Directed by Mark Rucker

Sundance Film Series

Opens October 31, Loews 34th Street

Retired songstress Angela Arden (Charles Busch) has it all. Devoted husband, beautiful children, distinguished recording career, and a tennis pro boyfriend possessed of “the biggest cock this side of the San Andreas fault.” Yet, as she lays flowers on her sister’s grave, she imparts a veiled unease. Her headscarf and spectator pumps may be flawless, but her conscience isn’t. Musing on past distress, she remarks she feels “memory lingering like so much smog over the canyon.” Happily, Charles Busch’s genre pastiche Die Mommie Die! has a markedly sunnier climate. Busch’s script (directed by Mark Rucker) cheerily conflates Sirkian melodrama, women’s pictures, ’60s suspense flicks, etc. Indeed, when Angela murders her husband, inciting her children to revenge, the film resembles a lipstick-and-bouffant Oresteia. (A whoresteia, perhaps.) Though Natasha Lyonne as bratty daughter and Philip Baker Hall as the disposable spouse impress, it’s Busch’s heartfelt Joan Crawford homage that enthralls. Busch can transcend even the smog, making hazy camp seem fresh. ALEXIS SOLOSKI


Directed by Martin Campbell

Paramount, in release

Treading a microscopic line between half-baked ideological harangue and glitzy exploitation, Beyond Borders uses war and famine as backdrops for a rousing if predictable love story-cum-espionage thriller. Placid upper-crust hausfrau Sarah (Angelina Jolie, whose alarmingly bony frame upstages a creepy, CGI-enhanced emaciated baby) is jarred into globe-trotting action when hunky doc sans frontière Nick (cheeky Clive Owen) barges into a fundraiser with a handy, expendable orphan in tow. Quicker than you can say “same time, next humanitarian disaster,” Sarah nabs a gig with the UN and arranges periodic trysts with Nick in various one-dimensional, third-world hellholes. The film’s social conscience inevitably recedes in favor of the old kiss-kiss bang-bang, with no effort made to provide political context for the crises our heroes stumble into. It all becomes little more than feel-good-about-feeling-bad window dressing, like an issue of Utne Reader in Dolby Surround Sound. MARK HOLCOMB


Directed by John Hancock

First Run, opens October 31, Quad

Alternately tense and cheesy, Suspended Animation returns its director, John Hancock, to the blood-soaked turf he spaded 30 years ago with his ageless nail-biter Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. A Disney animator (Alex McArthur) held hostage by two cannibal sisters promises to film their lives as a kind of elves-and-faeries allegory in exchange for freedom. The demented siblings—one slight, the other bloated—tentatively buy it, introducing him in the meantime to their pantry full of emasculated trophies. After a riveting snowmobile escape, he channels his unshakable trauma and disastrous curiosity about the rest of the family into a Don Bluth-y animated feature. Lensed on murky HD video with no-name actors, Animation hauls out an unapologetic EC Comics Grand Guignol style to uplift the real guest stars: pickled dick, scalpel, severed finger, and well-rouged neck pimples. EDWARD CROUSE


Directed by Mike Tollin

Sony, in release

Radio is rated PG for “mild language and thematic elements,” which makes you wonder about the nature of theme. Could watching such inspirational fare be deleterious to youth? After being terrorized by some members of a high school football squad, the retarded, transistor-toting James “Radio” Kennedy (Cuba Gooding Jr., teeth by Jerry Lewis—dental hygiene as shorthand for mental handicap) becomes the team’s beloved manager-cum-mascot, inevitably teaching Coach Jones (authentically sideburned Ed Harris) and co. what’s really important in life. The leads soldier on despite the treacle; by the time Jones explains to his long-suffering daughter exactly why he’s so interested in caring for his new charge (insert backstory here), restless viewers may have reconceived this based-on-a-true-story kitschfest as a drinking game, tossing one back after every onscreen hug. ED PARK