A NEW MEANING FOR "PACKING 'EM IN"

A traffic jam will hit the nation's movie theaters this weekend -- on the inside. A slew of relatively low-budget movies are due to challenge Blades of Glory, which has held the top spot at the box office for the past two weeks. None of the new films is expected to gross much more than $20 million, with Paramount's Disturbia, starring Shia LaBeouf, given the best chance of ending up on top.

MOVIE REVIEWS: DISTURBIA

No critic is giving Disturbia props for originality -- several call it a rip-off of the classic Rear Window -- but quite a few are suggesting that it uses time-tested cinematic devices successfully. A.O. Scott in the New York Times is one of them. "There are no big surprises, but the jumps and jolts are well timed and the overall mood is at once grisly and good-natured -- more diverting than disturbing," he writes. It's an opinion shared by Gene Seymour of Newsday, who remarks, "Even if you have seen many variations of Disturbia's story, you might still find some entertainment value in this spirited, smart-alecky thriller." Some reviewers focus their attention not on the plot of the movie but on the title. Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune comments that the only good thing about it "is that now nobody can ever use it again. Of course, there might be a Disturbia 2, but why look on the bad side?"

MOVIE REVIEWS: PERFECT STRANGER

It's not so much that Perfect Stranger is an awful movie that vexes many critics,it seems, it's that it stars the Oscar-winning actress, Halle Berry. Joe Morgenstern comments in the Wall Street Journal: "Life is full of choices, and Halle Berry has made another bad one with Perfect Stranger." Similarly Claudia Puig in USA Today wonders how she "could have read the script and agreed to star in such a dubious enterprise." How bad an "enterprise" is it? Well, Lou Lumenick in the New York Post asks, "Have you ever seen a movie without a single believable moment? Perfect Stranger ... manages this difficult feat." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post dismisses the movie as "utterly disposable." But almost in reaction to that assessment, Amy Biancolli writes in the Houston Chronicle: "Enjoy yourself without embarrassment; there is no shame in getting some ya-yas from a pulpy thriller, even one you're bound to forget by next morning."

MOVIE REVIEWS: AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE

Surprisingly, the movie receiving the most enthusiastic reviews this weekend is the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters. Kyle Smith comments in the New York Post: "The big-screen version of the demented Cartoon Network hit is often hilarious and always surreal." Indeed Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post apparently couldn't believe his eyes: "I just saw a movie in which a pack of french fries, a wad of ground beef and a milkshake save the world -- or at least, New Jersey -- from a psychotic giant exercise machine built 70,000 years ago by aliens." Several critics point out the absurdity of reviewing such an absurd movie. But Chris Kaltenbach in the Baltimore Sun remarks: "I have no idea what Aqua Teen Hunger Force was talking about, but most of the time, I was laughing too hard to worry." And Tom Maurstad in the the Dallas Morning News suggests the following as the tagline for both the movie and his review: "From the TV show that makes no sense comes a movie that makes no sense."

THEATERS STILL ADMITTING UNDERAGE KIDS TO R-RATED MOVIES

Movie theater owners and DVD sales and rental outlets have made "modest" progress in restricting teenage access to R-rated material, but they still have a long way to go, according to an FTC report. According to their study 39 percent of teenagers could buy a ticket to an R-rated movie last year versus 46 percent in 2000. Likewise, 71 percent could buy an R-rated or an unrated DVD last year versus 81 percent in 2000. The FTC report chastised the movie industry for not adopting a standard for ads that it places on entertainment-related websites.

THAILAND CENSORS PRAISED MOVIE

Appearing to step up its crackdown on unorthodox expression, Thailand's military-backed regime has ordered that several scenes be cut from director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century. The film, produced with Thai, French and Austrian backing and shown in competition at last September's Venice Film Festival, includes scenes in which doctors are shown drinking in a hospital and a monk strumming a guitar. The Thai Medical Council condemned the doctors' scenes and the film censorship board held that a the guitar-playing monk flaunted Buddhist precepts. In an interview with Reuters in Bangkok, the director insisted he will not "mutilate" the film and that if he is forced to accommodate official criticism, "there is no reason for one to continue making art."

Brian B.