"Kiss the Girls" (R, 2 hours)
An intense tale (based on James Patterson's novel) about tracking down a vicious serial murderer-rapist-kidnapper, "Kiss the Girls" teeters on the edge of smarminess and voyeurism. It is saved by subtle acting, handsome filming and the fact that the crimes are only hinted at on-screen. Still, it deals with torture and women-hating, so it's a poor choice for teens under 16 or 17, and a disastrous one for pre-teens.
"U Turn" (R, 2 hours, 6 minutes)
Only thoughtful older high schoolers are ready to ponder the bizarre, amoral activities and the melange of styles that charge this darkly comic fever dream by Oliver Stone (screenplay by John Ridley from his novel "Stray Dogs"). Sean Penn, as a slick-haired gambler named Bobby, has car trouble in the desert and submits his Mustang to a wacky mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton) in dusty one-horse Superior, Ariz. (a real place). Soon he's entangled in schemes of murder and adultery -- husband Nick Nolte and wife Jennifer Lopez each want him to kill the other spouse. The R refers to highly explicit sex scenes and verbal innuendo, nudity, hints of incest, strong language and graphic violence (ax murders, shootings, finger choppings) as well as the sins of drinking and smoking.
"Soul Food" (R, 1 hour, 55 minutes)
Food and family matters rule in this wonderfully acted but sentimental and predictable soap opera about a large, loving, sometimes troubled middle-class African-American family. The narrator is a sweet, smart boy of 11 or so named Ahmad (Brandon Hammond). Alas, sexually explicit scenes and occasional profanity make this film an iffy choice for pre-teens. Ahmad recounts how his mother (Vivica A. Fox) and her two married sisters, a chilly lawyer (Vanessa L. Williams) and a beauty salon owner (Nia Long), start feuding when the family's beloved matriarch (Irma P. Hall) falls ill. Without her weekly family dinners, relationships fall apart. For all its warmth, "Soul Food" is not only crass about its adultery theme but seems to preach that career women are cold, bad people, while housewives are saints. There are also scenes of mild violence -- a shoving match, a bar fight -- and an underlying theme of losing a loved one.
"Wishmaster" (R, 1 hour, 30 minutes)
Skeletons and serpents pop up and slither out of people's bodies, and other hapless victims suffer disemboweling tortures in this gross-out fest. "Wishmaster" will delight high-school-age horror fans but could be a major nightmare-inducer for younger moviegoers. Smartly written, credibly acted and fancifully filmed, it tells of an ancient, evil genie who's loosed upon our age. Alternately taking the shape of a smirking man or a slimy monster, the genie grants wishes, steals souls and brings on hellish chaos. There are bloody gun deaths, cadavers, statues coming to life, and profanity, drinking and smoking.
Beyond the ratings game
Better aimed at teens:
"In & Out" PG-13 (Small-town high school teacher "outed" as gay on TV days before his wedding in hilarious, gentle, mainstream comedy that punctures homophobia. Rare crude language, profanity; strong verbal sexual innuendo; men in romantic kiss.)
"The Peacemaker" (Nicole Kidman, George Clooney vs. nuclear terrorists in messy but enjoyable thriller. Nuclear explosion; bloody shootings, a suicide, fistfights; children in danger; occasional profanity. High schoolers; younger teens with permission.)
"The Edge" (Two men lost in Alaskan wilderness flee stalking bear, work out jealousies in intellectual, entertaining action adventure. Scary bear attacks, bloody injuries; profanity; reference to cocaine, mild sexual innuendo. High schoolers.)
"L.A. Confidential" (Thriller on corrupt cops in 1950s LAPD. Bloody gunplay, fighting; rotting corpse, rats; hints of rape, torture, seduction; erotic photos; gay subplot; rare strong profanity, sexual innuendo; liquor, cigarettes. Mature high schoolers.)
"A Thousand Acres" (Well-played but tangled tale of family feud inspired by Jane Smiley novel and "King Lear." Rare strong language; muted adulterous sexual situation; verbal memories of childhood molestation, beatings. Teens.)