Rush Hour 2 (New Line). This "ramshackle sequel" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times) pairs Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker again as mismatched, bickering cops, this time in Hong Kong. While faulting the film for its "anemic, haphazard" plot (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times) critics praise the stars' chemistry; they are "a non-musical Hope and Crosby" (Kevin Maynard, Mr. Showbiz). The de rigueur outtakes at the end are "much funnier than the movie itself" (Mike Clark, USA Today). Also starring diminutive Zhang Ziyi, of Crouching Tiger fame, this movie is worth seeing for a few belly laughs and what Scott calls "the virtue of honest B-movie unpretentiousness." (Here's the official site.)—S.G.
Original Sin (MGM). It oughta be a sin to make a movie this bad. Set in 19th-century Cuba, this "corny potboiler" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post) tells the story of a plantation owner (Antonio Banderas) who meets with mayhem when his supposedly plain-Jane mail-order bride ends up being a knockout (Angelina Jolie). After some steamy romps in the hay, the new wife skips town with all his money, and the plot "plunges into protracted, tedious ludicrousness" (Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times). "[E]verything in this film is forgettable, right down to bongos pounding on the soundtrack to indicate a quickening of the pulse, or characters closing the doors before the camera" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). (Click here for the sexed-up official site.)— L.S
MTV Turns 20. As the network leaves its own teen-age-dom behind, critics point out that its programming today is "more adolescent than ever" (Phil Kloer, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution). Predictably, there is much musing over MTV's transforming effects on both pop music and our culture at large, and whether video really did kill the radio star. (No, it just helped her sell more records.) Out in force, the culture critics tell us that MTV has made us shallower and shortened our attention span, but it also made television "more focused, exciting and pop-culture savvy than ever before" (Eric Deggans, St. Petersburg Times). A few note that the network's celebration of its own birthday—a party and 12-hour special—was relatively muted. Perhaps, they suggest, MTV realized the un-hipness of its own nostalgia. (Relive the festivities here.)—J.F.
Three Chord Opera, by Neil Diamond (Columbia). Critics say fans of the 60-year-old Tin Pan Alley vet will love his first all-original album in 27 years. The uninitiated, however, may be turned off. Those reviewers who seem to be longtime admirers claim Diamond has lost none of his power in these "heroic, shirt-rending pop anthems" (Steve Dougherty, People). Though everyone adores his gravelly voice, the less-enamored critics find some songs ham-handed and say, "strained attempts at rock, doo-wop pop, and a peppy God song make you wish he'd stuck to depression" (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly). (Check out the official Neil Diamond site.)— J.F.
To purchase this CD from amazon.com, click here.
Next: The Future Just Happened, by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton). Mostly admiration for this pop-sociology account of the Internet's democratizing shift in power away from authoritative experts and toward the individual. Reviewers say Lewis is at his best when painting vivid portraits of the teen-agers leading this revolutionary inversion of hierarchies. But not everyone swoons over his broad analytic conclusions. A few say he merely "clumsily braids together a half-dozen magazine stories" (Christopher Caldwell, the New York Observer). The harshest review comes from Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times, who calls the book "a thoroughly slapdash production—meandering in structure, discursive in tone and highly cursory in its assessments." Overall though, most critics think this is a smart, and probably important, book. (Read an excerpt.)— J.F.
Blue Diary, by Alice Hoffman (Putnam). The biggest bone critics pick with Hoffman's latest novel is the overabundance of intricate horticultural descriptions that "actually choke the novel" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). A "warm and fuzzy account of a sociopathic murderer" (Laurie Stone, the Washington Post), the tale could have potential: Jorie Ford's perfect marriage in a picturesque small town crumbles when she learns of her husband's past rape and murder of a young girl. But Jorie doesn't learn much in figuring out whether she can forgive her husband; she simply arrives at "the earth-shattering realization that rape and murder are very bad things," and the dramatic potential is wasted (Erik Tarloff, Slate). (To read Slate's "Book Club" discussion of Blue Diary, click here.)— M.C.
A Cold Case, by Philip Gourevitch (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Tempered praise for this true-crime tale of a detective who refuses to let an unsolved murder case die. Most critics commend the author for his restrained tone and his focus on character and context over narrative tension. They say the "details dazzle" (Troy Patterson, Entertainment Weekly). Everyone points out that the book is physically lean, and a few suggest it reads like a "slightly expanded magazine feature" (Luc Sante, the New York Times). Though many reviewers believe a reflective Gourevitch "manages to raise some large, uneasy questions" (Charles Taylor, Salon), a couple of detractors think he makes only "vague, halfhearted stabs at psychological explication" (Sante). (Read an excerpt.)— J.F.
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