"Dark Shadows" _ Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are snuggled warmly in their comfort zone in this chilly horror-comedy, their eighth collaboration as director and star, respectively, and their weakest by far. You don't need to know a thing about the "Dark Shadows" TV series that provides the inspiration. Tonally, thematically, visually, you've seen this movie before, with its oddball characters, skies in varying shades of gray and a foreboding sense of gothic mystery. It's actually a wonder that Depp hasn't played a vampire before; still, his long-undead Barnabas Collins, who's been buried alive for nearly two centuries and suddenly finds himself back in his insular Maine hometown in 1972, fits squarely within his well-honed on-screen persona. He thinks he's quite the charmer, but he's actually a bit awkward, and that contradiction provides the main source of humor. Or at least, it's supposed to. The script from Seth Grahame-Smith ("Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter") allows its family full of weirdos to shine, but too often is crammed with fish-out-of-water gags as Barnabas struggles to make sense of the time in which he's found himself. He struggles to understand modern romance as he courts the family's delicate, wide-eyed nanny (Bella Heathcote) and tries to fit in by smoking pot with the local hippies. Ho ho! "Dark Shadows" feels too languid, and bogged down as it is with an obsessive eye for costumes and period detail rather than offering anything resembling an engaging story. And by the time Burton finally puts his visual effects skills to their best use, in a climactic showdown between Barnabas and the witch who cursed him (Eva Green), it's too late. With Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter and Jackie Earle Haley. PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking. 116 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
_ Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"Girl in Progress" _ The strong, sexy presence of Eva Mendes and the girlish perkiness of Cierra Ramirez can only go so far to make this forced mother-daughter dramedy tolerable. It's a coming-of-age story that knows it's a coming-of-age story _ as in, our young heroine is well aware of the conventions of this kind of tale and goes out of her way to manufacture various rites of passage to expedite her transformation from innocence to womanhood. Ramirez's Ansiedad literally creates a flow chart in her bedroom and spells out her strategy with her only friend _ whom she'll soon cast aside, she declares, because it's a necessary step in the process. Breaking down and sending up a specific genre is fine if the script is strong enough to get away with such cutesy self-reference, as in "Juno" and "Easy A." Director Patricia Riggen and screenwriter Hiram Martinez don't go far enough, don't dig deep enough with these characters. They play it too safe, which makes "Girl in Progress" feel like a slightly racier version of an ABC Family show. And the flat, overly bright lighting further makes it feel like forgettable television. It certainly doesn't help that the two main figures are cliches. Mendes' Grace is the child in the equation, having given birth when she was just 17 and hopping from man to man and town to town ever since. Ansiedad _ which means anxiety in Spanish _ is the responsible one: Smart, studious and organized, she's left to scrub the sink full of dishes while her mom's out with her married gynecologist boyfriend (Matthew Modine, whose character doesn't have a single perceptible redeeming quality). Do you think it's possible that, by the end, they'll both have learned some lessons and assumed their rightful roles? PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content including crude references, and drinking _ all involving teens. 84 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
_ Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic