Movies: ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ reviewed with other new, recent films

OPENING FRIDAY

BAD WORDS

★ ★★

Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity

Stars: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Rohan Chand

Guy Trilby, full-grown adult, (Bateman, also in his feature directing debut here) who decides to win the national spelling bee. He’s also seething with anger which he channels into morally reprehensible, socially unacceptable behavior and language just as bad. Kathryn Hahn is a plus as a neurotic reporter determined to discover his motivation, and so is Allison Janney, the spelling bee director. The film’s secret weapon is Rohan Chand as a young contestant who turns Guy into his mentor in questionable macho pursuits. “Bad Words” is a little too eager to please the hard-R crowd with extraneous rudeness and raunchy bits and a bit too cautious hinting at some justification for Guy’s meanness. But it definitely establishes Bateman as a director to watch.

CESAR CHAVEZ

Rated PG-13 for some violence and language

Stars: Michael Pena, Rosario Dawson, John Malkovich

Civil rights activist and labor organizer Cesar Chavez (Pena) leads a struggle in the 1960s for fair treatment of California farm workers. Actor Diego Luna directed the biographical drama.

LE WEEK-END

Rated R for language and some sexual content

Stars: Lindsay Duncan, Jim Broadbent, Jeff Goldblum

Long after their honeymoon, a British couple (Broadbent, Duncan) return to Paris to rejuvenate their marriage. Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) directed the romance from a script by Hanif Kureishi (“My Beautiful Launderette”).

NOAH

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content

Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins

After divinely inspired visions of apocalyptic flood, a man (Crowe) prepares for a new beginning for mankind. Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) directed the drama, based on the Bible story.

SABOTAGE

Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use.

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos, Terrence Howard

After robbing a drug cartel safe house, an elite DEA task force find themselves being eliminated one by one. David Ayer (“End of Watch”) co-wrote and directed the thriller.

STILL PLAYING

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

★★ 1/2

Rated PG for some mild action

Stars: Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell

“Everybody knows the sequel’s never quite as good,” Kermit and the gang sing in the big opening production number of “Muppets Most Wanted” and in this case, they’re kind of right. This is still a Muppet movie, though, and for a lot of people, that’s going to be more than enough. The plot (Gervais and another master criminal, who happens to be Kermit’s evil double, with a sinister Russian accent) is a bit belabored and the whole thing goes on about a half hour too long — with one or two or three too many production numbers. But evil Kermit makes it all worthwhile. Note to Disney: Spinoff, please.

DIVERGENT

RatedPG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney

A girl classified “Divergent” (Woodley) in a future society divided into factions based on abilities, discovers she and others of her kind have been targeted for extinction. Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”) directed the futuristic thriller.

ENEMY

Rated R for some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon

A professor (Gyllenhaal) decides to track down his double after spotting him in a movie — and suddenly finds his life dangerously complicated. Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”) directed the thriller.

NYMPHOMANIAC: VOL. I

★★ 1/2

Rated: No MPAA rating

Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf

After putting mankind out of its misery with a cosmic cataclysm in “Melancholia,” Danish director Lars von Trier is back with another artfully filmed misanthropic provocation. This time, the subject is sex (complete with trickily edited hardcore sequences featuring porn-actor stand-ins) and the main character is Joe (Gainsbourg), a soul-deadened lust addict recounting her erotic misadventures to a sympathetic listener (Skarsgard) who found her beaten in an alley. “The Joy of Sex” it’s not, and things presumably get worse next month in volume two.

THE SINGLE MOMS CLUB

Rated PG-13 for some sexual material and thematic elements

Stars: Nia Long, Amy Smart, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Cocoa Brown, Tyler Perry

A solid base-hit for writer/director/producer Perry (“A Madea Christmas”). It’s a little heavy on the solidarity vibe, perhaps, and a melodramatic meltdown midway almost knocks it off course, but it’s pretty funny at times — mainly because it’s raunchier than usual and Brown and McLendon-Covey strike a few sparks. A group of five very different single moms reluctantly join forces after their kids get into trouble at a ritzy prep school.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

★★★★

Rated R for language, some sexual content and violence

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody

If you admire director Wes Anderson at his best (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” 2012’s “Moonrise Kingdom”), there’s a good chance you’ll be delighted by this masterfully executed, highly stylized, occasionally perverse farce. “Grand Budapest Hotel” is the story of Gustav H (Fiennes in a rare comic role), legendary concierge of the hotel in its 1930s glory days. He’s embroiled in an increasingly complicated struggle involving murder, a priceless stolen painting, young love, an evil aristocrat with a homicidal henchman (Brody and Dafoe), more murders, a prison break and a climactic cross-country chase. It’s strange to think of Anderson turning out a crowd pleaser given his eccentric work (on display here), but this may be as close as he gets.

VERONICA MARS

Rated PG-13 for sexuality including references, drug content, violence, strong language

Stars: Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Jamie Lee Curtis, Martin Starr

Years after walking away from her career as a teen private eye, Veronica (Bell) returns home to help an old flame (Dohring) accused of murder. Rob Thomas wrote and directed the return to his hit TV series.

NEED FOR SPEED

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language

Stars: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Dakota Johnson, Michael Keaton

Based on the mega-selling video-game series, “Need for Speed” is the story of wrongly imprisoned ex-convict Tobey (Paul of “Breaking Bad”) risking everything for an $8 million payday in the country’s biggest underground race. Of course he’s mainly motivated by honor and redemption and vengeance and all that stuff. Cooper plays the no-good, dirty-tricks-pulling sleazebo villain and Poots is on hand for potential romance. Fans looking for crazed stunts and insanely revved-up racing action will find plenty of both.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

★★

Rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence, a sex scene, nudity, and some language

Stars: Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro, Sullivan Stapleton

This stripped-down/buffed-up beefcake bonanza makes one thing clear: If you were a body-waxer in ancient Greece, you never ran out of work. A sequel to the 2007 mega-hit “300,” “Rise of an Empire” focuses on the naval conflict raging during the first film’s battle of Thermopylae. As soon as the Greek and Persian ships bump noses, you get the same horde of gym-toned, manscaped warriors in loincloths hacking, impaling and eviscerating each other in ultra-slow motion. Now, the geysers of slo-mo gore erupt in 3D. The only improvement is former Bond girl Green as the sultry, sinister, exceedingly homicidal Persian commander.

THE LUNCHBOX

★★★ 1/2

Rated PG for thematic material and smoking

Stars: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui

One thing we learn from this modern, yet old-fashioned romance from India, is that sometimes the wrong train gets you to the right station. If you have the courage to board. The always-welcome Khan (the adult Pi in “Life of Pi”) plays Saajan, a soon-to-retire widower who begins receiving the special lunches of neglected housewife Ila (Kaur) — a literal one-in-a-million error in Mumbai’s impossibly accurate lunch delivery service. A correspondence begins that gradually turns into something akin to courtship — with one last big step still to be taken.

MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN

★★★

Rated PG for some mild action

Stars: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann

Directed by Rob Minkoff, who also directed “Stuart Little” and “The Lion King,” this is a spectacular, revved-up 3D update of the classic cartoons featured between adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle on early-’60s Saturday-morning TV. Like those comparatively primitive, extremely 2D “Improbable History” adventures from way, way back, the new “Mr. Peabody” features the genius Beagle and his nerdy adoptive son Sherman traveling through time in their WABAC machine to sort out some sort of historical snafu. Only this time, the emphasis (in addition to snickering juvenile silliness) is on grand-scale, high-energy action/slapstick set pieces — including a climactic space-time disaster that threatens to destroy the world. Underneath all the hoopla, though, the whimsical, slyly intellectual spirit of the original is still something special.

KIDS FOR CASH

★★★

Rated PG-13 for some thematic material and language

Stars: Mark Ciavarella, Amanda Lorah, Michael Canahan

In 2009, Pennsylvania juvenile court judge Ciavarella was accused of accepting a $2-million kickback from the construction of a new detention center — and of railroading kids into incarceration by discouraging their right to counsel. The Kids for Cash scandal proves to be a misnomer, as director Robert May proves in this disturbing documentary, but it illuminates a larger problem: the trend toward zero-tolerance policies for juveniles in the wake of the Columbine shootings. It results in kids (including four profiled in this film) being imprisoned for offenses that might have received a school suspension in another era.

NON-STOP

★★

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references

Stars: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy

This cheesy trans-Atlantic aero-thriller goes nowhere fast — 500 mph fast — but at least it’s reasonably good dumb fun for roughly two-thirds of the ride. Neeson, still making 60-something men look good as an action hero, plays an alcoholic, flight-phobic federal air marshal trying to prevent a politically motivated psycho from killing a passenger every 20 minutes or blowing up the plane or both. It’s strange to think of this one playing as an in-flight movie.

SON OF GOD

★★

Rated PG-13 for intense and bloody depiction of the Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence

Stars: Diogo Morgado, Greg Hicks, Roma Downey, Amber Rose Revah

Thoroughly bland, unimpressively acted and featuring almost shockingly cheesy production values, “Son of God” looks and plays like a dramatic recreation on the History Channel — because that’s precisely what it is. Cut down and cobbled together from last year’s 10-hour miniseries “The Bible,” this warmed-over run-through of the life of Jesus (Portuguese model-turned-actor Morgado) has little to recommend it. It does, however, manage to generate some emotional impact with its depiction of the Passion.

3 DAYS TO KILL

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language

Stars: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld

The problem with “3 Days to Kill” isn’t that it’s unbelievable. It’s that it takes the unbelievable to weirdly disturbing and sentimental extremes. Costner stars as a terminally-ill CIA super-agent trying to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter (Steinfeld) while secretly wiping out a small army of bad guys. On the plus side, the spectacular action is expertly staged by director McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Costner is good at the weary, laconic macho thing. It’s more than a little weird, though, when he teaches his daughter to slow-dance by dimming the lights and putting on Bread’s “Make it with You.” Eww.

POMPEII

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content

Stars: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland

Part disaster movie, part gladiator epic, part heart-throbbing romance and all cheese. The explosively overheated “Pompeii” practically begs for ridicule, yet it’s surprising entertaining in a disastrous sort of way. Just lower your expectations, turn off your brain and let Mount Vesuvius take care of anything that annoys you. Super-bad gladiator The Celt (Harrington of “Game of Thrones”) falls for rich girl Cassia (Emily Browning), just in time to protect her from the lustfully evil Roman senator Corvus (Sutherland). Not in time to avoid the spectacularly recreated eruption, though, with an earthquake and a tsunami thrown in as a bonus.

THE WIND RISES

★★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and smoking

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Elijah Wood

See it for the way it captures the “beautiful dream” of flight. Flying machines and flying in general have always been a specialty of Japanese animation great Hayao Miyazaki and that’s very much the case in “The Wind Rises.” This highly fictionalized life story of aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of Japan’s WWII fighter plane the Zero (a major departure from Miyazaki’s fantasy-based previous films) isn’t entirely successful, but its many dreams and visions of flight are still sublime. And it still casts the magically beautiful Miyazaki spell.

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

Rated R for sexual content, language and brief drug use

Stars: Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Joy Bryant

Two couples struggle to make the transition from casual affairs to relationships. Steve Pink (“Hot Tub Time Machine,” “High Fidelity”) directed this remake of the 1986 romantic comedy.

ENDLESS LOVE

★★

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief partial nudity, some language and teen partying

Stars: Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Bruce Greenwood, Joely Richardson

A triple dose of true romance and tortured melodrama for tween-age girls, the hyper-emotional “Endless Love” is likely to seem truly endless for just about anyone else. Wilde as sweet, beautiful, filthy rich Jade and Pettyfer as sensitive, hunky, wrong-side-of-the-tracks David are star-crossed teen lovers thwarted by Jade’s disapproving dad (Greenwood). Who has apparently forgotten that didn’t work out well in “Romeo and Juliet.”

ROBOCOP

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material

Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish

This ambitious remake of Paul Verhoeven’s ultra-violent, darkly satirical original isn’t as successful as it might have been, mainly because director José Padilha tries to inject more philosophy and drama into the proceedings than the lean, mean original concept can handle. Kinnaman (of AMC’s “The Killing”) stars as the not-quite murdered detective who’s brought back to life as a cyborg crime-fighting machine. There are nice, surreal visual touches and action scenes are a blast, but trying to deepen the drama defeats the original prime directive: mete out righteous payback as violently and spectacularly as possible.

THE LEGO MOVIE

Rated PG for mild action and rude humor

Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett

An ordinary Lego minifigure (Pratt), mistakenly believed to be the great Master Builder, is recruited to join a mission to prevent an evil tyrant from gluing the universe together. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) directed the animated comedy.

AMERICAN HUSTLE

★★★ 1/2

Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence

Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence

Everyone’s conning everyone else in “American Hustle” (with varying degrees of ruthlessness), yet no one’s really competent to handle the increasingly out-of-control high-stakes scam they’re involved in. Which is what makes director David O. Russell’s follow-up to “Silver Linings Playbook” simultaneously harrowing, hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the 1970s, “Hustle” features Bale as a low-level New York con man forced, along with his former-stripper partner/paramour (Adams), to help a loose-cannon FBI agent (Cooper) entrap and bribe federal legislators.

FROZEN

★★★

Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor

Stars: Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel

“Frozen” certainly has the traditional fairy-tale spirit, as defined by Walt Disney, that is: princesses, magic and even true love’s kiss. It’s all bound up with an agreeably up-to-date attitude about female empowerment that doesn’t sacrifice girly-girl fantasy. Unfortunately, Disney’s 53rd animated feature also comes with mostly vapid Broadway-ready show tunes. Comic actress Bell plays the feisty princess Anna, who adventures into the wilderness to bring back her sister Queen Elsa (Menzel of “Glee”), who has accidentally winterized their kingdom with her icy magical powers.

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