“Escape From Planet Earth” (PG): This jokey animated interplanetary adventure should work best for kids 6 and older. It ranks well below the first tier of animated films we see nowadays, but it tells a fairly engrossing tale and offers lively enough action sequences to keep kids entertained for 89 minutes. Adults, on the other hand, may cringe at the bad, politically tinged jokes aimed at them, tweaking TV personality Simon Cowell, or American gun-owners.
Scorch Supernova (voice of Brendan Fraser) is a muscle-bound celebrity astronaut on the candy-colored, rubbery-peopled planet of Baab. He flies off to rescue beings held captive or stranded around the universe. His spindly but brainy brother Gary (Rob Corddry) runs mission control. They have a falling out over whether Scorch should fly solo to a distress call from the Dark Planet, aka Earth, from whence no intergalactic being has ever returned. Scorch heads to Earth anyway, landing near a 7-Eleven, but even more important, near top-secret Area 51. HAZMAT-suited American military tranquilize and take him captive, under evil Gen. Shanker (William Shatner). Kip Supernova (Jonathan Morgan Heit), the son of Gary and his wife Kira (Sarah Jessica Parker), accuses his dad of being too cautious and tries to go rescue Uncle Scorch himself. Gary gets Kip out of the rescue pod and heads to Earth himself, also landing in Area 51 and getting captured.
Several scenes show Scorch and Gary in danger – frozen in cylinders or nearly falling to their deaths from space. Some of the interplanetary creatures play to American ethnic stereotypes.
“Snitch” (PG-13): In this credibility-stretching action flick – albeit based on a true story – a businessman goes undercover in the world of drugs to save his relatively innocent son from a “mandatory minimum” prison sentence. “Snitch” could hold high schoolers’ interest because it’s solidly acted and much is at stake. It is too intense and violent for middle schoolers.
John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) runs a good construction business. His teenage son Jason (Rafi Gavron) by his first wife (Melina Kanakaredes) nervously accepts delivery of a large bag of illicit drugs on behalf of a “friend.” Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) people pounce as soon as the package arrives. Because of “mandatory minimum” drug laws, Jason faces 10 to 30 years in prison – unless he gives up the names of other dealers. But he doesn’t know any – just a friend who gave him pot once, and he refuses to name him. After the politically ambitious U.S. attorney (Susan Sarandon) explains the legal situation to John, he takes it on himself to go undercover and expose a drug dealer in return for a reduction of Jason’s sentence. John goes to his employee Daniel (Jon Bernthal of TV’s “The Walking Dead”), a parolee, and offers the struggling family man money to hook him up. Grudgingly, Daniel takes John to meet Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams” of “The Wire”), a drug dealer, and they start hauling his shipments in company trucks. John expects the DEA to swoop in, but when a major Mexican drug honcho (Benjamin Bratt) turns up, the U.S. attorney gets greedy, and John and Daniel must keep up their dangerous charade.
Action scenes include a couple of heavy gun battles, but without a lot of blood or graphic injuries. It’s strongly implied by bruises and stitches on his face that Jason undergoes beatings and perhaps worse in jail. Both John and Daniel’s families are shown at risk, with one child briefly abducted. The script includes midrange profanity. Themes about divorce and how it can alienate children figure prominently.
“Safe Haven” (PG-13): Teen fans of romance novels will nestle right into this sentimental story, with its dash of danger. Still, if it weren’t for Josh Duhamel’s supremely likable turn, “Safe Haven” would be a mushy, predictable mess. Moments of mostly implied violence occasionally cut into the love story, but not in ways that make the film too intense for middle schoolers. At the start, we see a frantic, dark-haired young woman (Julianne Hough) running from a house, seeking shelter at a neighbor’s, and, then as a blonde, boarding a bus headed out of Boston. We also learn that a cop named Tierney (David Lyons) wants desperately to find her and acts pretty oddly. She disembarks at a small coastal town in the Carolinas and decides to stay.
A couple of flashbacks imply the possibility of murder and, later in the film, drunken spousal abuse.