The critics' take on Collateral Damage, etc.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Feb. 8 2002 2:12 PM

Collateral Coincidences

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Movies
Collateral Damage (Warner Bros.). Judiciousness from the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert on this Arnold picture about an American firefighter whose family is bombed by Colombian terrorists: "You may not want to attend Collateral Damage because of 9/11, but it hardly seems fair to attack it for not knowing then what we all know now." Luckily for less impartial viewers—the plot does detail a plan to detonate a skyscraper—Ebert's colleagues call it a "fair-to-middling action flick"(Desson Howe, the Washington Post): Its attempts at honest characterization are so "awkward that you expect the actors to break up" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times); and its " 'a plague on both your houses' political philosophy" is something "we've seen before" and "will see again" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (Click here to view the notoriously comprehensive trailer.)— A.B.
Rollerball (MGM). This sports-action remake is so bad it even gets knocked by the Los Angeles Times' Kevin Thomas, who can usually be trusted to give a thumbs-up to movies panned by everyone else. "Too much of the dialogue is laughably awful," Thomas says. The movie, which stars Chris Klein, "is about the least interesting thing on Earth: rollerball" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). There is not much of a plot—"There are bright colors and quick movement on the screen, which we can watch as a visual pattern that, in entertainment value, falls somewhere between a kaleidoscope and a lava lamp," says Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times—nor is there much acting, because "with no characters to play, no one can really act" (Mike Clark, USA Today). The movie was extensively reworked after shooting, but Ebert writes that things went awry even earlier. "My guess is that something went dreadfully wrong early in the production. Maybe dysentery or mass hypnosis," he says. (Click here for information about the 1975 original.)— B.M. L.

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Big Fat Liar (Universal). Most critics pan this "kids-outsmarting-adults" comedy (Robert K. Elder, the Chicago Tribune), starring Malcolm in the Middle's Frankie Muniz, Nickelodeon's Amanda Bynes, and Paul Giamatti. The plot: A slick Hollywood producer turns an imp's stolen story into a film; and the imp and his impette of a sidekick prank him to foil his plans. Reviewers concur that while the "two young actors display an easygoing, screwball rapport" the film's "putative message—that honesty is the best policy—is continually undercut by the sheer exuberance with which [the duo] carry out their deceptions" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). In fact, mocks Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, the "premise probably says more about the way that bad comedies get packaged these days than the creators of Big Fat Liar intended." (Click here for the official site and watch a stuffed monkey's Web cam.)— A.B.

Scotland, PA (Lot 47). Reviewers react harshly to this kitsch '70's revision of Macbeth featuring actor-director Billy Morrissette, Christopher Walken, ER's Maura Tierney, Ally McBeal's James LeGros, and several other prime-timers. About a dimwitted fast-food employee's murderous coup, critics call the "happily loutish" story "enthusiastically acted" and full of "hit-or-miss gimmicks" (J. Hoberman, the Village Voice). Yet most agree it's "so infatuated with its own whimsy that most of the drama in Shakespeare's tragedy is diluted by the movie's joking condescension toward its characters" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). The primary virtue: Walken's perpetually chewing, vegan cop who comes off "so funny, he almost makes you forget the flick is one joke stretched thinner than Calista Flockhart" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone). (Click here for the official Web site, which misspells Beethoven's "van" on its music page.)—A.B.

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Music Citizen Cope, by Citizen Cope (DreamWorks). The buzzed-about major-label debut from Tennessee-born Clarence Greenwood, aka Citizen Cope, gets mostly stellar reviews. Critics struggle to describe the album's sound, a pastiche of hip-hip, folk, soul, reggae, and indie pop with aspects that are likened to Beck, Everlast, Maxwell, John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, and Sting. A veteran of Washington, D.C.'s club scene, Cope is called "the city's most soulful export since Marvin Gaye" by the Washington Post's David Segal. Some critics find the album uneven: "[T]he musical melange turns murky and tame in [its] less distinguished tunes" (Edna Gundersen, USA Today). (Click here for Cope's official site.)—B.W.

CD Cover

Come With Us, by the Chemical Brothers (Virgin). Reviewers say the latest album from this electronic duo, "the populist face of rave culture," (Piotr Orlov, CMJ) is solid if not much of a departure from their previous work. "With each new album, the Chemical Brothers don't reinvent the wheel so much as rotate the tires," says Rolling Stone's Pat Blashill. Thus the new record is full of "kaleidoscopic acid-lines," "guitar (sounding) loops," and "rocked-up dance floor madness" (Orlov). This is enough for some reviewers—"this time the Chemical Brothers have truly earned their reputation as the best in the business," writes Steve Baltin in the Los Angeles Times—but not for others: "[The album] ushers in a hitherto unimaginable concept: a Chemicals album it's possible to feel ambivalent about," writes Dan Cairns in the London Sunday Times. (Click here for their official Web site, which includes a number of audio clips.)—B.M.L.

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Books
Rapture, by Susan Minot (Knopf). Very few positive notices for this relationship writer's latest novella, which "takes place entirely during a[n] [oral] sex act in which two old lovers alternately retreat into their heads (and memories)" (John Freeman, the Wall Street Journal). Critics call it a "mannered, predictable, and not-the-least-bit erotic" story about two characters who are "too self-absorbed, too self-pitying, to hold our attention" (Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times). What's more, while Rapture"deftly reveals how interior sex is and how two people can be in radically different emotional places during it" (Freeman), it would no doubt "make an excellent argument for abstinence, were it not for the genuine allure of Minot's prose" (James Marcus, the Atlantic Monthly). (Click here to read an excerpt.)— A.B.

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Tishomingo Blues, by Elmore Leonard (Morrow). Unanimous praise for the godfather of mystery's 37th novel. The plot: A Mississippi high-diver, Dennis Lenahan, first witnesses a Mafia hit from his perch and is then chased about during a Civil War re-enactment. Reviewers say "it's Leonard's gift" that "you never fail to believe" his colorful tales (Erik Torkells, Fortune). In fact, notes the New York Times' Janet Maslin, "[w]hat's best about this book is a setting and situation so well drawn that they almost upstage the mystery." "Lenahan's composure and his easy acrobatics feel like a stand-in for the author's; both seem to play it by ear even after the guns start firing. And the hurtling plot twists keep coming, right up to the perfect rip of a finish" (The New Yorker). (Click here to listen to an audio excerpt, read by actor Paul Rudd.)— A.B.

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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