"The Big Year" — You'd have to really love birding as much as the guys here do to enjoy this strained buddy comedy to its fullest potential. Except for some lovely scenery and a few lively interactions between the three stars — Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black — "The Big Year" feels like one long, cross-country schlep. And in the pursuit of what? The title of spotting the most bird species in North America during a calendar year, something extremely specific that will probably only interest a few people in the audience. Yes, of course, the journey is the destination and whatnot. And the competition itself is merely a device, a metaphor for the drive these three men have to prove their worth at this particular moment in their lives. If that weren't obvious to us already, the voiceover-heavy script spells out everything they're thinking or regretting or learning from this magical experience. David Frankel's film, based on the non-fiction book by Mark Obmascik, begins in sufficiently lively fashion in establishing its premise, as you might expect from the director of "The Devil Wears Prada." But it quickly grows repetitive as Martin (as a retiring corporate CEO), Wilson (as a contractor and the reigning champ) and Black (as a divorced, cubicle-dwelling newbie) go to extremes to chase each other around and race against the clock. It's a mad, mad, mad, mad bird. PG for language and some sensuality. 99 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"Footloose" — Remaking "Footloose" is a little like trying to build a better leg warmer. The dated kitsch was always part of the appeal of the 1984 original, as was the winning cast of Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer and Chris Penn. In this remake by Craig Brewer ("Hustle & Flow"), we get a better, more colorful film, but less chemistry in the cast. Kenny Wormald, a former backup dancer for Justin Timberlake, slides into Bacon's dance shoes as Ren MacCormack, the big-city out-of-towner who disrupts life in a Georgia small town. He soon sets his sights on Ariel (Julianne Hough), the daughter of the town preacher (Dennis Quaid), who, after a tragedy, led the town in outlawing dancing. Brewer reprises much of the original "Footloose," scene for scene, sometimes shot for shot. But he also expands the film's world, fleshing out back stories and adding a little humor. Wormald and Hough are both handsome and good on the dance floor, but they come across more like teen stars in training than representations of real youth angst. These kids may have better technique, but they don't have the moves. Miles Teller, as the hayseed sidekick, and Ray McKinnon, as Ren's uncle, are the film's best additions. PG-13 for some teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content, violence and language. 113 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer
"The Skin I Live In" — Luscious visuals have long defined Pedro Almodovar's films, and that's true of his latest, as well. It's beautifully shot, crisp and vibrant, and features impeccable production design as you would expect from the detail-oriented Spanish master. But it might almost be too pristine at the expense of real emotional engagement. It might sound easy to remark that a movie about skin feels too superficial, but that's unfortunately the case here. As Almodovar so often does, he's packed "The Skin I Live In" with references to many other films and filmmakers that came before him, but this time they feel more like appreciative shout-outs rather than allusions that truly inform the narrative. And what a convoluted narrative it is. It takes an awfully long time to set up the tortured histories and intertwined relationships that are the basis for the film's big, shocking climax. By the time that comes, this feels almost like a parody of Almodovar, with its melodramatic tone and themes of gender, identity, sex and revenge. Antonio Banderas reunites with the director after more than two decades as a renowned plastic surgeon trying to create a stronger form of skin. The beautiful Elena Anaya plays his captive guinea pig. R for disturbing violent content including sexual assault, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and language. 117 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"The Thing" — This prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 monster movie of the same name lives up to its generic title. It delivers a repetitive assault of gross creature effects and action done far better in Carpenter's version, the first two "Alien" films and a lot of other flicks about entities that feed on pitiful earthlings. The filmmakers deserve credit for trying something different, meticulously creating a back story that fits the earlier movie rather than doing the typical Hollywood remake. From first-time director Matthijs van Heijningen, the prequel explains how an alien entity frozen in the Antarctic ice got loose at a Norwegian research station, consuming and replicating the humans so that paranoid frenzy takes hold over who's real and who's not. But the new "Thing" kind of does what the alien does — digest the original movie and spit out a creepy copy. There's not much suspense, and the few scares are cheap jolts that could have come from any old monster movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton star. R for strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images, and language. 103 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer