Cassandra's Dream

dir. Woody Allen

In this blast of gloom from Woody Allen, Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell are the brothers Blaine, two working-class lads from London mired in unremarkable lives. Ian (McGregor) dreams of making millions while he toils away in the family's failing restaurant; Terry (Farrell) is a grease monkey prone to heavy drinking and gambling. Both men are minor scammers who revere their rich uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), whose largesse has bailed out the Blaine brood on a number of occasions.

From the first oppressive strains of the Philip Glass score, Cassandra's Dream (the title refers to both a dog and a boat the brothers restore) hammers home dread. Terry loses a bundle at the poker table, Ian finds himself pretending to be wealthy in order to bed an actress of dubious talent (Hayley Atwell), and soon Uncle Howard is asked a favor of once again. This time, however, their uncle asks a favor in return. A bloody favor.

Moving matters along at a frantic clip, Allen piles on the bleakness, daring to make his two brothers alternately pathetic and unlikable. Unfortunately, the gamble fails. Many scenes in the film are just plain off. Some are left to drift well past their natural conclusion, while others—especially in the blunt third act—end just as they get cooking. And this unevenness is only exacerbated by the two leads, who, try as they might, are never fully able to make the brothers believable as siblings—or as anything more than props in Allen's blandly sleazy plot. "You've never had a conscience," the brothers' mother tells Terry at one point. Seeing as how neither man is anything beyond a cipher, it's hard to argue with her. BRADLEY STEINBACHER

Mad Money

dir. Callie Khouri

"The truth is we're all capable of anything. We don't realize it. But it's true." These untrue words are spoken by Diane Keaton at the beginning of Mad Money, and though they are not meant to make you think back on Diane Keaton's career, you cannot help it. Watching Diane Keaton try to appease a neighbor's dog by throwing it a slab of meat so she can make a getaway in the opening sequence, you cannot prevent your mind from recalling the Diane Keaton of Love and Death and Sleeper and Manhattan and Annie Hall and wondering, grimly, what happened in the intervening decades. Outwardly, she hasn't changed much, but something serious is afoot. Brain leak? Body snatching? Shape shifting? Robot replacement? Could she just be gassy? We would all like to think that Diane Keaton is more than just hats and belts and Woody Allen jokes, that she's a person with dignity, a person who's learned from herself, a person who wouldn't subject herself, and the audience she's built, to flaming piles of crap, but Mad Money is a flaming pile of crap.

It begins with cash—piles and piles of cash—being set on fire and flushed down a toilet. As an ur-metaphor for the creation of Mad Money itself this is hard to beat; however the ur-metaphor is unintentional. The burning/flushing of money is actually a flash-forward from the basic narrative, which begins with Keaton and Ted Danson fighting about how they're going to pay the bills and proceeds directly to Keaton drably dressed and pushing a janitor's cart through the corridors of the Federal Reserve. At long last she and Queen Latifah (same as always) and Katie Holmes (twitchy and permed) are shoving bricks of discarded bills into their underwear. Not that you didn't know that was coming, what with the end of the movie at the beginning. I fear I have made this sound better than it is. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE

27 Dresses

dir. Anne Fletcher

"Always, always, always a bridesmaid," reads the headline of a New York Journal society column about a plain Jane (the flawlessly pretty Katherine Heigl) and her obsession with organizing weddings for her friends. She has been a bridesmaid at 26 separate weddings, and as her stuffed closet attests, it hasn't always been pretty. Taking into account both the fluorescent Gone with the Wind frock and parasol she had to don for a certain themed wedding and the one remaining girlfriend Jane still hangs out with (the defiantly single Casey, played by a tired-looking Judy Greer), you might be led to believe that each of the new brides abandoned Jane, or vice versa, once her services were rendered.

But then you wouldn't believe in the essential likeability of Katherine Heigl. Jane is, from all the evidence, a deeply annoying character—controlling, superficial, jealous, vindictive—but Heigl is grounded. She makes even deeply stupid scenes like a mid-yoga-class argument and a mid-cab-ride striptease seem tolerable. Even so, 27 Dresses is so sugary it made my jaw ache. Or maybe I was just clenching my teeth.

Jane's awful sister Tess (Malin Akerman) comes to New York and promptly steals the love of Jane's life—who happens to be Jane's boss, the ecologically concerned George (Edward Burns). There is no reason for ecological concern to enter into this movie, but it is there nonetheless, presumably to demonstrate that Tess (who likes CHILI DOGS and RIBS) and George (who prefers TOFU) are temperamentally unsuited to each other. Meanwhile, a pesky society reporter named Kevin (James Marsden) tries to get a date with Jane. Jane believes Kevin to be "creepy" and "cynical" and "dark," but this is blatantly untrue. When he smiles, which he does constantly, his beatific grin takes up half his face. Don't worry, soon they will make drunken karaoke together and then the movie will be almost over. ANNIE WAGNER

Deep End

dir. Jerzy Skolimowski

Deep End is Harold & Maude's evil twin—both were released in 1971, both concern a boy's sentimental education at the hands of an older woman, both feature cars sabotaged for symbolic purposes and songs by Cat Stevens. (Both, obviously, are grandparents to Rushmore.) But the boy in Harold & Maude is saved by his older paramour; the boy in Deep End is driven mad.

Little fresh-faced Mike gets a job as an attendant at a city pool and bathhouse, where he falls in pure, sweet, 15-year-old love with his coworker Susan: a sexy slattern with a fiancé, a lover, and a couple of regular clients at the bathhouse. Worse, the lover is Mike's old PE teacher, a nasty, leering old man. Susan also introduces Mike to some light prostitution in the changing room, where older women press his young body to theirs and shudder and moan. Deep End isn't kind to any of its female characters (the older women are pathetic and Susan is a selfish, grasping liar), but it isn't kind to anyone. Susan's fiancé is a pasty bully and her lover molests his female students. Caught in a vice of jealousy and lust, little Mike starts to unravel and then the bleak, sadistic comedy begins.

Mike follows Susan around town, chases her onto a subway, gropes her from behind while she and her fiancé are sitting in a cinema watching a dirty movie. (That movie is hilarious: hammy, softcore porn masquerading as some kind of educational film.) Deep End gets a little ridiculous when Mike finds a life-size cutout of Susan, naked, in front of a strip club—she's a pool attendant and minor-league hooker and porn model?—but it remains funny and, as it must, ends badly.

Deep End isn't as amusing as Harold & Maude nor as smart and rich as Rushmore, but its dark chronicle of young sexual frustration is, perhaps, more memorable. BRENDAN KILEY