The Wedding Planner (Columbia Pictures). The new Jennifer Lopez-powered romantic comedy leaves most critics wishing they had sent their regrets. Mary Fiore (Lopez), a workaholic wedding planner, effortlessly steers her clients through the "nuptial minefield" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times) but can't translate that same gung-ho to her own love life. That is, until Mr. Right (Matthew McConaughey), Dr. Right in this case, pushes her out of the way of a careening Dumpster. After the date of both their lives, Mary discovers that this knight is already betrothed to her next big-bucks customer. "The usual complications ensue, with the usual outcome" (Scott). Jay Carr of the Boston Globe likens the film to some marriages: It "begins brightly, then wears too long and too predictably." The twists and turns are "agonizing" and a so-called comic sequence involving a statue's male anatomy "not only brings the film to a halt but threatens to reverse its flow" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). First-time director Adam Shankman struggles to emulate the romantic comedies of the '30s and '40s but never manages "the economy, nonchalance and sophisticated wit and invention of its vintage predecessors" (Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times). (Forget the movie, says Slate's David Edelstein. If you've seen the trailer, you've seen enough. Read his review here.)— L.S.
Sugar & Spice (New Line Cinema). Mixed emotions from the few reviewers who managed to see this teen comedy about a group of high-school cheerleaders-turned-bank robbers. (The studio had almost no critics' screenings, the sure sign of a movie they're worried will tank.) The premise for the entry into a life of crime: Head cheerleader Diane gets pregnant by and shacks up with Jack, the star quarterback (Got a familiar tune in your head?), and, well, they need the cash. Roger Ebert is as enthusiastic as the cheerleaders themselves, saying that Sugar"puts your average cheerleader movie to shame" and that it's "proof that not all movie teen-agers are dumb." It's not an infectious sentiment—the only other published review laments the "over-the-top, forced humor" and the characters who only "remotely resemble human beings" (Christy Lemire, the Associated Press). Sugar & Spice was not originally so true to its title—in order to change the image of a movie with teens running rampant with guns post-Columbine, the movie's violence was toned down and its original title, Sugar & Spice & Semiautomatics, was shortened (Josh Chetwynd, USA Today). (For the movie's official site, click here.)— M.C.
B ooks Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser (Houghton Mifflin). Mostly positive reviews for this muckraking piece of journalism about the nefarious influence of fast food on American life. The examination of the meat-packing industry and fast food's health risks (chiefly obesity and E. coli) are "reminiscent of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle" (Alison Arnett, the Boston Globe), but Schlosser argues that fast food has influenced modern life more broadly, playing a role in everything "from the politicized quagmire of food regulatory policy to the inequity of wages, urban sprawl and globalization" (Bridget Kinsella, Publishers Weekly). Still, although vilifying the fast-food industry "will seem like liberal carping to some, the book manages to avoid shrillness" (Rob Walker, the New York Times). A rare bad review does take the book to task for its political correctness: "Unlike the fast-food restaurants he disdains, Mr. Schlosser doesn't want us to have it our way. He wants us to have it his way" (Cynthia Crossen, the Wall Street Journal). (Click here to read an interview with the author in the Atlantic Monthly.)— J.D.
Call If You Need Me, by Raymond Carver, edited by William L. Stull (Vintage Contemporaries). Mixed reviews for this posthumous collection. All the critics praise the five recently discovered stories published here in book form for the first time. The new stories "plow familiar ground for a new generation of Carver admirers" (Susan Salter Reynolds, the Los Angeles Times), and "each recalls, in an unexpected way, just what made Carver's writing so immediate and compelling" (Claire Dederer, the New York Times). The themes of the new work are the same as those of his canonical stories: alcoholism, domestic tension, and regret. Everybody agrees that besides the five new stories, the book is mostly filler. "Most of the 'other prose' here has appeared in collections before, and some of it shouldn't have appeared anywhere ever" (Troy Patterson, Entertainment Weekly). But in the end, "we probably can't have too much of Carver's spare, precisely honed prose in print" (Kirkus). (Click here to read the first chapter.)— J.D.
Music Restless, Xzibit (Loud). The Los Angeles rapper's third album gets mostly positive reviews. Every critic acknowledges that this is Mr. X-to-the-Z's commercial breakthrough record, thanks to Xzibit's growing profile as a song-stealing guest-rapper and to the album's executive producer Dr. Dre, possibly "the best rap producer ever" (Howard Cohen, the Miami Herald). Everybody loves the beats, but many critics note that "Xzibit has lost some of the lyrical ferociousness that made his previous releases underground favorites" (Rashaun Hall, Billboard). The guest-star-studded album features appearances by Snoop Dogg, Dre, Erick Sermon, Battlecat, Eminem (who also produced his track), members of X's former group Tha Alkaholiks, Nate Dogg, and KRS-One. Despite lyrics that don't measure up to the rapper's high standard, there's no doubt that "Xzibit is finally poised to get the credit he deserves" (Nicole Lavonne, Vibe). (Go to Xzibitnet.com for a comprehensive fan site dedicated to the man who stands behind the mic like Walter Cronkite.)— B.W.