What reviewers thought of Behind Enemy Lines, etc.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Nov. 27 2001 2:22 PM

Mission Gone Bad

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Movies Behind Enemy Lines (20th Century Fox). Mostly negative reviews for this rescue-mission thriller. Even those critics who seem to like the movie damn it with faint praise. "Behind Enemy Lines is not dull" and does "a good job with the aerial action," says Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. The film's biggest problems are its formulaic plot ("[Y]ou start to wonder why no fetching femme resistance fighter materializes to help the Americans on the ground," jokes Turan), stock characters like villains that "might just as well have been represented by helium balloons tied to sticks" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly), and implausible action scenes: "This is not the story of a fugitive trying to sneak through enemy terrain and be rescued, but of a movie character magically transported from one photo opportunity to another," complains Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. (Click here for the movie's official site, which includes downloadable wallpaper.)— B.M.L.

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The Affair of the Necklace (Warner Bros.). Grim notices for Oscar-winning actress Hillary Swank's newest vehicle "about a dispossessed noblewoman plotting to buy back her name with some pilfered jewelry" (Glen Kenny, Premiere). More than just "the latest in Louis XVI costume porn," screenwriter John Sweet has authored "an endless illustrated Harlequin paperback of mawkish backstory and corset-popping purple prose" (Jessica Winter, the Village Voice). What's worse, Swank's "androgynous rock-star lips framed by an unflattering mass of dollish curls," render her "tentative and uncomfortable, like Alanis Morissette trapped in a bad period-piece video" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). No matter: It's the narrative's"earnest ineptitude" that causes it to both "drag and meander when it wants clarity and clockwork" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). (Click here for the official Web site.)— A.B.

The Independent (Arrow). Warm reviews for this humorously deadpan mockumentary about filmmaker Morty Fineman, "an indefatigable exploitation titan," not unlike famed B-movie-moguls Roger Corman and Russ Meyer, who "made their names working with tight budgets and tighter hot pant." (Dennis Lim, the Village Voice). Portrayed by Jerry Stiller (Janeane Garofalo plays his daughter), "Fineman is a self-righteous but generally amiable artiste who boasts all his films" (Cheerleader Camp Massacre and Meter Reader Lolita, to name two) "have serious messages" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). The sole joke of the film, of course, is that "the director's opus is shlock" (Gina Piccalo and Louise Roug, the Los Angeles Times). But "it strings it along just long enough to keep from wearing out its welcome" (Holden). (Serenity now! Click here to visit Jerry Stiller Online!)—A.B.

George Harrison

Death George Harrison (1943-2001). Today journalists mourn George Harrison, 58, "the quiet Beatle'' who "added both rock 'n' roll flash and a touch of the mystic to the band's timeless magic" (Associated Press). Harrison is dubbed a gifted songwriter, "enormously skilled" on the 12-string guitar, and the Beatles' spiritual leader who "introduced the group to Far Eastern religious philosophies and instruments that were adapted by other leading rockers." "One critic called him the 'unnoticed mover' of the band"; yet "his songs were among the gentlest and [most] meditative of the Beatles' output" (Adam Bernstein, the Washington Post)—including "Within You, Without You," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Something," and the optimistic paean "Here Comes the Sun." Harrison is said to have "quickly made up for lost time" after the Beatles' breakup in 1970 by "launching his solo career with the landmark triple-album All Things Must Pass" and going on "to record eight more studio albums, including the 1987 hit Cloud Nine" (Greg Kot, the Chicago Tribune). Obits also note that there now remain only two living Beatles: Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Harrison died of throat cancer. He is survived by his wife, Olivia Arras, and by his son Dhani, 24. (Click here to visit the official Beatles Web site.)— A.B.

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In the Bedroom (Miramax Films). Phenomenal reviews for this "perfectly observed, wrenchingly acted drama" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). This story of grief in small-town Maine is the "impressive directing debut" of actor Todd Field (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). The critics call Sissy Spacek's and Marisa Tomei's work the best in their lauded careers; Spacek and screen husband Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty) shared a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Slate's David Edelstein calls this "the best movie of the last several years: the most evocative, the most mysterious, the most inconsolably devastating"; Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum gives it an "A." (Click here for a fan site dedicated to another acclaimed film starring Spacek, Terrence Malick's Badlands [1973].)—B.W.

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Spy Game (Universal). Mixed reactions to this CIA intelli-flick starring Robert Redford as an aging spy and Brad Pitt as his prodigal surrogate. Some find the film "nakedly a star vehicle" that is "hampered by a fragmented narrative line" and "haphazard" flashbacks that "tend to dissipate tension" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Others see it as "a taut, timely and intelligent thriller, with cloak-and-swaggering performances, about the moral ambiguities native to intelligence-gathering" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post). The one commonly agreed-upon virtue: director Tony Scott's gift for creating a "crisply edited, fast-moving collage of global architecture, top-secret documents and murky skullduggery" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). (Click here to visit the official Web site.)— A.B.

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Sidewalks of New York (Paramount Classics). Top critics pity writer/actor/director Ed Burns' mockumentary about a group of incestuous New Yorkers, featuring Heather Graham, Dennis Farina, and Stanley Tucci. Not only are Burns' jump-cuts and staged interviews derivative of Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives; the story's "a veritable Greek chorus of wry therapeutic chatter, the touchy-feely pensées skittering over the stock dualities of adultery and fidelity" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). Of course, Burns' New Yorkers, who've "grown up in a society of psycho-babble, and carry around half-digested concepts of guilt, redemption and finding karma" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times), provide mild comic relief. But in the face of the flick's pretentious "self absorption," you'd "be better off renting Manhattan instead" (Lou Lumenick, the New York Post). (Click here to visit the official Web site.)— A.B.

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Black Knight (20th Century Fox). Horrendous reviews for this Martin Lawrence time-travel comedy. Lawrence is a theme park employee who gets transported to Middle Ages England in this "single fish-out-of-water joke told over and over again" (Michael O'Sullivan, the Washington Post). USA Today's Claudia Puig laments that "humorous moments are few" in this latest variation on Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Perhaps inevitably, the Los Angeles Times' Kevin Thomas gushes about the film, calling it "consistently inspired, energetic and, most important, light on its feet … joyous, uninhibited," but most critics cringe at its "borderline-desperate zeal" (Joe Leydon, Variety). (Click here for information about A Knight in Camelot, Whoopi Goldberg's TV-movie variation on Connecticut Yankee.)—B.W.

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Book
Hoop Roots, by John Edgar Wideman (Houghton Mifflin). Reviewers call Wideman's playground basketball memoir provocative but flawed. Most say the book's format, which combines autobiography, fiction, and essay, demonstrates a lack of focus. "Wideman's free-and-easy way with structure is reminiscent of a player who goes up into the air not knowing whether to shoot or pass," says Will Blythe in the New York Times. The author is best when "addressing how it feels to play the game" (Blythe); during tangents of intellectual and social commentary he "descends to the level of a USA Today editorialist" (Allen Barra, the Washington Post). "Hoop Roots left this thinking fan thinking, perhaps there's such a thing as thinking too much," complains Charles Hirshberg in Sports Illustrated. On the whole, though, most critics admire Wideman's abilities, acknowledging that "a few missed shots are acceptable in both basketball and books" (Kirkus Reviews). (Click here for a New York Times"feature page" about Wideman that includes an audio clip of him reading from an earlier book.)— B.M.L.

Adam Baer is a culture critic for the New York Sun and contributor to the New York Times Book Review, Travel + Leisure, and Slate, among other publications.

Ben Mathis-Lilley edits the Slatest. Follow @Slatest on Twitter.

Ben Wasserstein is an associate editor at New York magazine.

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