Highlights from the week in criticism.
March 11 1999 3:30 AM




Analyze This (Warner Bros.). Robert De Niro and Billy Crysal star as a panic-ridden mobster and his shrink. It's a one joke movie, but the one joke is good, and the actors are great: "Laughs battle formulas and laughs win" (Jay Carr, the Boston Globe). As the mob boss, "De Niro parodies his own persona with huge relish" (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal), and Crystal's put-upon analyst is refreshingly underplayed. Some critics note the conceit's similarity to HBO's new series The Sopranos, which features a mobster on the couch as well. (Slate's David Edelstein finds the movie hilarious and calls it "a slapstick fever dream.")

Cruel Intentions (Columbia Pictures). The fourth screen adaptation of the 1782 novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, this time set amongst Manhattan's rich teens, gets a mixed reaction. Some like it: a "foxy, snotty, enjoyably trashy update," says Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly. Others find the idea of such young actors in this tale of sexual intrigue and betrayal ridiculous: "The liaisons here aren't dangerous, they're incongruous" (Jami Bernard, the Daily News). Critics are either entranced by the youngsters' acting or find the whole concept of fresh-from-the-WB kids as Vicomte De Valmont and Marquise De Merteuil "faintly ridiculous" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). (This site has links to information on all the film versions of the novel, as well as sound clips and photos.)

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (Gramercy Pictures). Great reviews for this "cheeky, blackly comic heist picture" (Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly), the debut from British director Guy Ritchie. The plot is labyrinthine and the body count high, but critics agree that the film is "dark, dangerous, and a great deal of wicked, amoral fun" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Many compare Ritchie's style to Quentin Tarantino's. Slate's Edelstein pooh-poohs all the critical oohing and aahing, and dismisses the film's combination of "the music video syntax of Trainspotting with the jokey nihilist bloodletting of PulpFiction." (Read the rest of his review here.)



Monica's Story, by Andrew Morton (St. Martin's Press). Most critics are more interested in highlighting the tasty details than debating the literary merits of Princess Di biographer Andrew Morton's as-told-to tell-all about Monica Lewinsky. No.1 favorite detail: Clinton was "enthralled, actually sexually aroused" by Lewinsky's description of her trip to Bosnia. One of the few reviewers who delves into the book's form, as opposed to its content, is the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani. She says it lacks sourcing and attribution, "reverberates with the cloying sound of the talk-show confessional," and has a "propensity for Gothic melodrama and romance-novel prose." Judith Shulevitz writes in Slate that Morton is our poet of female self-pity. (Read the rest of her review here, and read excepts from the book here courtesy of the New York Times [requires free registration].)



Annie Get Your Gun (Marquis Theatre, New York City). Advance word from tryouts in Washington was overwhelmingly negative, and the show does get plenty of bad reviews, but it also gets some good ones. Those who like the show call it "immensely enjoyable" (Jess Cagle, Entertainment Weekly) and say it "takes a new bead on the familiar old target and hits the bull's-eye with ease" (Richard Zoglin, Time). Those who don't like it say that the new version (expurgated of several un-PC songs) is an uneasy mix of '40s and '90s sensibilities and falls flat. "Every so often, though not close to often enough, something sharp and radiant pierces through the acrid smog that is being called 'Annie Get Your Gun,' " (Ben Brantley, the New York Times). The radiance mentioned is all from Annie as played by Broadway vet Bernadette Peters, who everyone agrees is top-notch. (Find out about show times and tickets at sidewalk.com.)

Bright Lights, Big City (New York Theatre Workshop, New York City). Harsh pans for Rent director Michael Greif's musical based on Jay McInerney's novel of debauched young Manhattanites: "The musical is sung through, and there's something comically embarrassing about hearing people say things like 'You got any blow?' in recitative." (Nancy Franklin, The New Yorker). Worst bits: 1) Paul Goodman, who wrote the show's music, book, and lyrics, has inserted himself into the musical, strolling onstage with a guitar and narrating in his thick Scottish accent; 2) songs with titles such as "I Love Drugs" and "I Wanna Have Sex Tonight." As Charles Isherwood writes in Variety, "nothing fades more quickly than fabulousness"; the name-dropping glitter of the novel seems hopelessly old hat in the '90s. (Read an interview with McInerney in Salon.)


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Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

  • Movie--8MM;
  • Movie--200 Cigarettes;
  • Movie--TheOther Sister;
  • Book--The Houdini Girl, by Martyn Bedford;
  • Book--Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, by Lawrence Schiller;
  • Theater--Not About Nightingales.


  • Movie--October Sky;
  • Movie--Jawbreaker;
  • Movie--Office Space;
  • Music--The Hot Rock, by Sleater-Kinney;
  • Book--Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott;
  • Book--The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, by Brian R. Greene.

  • Movie--Blast From the Past;
  • Movie--Message in a Bottle;
  • Movie--My Favorite Martian;
  • Book--The Testament, by John Grisham;
  • Book--South of the Border, West of the Sun,by Haruki Murakami;
  • Theater--Death of a Salesman (Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York City).

  • Movie--Payback;
  • Movie--Simply Irresistible;
  • Movie--Rushmore;
  • Movie--Dry Cleaning;
  • Book--Werewolves in Their Youth, by Michael Chabon;
  • Theater--You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.