Highlights from the week in criticism.
July 29 2000 12:00 AM

Eddie Murphy Takes His Klumps 

 

Movies

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Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (Universal Pictures). The sequel to the 1996 hit gets mostly negative reviews and unfavorable comparisons to its predecessor. Eddie Murphy stars—in extensive makeup and costume—as all members of the titular Klump family. While "no Murphy fan can dare to miss this showcase" (Mike Clark, USA Today), his laudable work is not enough to make the film more than "half a movie at best" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). The plot concerns the re-emergence of Buddy Love (Murphy sans latex)—the lean, mean alter ego of the rotund Professor Sherman Klump—and his impact on Sherman's wedding to a fellow scientist played by Janet Jackson. For most critics, this reunion with the Klumps is "more of a chore than a pleasure" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times), though a minority think it's "a gas" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post). (The official Jerry Lewis Comedy Museum and Store has enough information and merchandise about the original Nutty Professor to sate a Frenchman.)

 

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Girl on the Bridge (Paramount Classics). Excellent reviews for this French import about a suicidal woman rescued by a knife-thrower, who then makes her his assistant. Starring pop singer Vanessa Paradis (Johnny Depp's wife), the film is "droll but also soaked in doom-laden eroticism. ... The banter is fast and funny, but it's the poetic imagery that wins you over" (David Edelstein, Slate). Daily Variety agrees, calling it "an unconventional love story that toys with the conventions of movie romance while careening ahead with the suspense and verve of an action thriller" (Lisa Nesselson). Shot in black and white, it's "a tangy frappé of a movie—preposterously comic, deliriously romantic, outrageously stylish" (Richard Schickel, Time). A few find the film unsatisfying. The New York Times' A.O. Scott praises most of the film but says it's ruined by a weak ending, which is "like watching a high-stakes gambler amass a big pile of chips and then fritter it away on a series of small, pointless bets." (Click here to read Edelstein's review in Slate).

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The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Lions Gate Films). Although "more of a mash note than a formal documentary," this pic about the former televangelist is good campy fun (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). Narrated by RuPaul and with title cards read out by hand puppets, the film never takes itself or its subject very seriously. Some critics find this distressing: "Each shot is simultaneously dedicated to reglorifying Tammy Faye's public image (the PTL song-and-dance flashbacks are as chilling a vision of Yankee foolishness as you'll ever see), and contemptuously pissing on her for it … her cinebiographers come off as smirking buffoons" (Michael Atkinson, the Village Voice). (Slate's David Edelstein calls it "a hilarious, poignant, lovingly ironic celebration of her rise and fall and her refusal to be broken." Read the rest of his review here.)

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Book

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American Rhapsody, by Joe Eszterhas (Alfred A. Knopf). The celebrity screenwriter's (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) pseudo-journalistic account of the Lewinsky affair may be the media event its publisher had hoped for, but the critical reaction runs the gamut from unenthused to appalled. Eszterhas' "grand unified theory of narcissism" (Lynda Obst, the Los Angeles Times) is that he and Clinton are kindred spirits, enabling what amounts to an "overwritten and overheated mishmash of memoir, history, and fiction" (Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today). "If you're someone who cares enough about the Lewinsky scandal to read more about it—all five of you, raise your hands—you will already know everything Mr. Eszterhas knows" (Andrew Ferguson, the Wall Street Journal). The lone Eszterhas apologist is Liz Smith (Newsday), who is evidently on a first-name basis with the author: "It is the most corrosively scathing, compulsively readable work of hubris (as Joe himself describes the book) since Norman Mailer put his spin on Marilyn Monroe." But too many more credible voices overwhelm Smith's aberrant analysis. Janet Maslin (the New York Times) calls Rhapsody"a loose rambling sketchbook," and Obst laments bitterly, "Trees were felled for this." (Read Liz Smith's column on "Joe" and an excerpt from the book.)

Music

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Songs From an American Movie, Volume 1: Learning How To Smile, by Everclear (Capitol Records). Success has certainly not dampened the spirits of grunge-punkers Everclear, who will release the second volume of this two-part concept album later this year. Everyone agrees that the band's happier, bubbly sound is "pleasant" (Ben Goldberg, Spin) as with the radio single "Wonderful," complete with a cheery "na-na-na" chorus. "It's actually kinda sweet to hear front man (and primary songwriter) Art Alexakis stomp through upbeat, instantly likeable tunes" (Billboard). Marc Bennett (CMJ) doubts whether the album "makes sense as a concept record" but concedes that the "hooky, mid-tempo songs will not disappoint." But for some dark-minded critics, this album of "rejected Aerosmith ballads" (Goldberg) is just a bit too saccharine, "exactly the sort of generic corporate rock Everclear were supposed to be rebelling against" (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly). (Listen to samples and buy the album here.)

Couper Samuelson is a Slate intern.

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

Ben Wasserstein is an associate editor at New York magazine.