Highlights from the week in criticism.
Aug. 4 2000 11:30 PM

Space Age

 

 

Movies

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Space Cowboys (Warner Bros.). Clint Eastwood directs a "lean, easygoing, codgers-show-their-potency vehicle" (David Edelstein, Slate) about a group of old pilots sent into space to repair an outdated satellite. Most critics can't help but get a kick out of it. James Garner, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, and Eastwood "mount a vigorous and funny defense of maturity—the last thing you might expect from a summer action picture, and one of the reasons Space Cowboys is one of the best entertainments this season has yet offered" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). Yes, there are dumb jokes about dentures, and the film does have a boilerplate space-adventure ending, but most critics gloss over those shortcomings. Those who disagree complain that the film "fritters away the goodwill its actors accumulate on a meandering, contrived, haphazard scenario" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). The always-sour Michael O'Sullivan finds it bland but palatable: "too benign to condemn outright but far too bland to wholeheartedly recommend. It's like a tall glass of warm skim milk before bedtime: probably good for me but nothing I need to drive out of my way to get" (the Washington Post). (This fan page includes audio clips of classic Eastwood lines.)

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Coyote Ugly (Touchstone Pictures). Mixed notices for this latest Jerry Bruckheimer (Flashdance, Armageddon) production. "There is a sort-of story, and let's briefly pretend it matters more than the tight T-shirts" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). Newcomer Piper Perabo stars as a small-town aspiring songwriter "who moves to New York to, yes, follow her dream" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times) and finds work at Coyote Ugly, "a bar that would be the result if you took the bar in Cocktail and performed reckless experiments on its DNA" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). There she joins a coterie of supermodel bartenders who wear leather hip-huggers and dance on the bar—or rather, who are replaced by a legion of specialized body doubles that dance on the bar. Perabo splits the critics: She has either "big-time star power" (Ebert) or "a long way to go to hold a major pic on her own" (Robert Koehler, Variety). Formulaic and never surprising, Coyote Ugly"is a bad movie—but it's not one of those fiascoes that leave you in a foul mood" (Turan). (Ugly co-star Tyra Banks denies she has breast implants here.)

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H ollow Man (Columbia Pictures). Kevin Bacon leads a team of scientists researching invisibility in this sci-fi horror movie directed by Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers). Critics respond with little visible support. Not only is it unimaginative—after Bacon himself is turned invisible, "Hollow can't figure out anything involving for him to do" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times)—it's derivative: In the finale, "Bacon goes on a murderous rampage that shamelessly raids from every haunted house movie that ever creaked" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). Lonely plaudits come from Variety's Robert Koehler: "an entertaining concoction, evincing craftsmanship, technical wizardry and self-referential irony in a heady mix … a combo of thrills, juicy one-liners and fine star turns by Kevin Bacon and Elisabeth Shue." But most critics find it "a labored, implausible piece of action-movie hack work" (A. O. Scott, the New York Times). This one's "hollow, man" (Wloszczyna). (Cheat at Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon here.)

Books

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Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani, by Wayne Barrett (Basic Books); and Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City, by Andrew Kirtzman (William Morrow & Co.). Mostly positive notices for these two new biographies. Everyone points out that the books have been released months earlier than planned, because of Giuliani's pre-emptive exit from his anticipated New York Senate race. Both books suffer from their subject's refusal to cooperate, so Giuliani ends up "not always a clearly defined figure" (Clyde Haberman, the New York Times Book Review). The books have different scopes; Kirtzman focuses on Giuliani's reign as mayor, while Barrett delves into Giuliani's entire life and family history. "Kirtzman wants to take a balanced view of the Mayor and Barrett, thankfully, does not" (Elizabeth Kolpert, The New Yorker). Other critics are less grateful for Barrett's "polemical writing style" (Haberman), calling Rudy!"relentless, a diatribe without mercy or context. Reminds me of the man himself" (Mary Ann Giordano, the New York Observer). Barrett's reporting is praised; his findings about Giuliani's personal history, including new information about his father's criminal activities—which even the FBI never knew—are "stunning" (Michael R. Blood, the New York Daily News). On the other hand, Kirtzman's book is "a nicely written narrative that pulls together the highlights of the Giuliani era" (Giordano), though it features "little that would alter anyone's outlook" (Fred Kaplan, the Boston Globe). But ultimately, "a full picture requires reading both" (Kaplan). (If you like your Rudy facts endorsed by the man himself, log onto RudyYes.com, his PAC's Web site.)

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The Question of Bruno, by Aleksandar Hemon (Doubleday). Excellent reviews for this debut short story collection. The story of the author (came to America as a tourist and stayed as a refugee when civil war broke out in his native Yugoslavia; only became fluent in English a few years ago) is almost as remarkable as his fiction. Critics call it "weirdly droll and heartbreaking," saying it "deftly anatomizes a world gone wrong" (Malcolm Jones, Newsweek). Often focusing on the strangeness of being a newcomer in America and well as the grief of an exile, the stories are "generously endowed with pathos, humor and irony, and written in an off-balance, intoxicating English" (Publishers Weekly). (Click here to read the first chapter.)