If you enjoy good science fiction, intriguing ethical questions about science and power, adrenalin-rush action, suspense, and dazzling special effects, here are several worthwhile movies that offer such a variety: THX 1138, A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), Minority Report, Star Wars: Episode Two—Attack of the Clones, The Matrix, The Truman Show, Coma, and Gattaca.

If you'd prefer to see a film that borrows most of its ideas from better movies and slaps them together into something that insults your intelligence, rattles your senses, and wastes your time, go see The Island.

Michael Bay's latest barrage of explosions seems to leave gaping holes in the film's plot. The Island stars Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan of the Star Wars prequels) and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) as clones, living in a clone society, oblivious to their origins or their purpose. They're walking, talking "insurance policies" waiting to have their organs harvested for the benefit of their "originals."

The "originals" are rich investors who believe they're investing in non-sentient tissue development. If they were to find out that their money is funding a whole society of expendable human beings, they would cause a fuss. So the clone-making company does what it can to keep its child-like residents and its investors happy and oblivious to the truth. (The Lord of the Rings' Sean Bean plays the nefarious genius in charge of this misguided operation.)

Bay and Company seem to think they're wrestling with tough ethical questions. And the film does carry echoes of the debates over stem-cell research and abortion. Thus, viewers might find themselves in some worthwhile conversation after the credits roll. But this exploration is no more provocative than Soylent Green's Charlton Heston running around in a panic, shouting, "Your insurance policies are PEOPLE!!!" We end up watching five very fine actors—McGregor, Johansson, Bean, Steve Buscemi (Ghost World), and Djimon Hounsou (In America)—waste their formidable talents on a ridiculous and forgettable motion picture. (The film's plot is apparently almost identical to that of an older B-movie called Clonus, and the resemblance is causing a stir. If they had to steal a story, why not steal a good one?)

My full review is at Looking Closer.

Other Christian film critics wish they could have voted these filmmakers off The Island.

Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) writes, "The Island is a movie about clones, and so it comes as no surprise that the movie is, itself, something of a clone. But it is also something of a chimera; that is, it seems like the sort of movie you would get if you took pieces of two very different movies and squished them together, and the result is a monstrosity. … Ultimately, whatever message the film might have had is ultimately drowned out by the violence."

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Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) says, ever so carefully, "The Island is the closest thing so far to a good Michael Bay film. Damning with faint praise, yes—but bear in mind that most of Bay's filmography to date … deserves to be damned with loud damns. So let me repeat: The Island is Bay's best film to date, and Bay's best effort to date at a meaningful, thoughtful film."

Tom Neven (Plugged In) says, "The stunts are so extreme and over-the-top you just can't suspend disbelief for long enough chunks of time to enjoy them. Granted, it's more serious than your typical Bay movie, but that does little more than call unwarranted attention to the story's inadequacies. So with no compelling reason to dwell on the main text or the subtext, pretty much all you're left with is lots and lots of chase scenes and explosions, a few fistfights and smatterings of vulgarity."

Christian Hamaker (Crosswalk) writes, "The shift to … by-the-numbers action-film cliché s pushes into the background the film's earlier questions about the purpose and meaning of life, providing a too-tidy resolution that leaves viewers superficially sated. While The Island deserves credit for addressing the downside of our culture's obsession with 'quality of life' at all costs, its insistence on raising the bar for sheer summer-movie spectacle ultimately wins out, and disappoints."

Offering the only complimentary review, Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) writes, "Bay's action-packed thriller … has the usual (and regrettable) mind-numbing explosions and car crashes, through admittedly deftly executed. … Production designer Nigel Phelps has succeeded in creating a convincing futuristic environment, and the overall look of the film is striking. … The film is rife with moral considerations … and conveys a positive overall message about the sanctity of life and, of course, though hardly a serious treatise on the subject, paints a frightening picture of the consequences of cloning, making this a good cautionary tale."

Mainstream critics agree that the film requires you to turn your brain off. A few of them find it's an acceptable entry in the "mindless fun" category.

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Bad News Bears lives up to its name

Billy Bob Thornton—who made a famous mean-spirited fool of himself in Bad Santa—plays another Grade-A jerk in an unnecessary remake of Bad News Bears, a comedy about rude, crude kids who cuss, drink beer, and cause a ruckus on the baseball field.

The only real surprise in this picture is its director—Richard Linklater, who seems to be developing a split personality: He can be a cheap crowd-pleaser and a sophisticated artist. He's given us critically acclaimed films like Before Sunset, Waking Life, and Slacker, but he's also responsible for the whimsical box office smash School of Rock, and now this: a movie about kids that is highly inappropriate viewing for kids.

Todd Hertz (Christianity Today Movies) says the 1976 original "was crude and politically incorrect. But the new version cranks it all up to eleven. There's more fat jokes, more mean put-downs, more racial jokes, more swearing, and—unlike the original—lots of sexual jokes, objectifying of women, and cleavage. The bottom line is the new Bad News Bears takes the joke way too far. It's just not funny at all."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says that the film "strikes out as recommendable family fare." But he adds, "Bears is not all bad news. Both versions ultimately impart a positive message that promotes self-esteem and criticizes winning-at-all-costs competitiveness, while exploring themes of redemption … and reconciliation."

"This unnecessary remake should have been called Badder News Bears," says Christopher Lyon (Plugged In). "Its only real additions to the 30-year-old original come in added sexual content, more profanity, and what feels like a lot of running time."

Jeffrey Huston (Crosswalk) says, "In the mid-1970s The Bad News Bears didn't just launch a franchise; it crossed content barriers deemed taboo for a family film. Like its predecessor, the new Bad News Bears crosses those lines with great frequency. Unfortunately, the lines today start at a much lower level than they did 30 years ago."

Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) says, "Paramount calls its remake 'hilarious.' Not so. The movie … plods on unevenly. At almost two hours, it's much too long. Some of the lines land; some don't. Some situations are funny; some are just annoying."

Mainstream critics aren't too happy with it either. But hey, it has a higher approval rating than The Island!

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Hustle and Flow not your ordinary inspirational film

Acclaimed director John Singleton lent considerable funding and influence as a producer to Craig Brewer's new film, Hustle and Flow. The story follows a South Memphis pimp named DJay, played by up-and-coming actor Terrence Howard (Ray, Crash), who is dissatisfied with his life and the troubles of the women he "manages." So he tries to start up a more constructive path by recording a record in the style known as "crunk." As a result, his life and the lives of those around him are changed.

The movie may not sound like your typical crowd-pleaser. But Hustle and Flow won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. And while its R-rated material will certainly keep a lot of Christian viewers away, some Christian film critics are finding plenty here to admire.

J. Robert Parks (Looking Closer) raves about the film's cast and style. "DJay is an obviously flawed man, but we see and appreciate his hopes and humanity despite his profession. We also come to care for [the prostitutes]. They're not women who've thrown their lives away; rather, they're struggling to find some kind of meaning in the midst of their difficult circumstances. Which means that we can't ignore them like we usually do the downtrodden we pass each day. It also means that the moments of prostitution become harder and harder to take."

Adam R. Holz (Plugged In) says, "Hustle & Flow pulls no punches as it tells a gritty tale of redemption involving complex characters trying to make the most of their impoverished lives." He adds that, while the "avalanche" of R-rated content makes it rough viewing, he was surprised by the filmmakers' restraint in their portrayal of prostitution. "Though there's no shortage of sexual content, it didn't glamorize the world's oldest profession in the way that scores of Hollywood films in the past have done. … The movie manages to tell a story in this context without communicating that such a lifestyle is good or acceptable. It's clear that prostitution has taken a terrible toll on these women."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "Despite its seamy milieu and cliché -tinged script (hood trying to go straight, hooker with a heart of gold), the story is engaging. Delivering a strong performance, Howard is definitely a star on the rise."

Mainstream critics herald it as one of the year's best so far.

Run from The Devil's Rejects

Rob Zombie's latest gorefest is earning such reprimands, it doesn't really warrant even a plot summary. Suffice to say that it's about a "family" that tortures and murders everyone they can get their hands on. The result is so childish and indulgent, it's really sad to see that it was made by actual grownups.

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David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "Laced with visual nods to Arthur Penn, Sam Peckinpah and Tobe Hooper, the almost pornographically violent movie is as pointless as it is utterly revolting: depravity as entertainment. Reject these Manson family values."

Some mainstream critics actually approve of the product … but only by interpreting it as an over-the-top comedy.

More reviews of recent releases:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Peter Suderman (Relevant) says, "like his previous film, Big Fish, Burton's eyes are too big for his brain, and his grandiose sets overwhelm the movie. Despite its gloriously realized, meticulously detailed world, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is marked by thin characters, stolid pacing and trite sentimentality. It's all flashy color and puffed-up fluff, a cinematic cotton candy lacking in any real substance."

Kevin Miller (Joy of Movies) says, "In terms of my childhood influences, Roald Dahl occupied the same rare air as J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Dr. Seuss. … Needless to say, then, when someone like Tim Burton ventures to bring a book like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the big screen, for me and countless other former children, he is treading on holy ground. Thankfully, even though Burton's account of the gospel of Wonka is eerily unorthodox, he avoids falling into full-blown heresy. I wouldn't necessarily call the changes he has made to the story improvements, but Burton's film is definitely an intriguing adaptation of Dahl's beloved children's tale."

Andrew Coffin (World) says, "Mr. Burton's visual style is perfect for Charlie, and he rarely gives in to his more grotesque impulses (although smaller kids might be frightened). This Charlie is a worthy improvement on the original film and a decent companion to Dahl's book."

Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin (Cinema in Focus) conclude that it's "a masterpiece of fantasy and morality. … Like all fables with clear moral instruction for children and adults, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a worthy tale to be told to all."

The next two weeks: Peter T. Chattaway guest hosts Film Forum.