Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin

At what point did comic-book superheroes become psychologically tortured and prone to philosophical posturing? It's as if Hamlet put on a cape, flew out a window and then sulked on a skyscraper ledge.

Batman seems to have led the way, especially with Tim Burton's two movie adaptations. Now X-Men, based on the Marvel comic book, roots itself in one of the darkest hours of the just-vanished 20th century. In World War II Poland, a boy wails in terror as he watches two people (presumably his parents) being rounded up for a concentration camp. Restrained by guards, he stretches out a hand. As the barbed-wire gate closes behind them, he somehow emits a magnetic force that makes the fence droop like a dying flower.

Flash-forward to some time further into this new century. The boy has grown up to become Magneto (Ian McKellen), a misguided genius and member of an emerging global population of mutants with special powers. Angry at the world's intolerance, Magneto assembles a small army of colleagues, including a man with a toad's elastic tongue and an identity-changing woman covered in what look like blue sequins. Magneto's plan for revenge: Warp all of mankind's genes with a super-duper force field.

Meanwhile a telepath named Professor Xavier (Stewart) runs an academy to teach mutants to cope with life—and stop Magneto. Among the faculty are Storm (Berry), who can generate lightning, and Cyclops, whose eyes dart out explosive red rays. They're instructing two new students: Rogue (Paquin), who saps the life out of anyone she touches, and Wolverine (Jackman), who has metal claws, miraculous healing power and Engelbert Humperdinck sideburns.

The characters, both good and evil, constantly hash over memories of prejudice, and they've certainly earned the right to vent. But that doesn't help the action sequences. When the big battle between Magneto and Xavier's forces gets going, you have lightning bolts, steel claws, magnetic fields, explosive red rays and flyaway tongues. It's a variety show, and all the acts have rushed onstage at once. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Too many cooks spoil the wroth

Mary-Louise Parker, Gabrielle Rose, Daniel Maclvor, Philippe Volter

Featured attraction

Quick, name your five senses: hearing, taste, touch, smell and sight. We would be lost without them, as are the five major characters (all residents of a Toronto apartment building) in this polished ensemble drama.

There's a pastry chef (Parker) who makes cakes that look mouthwatering but taste like Styrofoam. Her best friend (MacIvor) is a bisexual housecleaner who swears he can smell it when someone really loves him. An eye doctor (Volter) is losing his hearing, a masseuse has lost touch with her teenage daughter, and the daughter in turn is observing life rather than living it. All of them are desperately trying to make a connection with another human being.

The Five Senses, meticulously directed by Jeremy Podeswa (Eclipse), is a carefully observed, meditative film that can be savored for its refined storytelling and the resourceful acting of its talented cast. Which is a polite way of saying it's praiseworthy but slow. (R)

Bottom Line: High five

Mike White, Chris Weitz

Some dweebs grow up to be Bill Gates. Others become Buck (White, who also wrote the script), the pasty-skinned oddball at the center of this creepy, disquieting drama. Although he's 27, Buck is obsessed with boyhood pal Chuck (Weitz, who co-directed American Fie) and begins stalking him. Buck wants the two to resume where they left off as 11-year-olds, including experimenting with sex. But Chuck, now a music industry exec in L.A. with a fiancée (Beth Colt), wants no part of Buck.

You can hardly blame him. Buck is a socially awkward Peter Pan who breathes heavily when he talks and won't take no for an answer. But this vividly strange character remains painfully compelling even as the film itself fades halfway through. (R)

Bottom Line: Weirdly watchable

>Chicken Run Fearless fowl plot their great escape from a poultry farm in a delightful comedy by the clay-animation geniuses behind Wallace & Gromit. (G)

Croupier Engrossing, twisty thriller about a writer (Clive Owen) who learns that true life trumps fiction when he gets a job at a London casino. (Not rated)

Disney's The Kid When he meets himself as a 7-year-old, Bruce Willis realizes it's never too late to live up to your childhood dreams. The premise may be strained, but this lively, sentimental comic fantasy will score with both children and adults. (PG)

Me, Myself & Irene Jim Carrey is a cop with two personalities in a slapstick farce from the duo behind There's Something About Mary. Like Mary, it's crude and very funny. (R)

The Patriot Mel Gibson shows the redcoats his lethal weapons (including muskets and a tomahawk) in a bloody Revolutionary War epic. Well-paced first half, then it peters out. (R)

The Perfect Storm Imperfect movie. Freakishly bad weather system menaces doughty fishing-boat skipper George Clooney. Great waves, weak characters and story. (PG-13)

Scary Movie Scream spoof is bigger on dirty jokes than scares. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen.