The critics' take on Jason X, etc.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
April 26 2002 2:59 PM

Lame Life

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Movies Life or Something Like It (20th Century Fox). Very bad reviews for this romantic comedy, wherein Angelina Jolie's ambitious TV reporter discovers "no one on her deathbed wishes she had spent more time at work, and blah blah blah" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly) and starts taking advice from cameraman and "noted moral philosopher" Ed Burns (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). The trite learning-to-live-and-love message is roundly mocked, but critics also find fault with the film's script ("bad writing," says the New York Times' A.O. Scott), direction ("Stephen Herek never settles for subtlety when blinking directional signals will do," says Schwarzbaum), and acting (Jolie "lurches from dewy self-pity to manic hostility without appearing to feel a thing," says Scott). (Click here for the movie's official site.)— B.M.L.

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Jason X (New Line Cinema). Critics have little to say about the ninth sequel to Friday the 13th, which features bad craziness aboard a 25th-century spaceship. "As moronic as you'd expect the 10th iteration of anything to be" (Michael O'Sullivan, the Washington Post), the movie is weak even by crappy-horror-movie standards: It "isn't scary" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly), and the killings are "only sporadically imaginative" (O'Sullivan). The prize for Most Random Critical Comment of the Week goes to Gleiberman, who opens his review by expressing disappointment that Jason X is not about "a preppie suburban teenager who joins the Nation of Islam." (Click here for the movie's official site, which includes a selection of Jason X buddy icons for America Online Instant Messenger users.)— B.M.L.

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Lucky Break (Paramount). Mixed responses to director Peter Cattaneo's follow-up to The Full Monty, a film about convicts who use a prison musical to break out of jail. Some critics cry derivative: "It takes more than a song and a bit o' light class warfare for a Britcom to stand out among the post-Monty generation of imports" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). Cattaneo has "turned in" a film "that is forced, familiar and thoroughly condescending" (Dave Kehr, the New York Times). Yet others disagree. The Los Angeles Times' easily seduced Kevin Thomas calls it "[l]ightly reflective and consistently entertaining"; and Village Voice writer Ed Park goes so far as to brand the inmate show "reliably Guffmanic in its ineptitude" (read: funny in that Christopher Guest kind of way). (Click here for the film's Web site.)— A.B.

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Books
Brown: The Last Discovery of America, by Richard Rodriguez (Viking). Critics like this third and final installment in Rodriguez's trilogy of societal memoir-essays, despite having issues with his technique. By meditating "on how the great influxes of immigrants, especially those from Latin America, and the melding of the races in the United States will confuse our expectations of what is American,"Brown "is an eloquent, nuanced plea for the individual as the primary force in American life" (the San Francisco Chronicle). But the Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley leads a formidable pack of critics who claim that as a viable social treatise, Brown comes off "more suggestive than conclusive, more circular than direct, [and] more ambiguous than emphatic." Uncovering the effects of racial assimilation is, to them I suppose, an exact science? (Click here for an interview with Rodriguez.)—A.B.

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Music Stereo/Mono, by Paul Westerberg (Vagrant). Good reviews for this ex-Replacement's latest two-disc release, featuring Westerberg himself as well as his alter-ego, Grandpaboy. Critics like Stereo, Westerberg's nonfictional disc, better, saying his "weary conviction glimmers with humor and hope, and the ace melodies are a balm for the morning-after blues" (Greg Kot, Rolling Stone). Mono is less well-liked, with Kot calling it "a misguided attempt to approximate the ramshackle sound" of the Replacements. But numerous reviewers are less critical: "Whether soft-boiled or hard-edged, Westerberg's music retains its signature melodic breeziness and effortless rise-and-fall shape. In his sometimes tough, sometimes tender character sketches and diary-like observations, he's again a voice of reassurance for those who have a hard time finding a place to fit in the world" (Richard Cromelin, the Los Angeles Times). (Click here to listen to songs from the album.)— A.B.

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When I Was Cruel, by Elvis Costello (Island Def Jam). Reviewers dig this CD for a host of reasons, not least of which are its connections to Costello's past: "As always, the songs are both autobiographical narratives (the sweet '15 Petals,' apparently about his marriage) and character studies (the angst-ridden lawyer in 'Soul for Hire'). But the music has a crackling rock-noir immediacy, thanks to the sharp, bass-driven rhythm section and the baritone jabs of Costello's guitars" (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly). "The insistent rhythms igniting immediate monsters such as 1978's 'This Year's Model' have finally returned" (Barry Walters, Rolling Stone). And "[a]ll of Costello's crooning years have honed his voice, making it more confident and less strained, so agile that it has more punch than ever" (Natalie Nichols, the Los Angeles Times). (Click here to visit Costello's Web site.)—A.B.

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Electric Sweat, by the Mooney Suzuki (Gammon). Cheers for this second album from a band who "drives the same road of exploding beats, gritty guitars and furious sounds of old-school garage acts" (Mary Huhn, the New York Post). "The CD cover alone"—featuring the band "in full sonic flight"—symbolizes their "rapid progression" and "seems also to attest to [their] sound, which lies closer to the riotous heart of such '60's acts as the MC5, the Stooges, Them, and the Who than the punk groups that came a decade later" (Jonathan Perry, the Boston Globe). In fact, writes LA Weekly's Johnny Angel, Electric Sweat"is even engineered like the founding fathers' discs, with the vocals harsh and buried," the "guitars scraping and overdriven and the cymbals splashing madly." (Click here to visit the band's Web site.)—A.B.

Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, by the Walkmen (Startime International). Decent receptions for this debut by three ex-members of Jonathan Fire*Eater, "the Strokes of [the mid-'90s]" (William Lamb, the Los Angeles Times). Critics call it "a strange and haunting mix" (Nathan Ihara, LA Weekly). The songs "reinforce the sentiment" of "[the] album title: the party is over" (Kalefa Sanneh, the New York Times), and "the quintet trades in the organ-driven garage rock of its predecessor for an ambient sound that owes a debt to early U2" (Lamb). But the real point of contention is whether or not the band's "trying too hard to distance themselves" from Jonathan Fire*Eater" (Lamb) or if the album is "the ultimate redemption" for "those of us who mourned JF*E's implosion" (Ihara). Oh, the enormity of it all. (Click here to visit the band's Web site.)—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.

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