New movie releases this week include Katherine Heigl’s return to the big screen, plus The Promise, Truman, and more
Matthew Lickona 6 p.m., April 21
Plump computer cartoon about a tubby panda (voice of Jack Black, tubby typecasting), an envious aficionado of the martial arts, dissatisfied with his lowborn “place” in the family noodle business. Wanting nothing more than to witness the anointment of the new Dragon Warrior, inheritor of the Secret of Limitless Power, he manages by dumb luck to get himself so anointed, in effect hitting the kung-fu lottery. With that, the filmmakers set about to purvey a dearly and widely held fantasy: the idea that the neophyte in any field, but especially the martial-arts field, can quickly close ground on the masters by means of a remedial crash course. No matter how low your opinion of kung fu or its film genre, you would be justified in finding this insulting, to both the specified martial art and your intelligence. And animation, despite its easy defiance of physical laws, does not much soften the insult. If the Furious Five — Tiger, Crane, Mantis, Monkey, and Viper — are together no match for the rogue snow leopard, Tai Lung, how can the Portly Panda compete? (As the Tiger rightly tells him, “If you have any respect for what we are and what we do, you will be gone in the morning.”) Apart from its featherweight reinforcement of the something-for-nothing ethic, there is probably no great harm in the movie. And in its own field it cuts no corners, leaves no stone unturned. It wouldn’t let a doodling neophyte anywhere near the drawing board. Or the keyboard. With the voices of Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, and Jackie Chan; directed by John Stevenson and Mark Osborne. 2008.