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Opening Wednesday: 'The Road,' 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' and 'Old Dogs'

Three movies open Wednesday in theaters, taking advantage of the long Thanksgiving weekend. One of these films is not like the others — or many holiday flicks, for that matter.

Nothing screams "Thanksgiving" like a post-apocalyptic drama with starving heroes trekking through a sunless landscape, fearfully dodging the worst of what's left of humanity.

That's the premise of The Road (R), based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. McCarthy also wrote No Country for Old Men, which plays like a Ben Stiller comedy compared with this.

I saw The Road while vacationing at the Telluride Film Festival and it made me consider coming home early, or at least leaving the screening.

But actors Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee and director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) were sitting directly in front of me, so politeness prevailed.

Mortensen (Eastern Promises) stars as "the Man," a gaunt father escorting his son, "the Boy" (Smit-McPhee) through this gantlet of bleakness to supposedly warmer, safer conditions. Academy Award winner Charlize Theron co-stars as "Woman," who won't make the trip for another depressing reason. Maybe she missed having a name.

Equally ambitious artistically — and slightly more successful — is Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox (PG), based on Roald Dahl's children's book. Filmed with puppets and sets painstakingly shot frame by frame in stop-motion animation, the movie is a far cry from the slick computer animation prevalent today. That may turn off as many viewers as it thrills.

Fantastic Mr. Fox also may be too thematically mature for childish tastes, with the hero (voiced by George Clooney) as a liar and thief who wants to be a good father and husband. Anderson loves creating absurdly flawed families, as in The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited. In this context, however, the idea falls a bit flat.

Like it or not, the weekend's box office winner should be Old Dogs (PG), not because it sounds interesting or daring but precisely the opposite. Family audiences will look at the title and John Travolta's casting and think Wild Hogs — a comedy that didn't deserve making a fortune (but that's how Disney packages hits these days).

Add Robin Williams doing his flighty father shtick and presto, instant box office success. Lie down with Old Dogs and you'll likely get up with fleas.

Opening Wednesday: 'The Road,' 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' and 'Old Dogs' 11/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 3:30am]
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