do away with the entire group of heroes. It turns out that he is right, and the conspiracy becomes tied into the primary narrative that involves the imminent destruction of the human race.

In many ways, Rorschach is the moral center for the heroes. Virtually alone, he relentlessly pursues injustice and it is his voice-over journal entries that provide the major transitions for the complicated plot, as well as the story's ironic conclusion. Despite his often-violent tactics, he is unswerving in his moral certainty about the heroes' mission. Most of the other heroes have a dark side, particularly The Comedian, and they seem to have lost their way in the complicated world of the Cold War.

The city that is depicted in Watchmen is one that Travis Bickle, the main character in Taxi Driver (who Rorschach reminds me of), would easily recognize. But the cleansing rain Bickle imagines washing away the dirt of Manhattan in Scorsese's film becomes a much more toxic cleansing agent in Watchmen.

As in The Dark Knight, the central moral dilemma revolves around how far one can go in combating evil before becoming as evil as those you are opposing. Veidt, billed as the "world's smartest human," seems to have no qualms or second thoughts about choosing what he regards as the lesser of two evils, even when that choice results in the death of millions. Before committing his act of hubris, he might have at least considered Shelley's famous poem with its bleak "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;/Look on my works ye Mighty and despair/Nothing beside remains: round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,/ The lone and level sands stretch far away." But then, we wouldn't have this bleak story.

Dr. Manhattan is "disappointed" in Veidt's actions, which he was apparently powerless to prevent, and so leaves this galaxy "for one less complicated." How nice for him; the rest of us are still stuck in the morass of this one, and we don't even have masked heroes to help screw things up even more.

The film's chief weakness revolves around the indifferent acting, which may help explain why many of the lines that sounded interesting in the graphic novel somehow ring hollow here. The most absurd scene in the film, though, is the sex scene involving Dan and Laurie on Dreiberg's owl ship to the strains of the grossly overused Leonard Cohen anthem "Hallelujah." A better sound track choice may not have improved the sex, but it would have been something. Rated R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language. 163m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.

Continuing

CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC. Fun-loving metro girl kicks ass at shopping while pursuing her life dreams. Rated PG. 105m. At The Movies.

CORALINE. Girl finds a secret door leading to a parallel, better reality. But there's a catch. Rated PG. 100m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and in 3-D at the Fortuna.

FIRED UP. High school football stars hatch a scheme that lands them in a sea of sexy ladies instead of summer football camp. Rated PG-13. 90m. At The Movies.

GRAN TORINO. Veteran/racist/retired autoworker versus the local Asian gang-bangers. Rated R. 116m. At the Broadway.

HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. Women, men and their relationships. Rated PG-13. 132m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

HOTEL FOR DOGS. Kids faced with "no pets" rule in their new foster home convert abandoned hotel into foster home for doggies. Rated PG. 100m. At The Movies.

JONAS BROTHERS: THE 3D CONCERT EXPERIENCE. Follow the Jo-bros as they cross the nation on their "Burning Up" tour. Rated G. 106m. At Fortuna.

LAST CHANCE HARVEY. Struggling, middle-aged father gets rejected by his daughter but then finds unexpected love in an airport bar. Rated PG-13. 99m. At Mill Creek and the Minor.

PAUL BLART: MALL COP. Mall cop must man up to save the day when Santa's helpers at the mall stage a coup. Rated PG. 91m. At Fortuna.

PINK PANTHER 2. Inspector Jacques Clouseau is at it again. Rated PG. 93m. At The Movies.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Orphan from slums of Bombay who rocks India's Who Wants to be a Millionaire must clear his name of cheating before claiming his prize. Rated R. 121m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Minor.

STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI. Ultimate battle of terror vs. beauty, light vs. darkness and good vs. evil. Rated PG-13. 97m. At the Broadway.

TAKEN. Former spy launches one-man war to bring down gang that kidnapped his daughter. Rated PG-13. 91m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

TYLER PERRY'S MADEA GOES TO JAIL. High speed freeway chase lands Medea in front of a judge; her attitude lands her in jail. Rated PG-13. 103m. At The Movies.

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