Highlights from the week in criticism.
Aug. 26 2000 12:00 AM

Dating Tips for Fat Guys

 

Movies

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Bring It On (Universal Pictures). This high-school cheerleading movie gets mixed reviews overall, but the real headline is how enthusiastically some critics wave their pompoms in favor of it. The story: When it turns out that Kirsten Dunst's squad ripped off its award-winning hip-hop moves from a black East Compton squad, her team has to come up with some new routines, fast. Bring It On conforms to the clichés of sports movies (who will win the Big Competition?) and teen movies (will Dunst leave her cad boyfriend for the quirky cute guy?), "but this movie rarely feels cynical, condescending or cheap" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). The major hosannas come from Michael O'Sullivan of the Washington Post: "May God forgive me, but I liked Bring It On. Actually, kind of, sort of, loved it." A lot of critics don't share O'Sullivan's enthusiasm, calling it "a strange mutant beast, half Nickelodeon movie, half R-rated comedy" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times), but this just might be "a surprise late-summer bright spot" (Susan Wlosczyna, USA Today). (Why pay retail? Kirsten Dunst wannabes can get their pompoms for less at DiscountCheerleading.com.)

The Crew (Buena Vista Pictures). Most critics would like to just fuhgeddabout this month's second four-old-guys movie (after Space Cowboys). Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, Seymour Cassel, and Dan Hedaya play a pack of retired mobsters who scheme to save their seedy Miami residential hotel and end up embroiled in plot lines involving a cadaver, a South American cocaine dealer, a stripper, and a long-lost daughter. This is "another candy-coated examination of wise guys as colorful old rogues whose mouths are full of marbles, whose circumlocutions are wacky, who all have nicknames that must be set off in quotation marks" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). Some find the film "tired, listless and anemic" (Michael O'Sullivan, the Washington Post), but others think it's likable enough: "The Crew often livens up stale material with disarming loopiness and zest, rendering futile any blanket judgment" (Mike Clark, USA Today). (See a side of Bandit you didn't know existed at The Church of Burt Reynolds.)

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The Tao of Steve (Sony Pictures Classics). The critics are seduced by this fun, laid-back film about a chunky Don Juan who disarms women with his easygoing charm and sure-fire dating philosophy: "1. Eliminate your desire ('Women can smell an agenda'). 2. Be excellent in their presence (even if it's only at throwing a Frisbee). 3. Withdraw" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). The film was a hit at Sundance, with most people praising its superb dialogue as "some of the funniest romantic banter in a movie in years" (David Edelstein, Slate). The rest ain't too shabby either: It's "wise, funny, sweet, sexy and kind (in that order)" (Michael O'Sullivan, the Washington Post). One critic is not amused, complaining that "the glaring absence of a directorial schema is broken only by [director Jenniphr Goodman's] proclivity for random circular pans" (Jessica Winter, the Village Voice). (Click here to learn more about scoring chicks with the Tao of Steve, and here to read the rest of David Edelstein's review in Slate.)

 Book

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Drowning Ruth, by Christina Schwarz (Doubleday).Wes Craven and Miramax optioned this creepy first novel before it hit bookstores, and a raft of good reviews followed: a "brilliantly understated psychological thriller" with "spare but bewitching" prose (Publishers Weekly). The story, which starts during World War I and continues through the next war, follows a woman in Wisconsin charged with raising the daughter of her sister, who died under suspicious circumstances. Schwarz "fuses this suspense with such strong period detail that Drowning Ruth creates a visceral sense of the forces that constrain its women's lives … [a] chilling, precociously good start to a bright new novelist's career" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). A few are put off by the novel's ending, which reads "as if Edith Wharton had consulted with Oprah Winfrey for a family-healing segment" (Ann Prichard, USA Today). (Click here to read Christina Schwarz's encomium for the Los Angeles suburbs' Chinese food, written with her husband, Benjamin Schwarz.)

Music 

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The Menace, by Elastica(Atlantic). Mostly positive reviews for this long-delayed sophomore effort from the English neo-new-wave band. The follow-up to 1995's Elastica—which yielded the infectious hit single "Connection"—arrives after leader Justine Frischmann's highly publicized breakup with Blur frontman Damon Albarn, rumored drug problems, and a label change. All that drama results in a more mature sound: To most critics' ears, it's "catchy and full of attitude" (Jim Farber, the New York Daily News), though a minority feels "Frischmann's lackluster (often tuneless) songwriting stutters" (Brian M. Raftery, Entertainment Weekly). Frischmann's sneer is always mentioned and frequently extolled. One critic says it's her "eat-this attitude that carries The Menace" (Greg Kot, Rolling Stone), though another finds her posturing distracting, cherishing the "moments where Elastica reaches beyond mere pop snarl" (Colin Helms, CMJ). Ultimately, most critics agree that The Menace was "well worth the wait" (Barbara Kligman, People). (This comprehensive fan site includes bass tablatures for most of Elastica.)

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.