ADVENTURE

Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones

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The sparks between Alejandro de la Vega (Banderas) and Elena (Zeta-Jones) scorched the screen in 1998's The Mask of Zorro. A decade later things have cooled down considerably for the pair: He continues to fight crime anonymously as Zorro, while she spends her days at home raising their son and lamenting, "What happened to the man I married?"

The same thing that happened to this watered-down sequel, which only occasionally matches the original's giddy frivolity. The duo divorce, and Elena takes up with a smarmy French aristocrat (Rufus Sewell) intent on thwarting California's impending statehood, while Alejandro stubbornly tries to woo her again.

Banderas and Zeta-Jones slip effortlessly back into their flirty, fiery rapport, but whenever Banderas dons the mask, he is unable to recapture the devilish charm and swagger that made his first turn as Zorro such a treat. It doesn't help that he's stuck fighting an interchangeable line of bland baddies, who stupidly ditch their rifles and pick up a sword whenever Zorro comes calling. (PG)

DRAMA

Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis

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What a curious, uncategorizable movie this is, albeit darkly likable. Shot on a sizable budget, starring Oscar-winning marquee names such as Cage and Caine and directed by Pirates of the Caribbean's Gore Verbinski, The Weather Man is a bleak look at coming to terms with adulthood and the compromises of middle age. It feels like an indie film mistakenly slicked up in an attempt to turn it into a chipper, commercial Hollywood comedy, something it stubbornly refuses to become.

David Spritz (Cage, more dazed-looking than he needs to be) is a Chicago TV weather forecaster under consideration for a network job in the Big Apple. His marriage is kaput, his kids are foundering, and his famous author dad (Caine, superb as ever) is terminally ill. His slow realization that, just like the weather, life is unpredictable and he can't always control it is Weather's theme. Cheery, huh? (R)

ROMANTIC COMEDY

Uma Thurman, Meryl Streep, Bryan Greenberg

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Streep can be more comically expressive with a single raise of an eyebrow, flick of a finger or shift of a hip than many peers are with their faces, limbs and torsos combined. But she needs to marshall all her prodigious skill to breathe life, not to mention verisimilitude, into this wobbly comedy about a heated affair between two Manhattanites, 37-year-old newly divorced Rafi (Thurman) and 23-year-old David(Greenberg).

Streep portrays David's overprotective Jewish mother, who also happens to be Rafi's longtime therapist. Once Rafi, who's not Jewish, starts dating David, Mom figures out pretty quickly that it's her very own Sonnyboy whose sexual capabilities Rafi is extolling. What's a mother to do?

Prime is amusing for a while, and then it's not. It goes on too long, becomes ever more sitcom-like and fails to develop its supporting characters. Streep, though flirting with playing a stereotype, is at least funny. Thurman has lovely moments as a woman flustered over love. And Greenberg, as the seriously cute object of her affections, displays an awkward charm. But prime Prime ain't. (PG-13)

PARADISE NOW

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Two young Palestinian men living in the West Bank are recruited as suicide bombers in a compelling drama by Palestinian-born writer-director Hany Abu-Assad. When their mission hits a snag, each must decide whether to stay the course. The thought-provoking film was shot on location, heightening its immediacy.(PG-13)

KISS KISS, BANG BANG

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The action, jokes and plot complications never stop in a wacky, self-aware whodunit set in Hollywood. Robert Downey Jr. plays a thief turned actor turned detective who teams up with a gay private eye nicknamed Gay Perry (Val Kilmer, in a lively comic turn) to solve a murder or two. It's sometimes hard to keep track of what's going on here, but the effort is worth it. Kiss marks a promising directing debut for screenwriter Shane Black (Lethal Weapon). (R)

SAW II

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This lifeless follow-up to last year's gorefest about a resourceful serial killer named Jigsaw follows his latest prey: eight stereotypes (one of whom is dirty cop Donnie Wahlberg's son) stuck in a booby-trapped building. Unlike its oft-inventive predecessor, this one just twiddles its bloody thumbs until the too-little-too-late final twist. (R)

A CHILD WARRIOR TELLS HIS STORY

At 12, Oscar Torres joined guerillas fighting in the 1980s El Salvadoran civil war and barely escaped with his life. Now 34 and an actor and screenwriter in L.A., he based the new drama Innocent Voices on his war-torn childhood.

IN 1983 TORRES AND THREE FRIENDS JOINED REBELS RATHER THAN BE FORCED INTO THE RIGHT-WING GOVERNMENT'S ARMY.

We were turning 12. That's the age when the army could take boys—make a child into a soldier. We didn't want to become soldiers like our friends, who had turned into little monsters carrying guns and shooting people. We felt we needed to do something to protect our families, so we joined. But really, what can a child do?

TORRES HAD A CHANCE TO SHOOT AN ENEMY SOLDIER. HE DIDN'T.

When I saw him and I had a gun in my hand, I couldn't kill him. My mother taught us no matter what to have compassion. I couldn't shoot him, so I ran.

TORRES WAS CAPTURED BY ARMY TROOPS, WHO SHOT TWO OF HIS YOUNG FRIENDS IN THE HEAD AND WERE ABOUT TO EXECUTE TORRES WHEN HE WAS RESCUED BY FELLOW REBELS.

I was not afraid of dying at that moment. I felt guilt for making my family sad if I died. I felt guilt because I helped my mom make a living by selling the dresses she sewed. Who would help her now? She would be so sad if I died.

IN 1985 HIS MOTHER SENT OSCAR TO LIVE WITH HIS FATHER IN THE U.S.; SHE AND HIS SIBLINGS FOLLOWED LATER.

She sold her sewing machine—her livelihood—and arranged for a visa for me. All I thought about those years without them is whether they would be safe.

TORRES SAYS HE WROTE INNOCENT VOICES TO SHOW THAT HIS EXPERIENCE ISN'T UNIQUE.

Children are being used as soldiers all over the world. This is a story that every human can relate to. It touches us and calls us to work for peace so that our children will not have to fight.

  • Contributors:
  • Jason Lynch,
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Maureen Harrington.