"Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill" (PG, 1 hour, 36 minutes)
A bad choice for children under 8, this Disney adventure will bore them with dull stretches of dialogue and scare them with Wild West violence surprisingly intense for a PG. (Pecos Bill shoots the trigger fingers off bad guys -- not graphically, but still . . .) For over-8's, "Tall Tale" spins a good yarn, despite a ragged plot and uneven special effects.
Daniel Hackett (Nick Stahl) lives with his parents on a farm at the foot of the Rockies around 1900. When a robber baron threatens to kill Daniel's father and take their land, the boy finds friends in three mythic heroes: cowboy Pecos Bill (Patrick Swayze), woodsman Paul Bunyan (Oliver Platt) and steel-drivin' man John Henry (Roger Aaron Brown). Their Code of the West is nice: "Respect the land, defend the defenseless, and don'tcha never spit in front of women and children." Hear! Hear!
"Major Payne" (PG-13, 1 hour, 37 minutes)
Gross language and flatulence -- two ingredients that can dissolve younger teens into laughter -- abound here. But the comic-abusive language may be too much for younger children who don't always know when grown-ups are kidding. Gold-toothed, trash-mouthed, emotionally stunted Maj. Benson Winifred Payne (Damon Wayans) is the sort of macho movie Marine who breaks a buddy's finger to take his mind off a bullet wound. Now unwillingly retired, he's running the ROTC program at a prep school. He insults fat kids, short kids, deaf kids and blind kids, shaves their heads and marches them around in dresses. His cadets hate his guts (they slip him a laxative cupcake) until they learn to love him -- and vice versa.
"Circle of Friends" (PG-13, 1 hour, 44 minutes)
A coming-of-age tale with a refreshing edge, this movie will appeal to high school girls but not, alas, to the guys they date. Set in Dublin in the mid-'50s, it follows three girls as they enter the university and begin pushing the limits set by their parents and the church. At the center is Benny (Minnie Driver), a big girl who has always been told she's unattractive (she isn't). She meets handsome Jack (Chris O'Donnell) and love is instantly mutual. Questions of sexual longing, premarital sex, unwanted pregnancy, and loyalty among friends and to one's religion weave with delicacy and humor through the story. There are non-explicit sexual situations.
"Dolores Claiborne" (R, 2 hours, 11 minutes)
Adult subject matter -- child molestation, spousal abuse -- makes this a movie strictly for mature teens, but what an artful bit of melodrama it is. Kathy Bates plays the crusty title character from Stephen King's story. A housekeeper accused of murdering her senile employer, she's also suspected of having killed her husband (David Strathairn) 20 years before. Dolores' estranged daughter, Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an unhappy, pill-popping journalist, comes to the wilds of Maine to be with her mother. The truth gradually emerges in a series of flashbacks, some of them deeply disturbing for Selena. For troubled high schoolers, "Dolores Claiborne" may be too close to home, but others will find it cathartic and a real ripsnorter. There is much colorful profanity.
"Muriel's Wedding" (R, 1 hour, 45 minutes)
Funny, touching but also infuriating, this Australian movie offers an odd take on female rebellion; every woman in it is brainless. Sexual situations and profanity limit the film to high schoolers; let's hope they see through it. Despite the example of her miserable parents, 20ish Muriel (Toni Collette) longs to be married. In fact, all she really wants is a big wedding, no matter who the groom is. Tall, generously built and Gump-ish, she is an outcast in her small town. Escaping to Sydney, she pursues nuptial nirvana instead of a career. Muriel -- get a life.
Beyond the ratings game
Still dandy for kids 6 and up
"Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book" PG (Fun fantasy adventure; scary snake).
"Richie Rich" PG (Millionaire kid cavorts).
OK for kids 8 and up
"Man of the House," PG (Boy jealous of mom's new beau in gentle comedy).
"The Brady Bunch Movie," PG-13 (Sour '90s backdrop makes perky '70s sitcommers hilarious. Innuendos lost on pre-teens).
Doofus opus kiddus thirteenus redux
"Billy Madison," PG-13 (Adam Sandler is dumbest. Profanity, innuendo, drinking).
"Dumb and Dumber," PG-13 (Toilet humor can be draining).
Normal 13-ish flicks
"Bye Bye, Love," PG-13 (Single dads get kids on the weekend in dopey comedy. Mild profanity, mildly steamy kisses).
High school, etc.
"Losing Isaiah," R (Well-done "issue" movie on adoption of African-American babies. Drug use, profanity, sexual innuendo. Mature teens).
"Outbreak," R (Exciting pursuit of killer virus. Graphic depiction of illness, death; profanity).