Highlights from the week in criticism.
Aug. 13 1998 3:30 AM




Snake Eyes (Paramount Pictures). Despite great filmmaking, including a virtuosic single-shot opening scene, Brian De Palma's latest thriller is pronounced a failure. The problem: a disappointing ending. It's "the worst kind of bad film: the kind that gets you all worked up and then lets you down," declares the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert. The New Yorker's Daphne Merkin says the film "underrates our intelligence." Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman wonders, "[H]as Brian DePalma finally lost his mind?" The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern is alone in finding the ending plausible--he claims "it all makes perfect sense, at least eventually." Raves, however, for Nicolas Cage's performance as the sleazy, brown polyester clad Rick Santoro, a crooked local cop: Jay Carr of the Boston Globe glows, "[Cage] suggests an oven-fresh, cheese-filled, glazed meatloaf." (Slate's David Edelstein is more pro-De Palma than most. Read his review.)

Halloween: H20 (Miramax Film Corp.). Twenty years after starring in the original horror classic Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis is back in her original role as scream queen Laurie Strode (now an alcoholic headmistress), facing off with the knife-wielding maniac Michael Myers. Critics call this version more polished than the low budget original and better than the other six sequels but say nonetheless that it is predictable, devoid of scare power, and overly fond of the current horror movie trend of "smirky pomo self-consciousness" (Dennis Lim, the Village Voice). (Visit the official site.)

How Stella Got Her Groove Back (20th Century Fox). Hype is underway for the second film adaptation of a best-selling Terry McMillan novel, after the unexpected success of the 1995 Waiting to Exhale. The story: A 40-year-old, workaholic stockbroker and single mom, Stella (Angela Bassett), goes with her best friend Regina (Whoopi Goldberg) on a vacation to Jamaica, where she falls in love with a man 20 years her junior. "[W]omen [should] giggle with vengeful glee," says Newsweek's Allison Samuels; the "big dose of sister-girl humor" is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Critics pant at the steamy, tearful sex scenes between Stella and young Winston (Taye Diggs), although Time's Richard Corliss dissents, calling it "soft-pore cornography."



Rainbow Six,by Tom Clancy (Putnam). The father of the technothriller delivers the goods, with 752 pages of thrill-a-minute action scenes, incredibly detailed descriptions of cutting edge military technology, and enough acronyms to set your head spinning. This isn't great literature but, reviewers say, within the genre, Clancy remains the master. Despite the usual carps about his "tortured" prose (Dana Kennedy, Entertainment Weekly) and cardboard cutout characters, most critics admit the novel is "a ripping read" (Publishers Weekly). (Read an excerpt of Rainbow Six.)



Jerry Seinfeld: I'm Telling You for the Last Time--Live on Broadway (HBO). The second over-hyped Jerry Seinfeld finale of the year (this time of his international tour and 10-show run at the Broadhurst Theatre). Critics point out it's a rehash of his best trademark observations about everyday life, but audiences give him standing ovations. Praise goes to his pitch-perfect delivery, timing, and confidence. Pans go to the routine, which lacks the requisite "free-associative lunatic spirit" (Jan Stuart, the Chicago Sun-Times). The Washington Post's Tom Shales calls Seinfeld "stiff" and the material "painfully familiar." (Visit HBO's home page).

The Upright Citizens Brigade (Comedy Central; Wednesdays, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT). A Manhattan-based sketch comedy and improvisation group rides a wave of critical approbation to the choice post-South Park spot on Comedy Central. The foursome's live shows, most recently Saigon Suicide Squad and Bucket of Truth, win applause for their originality, cleverness, and flair for the anarchic. Neil Strauss of the New York Times calls them "hilarious, surreal, and completely off-kilter." (Check out the group's page at Comedy Central).


Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

Art--"The Art of the Motorcycle";

Television--Lolita (Showtime);


Television--Maximum Bob (ABC);

Movies--Ever After: A Cinderella Story;

Movies--The Negotiator;

Book--Burn Rate, by Michael Wolff;


Death--Jerome Robins.

Book--The Modern Library's 100 Best English-Language Novels Since 1900;

Book--Point of Origin, by Patricia Cornwell;

Movie--Disturbing Behavior;


Movie--The Thief.

Movie--The Mask of Zorro;

Movie--Saving Private Ryan;

Movie--There's Something About Mary;

Music--Hello Nasty, by the Beastie Boys;

Book--Lucky Bastard, by Charles McCarry;

Theater--Twelfth Night;

Television--Drudge (Fox).

Tina!--The Tina Brown Years;

Art--"Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth";

Movie--Small Soldiers;

Movie--Lethal Weapon 4;

Movie--Buffalo 66;

Music--Embrya, by Maxwell;

Music--Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, by Lucinda Williams.

--Eliza Truitt