Highlights from the week in criticism.
April 1 1999 3:30 AM




Mod Squad (MGM-UA). Vicious pans for this remake of the 1968-73 TV show about three juvenile delinquents (Claire Danes, Omar Epps, Giovanni Ribisi) pushed into police undercover work. "It could be the capper segment in a Fox prime-time special on the World's Most Inept Movies" (Richard Corliss, Time) ... "really, really dumb" with characters who "miraculously 'solve' the crime with a tape recorder and a lot of bad driving" (Chris Kridler, the Baltimore Sun) ... "one of the lamest films [MGM] ever has foisted upon the world" (Todd McCarthy, Daily Variety) ... "torturously boring" (Lawrence Van Gelder, the New York Times) ... "almost unreleasable" (Mike Clark, USA Today). And to add insult to injury, the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert uses the expression "rumpy-pumpy" in his review for the third time in four months. The L.A. Times' Kevin "I Gave At First Sight a Good Review" Thomas, correctly foreseeing that the studio would be desperate for advertising blurbs on this one, pumps the thing up: It's "a great-looking picture that zips along with grace, light on its feet." (Check out this archive of Claire Danes photos.)

EdTV (Universal Pictures). Mainly positive reviews for a Ron Howard Truman Show-ish comedy. In this one, the guy, Ed (Matthew McConaughey), knows what's going on. Critics say it's not as subtle as The Truman Show, but it's funnier: "There's a nice overlay of goofiness in the satire" (Jay Carr, the Boston Globe). Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times calls it "a grab bag that's both amusing and frustrating. Simultaneously inspired and contrived, clever and crude." Some critics call the Hollywood self-consciousness about stardom and the price of fame a tad too navel-gazing; most find the movie pretty charming, especially the twangy McConaughey's performance as Ed. (Read this interview with McConaughey; see David Edelstein's review in Slate.)

20 Dates (20th Century Fox). Critics are unanimously repulsed by Myles Berkowitz's documentary about his attempts to find a girlfriend. He films a series of dates, sometimes secretly. Many reviewers identify with the one who stabs him in the hand when she finds out what's going on. Renee Graham of the Boston Globe calls the film "excruciating," and Berkowitz "the biggest jerk you're likely to see in a movie this year." Justine Elias of the Village Voice compares him to "an obnoxious four-year-old who believes everything he does is fascinating and adorable." Somehow in the course of the film he manages to find a woman who'll continue the relationship, and the two are allegedly now engaged. Slate's Edelstein says of the film: "I found myself wanting to apologize on behalf of obnoxious heterosexual Jewish men the world over." (Read the rest of his review here.)



Futurama (Fox; Sunday, 8:30 p.m.; starting April 6, Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.). Mainly nice, loyal reviews for Matt Groening's new animated sitcom; a few "this ain't no Simpsons" complaints. Critics say the sci-fi spoof set in the year 3000 is more visually interesting but that it lacks the "bite" (Ron Wertheimer, the New York Times) and the "snappy rhythm and the kind of far-reaching humor" (Ginia Bellafante, Time) that make The Simpsons so good. On the positive side, Tom Shales of the Washington Post calls it "another satiric triumph," and the viewers turned out in force--its Nielsen rating was higher than both The Simpsons and The X-Files. (Find out more about the show at Fox's Web site.)



All Too Human: A Political Education, by George Stephanopoulos (Little, Brown). Idealist or opportunist? Most reviewers find the Clinton adviser revealed in this memoir more the opportunist. Garry Wills' lethal piece in the New York Times Book Review blasts the book: "The self-importance underneath the self-criticism is breathtaking." Wills calls the memoir as a whole "tiresomely moralizing" and knocks the quality of the advising Stephanopoulos did for Clinton, noting that it was after he left that the Clinton presidency really took off. The Economist praises the book ("impressively honest and hugely enjoyable") but doesn't have much company. Owen Ullmann writes in Business Week that "[p]erhaps the book should be renamed All Too Ambitious." (Read Jacob Weisberg and Christopher Caldwell's discussion of the book in Slate.)

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, by Nathan Englander (Knopf). This story collection draws praise, along with raised eyebrows in regard to some extra-artistic issues. The reviews are wonderful: "graceful and remarkably self-assured ... unpretentious and powerful stories" (Publishers Weekly). The oohs and aahs come over Englander's reported $350,000 advance, an unheard-of sum for a debut short story collection. His stories mostly hinge on matters of faith. As Albert Mobilio writes in the VillageVoice Literary Supplement, "the questions with which James Joyce and Flannery O'Connor pried at Catholic doctrine he now aims at Orthodox Judaism." (Read an excerpt from the book here.)


Find a movie playing near you on Sidewalk.com.

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

  • 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.

  • Movie--Analyze This;
  • Movie--Cruel Intentions;
  • Movie--Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels;
  • Book--Monica's Story, by Andrew Morton;
  • Theater--Annie Get Your Gun;
  • Theater--Bright Lights, Big City.

  • 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.