Lost in Spacey

Lost in Spacey

Lost in Spacey

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Sept. 22 1999 3:30 AM

Lost in Spacey

Movies

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American Beauty (DreamWorks SKG). Raves for this dystopian dark-side-of-the-American-dream tale starring Kevin Spacey as a "suburban Travis Bickle--off his rocker, but happy about it" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly), who experiences a massive midlife crisis and falls in lust with his teen-age daughter's friend. Spacey acts with "heavenly finesse" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times), and Annette Bening as his high-strung wife is "spectacular" (Mike Clark, USA Today). The director, Sam Mendes, and writer, Alan Ball, are new to film--they're stage and television veterans, respectively--and many critics say that's why the film feels so fresh. A handful of critics concede that while the film is technically excellent, it's in no way groundbreaking; rather it's simply a collection of "stale and reactionary ideas" being pawned off "under the all-purpose rubric of 'black comedy' " (David Edelstein, Slate). (Click here to read the rest of Edelstein's review.)

ForLove of the Game (Universal Pictures). Kevin Costner heads back to the buffet for a third helping of baseball, this time as an aging pitcher in the last game of his career. Costner's performance may be decent, but most critics call this effort out at the plate. Cutting back and forth between Costner as he pitches a perfect game and remembers his longtime girlfriend, director Sam "The Evil Dead" Raimi nails the baseball half of the film, but the romance is so awful that "you will simply want to shoot yourself by the third inning" (Richard Corliss, Time). (Take a look at Kevin Costner's high-school yearbook page here.)

Breakfastof Champions (Buena Vista Pictures). Director Alan Rudolph gets credit for trying to adapt Kurt Vonnegut's beloved novel, but critics agree that the result is a "frenzied film that seems both dated and dead on arrival" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone). Stephen Holden of the New York Times writes that it "looks and feels like a frantic live-action psychedelic cartoon ... a John Waters film divested of camp." Bruce Willis stars as a car salesman who experiences a crisis of conscience; Nick Nolte, Barbara Hershey, and Albert Finney round out the rich cast. What went wrong? Skewering consumer culture might have been novel in the 1970s, but these days it feels like beating a dead horse. (Click here to read an excerpt from the novel.)

Television

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Action (Fox; Thursdays; 9:30 p.m. ET). Excellent reports for this profanity-laced comedy about a nasty Hollywood movie producer. The critics are unanimous that it's "the season's naughtiest, bawdiest, and probably funniest new show" (Tom Shales, the Washington Post). Just about every review describes it as "edgy." Not only is it full of cursing, ethnic jokes, prostitution, and the like, but it dares to have no laugh track and a bastard as the protagonist: "the show is truly subversive and daring in its scabrous attitude" (Caryn James, the New York Times). A few minor complaints: 1) The show is "a little in love with its own transgressiveness" (James Poniewozik, Time). 2) The show relies on "humiliation humor" and Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker predicts that the unlikability of star Jay Mohr will sink the show. (Click here to find out more about the show.)

Books

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'Tis: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt (Simon & Schuster). The expectations for McCourt's follow-up to the best-selling Angela's Ashes were high, and critics are uniformly disappointed: It "lacks the drama, the magic, the gentleness, the lilt of the first book" (Deirdre Donahue, USA Today). They're quick to point out that'Tis, which picks up McCourt's life at age 19, once he has left Ireland for America, is not a bad book, it's just not as good as the first. McCourt "seems less in control in this book and at times is powerless to keep himself from becoming the stage Irishman, crying in his beer, milking sentiment until it becomes false" (Peter Collier, the Los Angeles Times). (Click here to read the first chapter.)

ARepublic, Not an Empire: Reclaiming America's Destiny, by Pat Buchanan (Regnery Publishing). The anticipated Reform Party presidential candidate gets harsh reviews from conservative publications--and no reviews from liberal ones. Buchanan may be a compelling writer, but critics attack his isolationist policies and revisionist history (highlight: Germany would not have invaded France had America stayed out of World War II). Andrew Roberts writes in the Wall Street Journal that Buchanan's thesis is "deeply flawed" and "does not stand up to close historical scrutiny." Robert G. Kaufman, in a long review in the Weekly Standard (which welcomes Buchanan's departure from the Republican Party), paints Buchanan as having gone over to the dark side: He's "a representative of one of the perpetual temptations of conservative thought." In regards to Buchanan's support of Charles Lindbergh's isolationist anti-war campaigning, Kaufman writes, "Buchanan's defense of the morally and strategically indefensible is remarkable." (Click here to visit Buchanan's campaign headquarters.)

Eliza Truitt, a former editor at Slate, now works as a wedding photographer in Seattle.