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Bad Words — Jason Bateman directs and stars in this biting comedy about a 40 year-old man (Bateman) who uses a loophole to enter children’s spelling bees. Why he does so remains hidden until the end, after he has insulted and alienated everyone. Funny, brutally cynical work in the vein of Bad Santa. With Kathryn Hahn and Allison Janney. Rated R, 90 minutes. — B.A.

Big Men — Writer-director Rachel Boynton followed several people for more than four years to examine the effects of the discovery of oil in two countries. She explores how Nigeria has suffered from its oil discovery and production, but arrives on the ground floor in Ghana, where Dallas-based Kosmos Energy looks to land the country’s first big contract — that is, until problems arise. Fascinating portrayal of big money, influence, corruption and unintended consequences. Not rated, 99 minutes. At the Angelika Plano and Dallas. — Boo Allen

Divergent — This latest outcast-teen-battles-The System thriller is similar enough to The Hunger Games that hardcore Katniss fans may dismiss it. But Divergent, based on Veronica Roth’s book series, is a more streamlined film, with a love story with genuine heat and deaths with genuine pathos. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) lives in a postwar future in the semi-ruined city of Chicago, where society still functions thanks to “factions.” When teens hit a certain age, they go through “The Test” and are told where their strengths lie. Tris is confused; empathetic but fearless, smart but earthy. Her “Test” doesn’t take. The tester (Maggie Q) tells her she’s “Divergent,” and that the other factions fear Divergents. Directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Limitless). With Theo James, Kate Winslet, Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd. Rated PG-13, 135 minutes. — McClatchy-Tribune News Service

God’s Not Dead — College freshman Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) finds his Christian faith challenged when Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) demands his philosophy students disavow, in writing, the existence of God, or face a failing grade. When Josh refuses, he and Radisson come to a compromise: Josh must prove God’s existence by presenting well-researched, intellectual arguments and evidence, then engage the professor in a head-to-head debate. With David A.R. White, Dean Cain and Duck Dynasty’s Willie and Korie Robertson. Rated PG, 113 minutes.

Muppets Most Wanted — A strange sense of doom hangs over the rebooted Muppets, and it’s not from the Swedish Chef’s cooking. The Muppets (2011) may have been an earnest and largely successful relaunch for Jim Henson’s troupe, but it also had a hangdog melancholy. Muppets Most Wanted, thankfully, soon enough dispatches the previous film’s mopey nostalgia and sets things on a more madcap course: a European caper, not unlike 1981’s (alas superior) The Great Muppet Caper. The ingredients are here: Tina Fey as a Broadway-loving Gulag guard in Soviet chic; Ty Burrell in Inspector Clouseau mode; Ricky Gervais as the comically obvious bad guy. But Muppets Most Wanted fails to whip up the kind of furry frenzy that makes the Muppets special. The Muppets instead feel upstaged by the parade of celebrity cameos (from Lady Gaga to Christoph Waltz), as if the movie is one big selfie. Rated PG, 106 minutes. — The Associated Press

Stranger by the Lake — In this languorous French language film, writer-director Alain Guiraudie follows Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), a man who regularly visits an isolated lake to meet and interact with other gay men. He seems to have found a serious connection with Michel (Christophe Paou) until a violent event upsets their reverie, as well as that of the lake’s tight-knit community. Talky yet often compelling character study. Not rated, 97 minutes. At the Angelika Dallas. — B.A.


The Lego Movie — There are so many things to like about The Lego Movie: a great voice cast, clever dialogue and a handsome blend of stop-motion and CGI animation that feels lovingly retro, while still looking sharp in 21st-century 3-D. Set in a world built entirely of Legos, the story revolves around construction worker Emmet Brickowski (voice of Chris Pratt), who must join forces with a group of rebels to stop the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). With the voices of Morgan Freeman, Elizabeth Banks and Will Arnett. Rated PG, 94 minutes. — The Washington Post

Lone Survivor — Mark Wahlberg stars in this true story of four Navy SEALS in Afghanistan in 2005 on a mission to find and eliminate a Taliban leader. When the squad is reduced to one (hence the title), he finds refuge in an unlikely place. The standard action flick accentuates the bravery of the squad, but co-writer and director Peter Berg never raises his film beyond routine adventure material. With Eric Bana, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Taylor Kitsch. Rated R, 121 minutes. — B.A.

The Monuments Men — George Clooney stars in this World War II drama that he also directed and co-wrote, with Grant Heslov, from Robert Edsel and Bret Witter’s nonfiction book. Clooney heads a team of aging art experts who identify and then attempt to recover art treasures stolen by the Nazis. Segmented film never gathers momentum but plods along with little building dramatic engagement. The fine cast includes Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville. Rated PG-13, 118 minutes. — B.A.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman — Dreamworks Animation sets its “Wayback Machine” to the early 1960s and charmingly revives one of the most popular features of the old Rocky & Bullwinkle Show. This winning, witty and warm cartoon captures the flavor, the tone and some of snappy pace of the TV shorts about Mr. Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell), a Nobel Prize-winning pooch who adopted Sherman (Max Charles), a 7-year-old boy. The animated details are a 3-D feast for the eyes. With Patrick Warburton, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann and Stanley Tucci. Rated PG, 88 minutes. — MCT

Need for Speed — Based on the hit EA Entertainment racing game, Need for Speed is loaded with beautiful cars, winding roads and racers in leather coats. Following a prison sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, mechanic and street racer Tobey Marshall (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, flexing his machismo) is determined to get revenge on Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), the man who framed him. Stuntman-turned-director Scott Waugh puts us right in the driver’s seat. With Michael Keaton, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi (a.k.a. Kid Cudi) and Dakota Johnson. Rated PG-13, 130 minutes. — AP

Non-Stop — U.S. air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a drinker and a smoker, a sad-eyed man who doesn’t like to fly, in this solid, workmanlike action picture that builds slowly. Somebody is threatening the 150 passengers and crew on Marks’ cellphone, and framing Marks with the dirty work to his superiors back on the ground. In the wee hours of this red eye from New York to London, that first text arrives on his “secure” phone: “In exactly 20 minutes, I’m going to kill someone on this plane.” Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan). With Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery and Linus Roache. Rated PG-13, 104 minutes. — MCT

The Single Moms Club — Brought together by an incident at their children’s school, a group of single mothers from different walks of life bond and form a support group to help one another overcome their personal challenges. With Nia Long, Amy Smart, Cocoa Brown and Terry Crews. Written and directed by Tyler Perry. Rated PG-13, 111 minutes. — Los Angeles Times

Son of God — A film portraying the life of Jesus, from birth through his preaching, crucifixion and resurrection. With Diogo Morgado, Greg Hicks and Adrian Schiller. Written by Nic Young. Directed by Christopher Spencer. Rated PG-13, 138 minutes. — LAT

3 Days to Kill — Kevin Costner and director McG are plunged into the madcap mayhem of Luc Besson’s script in 3 Days to Kill, a serio-comic thriller about mortality, murder for hire and fatherhood. Costner is Ethan, a veteran CIA agent diagnosed with cancer. But his new control agent, a vamp named ViVi (Amber Heard), wants him to finish one last massacre — taking out a nuclear arms dealer and his associates in Paris. The carrot? She has an experimental drug that might give Ethan longer to live. And that could mean more time with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld). Daft and sloppy as it is, 3 Days rarely fails to entertain. — MCT

300: Rise of an Empire — A more visually stunning but less thrilling epic with bloodier slow-motion sword fights, this time at sea. It lacks the heroic proportions and poetry of 2006’s 300, mainly thanks to a less impressive cast and murky, forgettable script. With Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green and Lena Headey. Directed by Noam Murro (Smart People). — MCT