Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
This spookier second installment in the cash-cow kid-friendly franchise about a young wizard in training won't win any new converts; it's another competent corporate creation that stays loyal to author J.K. Rowling's source material in plot and atmosphere while softening her subversive edges. Chamber of Secrets justifies its 161-minute running time by successfully conjuring a transporting sense of place and injecting stronger themes of darkness and corruption into Harry's previously whimsical existence, but the film flags in the last half-hour when the big-budget CGI action climax turns repetitive and boring and the feel-good ending shamelessly begs for applause. Once again, the young cast is barely as good as it needs to be--there's not a single convincing screamer in the lot, and Daniel Radcliffe is a bland leading boy--but the already strong adult cast is well-supplemented by a scenery-chewing Kenneth Branagh and a silvery, malevolent Jason Isaacs, who makes the best villain in the series so far. Generically directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone) and written by a slumming Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys).