MOVIES RELEASED EARLY FOR DOUBLE HOLIDAY

Hollywood has decided to combine Valentine's Day with Presidents Day this year by releasing four new movies today (Thursday) in hopes of winding up with a rewarding 5-day weekend. Topping the list is 20th Century Fox's sci-fi thriller Jumper, starring Hayden Christensen and Samuel L. Jackson, which box-office prognosticators estimate will do about $32-38 million in business despite almost entirely negative reviews. Providing general family fare, Paramount's The Spiderwick Chronicles, whose views have mostly been positive, will likely take in $20-25 million. The romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe from Universal and Working Titleand the dance sequel Step Up 2 the Streets from Disney are each expected to sell about $20 million worth of tickets. Entering the fray -- in 42 markets -- on Friday will be The Weinstein Co.'s George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead.

MOVIE REVIEWS: JUMPER

Hayden Christensen might legitimately conclude that all the major critics have suddenly morphed into his most famous character when he reads their reviews of his latest movie, Jumper. Listen for the heavy breathing as you read the words of Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News: "Given its uninvolving story, uninteresting characters and the presence of half-man/half-tree Hayden Christensen, the movie is wholly dependent on special effects, which I rate only so-so." "Christensen was no doubt tapped for the role to pull in Star Wars fans," writes Walter Addiego in the San Francisco Chronicle, "and this comic book material isn't much of a test of whatever talent he may possess." (Hayden's co-star is Samuel L. Jackson, who played Star Wars' Mace Windu.) Describing the film as "a barely coherent genre mishmash," Manohla Dargis in the New York Times concludes that it is "all bad, from the subliterate dialogue to the chaotic direction and heavily edited points in between." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post says that most of the film is simply "a badly edited, hourlong chase sequence with some of the cheesiest special effects seen in a major studio release of late." (Lumenick's colleague, Kyle Smith, gives the film half a star on his blog on the Post's website -- but the responses to his review on his blog suggest how effective he may be in discouraging his readers from watching it. One from "hurt fan" reads: "i was looking forward to this movie man and now youve completely destroyed it for me. i can only pray that i find another artical that completely contradicts your argument." Another writes: "They only hate it because hayden christensen is in it. he's still being punished for star wars.") The film does receive a few so-so reviews. Peter Howell in the Toronto Star (perhaps giving Torontonian Christensen the benefit of a doubt) writes: "The movie is something of an abomination in narrative terms. But it does have its moments."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES

The Spiderwick Chronicles may not have a grabber of a title, but several reviewers seem to have been carried away by the plot. Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News writes that the film starts off slowly, "But once the action starts, it barely stops for a breath. And the good thing is, all the running and fighting means something, thanks to that carefully constructed beginning." Tasha Robinson in the Chicago Tribune suggests that fans of the books by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi will not be disappointed. "It isn't quite the world of the books. But it's a perfectly magical and exciting one in its own right," she writes. David Wiegand in the San Francisco Chronicle is one of several other critics who describe the film as "magical," adding, "The film is graced with a mostly superb cast, superior special effects, a sparkling musical score by James Horner and a fantasy-filled plot with a bit of moralizing, but, fortunately, only a bit." The reviews are not universally good, however, and some of them show utter disdain. A.O. Scott in the New York Times writes that the movie feels "like a sloppy, secondhand pander." There are also many middlin' reviews, like Lisa Kennedy's in the Denver Post, who writes: "Spiderwick is modest, not epic. It's got thrills but is not allegorically deep or daunting like the Harry Potter or Narnia flicks. It skews young." And Elizabeth Weitzman ho-hums in the New York Daily News: "With Harry Potter MIA until November, and no chance to revisit Narnia before May, The Spiderwick Chronicles should pass as a suitable substitute for young adventurers (and the grownups who love them)."

MOVIE REVIEWS: STEP UP 2 THE STREETS

Critics seem to agree that it's best simply to ignore the plot of Step Up 2 the Streets and sit back and enjoy the music and dancing. Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune observes, "It's just as cornball as Step Up (2006), but it's more fun -- more of a full-on dance musical, its plot a mere slip of a thing designed to whisk you to the next excuse for another choreographic and ab-centric display." Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News notes that at one point in the film, a character remarks, "This ain't High School Musical." Says Weitzman, "But the truth is, it's not that far off, either. It may be set in gritty, graffiti-covered Baltimore, but it's also unabashedly earnest, completely predictable and packed with enough high-voltage dance scenes to make any audience applaud." Well, not any audience. Susan Walker writes in the Toronto Star that the movie "reeks of artificiality and phony emotion. Even the dancing looks as if it was (sic) computer-generated." Claudia Puig in USA Today describes it as "one long, clichéd exercise in predictability with a couple of vibrant dance sequences and some unintentionally hilarious bad acting."

MOVIE REVIEWS: DEFINITELY, MAYBE

Although the romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe was clearly intended to be released on Valentine's day, many of the reviews of it are just as clearly half-hearted. "This is a film bound and determined to do whatever it takes to be your Valentine," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "If it had trusted itself more, it might even have succeeded." Comparing the film with Fool's Gold and 27 Dresses, Lou Lumenick asks in the New York Post: "Is Definitely, Maybe the best romantic comedy released so far this year? Definitely. Should you go see it? Maybe." Other critics give the film the same qualified recommendation. Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune writes that it "keeps you interested in its characters and isn't afraid of complicating your sympathies a little. In these dog-day months for romantic comedy, that means a lot."

CHINA RESPONDS TO SPIELBERG

Efforts by celebrities to use the Olympic Games to call attention to China's role in the Darfur crisis were repudiated by the Chinese embassy in Washington Wednesday. "As the Darfur issue is neither an internal issue of China, nor is it caused by China, it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair for certain organizations and individuals to link the two as one," it said in a statement. Activists, including director Steven Spielberg, who stepped down as the Olympics' artistic adviser on Tuesday, have insisted that by purchasing oil from Sudan, China is in effect underwriting the government's genocidal war in the Darfur area. Meanwhile, support for a boycott of the games appeared to accelerate Wednesday. In separate statements, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International asked corporate sponsors to consider whether they were making themselves complicit in genocide by backing the Olympics. Also on Wednesday, nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates, wrote to Chinese President Hu Jintao urging him to "uphold Olympic ideals" by pressuring Sudan to halt the carnage in Darfur.

L.A. TIMES LAUNCHES POP-CULTURE WEEKLY

The Los Angeles Times has launched a new weekly tabloid, Metromix L.A., focusing on news of the pop culture and "on-the-scene news from the city's most progressive editorial taste-makers and influencers." The publication, expected to be circulated in supermarkets, college campuses and news racks, is a print version of the newspaper's similarly titled online site (losangeles.metromix.com), which targets young adults with items about movies, TV, music, and style. Meanwhile, Women's Wear Daily reported today (Thursday) that the Wall Street Journal is considering developing a weekly culture section. "If given the green light, the culture section would be another move toward [News Corp CEO Rupert] Murdoch's stated goal of competing with The New York Times," the newspaper observed.

Brian B.