Rock Star (Warner Bros.). The first half of this tribute to big hair and '80s heavy metal is fun, but critics complain that Rock Star loses its charm and serves up "well-worn homilies about the pitfalls of fame" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). The actors get high marks: Mark Wahlberg has a "hunky regular guy likeability" (Turan) as a cover-band singer who gets to perform with his idols; Jennifer Aniston is "so not Rachel" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post) as his supportive girlfriend; and Timothy Spall is a "charming and sleazy" road manager (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). Still, critics can't resist comparing it to the "vastly superior"Almost Famous (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal). (Visit the official Mark Wahlberg Web site.)— M.C.
Two Can Play That Game (Screen Gems). Writer-director Mark Brown gets mostly poor notices for this female-oriented retread of Def Jam's How To Be a Player (1997), which he wrote. Vivica A. Fox stars as Shante, a successful advertising executive who wages war on her man, Keith (Morris Chestnut), for his roving eye. The characters "lead lives of such frictionless ease as to make Friends look like The Grapes of Wrath" (A. O. Scott, the New York Times). Appraisals of Fox's performance run the gamut, but there's no disagreement about scene-stealer Anthony Anderson's "amiable bluster and agile timing" (Gene Seymour, the Los Angeles Times) as Keith's strategist in this battle of the sexes. But overall this one is too unoriginal and unromantic for most critics. (Click here to read about She's Gotta Have It, Spike Lee's 1986 Buppie romantic comedy benchmark.)—B.W.
The Musketeer (Universal). The critics spear the latest retelling of Alexandre Dumas' classic story. The action choreography by Hong Kong vet Xin Xin Xiong (Once Upon a Time in China) is the new twist here, and many critics are admiring, particularly of a climactic battle fought on ladders. Wooden Justin Chambers, as D'Artagnan, "generates less on-screen chemistry than his horse" (Megan Rosenfeld, the Washington Post). An international supporting cast (Catherine Deneuve, Stephen Rea, and Tim Roth) adds class and energy, but this is still a "ho-hum swashbuckler that springs to life only during a few spirited scenes of acrobatic swordplay" (Joe Leydon, Variety). (Here's information about director Richard Lester's superior 1974 version of The Three Musketeers.)—B.W.
A Field Guide to Boys and Girls, by Susan Gilbert (HarperCollins). A New York Times science writer tackles the abundance of studies on gender differences in children and "sorts it all out, distilling the relevant research into an informative look at the differences that do exist between boys and girls, and, equally important, at the similarities" (John Langone, the New York Times). Though some complain that "much of the information won't seem earth-shattering to parents who keep up on such matters" (Publishers Weekly), most critics commend Gilbert's thorough research and lack of political agenda and hail her book as a "welcome relief from books fearful that finding sex differences will lead to sex bias" (Langone). (Click here to read the transcript of an MSNBC chat with Gilbert.)— E.T.
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Global a Go-Go, by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros (Hellcat). Solid reviews for the former Clash front-man's second solo album. Though no critic claims this measures up to his London Calling days, most are impressed with his newly expanded horizons, saying he's created "a gloriously diverse album that celebrates everyone from Ali Farka Toure to the Skatalites to Bob Dylan in its world beat-rock fusion. … Acoustic tangos segue into hypnotic reggae tracks. Percussive Latin rhythms morph into Brit rock, dub reggae and everything in between" (Sarah Rodman, the Boston Herald). Entertainment Weekly calls him "a sort of punk-rock Paul Simon, unself-consciously erasing all stylistic borders on this aptly titled disc" (Robert Cherry). (Click here for a Strummer fan site.)— E.T.
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