"Jesus Henry Christ"

This self-consciously independent film starts out strong, but loses focus halfway through. Toni Collette plays a single mother from an epically broken family raising her test-tube-baby son with the occasional help of her clueless father (Frank Moore).

Turns out that the baby is freakishly able to remember everything he's ever seen, starting with his own birth. Now a tween, he longs to find his biological father.

Jason Spevack does a nice job playing the boy genius in search of his dad but, along with the rest of the talented cast, is hindered by a script that runs out of gas. Writer and director Dennis Lee's quest to be quirky shows signs of strain and the actors almost mug for the camera at times, bereft of proper guidance from Lee.

Fine for kids 13 years old and up. (PG-13: language). 1 hour and 32 minutes.

Ratings (out of 4 stars):

Overall: 2 stars

Kids: N/A

Teens: 2½ stars

Adults: 2 stars

Seniors: 1½ stars

Should you watch it? No -- indie comedy that's more odd than funny.

"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

East Bay student Thomas Horne, a first-time actor, does a remarkable job starring as an autistic boy trying to cope with his father's death in the Twin Towers on 9-11.

Thomas finds a mysterious key in his father's possessions, which sends him on an all-consuming quest throughout New York City to find the lock it fits. The always compelling Tom Hanks plays the mild-mannered dad in flashback scenes while Sandra Bullock drags the movie down as the unconvincing mother.

The theme of the movie is, by definition, depressing, but the filmmakers largely succeed in steering us away from the maudlin. Still, something doesn't quite add up, and I'm not sure why. Strong acting (excluding Bullock) and a solid script should equal a first-rate film, but in this case the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

Not a good fit for kids younger than 11. (PG-13: disturbing material and language). 2 hours and 9 minutes.

Ratings (out of 4 stars):

Overall: 2½ stars

Kids: N/A

Teens: 2½ stars

Adults: 2½ stars

Seniors: 3 stars

Should you watch it? Yes -- unusual take on the impact of 9-11 on one family.

"Journey 2: The Mysterious Island"

The charming Dwayne Johnson stars as a well-intentioned stepdad who humors his rebellious stepson (Josh Hutcherson) by taking him to find his missing explorer grandfather (Michael Caine) in the South Pacific.

They find Gramps and whole lot more: the mythic island of Atlantis. Which, for good measure, is well-stocked with dinosaurs, giant insects and erupting volcanoes.

This loosey-goosey sequel -- Hutcherson is the only significant common thread -- delivers lots of not-too-scary scenes of adventure that will keep your kids rapt. The posse of five elementary school boys who watched at my house loved every minute and had a running dialogue with the TV, a la a Sunday tent revival.

Appropriate for kids 7 and older. (PG: peril and language). 1 hour and 34 minutes.

Ratings (out of 4 stars):

Overall: 2½ stars

Kids: 3 stars

Teens: 2½ stars

Adults: 2 stars

Seniors: 1½ stars

Should you watch it? Yes -- formulaic but fine for kids.

J.B. Alderman lives in Piedmont and can be reached at jason@alderman.net.