Jon Heder, Rob Schneider, and David Spade in The BenchwarmersTHE BENCHWARMERS

The audience laughter at The Benchwarmers chilled me to the marrow. What in God's name are we allowing to pass for "children's entertainment" these days? Dennis Dugan's "comedy" is about a trio of aging dweebs (Rob Schneider, David Spade, and Jon Heder) who - seeking retribution for their childhood humiliations - arrange to play in a Little League tournament, and it's better for everyone's mental health that I ignore the logistics of the plotting.Suffice it to say that the film is an empowerment fantasy for middle-aged booger-eaters everywhere. But it isn't geared toward adults. (At least, not adults with IQs in the triple digits.) The Benchwarmers is a diversion aimed squarely at kids, and as such, it's almost unspeakably repellent - the movie is so hateful that you want to file a restraining order against it.

MadagascarMADAGASCAR

See enough movies, especially ones geared to the younger set, and you all but stop expecting to be surprised by the arc of the plot; our heroes will learn valuable Life Lessons, generally while embarking on A Perilous Journey, good will triumph over evil, the comforts of home, family, and friends will prove more beguiling than any possible adventure, yada yada yada. The joy - the shock - of the new computer-animated comedy Madagascar is that, from scene to scene, you might find yourself having no clue where events will lead, yet you're laughing too hard to pay the matter much mind.

Emily Browning, Jim Carrey, and Liam Aiken in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate EventsLEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS

A friend recently introduced me to the considerable joys of Daniel Handler's Lemony Snicket novels, the first three of which have been adapted for the new Jim Carrey vehicle Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.Handler rivals Roald Dahl in his talent for concocting exquisitely macabre and funny children's stories, and the Unfortunate Events series is almost embarrassingly enjoyable reading. (I'm currently on book nine of, thus far, 11.) The novels follow three orphans - Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny - as they're whisked from relative to relative while evading their evil uncle, Count Olaf, a demented character actor attempting to murder them for their inheritance, and the surprising intricacy of the books' plotting is matched by their wit and humor; after reading them you feel jazzed and alert, like waking from an oddly funny nightmare.

Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates50 FIRST DATES

Adam Sandler's 50 First Dates is about a man who falls in love with a woman suffering from short-term memory loss, a condition the filmmakers must think afflicts their audience as well.

Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving in The Matrix RevolutionsTHE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS

The Matrix was, for me, mostly hooey, and this summer's The Matrix Reloaded seemed, at best, visually resplendent nonsense, so imagine my surprise when I attended The Matrix Revolutions and found myself really enjoying it.

Barry Pepper, Edward Norton, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in 25th Hour25TH HOUR

I wish my schedule had allowed me to catch Spike Lee's 25th Hour sooner, as I would have happily spent the last two weeks extolling its merits to everyone I saw. (It ends its run at the Quad Cities Brew & View on April 17.) The film, wherein a convicted drug dealer (Edward Norton) spends his last free day in New York tying up loose ends among family and friends, is probably Lee's most passionate, exemplary work since 1989's Do the Right Thing. Though the movie showcases Lee's trademark anger, profane humor, and uncommon vibrancy, what sets the film apart from his usual fare is its sadness; it has an aura of melancholy that keeps the director's more bombastic impulses in check. (He even pulls off a beauty of a lullaby ending, one which, in lesser lands, could have been disastrous.)

Emily Watson and Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk LovePUNCH-DRUNK LOVE

Punch-Drunk Love is exactly what its writer-director, Paul Thomas Anderson, claims it to be - "an art-house Adam Sandler movie" - yet I can't be alone in thinking: What's the point of that? Is Anderson merely trying to show up the hacks who've directed Sandler in other films? (Again: What's the point?) All throughout, the movie is beautifully filmed, exquisitely composed, and filled with Anderson's uncanny knack for stretching a scene out longer than it should humanly run and making you hang on every delirious second of it.

John Turturro and Adam Sandler in Mr. DeedsMR. DEEDS

I'd love to reveal the finale to the new Adam Sandler comedy Mr. Deeds, but that would imply that I made it through the picture. For the first time in almost 10 years, I walked out of a movie - at roughly the one-hour mark - and am a little mortified that I lasted as long as I did.

Henry Cavill, Dagmara Dominczyk, James Caviezel, and Luis Guzman in The Count of Monte CristoTHE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO

The best reason to see the latest remake of The Count of Monte Cristo is the source material. You can easily shrug off the movie's unimaginative staging, corny laugh lines, and obtrusive score for the chance to enjoy an opulently designed adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' audience-grabbing tale; it's the sort of story that was once called "a ripping good yarn."

Chris Rock in Down to EarthDOWN TO EARTH and SWEET NOVEMBER

Is it a coincidence, or a frightening sign of flicks to come, that the two most high-profile movie releases this past weekend were remakes of movies that no one could have reasonably wanted remakes of at all? Sure, it's commonly accepted that Hollywood has all but run out of fresh ideas, but to be subjected to both Down to Earth and Sweet November in the same weekend seems a little harsh.

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