"Accepted" High-school senior Bartleby (Justin Long) is a clever guy who just can't get into college. So he invents a phony one. Bartleby's increasingly ambitious hoax necessitates that he and his fellow rejects lease and renovate a disused mental hospital to house the South Harmon Institute of Technology, which he presents as a sister school to the actual Harmon College a few blocks away. A glitch in the bogus college's Web site unexpectedly attracts a hoard of slackers who effectively install themselves at the all-dorm campus. This slight but punchy comedy about college-age misfits (directed by the screenwriter of "Grosse Point Blank") begins well, but slips down a greasy narrative slope into a lackluster third act. PG-13 90 min. ** Cole Smithey
"Barnyard" Criminal acts and scenes of brutal violence spoil the nature of "Barnyard" as an animated movie for tots. A mythical one-man-operated farm is the setting for a cavalcade of animals to party like it's 1999 whenever the farmer isn't looking. Writer/director/producer Steve Oedekerk (screenwriter of "Bruce Almighty") smuggles a pro-military subtext into the script that scuttles the already drooping narrative with a sandbag of burden. It's impossible to enjoy the celebrity vocal performances and weird computer-generated animation because the movie is so heavy with authoritarianism and fear. (PG) 95 min. ** C.S.
"Crank" Flying through an abbreviated and sped-up story informed by Rudolph Maté's 1949 film noir classic "D.O.A.," Jason Statham ("The Transporter") plays an ill-fated freelance hit man stricken with a poison that will kill him if he lets his adrenal gland slow down. With only one hour to live regardless of how amped up he can keep himself, Statham keeps his adrenaline pumping in order to hunt down the cocky thug who doped him while finishing off a prior hit assignment. "Crank" noticeably lacks Statham's signature martial arts moves in favor of vehicle-fueled sequences to keep the audience's pulse racing. Statham is at his best since debuting in Guy Ritchie's "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," and his work here carries a heretofore unseen comic sensibility. (R) 83 min. ***
"How to Eat Fried Worms" Not "Snakes on a Playground," this shrill children's comedy based on a long popular book follows an 11-year-old boy who unthinkingly challenges a school bully by saying that he can eat 10 worms. The bully and his gang devise nefarious methods for cooking slimy night crawlers and earthworms into gross culinary forms for their little victim to consume without vomiting over the course of a single day. The movie's notion of fun seems to derive from an idea that boys will run back to their homes and relive the worm-eating aspects of the story. Gross, silly and small-minded, "How to Eat Fried Worms" is everything the title promises and less. (PG) 83 min. * C.S.
"The Illusionist" Neil Burger's film is many things: a costume drama set in the glorious decadence of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a love story, a peek into dynastic struggle, a murder mystery, a tale of the occult. Through detailed flashback we learn of the mysterious Eisenheim (Edward Norton), resolved from humble beginnings in rural Austria to further the teachings of an old wizard who introduced him to the ways of magic (and to love the heiress of an ancient, noble family in the neighborhood). Buoyed by strong performances and, by current standards, remarkably restrained use of special effects, "The Illusionist" is like a very good magic show, intermittently wowing us and filling the space between tricks with resolutely old-fashioned hokum that fondly recalls the historical pageants of film's early days. (PG-13) 110 min. ****
"Invincible" Mark Wahlberg brings out-of-step potency to this football yarn, a strung-together series of music videos by newcomer hack director Ericson Core. The spasmodic 1976 sports drama is based on the real-life rags-to-riches story of 30-year-old South Philly substitute teacher/bartender Vince Papale, picked from an open tryout to play pro football for the flailing Philadelphia Eagles. Elizabeth Banks adds effervescent charm to her role as Vince's too-cool-for-school love interest Janet, but the film falls far short of the end zone, largely because of a predictable script and a bothersome bombastic musical score akin to hammering a nail with a shotgun blast. (PG) 108 min. ** C.S.
"Little Miss Sunshine" Finding this kind of quirky, charming family adventure at the summer Cineplex is like finding a diamond in a junkyard. It feels safer to just applaud its gifts and not complain too much about its faults. Everything hinges on getting pudgy, bespectacled Olive to a California beauty pageant for little girls. But the movie turns on the relationships between her dad, Richard (Greg Kinnear), a motivational speaker, his frustrated wife, Sheryl (Toni Collette), her suicidal brother (Steve Carell) and his teenage nephew (Paul Dano), who hasn't spoken in nine months. "Little Miss Sunshine" is an entertaining and occasionally insightful story that just finds itself with too much to say. (R) 99 min. *** Wayne Melton
"Snakes on a Plane" Samuel L. Jackson coasts on his fame in this glorified B-grade horror movie about an L.A. gang leader's wicked attempt to assassinate a potential witness by unleashing over 500 poisonous snakes on his flight. (Don't scoff just because you couldn't even get your Python cologne past security.) A cross between a slasher flick and a disaster movie, "Snakes on a Plane" casts CGI snakes attacking a young couple while they join the mile-high club, a man who hates babies and dogs, and numerous other victims hoping to land in time to receive an antidote for their bites. Although the film's production company, New Line, retooled the movie from a PG-13 to an R rating with ideas and dialogue from Web fans, "Snakes on a Plane" is a boring ride. (R) 106 min. * C.S.
"Step Up" Ballet mixed with hip-hop dance moves? This questionable concept isn't helped by a cliché-riddled romantic-drama plot that coasts on the strength of its two charismatic leads. Channing Tatum plays Tyler, a Baltimore ghetto hood sent to do community service at an arts school, and Jenna Dewan is Nora, the ballerina he is assigned to assist in her upcoming senior showcase. Nora's fickle nature and Tyler's lack of discipline threaten to sabotage the couple's romance, even as Tyler's ghetto reality takes a heavy toll on his sense of desperation. "Step Up" is a weak movie because it barely touches the surface of its ostensible subjects, dance and class struggles in an inner city. (PG-13) 103 min. ** C.S.
"World Trade Center" Oliver Stone's signature films are juiced by their feverish need make grand sociological or geopolitical pronouncements. His 9/11 film by contrast based on real people and events focuses on the suffering of two Port Authority policemen trapped in the rubble, and on the torment of their families as they wait for news, delivering a spare, intimate portrait of a few normal human beings broadsided by history. The film is an act of contrition compared with the disastrous, bloated "Alexander" (2004). Dutiful is one word to describe the result. Slow, complacent and conventional are, unfortunately, others. (PG-13) 125 min. *** T.P.
Local ScreensByrd Theatre, 2908 W. Cary St., Richmond, 353-9911.
Carmike 10, 1100 Alverser Drive, Midlothian, 897-0888.
Chesterfield Towne Center, 11500 Midlothian Turnpike, Midlothian, 379-7800.
Commonwealth 20, 5001 Commonwealth Center Parkway, Midlothian, 744-2600.
Regal Chester Cinemas 6, 13025 Jefferson Davis Highway, Chester, 796-5911.
Regal Short Pump Cinema 14, 11650 W. Broad St., Richmond, 360-0947.
Regal Virginia Center 20 Cinema, 10091 Jeb Stuart Parkway, Glen Allen, 261-5411.
Regal Westhampton Cinema 2, 5706 Grove Ave., Richmond, 288-9007.
Southpark Cinema 6, 274 Southpark Mall, Colonial Heights, 526-8100.
West Tower Cinemas, 8998 W. Broad St., Richmond, 270-7111.