Capsule reviews of films opening this week:
"Fantastic Mr. Fox" _ With George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray leading the top-notch voice cast, director Wes Anderson has found an ideal story and medium _ stop-motion animation _ to bring his cockeyed vision to the cartoon world. In the hands of "Rushmore" director Anderson, Roald Dahl's children's book about a poultry-thieving fox gets loving treatment and a distinct handcrafted style that sets it apart from the sleek computer-generated imagery dominating animation today. Clooney provides the voice of a fox whose capers against three evil farmers bring the mechanized wrath of the human world down on him, his family and a menagerie of neighbors. It's lightweight fun, yet the film succeeds on all levels, presenting cute and clever varmints to charm children while offering adults merry screwball humor that slyly stretches the film's family-friendly rating. PG for action, smoking and slang humor. Running time: 88 minutes. Three stars out of four.
_ David Germain, AP Movie Writer
"The Messenger" _ First-time director Oren Moverman delivers a moderately engaging war-on-terror homefront drama that unfortunately strays about without finding its center. Ben Foster, whose specialty has been playing captivating mad dogs such as his "3:10 to Yuma" gunslinger, is a stout but far less-interesting presence in the restrained title role here. Foster's a war hero just back from Iraq and assigned to the Army's casualty-notification service, one of those grim, uniformed guys who bring the worst imaginable news to next of kin. Woody Harrelson's his boss and mentor, Samantha Morton's a war widow with whom Foster strikes up a budding but taboo _ and ultimately unconvincing _ romance. The film works best capturing individual moments of grief, the range of emotion that comes with abrupt bereavement. These are powerful snapshots in a drama that's otherwise a bit out of focus. R for language and some sexual content/nudity. 105 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
_ David Germain, AP Movie Writer
"2012" _ The end is not near enough for this latest nihilistic disaster flick, directed by end-of-the-world specialist Roland Emmerich ("The Day After Tomorrow," "Independence Day"). The 2 1/2-hour film hues close to genre standards: the redeemed deadbeat dad (John Cusack), the coming together of different peoples, the toppling of monuments. The cause of destruction this time is neutrinos from the sun that have heated the Earth's core and destabilized the planet's crust. Cusack and others skip narrowly ahead of the shifting tectonics; California falls into the ocean and much of the world follows suit. The most grounded thing here is the acting. Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor (as a government scientist), Oliver Platt (as the president's chief-of-staff) and Woody Harrelson (perfectly cast as a conspiracy theory-addled nut) almost convince you that something decent is at work in "2012." But it's just another doomsday film, with new digital effects and stock scenes patched together from "Jaws," "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Armageddon." PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and some language. 158 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
_ Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer
"Women In Trouble" _ Writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez's drama follows a day in the life of 10 different females, united by their uncanny ability to look fabulous in their underwear while in the throes of emotional crisis. Gutierrez models the film on Pedro Almodovar's more flamboyant comedies, going so far as to thank the Spanish filmmaker in the closing credits. It's one thing, though, for the Oscar-winning Almodovar to mix lewd humor with soapy scenarios and quite another for the writer of "Snakes On a Plane" and "Gothika" to make the attempt. The attractive cast, notably the earthy Carla Gugino, tries hard to invest the one-note characters with a degree of humanity. But the actors are betrayed at every turn by the thin material. The campy tone negates Gutierrez's ill-advised attempts at pathos, and the humor usually falls flat. R for sexual content including strong dialogue, and for language. 95 minutes. One star out of four.
_ Glenn Whipp, For The Associated Press