Curse of the Jade Scorpion (DreamWorks). The critics can't resist comparing Woody Allen's latest with the glory days of Annie Hall. While it "paws out a chuckle now and then,"Curse"never reaches that moment of pure explosive gut-breakage" of Allen's older fare (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). His shtick "as a homely yet beguiling nebbish" is wearing thin, and the age difference between his character and the women drawn to him "becomes a serious embarrassment" (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal). That said, most concede that 1940s New York is impeccably re-created, and "the craft is voluptuous to regard" (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times). (For a complete Woody Allen filmography, click here. Read about the uncanny similarities between Allen and novelist Philip Roth here.)—M.C.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Dimension Films). Critics are sharply divided by this "in-joke of epic proportions" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). Jason Mewes and writer-director Kevin Smith play the titular characters, New Jersey pot-pushers who thumb their way to L.A. to stop a film adaptation of a comic book based on them. Oodles of celebrities, characters from Smith's previous films, and the gang from Scooby-Doo all appear in this comedy that's full of either "hearty laughs" (Mike Clark, USA Today) or "smug inside jokes" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post). The closest thing to a consensus comment comes from the New York Times' Elvis Mitchell: "Mr. Smith may have hit his target, but he aimed very low." (The "official news source for Kevin Smith" is loaded with factoids, message boards, and "official" drinking games for his previous films.)— B.W.
John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (Screen Gems). It's scary how little critics think of the Halloween auteur's latest frightfest. Natasha Henstridge (Species) stars as a cop whose transport of the future's most dangerous prisoner (Ice Cube) is interrupted by an evil, ancient Martian force that possesses people and turns them into murderous, Goth-makeup-wearing zombies. Only the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert has any kind words for the movie (it "delivers on its chosen level"), and even he notes its derivative nature. (Click here for a complete, unexpurgated list of Ice Cube's lyrics.)— B.W.
In Search of …, by N.E.R.D. (Virgin). Reviews call this a genre-bending, trend-setting debut album from hip-hoppers Chad Hugo, Pharrell Williams, and Shay. But then, critics weren't expecting anything less from Hugo and Williams—who as the Neptunes have produced everyone from 'N Sync to Ol' Dirty Bastard and Prince. N.E.R.D. recently raised eyebrows with the raunchy, indie-styling video for the album's single "Lapdance," and Virgin put off the release of In Search of… reportedly because it "wasn't sure how to market the electro-laced, chitterlin-belt soul album" (Sacha Jenkin, Spin). Entertainment Weekly adds to the buzz with a report that the band has decided to rerecord the album with live instruments. Those critics who've heard the original say it's funky, funny, fresh, and very trashy. (Click here for N.E.R.D.'s site, where you can preview songs from the album.)—Y.S.
Niagara Falls All Over Again, by Elizabeth McCracken (Dial Press). Critics are falling for Elizabeth McCracken again. Her debut, The Giant's House, was a finalist for the National Book Award, but "this second novel is even better" (Tommy Hays, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution). Narrator Mose Sharp takes you from a Jewish upbringing in Iowa through his modest fame as a straight man on the burlesque stage. Critics find magic in Sharp's lavish description, calling this a "charming but none too urgent tale" that "brims with fondness for these game, playful characters and the lost wonders of their vaudeville world" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). (Click here to read an excerpt.)— D.N.
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