Rio * * *
Cert U, 95 mins
Rio de Janeiro is the exotic setting for this fun but not fantastic feathered tale.

Blu (voiced by The Social Network’s Jesse Eisenberg, who can’t even escape playing a nerd when he’s a bird) is a blue macaw, born into the heat of the South American jungle but ending up in snowy Minnesota after being captured by smugglers.

Here he is rescued by a little girl, Linda (Leslie Mann), who grows up with Blu as her constant pampered companion. Their insular existence is challenged when ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) tracks them down, announcing that Blu is the last male of his kind and he wants to mate him with Jewel (Anne Hathaway). They’re not keen on travelling to Rio to meet her, but are persuaded to do it for the future of the species.

The parrots don’t exactly hit it off. He thinks their new cage is ‘awesome’ while she just wants to escape, warning him “you can’t trust humans”. Which proves correct when both birds are stolen, and it becomes an adventure for them to escape and be reunited with Linda.

Rio is not as appealing as its main animated family fare competition, Hop. Bunnies definitely win out over parrots in the Easter battle of the cute animals, even though Rio also wheels out toucans, comedy monkeys and a great villain in evil cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement, a New Zealander putting on the requisite English accent, because all baddies are British).

It has its moments – hang gliding over Sugarloaf mountain, Copacabana Beach and the Christ the Redeemer statue is a real highlight, along with its colourful depiction of the carnival which almost makes you want to get on a plane to fly there.

But a lowlight is a horrible, slobbering dog called Luiz, voiced by the annoying Tracy Morgan. Perhaps it’s an indication of how realistic the 3D animation is, but I’d rather not be subjected to its repugnant drool.

And all the bright colours and characters can’t disguise the thin plot and superfluous songs. RL

Tomorrow When The War Began * *
Cert 12A, 103mins
It’s that post-Oscars’ season when regular cinemagoers begin to suffer from what might loosely be described as ‘Hollywood overload’. It’s a strange syndrome, whereby the more energy you put in watching movies the more likely you are to leave cinemas chuntering.

And so, after possibly braving the aimless gunfire of Battle Los Angeles, the non-story of Sucker Punch and the repetitive nature of Source Code, will you have the stomach for an ill-conceived Aussie film called Tomorrow When The War Began?

Especially if you think of a Neighbours’ version of The Famous Five crossed with 28 Days Later, and then imagine a bunch of buff, young, pretty things who decide to go camping – with a dog – against their parents’ wishes.

We’ve seen this type of plot many times before, of course.

Kids pitch tent. Bad things happen.

How many will survive?

Except Tomorrow... isn’t that kind of movie.

The emphasis here is on what happens back home while youngsters like Rachel Hurd-Wood are tested by sexually suggestive hormones which warrant a 15 certificate.

Returning home they find their neighbourhood seems to have been become an Australian equivalent of the Libyan highway into Tripoli, with a town’s residents incarcerated in a concentration camp.

Based on John Marsden’s novel and directed by Stuart Beattie (the writer of Pirates of the Caribbean and Collateral), Tomorrow... is a bright idea let down by some spectacularly wooden acting, a clunky script and implausible sequences. GY

Mars Needs Moms 3D * *
Cert PG, 89 mins
Every now and then Hollywood needs a scapegoat for its inability to make more than one film in ten a really good one.

Various blockbusters have been targeted down the years, from Bonfire of the Vanities to The Last Action Hero and Pearl Harbour.

Titanic and Avatar are the exceptions which prove the rule thanks to James Cameron’s genius for using siege mentality to push back the boundaries of film-making technology.

More generally, movies like Mars Needs Moms are there to be shot at a) because Tinseltown’s suits seem unaware that bigger, better and faster often costs more money than is sustainable and b) their films are bad.

Considering it was produced by Robert Zemeckis (Back To The Future/Polar Express), Mars... has bombed in the US where cinemagoers have been heroically resistant to the idea of derivative, ET-style characters snatching a mother from Earth.

Stay to the very end and you’ll see how real actors used multi-point camera techniques to record their impressively lively performances.

You’ll then wonder why you’ve had to suffer 89 minutes of them being rendered into near-lifeless ‘animated’ characters who are constantly struggling to break through the stifling limitations of ‘motion capture’ technology.

Nine-year-old Milo (Seth Green) is a particularly unappealing boy at the heart of a story which takes him light years away from the unparalleled charm of Michael J Fox’s Marty McFly in the Back to the Future series.

Children under ten will put up with the trip regardless. GY

>Next page: The Roommate and Howl reviewed >

The Roommate *
Cert 15, 91 mins
There’s nothing like a gripping ‘psycho girl’s obsession with co-habitee turns to violence’ film to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Unfortunately this is nothing like one. A very poor copy of Single White Female, with added beautiful people but minus a decent plot or dialogue, it’s just a tedious waste of everyone’s time.

Sara (Minka Kelly) starts a fashion degree at a Los Angeles college and discovers Rebecca (Leighton Meester) is her roommate.

She seems nice enough, if a little frosty towards Sara’s friends. “I like Rebecca,” she declares coldly when Tracy (Alyson Michalka) tries to call her Becky.

Later, she attacks Tracy and warns her off, telling her she’s a ‘bad influence’ on Sara. Rebecca also sees off an ex-boyfriend and makes sure sleazy lecturer Billy Zane gets his comeuppance, although not in a particularly satisfactory way.

Even a cute kitten does not escape her jealousy. As soon as the stray appears – and they, pass the sick bag, call it Cuddles – we know it’s going to meet a nasty end.

That’s the main problem with The Roommate. Lacking any suspense or twists, it’s entirely predictable, with every step telegraphed in advance but none of the scenes played out with any conviction. It’s not even titillating or gory – there’s a half-hearted lesbian kiss and actually very little violence.

Just bland and pointless. RL

Howl * *
Cert 15, 84 mins
Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman use a cumbersome combination of live action, archive footage and various styles of abstract animation to tell the story of how a poem called Howl by Allen Ginsberg was at the centre of an obscenity hearing.

The time is San Francisco, 1957 – three years before the 1960 Old Bailey trial involving Penguin Books and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

That the use of strong language and a rather surreal representation of sexual activity should now merit only a 15 certificate is a sign of how the pen remains mightier than any sword.

Recently Oscar-nominated for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, James Franco takes the title role in a docu-drama which has ‘aren’t we a clever little art house production’ tattooed through every frame. GY