At the movies

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"Everyone's Hero"

A scrawny little boy, growing up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium during the Depression worshipping Babe Ruth, learns self-esteem when he goes on an adventure with a talking baseball and the Bambino's beloved bat. (The movie is animated, by the way, and not a documentary by Ken Burns.) Given his professional sports affiliation and his name, you'd think young Yankee Irving (voiced by Jake T. Austin) would be insufferably overconfident, but that's a conversation for another time. Instead, "Everyone's Hero" is exceedingly earnest with its feel-good message of perseverance, which ordinarily would make it an easy target for trashing. But Christopher Reeve was directing this when he died, and his late wife, Dana, was a producer and provided the voice of the boy's mother, and everyone involved seems committed to carrying on their legacy posthumously. So the kindest thing we can say is this: The movie means well and, like tee ball, it's probably best suited for the littlest kids only. Rob Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg and William H. Macy are among the vocal cast, with the ideally cast Brian Dennehy bellowing as the Babe. G. 85 min. Two stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

"The Black Dahlia"

Brian De Palma's fictionalized tale of two Los Angeles detectives assigned to the gruesome 1940s murder of a real-life wannabe starlet begins as a slow but intriguing character study that gradually unravels into a turgid mess. Like so many De Palma pictures, the convoluted story gets choked amid the flash and flourishes of the filmmaker's visual excess, and characters who start out promisingly idiosyncratic become caricatures by the end. Adapted from James Ellroy's noir mystery thriller, the movie stars Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart as cops hunting for the psycho who killed and mutilated a young actress (Mia Kirshner) then cut her in half in a notorious unsolved Hollywood homicide. Hilary Swank plays a femme fatale and Scarlett Johansson co-stars as a woman involved with both cops. R for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and language. 121 minutes. Two stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

"Gridiron Gang"

Running alongside the closing credits is a series of clips from the 1993 documentary that provided the basis for this drama about a football team at a Los Angeles juvenile detention center. The real people say and do the same things we just saw actors say and do, only in a stripped-down, matter-of-fact manner without the swelling of bombastic music to accompany every feel-good or poignant moment. Those final few moments are more powerful than anything we saw during the previous two hours, simply because they don't try so hard to be. Former television and music video director Phil Joanou is relentless in his attempts to inspire us, but the result is just overbearing and redundant. The football scenes themselves, though, are sufficiently visceral in their bone-crunching intensity. And Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson exudes his usual natural magnetism as the probation officer turned coach. (Not once does he try to wring a laugh out of raising that famous eyebrow of his.) PG-13 for some startling scenes of violence, mature thematic material and language. 120 min. Two stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

"How to Eat Fried Worms"

An engaging, lighthearted family film that's a lot tastier than its title implies. The movie has victims taking on bullies, something we all can relate to. It's got a parent-approved message of tolerance and understanding that's not too sappy for children to appreciate. It's got a passel of goofy kids with weird names and distinctive faces whose idiosyncrasies would make them fit right in on any grade-school playground. It's got a good dose of humor that's cute without being overly sentimental. And for the kid in all of us clamoring to be yucked out, it's got worms: gross ones, icky ones, pan-fried ones, microwaved ones. Writer-director Bob Dolman's adaptation of Thomas Rockwell's novel stars Luke Benward as the new kid at school, whose encounter with a bully (Adam Hicks) lands him in a bet over whether he can eat 10 worms in a single day. PG for mild bullying and some crude humor. 84 min. Three stars out of four.

- David German, AP Movie Writer

"The Illusionist"

This period piece about the power of magic lacks just that. The magic of romance, drama, longing and faith generally is missing in director Neil Burger's tale of a love triangle involving a magician, a noblewoman and the heir to the Austrian throne. Burger crafts a movie with a sumptuous visual palette but little heart, the characters detached and cold-blooded. It's no surprise that an inscrutable poker-face such as Edward Norton plays the title role as such a closed-book. It's quite a sleight of hand, though, for a film to thoroughly constrain a co-star as expressive as Paul Giamatti into a character so aloof he barely registers emotionally. Norton plays a magician in 1900 Vienna at odds with the crown prince (Rufus Sewell) and the police inspector (Giamatti) charged with debunking the prestidigitator's amazing illusions. Jessica Biel co-stars as the magician's childhood flame, now the jealous prince's fiance. PG-13 for some sexuality and violence. 109 min. Two stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

"Flyboys"

The title sounds cute and maybe even a little flippant, but this is as earnest a war picture as you could possibly find. Inspired by the Lafayette Escadrille, young Americans who volunteered to fly for the French military before the United States entered World War I, the movie combines traditional themes and events with high-tech imagery. James Franco stars as a rebellious Texan who signs up after losing his family's ranch. Jean Reno is perfectly cast as the squadron's no-nonsense captain, with Jennifer Decker making a lovely debut as the young Frenchwoman with whom Franco's character begins a chaste romance. You'll find little here that's new or different - if "Flyboys" had come out 50 years ago, it might have starred Henry Fonda or Montgomery Clift - but there's a nice, comfortable camaraderie among the men, the dogfights are thunderous and the rescues are thrilling. PG-13 for war action and some sexual content. 139 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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