Picks and Pans Review: Bee Season

UPDATED 11/21/2005 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/21/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche

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Just as a spelling bee whiz gets most of a word right before stumbling on the last letter in a key scene, so Bee Season starts out promisingly only to falter late in the going. Give it points, though, for being a film that tries to wrestle with grown-up themes: family dynamics, mental health and religious mysticism.

Based on a best-selling 2000 novel by Myla Goldberg, Bee focuses on the Naumanns, a seemingly happy, upper-middle-class family in Oakland, Calif. Dad (Gere) drives a red Alfa Romeo convertible and teaches religious studies at a university while Mom (Binoche) drives a more sensible Volvo station wagon and works in a lab. Both eat dinner at home nightly with their two kids. But when 9-year-old Eliza (Flora Cross) starts winning spelling bees, previously hidden tears in the family fabric widen. The movie, directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End), is overdramatic but underdramatized. Call this review M-I-X-E-D. (PG-13)

FAMILY

Zathura

Tim Robbins, Josh Hutcherson

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Want to tear your kids away from Xbox? Get them a musty rocket-racing board game called Zathura. Sure, they'll say it "looks dumb and old," but they'll quickly change their tune when a real-life meteor shower redecorates the living room. That's what happens to squabbling brothers Walter (Hutcherson) and Danny (Jonah Bobo), who stumble upon the game when Dad (Robbins) is away at work and find themselves on a wild intergalactic adventure. It's a thrilling ride, though too frightening for young kids and nowhere near as epic as its majestic score suggests. Credit Hutcherson and Bobo, who always keep their performances rooted in reality, even when they're running from killer robots as their house catapults through space. (PG)

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