SHREK 2 (Dream-Works) Director: Andrew Adamson et al. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz. (PG)
Take One: Scottish-burred ogre Shrek, his Matrix-kickboxing lady-love Princess Fiona and fast-talking, wisecracking Donkey are back for another foray into adolescent humor and fairy-tale deconstruction, aided by a very funny Antonio Banderas as legendary ogre-killer Puss in Boots and John Cleese and Julie Andrews as Fiona's royal parents.
Take Two: Apparently cross dressing is the new flatulence humor: Where the first Shrek had more breaking wind than any movie since Murphy's Nutty Professor, Shrek 2 gives us a Pinocchio who likes wearing women's underwear, a deep-voiced bartender in evil-step-sister drag and a wisecrack about the big bad wolf in Grandma's nightie being “gender-confused.”
Final Take: The off-color humor is mitigated somewhat by certain redemptive elements, including an initially unsympathetic father figure who eventually makes a touching sacrifice for a beloved family member — but parents need to learn once and for all that “animated” doesn't equal “family film.”
TROY (Warner Bros) Director: Wolfgang Pe tersen. Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom. (R)
Take One: Working from one of the greatest stories of Western civilization never to have been made into a good film, Petersen and company deliver a Trojan War movie for the Gladiator generation, with epic-scaled computer-assisted battle sequences, brutal battlefield violence and behind-the-scenes political machinations.
Take Two: Classical purists might balk at a Trojan War movie that leaves out the Greek gods (though, to be fair, Shakespeare did the same thing in Troilus and Cressida). More problematic is the film's overall attitude toward religion: Anyone who tries to know or follow the will of the gods is deemed foolish, and impious Achilles not only mocks the gods and their service, but he also seduces a consecrated virgin of Apollo so easily that it seems she was given vows only to break them.
Final Take: As an action-adventure interpretation of the Trojan War, Troy delivers, but gratuitous and excessive bedroom scenes are the film's Achilles' heel.
MEAN GIRLS (Paramount) Director: Mark S. Waters. Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Lizzy Caplan. (PG-13)
Take One: Do we ever really get over the trauma of attending high school? Screenwriter Tina Fey sets out to expose the cruelty, peer pressure and moral degeneracy that are a nearly universal rite of passage in our society. Heroine Lindsay Lohan is a near exception, having been home schooled till age 16, thus avoiding the usual socialization in barbarity.
Take Two: Lest anyone draw obvious positive inferences about home schooling, the film opens with a gratuitously mean stereotype of home schoolers as dysfunctional geeks or fundamentalist bigots. Filmmakers, heal thyselves! The film likewise satirizes the mixed messages of a sex-ed program that says “Don't do it” and then hands out free condoms — yet reinforces the assumption that everyone's doing it and that this is normal.
Final Take: Much objectionable language, crude sexual content and humor, and decidedly mixed messages about judging by appearances and treating people kindly make Mean Girls an unpleasant experience that fails at whatever redemptive message it was aiming for.
VAN HELSING (Universal) Director: Stephen Sommers. Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh. (PG-13)
Take One: In the tradition of Brendan Frasier's The Mummy, Universal Studios (home of the original monster movies) robs the graves of its remaining franchises for one big eye-candy-laden version of Frankenstein Meets Dracula Meets the Wolfman. Vampire hunter Van Helsing gets an action-hero image update by X-Men star Hugh Jackman.
Take Two: In the best monster-movie tradition, when it comes to fighting evil, the Catholic faith has always had the goods. That tradition continues in Van Helsing, which depicts the Vatican as the worldwide center of global monster-fighting efforts. Unfortunately, artistically the film falls well short of the best monster-movie tradition, with intense action-and-effects sequences leaving little room for humanity and pathos. Content issues include stylized partial monster nudity and implied violation of clerical obligations.
Final Take: Too intense and cheesy for some, Van Helsing is nevertheless enjoyable action-movie nonsense with a “Catholicism = good” subtext an added plus.
SUPER SIZE ME (Roadside/Goldwyn) Director: Morgan Spurlock. (NR)
Take One: Part documentary, part stunt, Super Size Me manages to be both entertaining and horrifying as it dramatizes the effects of eating too much fast food. Spurlock's guinea pig is himself as he embarks on a month-long McDonald's binge, with such a startling toll on his health that even doctors are stunned.
Take Two: No matter how health-conscious you are, Super Size Me is guaranteed to leave you with new resolve to eat better and exercise more. Besides McDonald's, targets include sugar-laden school lunches and in-school vending machines. Content issues include a shot of Spurlock getting violently sick and interview footage of Spurlock's live-in girlfriend discussing the effects of his experiment on their sex life.
Final Take: With the above caveats in mind, Super Size Me is a positive appeal for personal responsibility over the culture of blame.
Steven D. Greydanus, editor and chief critic of Decentfilms.com, writes from Bloomfield, New Jersey.