Cats & Dogs (Warner Bros.). A lukewarm reception for this epic tale of good (dogs) vs. evil (cats). Critics find the premise "ingenious" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times) but the execution largely a disappointment. Instead of exploiting the pros and cons of both canine and feline worlds, the film comes down squarely in the dog camp—slandering the "proud tribe of the tiger" (Scott)—and is flat as a result. Some sight gags are funny, and the animatronics get broad praise, especially from the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert, who gushes about their "uncanny skill" (though Rita Kempley at the Washington Post finds them "kind of creepy"). But despite some gifted actors doing the voices (Alec Baldwin, Tobey McGuire, Susan Sarandon), critics deem it "more frantic than funny" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune points out another oddly un-PC flaw: Of all the animal characters, only one is female. (Vote for which you like better, dogs or cats, at the movie's official site.)— S.G.
Scary Movie 2 (Dimension Films). As bad as Linda Blair's attitude in The Exorcist, this movie garners screams and groans from critics. It had large shoes to fill; Scary Movie was not only the highest grossing R-rated film ever, it was very clever and hilariously funny, "a tone-perfect sendup" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). And while a couple of writers grudgingly acknowledge that 2"has some laughs" (Hunter), this sequel should have been left undone, as it features "sloppy transitions, questionable pacing and a sparse script" (Robert K. Elder, the Chicago Tribune) and is boring, "repetition creeping into the comic routines" (Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times). Elvis Mitchell calls it a "tamer beast than its predecessor" and adds that it offers "more of the serial tastelessness that marked [that movie's] landmark success last year and more, too, of the ridiculousness" (the New York Times). (Watch the movie's trailer here.)— S.G.
Baby Boy (Columbia Pictures). Writer-director John Singleton's return to the South Central turf of Boyz N the Hood is deemed a powerful but flawed film. Though "told with so much heart" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times), this coming-of-age tale about a 20-year-old African-American male (MTV VJ Tyrese Gibson) who can't seem to grow up is criticized for didacticism, unevenness, and occasional incoherence. A few reviewers feel that the film's "increasing desperation to get everything said leads it to stumble over itself" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). But in the end, most critics are forgiving of the movie's ungainliness, asserting that it "reflects a breadth of ambition, not a failure of talent" (Joe Leydon, the San Francisco Examiner). (Check out Baby Boy's official site here.)— J.F.
The Fourth Hand, by John Irving (Random House). Blah reviews for Irving's 10th novel. The story of an air-headed news anchor whose hand is bitten off by a circus lion "never becomes anything more than a collection of farcical episodes strung haphazardly together" (Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times). A few posit that it's "a rich and deeply moving tale" in spite of its flaws (Chris Bohjalian, the Washington Post). But most critics prefer to imitate the book's circus lion: "The Fourth Hand is no more real literature than the croissan'wich is haute cuisine" (the Economist). (Click here to read an excerpt.)—E.T.
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Rooty, by Basement Jaxx (Astralwerks). The sophomore release from house-music heroes Felix Burton and Simon Ratcliffe is greeted with universal approbation. Critics admire how the duo has pushed the envelope of the dance-music idiom by embracing a spectrum of genres from disco to funk. Critics also laud Rooty's Prince-like "unstoppable melodies" (Pat Blashill, Rolling Stone) and innovative song construction, calling the album "[s]ome of the brainiest booty music ever unleashed on a dancefloor" (M. Tye Comer, CMJ). (Click here to read the rest of the Rolling Stone review and here to read the CMJ review, with sound clips.)—J.F.
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