An Off-Key Mandolin

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Aug. 18 2001 12:00 AM

An Off-Key Mandolin

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Movies
Captain Corelli's Mandolin (Universal Pictures). This Mandolin doesn't play well with the critics. Although the Ionian Sea setting and the cinematography are gorgeous, this adaptation of Louis de Bernières' acclaimed novel Corelli's Mandolin (1994) is "a phlegmatic, middlebrow romantic drama so stodgy that even the goats look bored" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Nicolas Cage, with an unfortunate Italian accent, plays the title character, a World War II soldier who falls in love with a beautiful Greek girl (Penélope Cruz, perhaps now best known as half of Hollywood's hottest homonymic couple). Reviewers blame the cliché-ridden script and leads who don't sell the romance: "This particular mandolin is out of tune" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post). (Here's a handy reading-group guide to the novel.)— B.W.

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Rat Race (Paramount). Critics aren't entirely thrilled with this caper film, but most admit they laughed. Everybody compares it to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), though this time it's $2 million in a locker in New Mexico that contestants will do all manner of zany things to reach first. The picture's a bit rough: It has the "stop-and-start mistiming generally seen in the outtakes shown at the end of Cannonball Run movies," and the script is "unashamed about stooping into the sewer for a few laughs" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). On the upside, it does have "pants wettingly silly moments" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post) and gets especially high marks for Rowan Atkinson, whose narcoleptic Italian tourist character is a "little taste of comic genius" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (For the movie's official site, click here.)— M.C.

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American Outlaws (Warner Bros.). Critics' six-shooters fire hilarious disparaging quips at this, the 36th film iteration of the Jesse James story. Star Colin Farrell gets mixed marks; the film itself, with its rote characterizations and cast who "look as if they're preparing for a W shoot" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times) is not so lucky. Blurbtastic Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times is predictably effusive, but other critics rip into this one with gusto. Funniest is the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter, who notes that leading lady Ali Larter "reminded me of all the girls who wouldn't go out with me in high school" and writes, "[w]hile you're watching this movie you'll be thinking, 'I know, let's go to a movie!' " (Ali Larter got her start when the then-model landed on the cover of Esquire portraying a fictional ingénue in a mock-celebrity puff piece; click here for a thoughtful article on the stunt.)— B.W.

Books
TheClintonMemoir. With few facts to go on, critics respond to Clinton's book deal with bland analysis and fiendish speculation. Most everyone notes that the estimated $10 million to $12 million advance surpasses Hillary's and the pope's, but few seem too bothered: "This is the kind of money Evander Holyfield gets for a single fight" (Jonathon Karl, CNN Take Five). And Clinton gets commended for "striking a private, gentlemanly deal during a time when authors auction themselves like horse sperm" (Harriet Rubin, USA Today) Big-time raves go to editor Robert Gottlieb, "perhaps the most influential book editor in the world." (Linton Weeks, the WashingtonPost). Some look forward to "hot Oval Office sex scenes" (Maureen Dowd, the New York Times), while others prepare for a dull policy tome. The absence of a working title keeps suggestions flowing: "Without a Thong in My Heart" (Margaret Carlson and Chris Matthews, Hardball). (Click here to read the press release from Knopf.)—D.N. 

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Harry and Tina Come to America, by Judy Bachrach (Free Press). Most critics agree this bio is a "bilious, gossipy takedown" of Brit power couple Tina Brown and Harry Evans (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). Vanity Fair writer Bachrach focuses on Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and current editor of Talk. "To skewer Brown and Evans with nasty personal gossip is to practice what Brown perfected: the journalism of dish. What's striking is how tedious it is" (Judith Shulevitz, the New York Times Book Review). "Bachrach can't decide whether she wants to be the recording angel or a David Halberstam on helium" (Mark Feeney, the Boston Globe). A lone dissenter calls it a "fast read" with "delicious tidbits" and a "remarkably balanced portrait of an ambitious—if somewhat ruthless—woman" (B.J. Sigesmund, Newsweek). (Click here to read Talk.)— L.S.

David Newman is a contributing editor at Legal Affairs.

Laurie Snyder is Slate's copy chief.

Maureen Sullivan is a Slatecopy editor.

Ben Wasserstein is an associate editor at New York magazine.

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