Capsule reviews of films that opened this week:
"Ladder 49" - Director Jay Russell and company have cobbled together narrative snippets - some engaging, most inert - to create a mushy, cliched valentine to the men who live the firefighting life. An understated performance by Joaquin Phoenix elevates the movie to a degree, though co-star John Travolta cannot quite rein in his predilection for flash and flourish. Phoenix plays a veteran firefighter whose career plays out in flashbacks while he's trapped in a burning building as mentor Travolta directs a rescue effort. In striving to depict firefighters as everyday guys rather than superheroes, Russell may have succeeded too well. Like the people we see in everyday life, they're pretty boring. PG-13 for intense fire and rescue situations and for language. 115 min. Two stars out of four.
- David Germain, AP Movie Writer
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"Shark Tale" - You'll have a sinking feeling that you've seen this all-star animated extravaganza before. That's because you have - and you've seen it done better - in the form of "Finding Nemo" and "Shrek." Yeah, the colors are bold and the contours are subtle and everything that you've come to expect from such entirely computer-generated fare. But enough already with the amalgamation of pop culture references, movie lines and product placement that continues to pass for screenwriting. And as for the film's racial stereotypes, they'd be considered offensive if they weren't such lame cliches. Will Smith voices a small fish named Oscar who lies about being a shark slayer for a taste of the good life. Co-starring the voices of Renee Zellweger, Robert De Niro and Angelina Jolie. PG for some mild language and crude humor. 90 min. One and half stars out of four.
- Christy Lemire, AP Entertainment Writer