Highlights from the week in criticism.
Nov. 20 1996 3:30 AM

Reviewers reviewed.


Movie The Mirror Has Two Faces (Sony). According to the critical consensus, the problem with Barbra Streisand's new romantic comedy about an ugly-duckling literature professor, played by Streisand, and a gorgeous hunk of a math professor, played by Jeff Bridges, is Streisand herself. "She demolishes her audience's good will with hubris that goes through the roof," says the New York Times' Janet Maslin. Its "message of self-empowerment floats uneasily in an undercurrent of masochism and narcissism," agrees Newsweek's David Ansen. Streisand's self-absorption is so unwittingly comic that the movie's best chance at success is as a "camp classic," says Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly. (Stills and video clips for the film are available at Sony's promotional site.)
Movie Swingers (Miramax). Word-of-mouth and small, but enthusiastic, reviews are turning this low-budget ($250,000) comedy into an art-house hit. Variety reports that Swingers, the story of several Hollywood guys on the prowl for success and girls, is currently the most lucrative limited-release film on the market. Featuring a Diner-style ensemble cast of young guys making hip banter, and set in several functioning Los Angeles clubs, the movie is being praised for its unpretentious charm, "exuberantly witty script" (Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman) and "beguiling fantasy of comradeship" (Richard Corliss in Time). Swingers also is responsible for the mainstreaming of an otherwise obscure musical scene: lounge culture, a movement involving Rat Pack-style crooners, retro decor, and nightclubs in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Television In Cold Blood (Nov. 24 and 26; 9 p.m.; CBS). Not surprisingly, this mini-series based on Truman Capote's original "true crime" novel fares poorly when compared with Richard Brooks' 1967 film based on the novel, or with the novel itself. Critics say that a lackluster style and plodding pace turn Capote's seminal work into movie-of-the-week banality. The film--about two men who murdered a Kansas family for the hell of it--"meanders about, touching on unoriginal themes," complains Time's Ginia Bellafante. SLATE's Larry Doyle is even more withering. New York's John Leonard is alone in his praise: at least, he says, the remake doesn't romanticize the killers. (For stills of the show, see the CBS site.)
Television Titanic (Sunday, Nov. 17, and Tuesday, Nov. 19; 9 p.m.; CBS). This two-part television movie about the ill-fated luxury liner journey of 1912 gets all the sinking-ship jokes its name invites. "The makers of 'Titanic' might have benefited from more modest aspirations," writes the Los Angeles Times' Jon Matsumoto, one of the many critics to ridicule the movie's bloat. Tom Shales of the Washington Post says that the passengers are so boring "you start to root for the iceberg." (CBS' site includes stills and some Titanic facts in the " What happened to ..." section.)
Theater Chicago (on Broadway). This 1975 Bob Fosse musical received mixed reviews the first time around, but amid the current Broadway offerings (Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacles and tired remakes of familiar vehicles), critics are discovering new charms in Chicago. Dancer Ann Reinking's adaptation of Fosse's choreography, says Newsweek's Mark Peyser, is "a string of hormonal show-stoppers." The dark plot about a nightclub dancer who kills her lover "hasn't merely aged well; it has come of age," says Time's Richard Zoglin. Its self-consciousness makes it a production for our time, says the New York Times' Ben Brantley: It "buzzes with an implicit, irresistibly arrogant declaration: 'Watch me.' "

--Compiled by David Greenberg.


Photograph from The Mirror Has Two Faces by David James © 1996 Sony Pictures Entertainment Co. All rights reserved. Photograph from In Cold Blood by Joe Lederer © 1996 CBS Inc. All rights reserved.

David Greenberg, a professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, has written for Slate since 1996. He is the author of several books of political history.