Twelve and Holding

dir. Michael Cuesta

You think you get it at first: a standard snooze of a summer coming-of-age story, complete with bullies, bikes, a tree house, and a fat kid who loves Cheetos. But five minutes in, Twelve and Holding takes a turn for the macabre and you realize you have never been more wrong. It's the tale of Jacob, a lesser-of-two-twins with a crimson birthmark splashed across his face, and his best friends, Leonard and Malee. When Jacob's handsomer, stronger, more powerful other half dies a gruesome and semiaccidental death, the three remaining kids diverge down bizarre yet moving paths of discovery and revenge.

Jacob plans a murder, haunted by his brother's final words to him ("You're a pussy"). Leonard, unable to smell or taste since the accident, is punished by his devoutly overweight family for refusing to eat donuts. Jacob's parents misguidedly adopt a replacement son. Malee, ignored by her therapist mother, falls obsessively in love with one of her mom's adult patients—eavesdropping on his therapy sessions, breaking into his apartment, and fearlessly wooing him with a flute recital rendition of Blue Oyster Cult's "Burnin' for You." Things get worse before they get better; things get weirder and never get normal.

The child actors—particularly the phenomenally funny Zoe Weizenbaum as Malee—are so much like tiny grown-ups that it's creepy. And though Twelve and Holding is not without its missteps (some cheese sneaks in at the end), even my cynical eyes rolled only once or twice. Conversational and smooth, heightened but not cartoony, the film accelerates firmly and joyously toward the fucked up at every juncture, in a string of beautiful, failed catharses. "Death is, like, so weird. You know?" muses Malee. Yeah. LINDY WEST

District B13

dir. Pierre Morel

Following the big-time belly flop of The Messenger, one-time Gaelic wunderkind Luc Besson (The Professional) has overhauled himself into an frightfully prolific exploitation producer, with results ranging from unexpectedly soulful (Jet Li's Unleashed) to vaguely sordid pleasure (Transporter 2) to bottom-of-the-cheese-barrel trash (every other film featuring Jet Li or having Transporter in the title, basically). Art they decidedly ain't, but with Roger Corman in his twilight, the niche needs to be filled.

Clocking in at 85 minutes, District B13 serves as an ideal sampler for writer-producer Besson's distinct flavor of Eurotrash, where the men have manly goo-goo eyes for each other; the women are gold-hearted, punked-out skanks; and even the sluggiest thug wears Gautier. What makes District B13 stand out from the pack is the incorporation of parkour, a frankly dumbfounding extreme sport involving crazy rooftop shenanigans. Whatever the pseudo-philosophical bullstuff of its origins (the Wikipedia entry expounds at length about harmony and "being fluid like water"), it makes for the most irresistibly cinematic martial art since the hallowed Gymkata.

Cribbing liberally from Escape from New York, the scenario takes place in a walled-off Paris of the future, where a heavily tattooed bad seed (parkour inventor David Belle) and a chrome-domed, trigger-happy detective must team up to stop the detonation of a hijacked neutron bomb. The plot, performances, and character development are all extremely negligible, but even the snobbiest cineaste will most likely wipe away the drool after seeing Belle, whose athletic ability suggests Jackie Chan after being bitten by an irradiated spider. Watching him vault over buildings, weave at top speed through crazy mazes of weathervanes, and fold himself through a postage-stamp-sized window in one limber movement renders all complaints about content or form pretty much moot. With crazy legs like this, who needs brains? ANDREW WRIGHT

Peaceful Warrior

dir. Victor Salva

Red-lipped, doe-eyed Scott Mechlowicz is Dan Millman—a single-minded and foolhardy college gymnast (rings, specifically) who spends his hours banging chicks, guzzling beer, and burning, burning, burning for that Olympic gold. Everything seems on track for Dan, until the night he goes out to buy some milk (fortifying!) and meets a wise, flying gas-station attendant with a magical secret name—the wise, flying gas-station attendant with a magical secret name who will change his life... forever! Wow, barf!

Dan dubs his WFGSAWAMSN "Socrates," but for my purposes, I'll just be calling him "Nick Nolte." Nick Nolte (played with gruff gusto by Nick Nolte) is determined to teach Dan the Meaning of Life, and the Meaning of Life (played by a retarded pastiche of nonsensical self-help garbage) is apparently best taught through smug, obnoxious trickery. Dan tries to get busy with a fine lady and Nick Nolte magically appears at the foot of the bed! Just peekin'! Dan agrees to meet Nick Nolte for a "lesson" and—oh, snap!—Nick Nolte throws him off a bridge! Nick Nolte promises Dan an incredible surprise if he climbs up a big mountain, but can you guess what the surprise is? The motherfucking journey itself! That's cold, Nick Nolte. That's cold.

Based—wait for it—on the "true story" of how the real Dan Millman learned how to be peaceful and yet also a warrior, this movie is terrible and also creepy. With lines like "You think maybe you could rub a little of that magic onto me?" something feels awfully Zeus-and-Ganymede about the whole debacle—a feeling not eased by director Victor Salva's 1988 conviction for molesting a 12-year-old boy. Is it even possible for me to type "barf" enough times? Because baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarf!!! LINDY WEST