Tyrannosaurus Sux

Tyrannosaurus Sux

Tyrannosaurus Sux

Highlights from the week in criticism.
May 19 2000 11:30 PM

Tyrannosaurus Sux

Movies

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Road Trip (DreamWorks Distribution). American Pie, Porky's, T here's Something About Mary, and Animal House get mentioned in almost every review of the summer's first gross-out comedy, starring Tom Green and Seann William Scott (Stiffler from Pie). If you consider "guaranteed to get you and your friends almost vomiting with laughter" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post) a recommendation, then this movie is right up your alley. A group of college kids go on the road to intercept an incriminating videotape accidentally mailed to a long-distance girlfriend; their pranks along the way include: 1) French toast in someone's pants, 2) a white mouse in someone's mouth, and 3) an interracial love scene in which the participants' weight difference is in the ballpark of 100 pounds. Reviews are mainly upbeat, but a few critics aren't impressed. Roger Ebert carps that the film is "mellow and dirty, which is the wrong combination" and that it's a shameless Pie rip-off. Others praise the filmmakers as "clever mad scientists of dumb cinematic raunch" and revel in the film's laid-back pace: It "has the loose shambling structure of a rock 'n' roll shaggy dog story and no pretenses to realism" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). (Slate's David Edelstein finds the film a lot less fun than American Pie; click here to read his review.)

Dinosaur (Buena Vista Pictures). A uniform response to this, the most expensive animated movie ever made (budget estimates range from $150 million to $200 million): It's stunning to look at, with an exquisite combination of real locations and lifelike computer-generated dinosaurs, but "[w]ould that one-tenth as much time and energy gone into developing more musculature and a few additional wrinkles for the storyline" (Todd McCarthy, Variety).  The film opens with an astonishing sequence of Cretaceous landscapes packed with dinosaurs, but the magic comes to a halt as soon as the animals open their mouths and start spouting corny one-liners and platitudes about teamwork. "Dinosaur astonishes and disheartens as only the most elaborate, most ambitious Hollywood products can. A technical amazement that points computer-generated animation toward the brightest of futures, it's also cartoonish in the worst way, the prisoner of pedestrian plot points and childish, too-cute dialogue" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (Visit the film's official site  to get an eyeful.)

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Small Time Crooks (DreamWorks Distribution). Woody Allen plays a dimwitted hood whose plans for a bank heist end up overshadowed by his wife's (Tracey Ullman) cookie business. The verdict is split: Either it's "a pleasantly surprising little treat … [a] sweet, funny wisp of a movie" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times) or it's "just funny enough to qualify as comedy, but written with such hack's lightness, you have to wonder if his heart was really in it" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). Highlights include Elaine May's performance as Ullman's delightfully dippy cousin, and the nouveau riche décor Ullman indulges in once the dough starts rolling in. (David Edelstein is firmly in the thumbs-down camp, calling it "sour and mostly feeble, with a depressingly curdled worldview." Read his review here.)

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Battlefield Earth (Warner Bros.). John Travolta's pet project based on the novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard gets mercilessly attacked by critics. The premise: In the year 3000, humans are enslaved by a group of dreadlocked, platform-shoe-wearing aliens. The reviews are a catalog of horrors: an "indisputable Personal Worst" (Dennis Harvey, Daily Variety) for star-producer Travolta. Forest Whitaker's costume makes him look just like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. The sound is ear-splittingly loud. This is sci-fi's Showgirls. No, it's sci-fi's Ishtar. Sitting through it is "like watching the most expensively mounted high school play of all time"; the film "may well turn out to be the worst movie of this century" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). The closest anyone comes to saying something nice is that this is "something historic, a film that for decades to come will be the punch line of jokes about bad movies" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). (Find out more about Scientology here.)

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Center Stage (Columbia Pictures). Decent reviews for this Fame for the '00s: "an innocent behind-the-curtain peek at the cutthroat intrigues of an elite New York ballet academy" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today) that ends up being "sexy and infectious in spite of itself" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). The plot may be only of Melrose Place caliber, but the dancing is great and the cast is filled with a pleasing mix of unknown and well-known (Ethan Stiefel) dancers—as well as one figure skater (Ilia Kulik). (This fan site has stills and information on the cast.)

Books

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The Human Stain, by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin). The New Republic's James Wood racks Philip Roth for two failings: 1) Ideology has hijacked his narrative, "[H]is sermon that life is all unknowable mess and stain has become the promotion of a message rather than its dramatization. … If we are only being told, again and again, how messy things are, we will not really experience it, and the desired vanquishing-of-ideology-via-the-experience-of-the-novel will not occur." 2) Instead of creating characters with unique voices, Roth treats the lot as conduits for his own rage, "The novel thus becomes a single, undifferentiated canton of anger, in which, very strangely, each character is shouting at his own soul in exactly the same way." Most reviews are far kinder: "Roth has not lost one ampere of his power to rile and surprise" (R.Z. Sheppard, Time), but not without nitpicks, "The book indulges in the sort of tirade against political correctness that is far drearier and more intellectually constricted than political correctness itself" (Lorrie Moore, the New York Times Book Review). (Read Judith Shulevitz's and Brent Staples' takes on the book in Slate.)

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Lightning on the Sun, by Robert Bingham (Doubleday). The author, scion of the Kentucky newspaper family, died from the combined effects of heroin and alcohol five months before publication, which lends a forlorn note to the excellent reviews of his dark novel: "[A] gripping literary thriller—a precocious debut novel and an eloquent punctuation point to a sadly short career" (Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times). The book follows a young American living in Cambodia who plots with his stateside ex-girlfriend to make a killing selling the excellent local Phnom Penh heroin in New York; of course, things don't turn out exactly as anticipated. A dissenting voice comes from Entertainment Weekly's Troy Patterson, who finds the work too grim: "By Bingham's nihilistic reckoning, all money is filthy, every dream is fleeting, and faith is a sucker's bet … such work emits a whiff of hipster existentialism, but in Lightning on the Sun that odor is overpowered by cold fumes of sad malice." (Click here to read the first chapter.)

Music

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Installation Sonore, by Rinôçérôse (BMG/V2). If the idea of a guy-girl pair of French psychologists filling electronica with flute solos makes you think, "sick joke," think again; the reviews are ecstatic: "[D]ance music that's as earthy as it is esoteric … a lesson in exuberant schizophrenia, full of hallucinatory bravado" (Neva Chonin, Rolling Stone). Danceable in the extreme, the music has the added pleasure of sounding exactly like what you'd expect from "non-musical people who have read academic essays about the ingredients to rocking out, held several café debates on the subject, then went out and bought as many guitars as they could find. If a bunch of fashion designers formed a band, this is the sound that would result" (Ben Goldberg, Spin). (Buy the album.)