BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (PG-13). The fictional tale of a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy and her struggle for survival in the southern Delta with her ailing father as a storm approaches. This damply poetic debut film explores the fertile and terrifying world of a child's imagination which knows no sealed barrier cleaving reality from fantasy. The film is its own beast, and it's a rare one. HHHH (Biancolli, Houston Chronicle -- 8/4). 1:33.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS (PG). The hapless hero (Zachary Gordon) of the best-selling books stumbles through trouble over summer vacation. The series' best so far. HHH (Biancolli, Houston Chronicle -- 8/4). 1:34.
HIT & RUN (R). A guy in witness protection -- a former getawy driver for a gang of bank robbers -- breaks his cover to drive his girlfriend back to his old stomping grounds, Los Angeles, where she has an interview for the job of her dreams and it's not long before his old cronies are hot on his trail. A fun little car-chase move that's quite infectious. With Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Bradley Cooper. Kristin Chenoweth, Tom Arnold. HH1/2 (Germain, Associated Press -- 8/22). 1:39.
HOPE SPRINGS (PG-13). Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are a long-married couple trying to renew the spark with a counselor (Steve Carell). You've never seen Streep and Jones like this -- by turns silly, befuddled, awkward and confused -- and this comedy is all the richer for it. HHH (Moore, McClatchy Newspapers -- 8/8). 1:50.
ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT (PG). When the Earth's tectonic plates start shifting, the breaking land separates Manny, Diego and Sid from the rest of the clan, sending them out to sea on an iceberg. There, they encounter -- what else? -- a villainous pirate orangutan. The dialogueless peanuts-and-pratfall antics of the squirrel-rat Scat prove the charm in a film that is otherwise overstuffed with loud action scenes and the yammer of celebrity voices. HH (Coyle, Associated Press -- 7/14). 1:27.
PARANORMAN (PG). This stop-action animated comedy centers on a boy who can speak with the dead and becomes the last hope of his cursed hometown after it's overrun by zombies. The story feels familiar (and better suited to a Halloween-season release), and the movie seems to end a few too many times. But it's a pleasure to listen to the motley crew of voice talent (particularly the foghorn-toned Elaine Stritch as a ghost grandma, and the perfectly slurred teenspeak of Anna Kendrick as Courtney) and watch the witty invention of the stop-motion animation. HHH (Macdonald, Seattle Times -- 8/18). 1:41.
PREMIUM RUSH (PG-13). A Manhattan bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is steered into a deadly chase when bad guys come looking for the delivery he's carrying.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (R). A ne-er-do-well magazine writer suggests to his editor what sounds like a promising story, about a man who has been advertising for people to join him on a time-travel expedition. The thing is, he has little interest in actually writing the story -- he pitched to the idea solely because he wanted to go to the town where his ex-girlfriend lives. That leaves his deeply skeptical intern having to make contact with the possibly disturbed, would-be time-traveler.
SPARKLE (PG-13). Whitney Houston's final movie role features the late singer as mom to a girl group struggling with the pressures of fame. This remake of the 1976 movie musical has been engineered as a vehicle for "American Idol" winner, pop starlet Jordin Sparks, who neither sparks nor sparkles in this perfectly serviceable version of a time-worn tale, entirely too long. HH (Moore, McClatchy Tribune News Service -- 8/18). 1:54.
THE BOURNE LEGACY (PG-13). The spirit of lethal operative Jason Bourne lives on, minus Matt Damon, with Jeremy Renner at the center of fallout from the first three action hits. The franchise has found a compelling new hero in Aaron Cross and a commanding performer in Renner. It's possible Renner's Cross, a former U.S.soldier presumed dead, has an even more haunting skill set than Bourne. Consider him and the new movie Bourne 2.0. With Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach. HHH1/2 (Kennedy, Denver Post -- 8/11). 2:05.
THE CAMPAIGN (R). This comedy pits Will Ferrell against Zach Galifianakis as two political rivals for whom no trick is too dirty as they compete for a North Carolina Congressional seat. Like its stars, the film seems to be two forces, in this case two movies, battling against one another, leaving its audience wondering which will win out. One is a genuinely funny political satire; the other is a typical low-rent comedy filled with poop jokes, raunch and little kids saying improbably dirty things. The first movie wins, but just barely. HH (Macdonald, Seattle Times -- 8/11). 1:37.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (PG-13). The masked vigilante Batman must save Gotham City from dangerous new threats, including the mysterious villain Bane. For about half its running time, it's reasonably entertaining, but the other half -- inevitably the second half -- is something of a slog. The movie is self-important but with little ultimate importance, and sentimental without much in the way of human feeling. But it has its moments -- at 165 minutes it had better -- plus Anne Hathaway, enjoyable throughout as the movie's nicely reimagined Catwoman. With Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard. HH (LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle -- 7/20). 2:45.
THE EXPENDABLES 2 (R). What passes for a plot has Barney (Sylvester Stallone) and his muscle-bound merry men forced into a suicide mission to stop a crazy mercenary, Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), from stealing truck loads of nuclear material. You really don't need to know more. Just like the original "Expendables," the worth of this film is measured in the amount of ammunition used, the number of bad guys eliminated and the total sum of equipment destroyed. What sneaks through all of the blood and guts is the kind of dry sense of humor that made action films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis so much fun. "Expendables 2" is like an all-star football game. There's a degree of friendly competition, but it's not as much about winning as the spectacle of so many iconic stars -- that also includes Chuck Norris, Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren -- being brought together. That's where the film goes the biggest. HH1/2 (Bentley, Fresno Bee -- 8/210. 1:43.
THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN (PG). A childless couple sets down on paper the qualities they would want in a perfect child and bury the list in their garden only to have the 10-year-old boy of their dreams mysteriously materialize and take his place in their home and lives. A very pretty movie to look at but beneath the pretty pictures is a stab at Capra-corn, the sort of magical story of simple, genuine people mastered by Frank Capra in such films as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Meet John Doe." Sadly, this is all corn and no Capra. With Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgertgon, CJ Adams. HH (Germain, Associated Press -- 8/15). 1:44.
TO ROME WITH LOVE (R). Weaving four stories of Italians and American visitors, writer-director Woody Allen creates a lot of clever moments with his ensemble comedy. In between the good times, the story and characters just drift about awkwardly, stuck on a walking tour of Rome that continually bumps up against dead ends, or worse, circles back so we wind up seeing the same things a few times too many. Allen's co-stars include past collaborators Penelope Cruz, Judy Davis and Alison Pill, plus Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Roberto Benigni, Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig. Most of the performances are tentative and jittery, and the four scenarios are generally uninvolving. Throughout the film, it's not Nero who's fiddling, but Allen. HH (Germain, Associated Press -- 7/6). 1:52.