Highlights from the week in criticism.
April 15 1999 3:30 AM




Go (Tri-Star Pictures). A few critics adore the film--"the one truly thrilling movie I've seen this year" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly)--but most say director Doug Liman (Swingers) does well but misses greatness. Biggest complaint: The film is overly Tarantinoesque. Some say the results are good: Sure, it's "Pulp Fiction Jr.," but "the intoxicating brashness of youth--and not graphic gore, language and violence--is what keeps Go moving" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). The highlights of the film are young actors Sarah Polley and Taye Diggs, as well as the breakneck pace of the three intertwining plot lines, each full of vigorous thrill-seeking youngsters. On the down side, Newsweek's David Ansen writes, "Clever as parts are, Go doesn't add up to much," and several other critics agree (Peter Rainer of New York magazine says, "There's nothing much to this movie except a lot of funky attitude"). Janet Maslin likes the film: "[D]erivative as it is, Go has a powerful personality of its own. ... [Liman] does not merely appropriate the familiar, he takes it by storm." (This Sarah Polley fan site has pictures, information, and links to other Polley sites.)

The Dreamlife of Angels (Sony Pictures Classics). Full-throttle raves for this first feature film for French director Erick Zonca: "Frank, intimate, touching, with an emotional immediacy that is killing" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times); "brilliant" (Jack Mathews, the Daily News). The film follows the trajectory of an intense friendship that develops between two young women who meet at a sewing factory. The two leads, Élodie Bouchez and Natacha Régnier, were widely honored in France. (They shared Best Actress at Cannes and each won a César.) American critics concur with the French enthusiasm: Maslin calls it a "beautifully acted drama, as raw and immediate as it is heartfelt" (the New York Times), and Stanley Kauffmann calls it "completely absorbing, almost rudely poignant" (the New Republic). (For a biography, filmography, and news on Bouchez, click here.)

Never Been Kissed (20th Century Fox). Critics agree that the plot (a reporter goes back to high school undercover) is trite but say the dreamy Drew Barrymore makes it all worthwhile: The "screenplay is contrived. ... but Barrymore illuminates it with sunniness and creates a lovable character. I think this is what's known as star power" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). A few are immune to the Barrymore charm: The New York Times' Stephen Holden calls it "the latest and dumbest in the deluge of high school comedies," and Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly says Barrymore is trapped in "goofy oopsadaisy behavior that does justice neither to her talents nor to her fans." But this is a minority view. Most find her irresistible, sometimes to the point of over-sharing: "You just want to wipe away the tears from her baby-fat cheeks and give snookums a big old hug" (Michael O'Sullivan, the Washington Post). (Slate's David Edelstein is one of those smitten: "It's worth seeing, it demands to be seen, for Drew Barrymore, who is at once the dizziest and most magically poised comedienne in movies today." Read the rest of his review here.)

Metroland (Lions Gate Films). Mixed reviews for this British film about a suburban family man who looks back wistfully at his footloose days after a wild 'n' crazy friend from the old days comes to town. Contrary to expectation, the film ends up celebrating his marriage; it's a "no-fuss movie that casts a rich, tranquil spell" (Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). High marks go to Emily Watson in the role of the staid but smart wife who manages to make humdrum domesticity appealing. "The odd aspect of the film is that, though we quickly realize we have seen this story before, it's being done so intelligently that we're enjoying it" (Kauffmann, the New Republic). Those who aren't caught up in the story call it bland; some find the ending forced. (Edelstein writes, "Watson is such a diabolical minx that she makes the prospect of a life amid those metros and under those gray skies more seductive than an endless luau." Read the rest of his review here.)



The Ground Beneath Her Feet, by Salman Rushdie (Henry Holt). Mixed reviews for Rushdie's latest, a sprawling tale of rock 'n' roll mixed with ancient mythology. Several critics take Rushdie to task for what they see as his sloppiness: Michiko Kakutani calls the novel a "loose, baggy monster" and "a decidedly disappointing performance" (the New York Times). A.O. Scott writes in Newsday that it is "a very bad novel about rock and roll." Some are not put off by the mishmash: Michael Wood's windy positive review in the New York Times Book Review is nothing more than a long plot description with a single sentence of critical response: He calls it "exuberant and elegiac ... his best since Midnight's Children." Interesting tidbit: Carla Power notes in Newsweek that Rushdie got an eye lift last month. (Gerald Marzorati and A.O. Scott discuss the book in Slate, and this site has an impressive listing of links to articles on Rushdie's books, life, and the fatwa.)



The Iceman Cometh, by Eugene O'Neill (Brooks Atkinson Theatre, New York City). Raves for this London import, directed by Howard Davies and starring Kevin Spacey. Critics' only complaints are about the play itself, which they call heavy-handed and overlong. Spacey as Hickey, the slick-talking salesman who punctures the pipe dreams of a pack of sad sack rummies in Harry Hope's bar, "gives the performance of his life," says Time's Richard Zoglin: "A potentially grueling evening becomes a breathtaking experience." Jack Kroll in Newsweek: "Never have these four and a half hours in hell raced by with such Einsteinish speed." Charles Isherwood in Daily Variety: "[M]akes a startling case for the reexamination of this landmark play ... a magnificent achievement." Ben Brantley writes in the New York Times that the play "manages to entertain even at its darkest and preachiest." Strangest line in a review: About Spacey, John Simon of New York writes, "On the move, he is a panther in pants; when still, a coiled cobra." (This site has photos, cast bios, and ticket information.)


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Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

  • Movie--The Matrix;
  • Movie--10 Things I Hate About You;
  • Movie--Cookie's Fortune;
  • Movie--A Walk on the Moon;
  • Movie--The Out-of-Towners;
  • Book--Morgan: American Financier, by Jean Strouse;
  • Book--The Times of My Life and My Life With theTimes, by Max Frankel.


  • Movie--Mod Squad;
  • Movie--EdTV;
  • Movie--20 Dates;
  • Television--Futurama;
  • Book--All Too Human: A Political Education, by George Stephanopoulos;
  • Book--For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, by Nathan Englander.

  • Movie--True Crime;
  • Movie--The King and I;
  • Movie--Forces of Nature;
  • Television--The Oscars;
  • Book--Years of Renewal, by Henry Kissinger.

  • Movie--The Deep End of the Ocean;
  • Movie--The Corruptor;
  • Movie--The Rage: Carrie 2;
  • Movie--Wing Commander;
  • Death--Stanley Kubrick;
  • Book--Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, by Mark Bowden.