Written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki

Destination/Samuel Goldwyn, opens October 17

A shamelessly recycled vision of decrepit high tech, Returner doesn’t elicit its first real groan till the overly smudged warrior-waif Milly (Anne Suzuki) tells Miyamoto, her sleekly dressed hired gun (Chungking Express’s Takeshi Kaneshiro), that she’s from the future, sent back to a dystopic pan-Asian setting in order to set things right with some grounded E.T.’s who will later kick our terrestrial butts. Cut to a grimy, laser-saturated firefight, 80 years hence, between a scraggly band of human fighters and an apparently soulless robot menace—the tired footage seems direct from the first Terminator. The film cribs from other sci-fi hits as well: combat sequences wallow in Matrix-mandated bullet time, and the withered alien is Spielbergian in look and affect. Returner might work best if one could sub its soundtrack of r&b vamps and “I’ve Got the Power”-style beats for a steady stream of MST3K chatter. ED PARK


Written and directed by Lab Ky Mo

TLA, opens October 17, Quad

A comic twist on the old story of young men moving to the big city, 9 Dead Gay Guys begins with Irish lad Kenny (Glenn Mulhern) arriving in London to find his best mate, Byron (Brendan Mackey), not only on the dole, but giving blowjobs at a gay pub. Kenny is soon doing “legitimate, lucrative work” himself, and the boys are off on a flimsily scripted quest for hidden loot; their search leads them to a homicidal dwarf with penis-size issues, and dead gay guys begin piling up. First-timer Lab Ky Mo strains for breezy pomo self-awareness, with freeze frames, musical samples, and Byron’s slang-heavy narration (not to mention the tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of Orthodox Jews, lesbians, and the ample “willies”of West African males) working overtime to bury any trace of seriousness. Still, the film scores points needling the guys’ lingering insecurities; witness Byron’s shocked reaction when, as the two get undressed for a three-way with a paying customer, Kenny worries aloud, “I think I might be gay.” JOSHUA LAND


Directed by Peter Rosen

Seventh Art, opens October 17, Quad

Released one week after its subject’s Carnegie Hall centennial concert, Rosen’s documentary bio is a straightforward introduction to the life and work of composer Aram Khachaturian. Known for a distinctly Armenian sound, Khachaturian was first milked for patriotic Soviet compositions, then denounced as an enemy of the people—along with Shostakovich and Prokofiev—for his formalism. Based mainly on Khachaturian’s writings, the film hits a grace note depicting the all-nighter that begot the famous “Saber Dance.” Eric Bogosian’s narration—done in first person, as if Khachaturian were reading from his memoirs—suggests that a few liberties were taken with the autobiographical material, and Rosen doesn’t quite know where to go after chronicling the musician’s downfall. BEN KENIGSBERG


Written and directed by John Hoffman

MGM, in release

A Spielberg suburb of sunny days and impossibly starry nights is the setting for John Hoffman’s safe and sentimental directorial debut. Liam Aiken stars as a lonely lad befriended by Hubble (voiced by Matthew Broderick), a mutt sent from the Dog Star to rat out Earth’s canine slackers. Carl Reiner, Delta Burke, and other B-listers voice a variety of local canines, who say things like “I knew he was trouble from the moment I sniffed his butt,” prior to being spirited away in a “global recall” of the species by the Dog Star’s steely leader, the Greater Dane (Vanessa Redgrave), and her snarling henchdog (Cheech Marin). Hubble finally phones home, naturally, and boy-dog love saves the day. Former SNL-ers Molly Shannon and Kevin Nealon play the kid’s Stepford parents in this Jim Henson Pictures happy meal. RICHARD GEHR