The critics' take on Changing Lanes, etc.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
April 12 2002 4:14 PM

Road Rage

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Movies
Changing Lanes (Paramount). Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times says this Ben Affleck/Samuel L. Jackson drama is "one of the best movies of the year," but other reviewers complain that the film's happy ending betrays a dark plot about the way Affleck's slick lawyer and Jackson's recovering alcoholic try to destroy each other's lives after a car accident. "There are moments where Changing Lanes might have ended and left us feeling haunted, empty and perhaps ultimately wiser people. That moment comes and goes," says John Anderson of Newsday. But most say that the film is worthwhile even if the ending is a little too Hollywood: "Like any well-told story, no matter how familiar, you're going to want to watch this one through to the end" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (Click here for the movie's official site.)— B.M.L.

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The Cat's Meow (Lions Gate). Mostly positive reviews for the first film in eight years from director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show). Steeped in Hollywood myth, the film takes place during a celebrity-packed trip on William Randolph Hearst's (Edward Herrmann) yacht. A love triangle between Hearst, starlet Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), and Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard) and a mysterious death drive the plot. The actors "turn dusty Tinseltown lore into a spry and touching entertainment" (A. O. Scott, the New York Times). Although the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern calls the script "dead in the water," most critics find the film "clever and entertaining" (Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times). Some critics note that the filmmakers made a special request that critics not name the murder victim; others print it anyway. (Click here for a spoiler-ridden summary of the "Hollywood Babylon" story the film is based on.)— B.W.

The Sweetest Thing (Columbia). "At last, a gross-out comedy that women can call their own," quips the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro in response to this wannabe-Farrelly Brothers flick starring Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, and Selma Blair. Other critics aren't as kind about a film premised on a commitment-phobe in search of a man she's only known for 10 minutes but with whom she's convinced she's in love. Calling it "a movie in which laughter and self-exploitation merge into jolly soft-porn 'empowerment,' " Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman writes that the movie is "full of gags that are more tasteless than funny." And the New York Times' Elvis Mitchell takes the comment one step further: "[I]t's quite an achievement to make Ms. Diaz, Ms. Applegate and Ms. Blair look bad, but Thing manages it." (Click here to view the trailer.)—A.B.

New Best Friend (TriStar). Three years after wrapping production, New Best Friend receives a minimal theatrical release, and critics argue that it wasn't minimal enough. "It's never a good sign when a film's star spends the entirety of the film in a coma; it's worse when you begin to envy her condition" quips the Dallas Observer's Robert Wilonsky. Mia Kirshner (Exotica) is the comatose lead; she's ODed on too-pure cocaine after joining a hard-partying, sinister sorority-cum-"rural orgy palace" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times) at a North Carolina college. Lonely compliments come from Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, who calls the film "like a beach read—something that's not to be respected but gets read from cover to cover." (Click here for a fan Web site dedicated to Kirshner.)—B.W.

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Music Southern Hummingbird, by Tweet (Goldmind/Elektra). Reviewers who aren't seduced by the production wiles of hip-hop mega-stars Missy Elliott and Timbaland don't take too kindly to this new diva debut. Ernest Hardy writes in Rolling Stone that its "production rarely approaches the wit or inventiveness that Elliott and Timbaland have established as their trademarks": "Expectations of any sort of heat—erotic or otherwise—are quickly dashed on this surprisingly dull project"; the lyrics are "run-of-the-mill R&B fare." And Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker weighs in with a tad more kindness despite awarding the disc a disappointing C+: It "showcases [Tweet's] breathy coo on a series of well-crafted but too-similar ballads" and "[a]s a result, when she goes up-tempo, there's a vigor you wish the rest of the CD contained." (Click here to visit Tweet's Web site.)— A.B.

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Uninvisible, by Medeski Martin & Wood (Blue Note). Nothing but praise for the fourth Blue Note release from this multi-idiom trio—"The band's music is beloved by fans of avant-garde jazz, hip-hop, jam bands, dance music, funk, and lounge sounds" (Maggie Stein, Billboard). Calling it their "most enjoyable collection yet,"Rolling Stone's Marie Elsie St. Legér writes that "as with the most adventurous DJs of clubland, MMW choose their ingredients carefully, having honed their search-and-deconstruct techniques to razor sharpness; [t]he resultant Uninvisible flavors—complicated, spicy, sweet and sour—offer much to savor." In fact, adds Martin Wisckol in the Orange County Register, Uninvisible is every bit as funky as other MMW albums, yet "darker and edgier, rich with telepathically interlocking rhythms that throb and probe through shadowy moods." (Click here to visit the trio's Web site.)—A.B.

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Plastic Fang, by John Spencer Blues Explosion (Mute). Middling notices for the New York trio's first album in three years. Featuring more of the band's "trademark bastard blues and ecstatically nasty punk yowling" (James Sullivan, the San Francisco Chronicle), reviewers appreciate the effort but note its lack of originality. "Gone are the band's experimental electronics and nods to noise. Instead, guitarist/singer Spencer and his band—Russell Simins on drums and Judah Bauer on guitar—build a wall of sound thick with the kind of electric boogies that powered the Rolling Stones, Credence and Jimi Hendrix" (Dan Aquilante, the New York Post). In fact, writes Andy Gill in the Independent, "Plastic Fang is just that, by [the band's] standards a fairly tame effort whose bark really is worse than its bite." (Click here for a funny video interview with the band.)—A.B.

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Silver Lining, by Bonnie Raitt (Capitol). Few supporters for Bonnie Raitt's 16th album, described by Natalie Nichols in the Los Angeles Times as "a varied collection incorporating her trademark Delta-influenced blues-rock, African styles, New Orleans boogie and modern adult-pop elements." Even though "[h]er voice remains good and grainy, her slide guitar raw and steely," these "roadhouse rousers and midlife-meditation ballads feel like repeats of past performances, and stabs at world music resemble watered-down Paul Simon" (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly). Village Voice veteran Robert Christgau validates the claim: "As usual, the few songs she wrote herself outstrip the others. But even those are for roots-rock matures who share her worldview so narrowly that not a note or emotion takes her anywhere she doesn't know like her own night table." (Click here to visit Raitt's Web site, where you can download her music.)—A.B.

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Books
Revenge: A Story of Hope, by Laura Blumenfeld (Simon & Schuster). So-so reviews for this account of the vengeance a Washington Post reporter sought from the Palestinian terrorist who shot and wounded her rabbi father. Some critics say that "by investing so much energy in the [killer's family], Blumenfeld manages to portray [him] with more subtlety than most descriptions of terrorists"; and "more amazing, she gets the [family] to see [her father] as a human being instead of a target" (Blake Eskin, the New York Times). But others see the book as "gripping if inconsistent": Samuel G. Freeman in the Washington Post writes that Blumenfeld's passages about herself and her family lack "the complicated balance of detachment and engagement that can raise autobiography to the level of literature." (Click here to listen to NPR's Terry Gross interview Blumenfeld.)— 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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