Why the critics don't like Bad Company, etc.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
June 7 2002 3:15 PM

Bad Company, Take 12

Movies

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Bad Company (Touchstone). This stolen-nuke comedy-thriller starring Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock gets awful reviews. Elements of the film with which critics find fault include: 1) the premise ("a collision between three durable genres: Misfit Partners, Fish Out of Water and Mistaken Identity," says Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times); 2) the plot ("originality-deficient," says Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times); 3) the script (Hopkins "deserves another Oscar for wrestling with bad lines without rolling his eyes so vigorously that they scrape the inside of his skull," says Mitchell); 4) the performances of both leading actors (Rock's talents are wasted in a demeaning role while Hopkins looks bored); and 5) even the timing of its release ("As for the theme of a nuclear device that might destroy New York, I have a feeling that after this generation of pre-9/11 movies plays out, we won't be seeing it much anymore," writes Ebert). (Click here to read about the first of many, many movies with the title Bad Company.)— B.M.L.

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Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (Warner Bros.). Cynics mock this "serious helping of fried green magnolias" about "a hemmed-in Sandra Bullock," "her cracked belle mother" (Ellen Burstyn and, in flashbacks, Ashley Judd), and her garrulous friends (Mark Holcomb, the Village Voice). Most agree it's "close to the heart of Oprahland," a place "[n]o one is allowed to leave without a warm, reassuring hug" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). The direction lacks "focus and smoothness"; "some of the changes to the novel coarsen the material" (Michael Wilmington, the Chicago Tribune). Another complaint: Even though it's "strong when and where it needs to be"—in "heartfelt sentiment"—its men are "duller than dishwater" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (View the trailer.)— A.B.

Cherish (Fine Line). Pans for this "batty, cheerfully crass, shape-shifting farce" about "a San Francisco shrinking violet" (Robin Tunney) who "winds up under house arrest after she's wrongly accused of a hit-and-run" (Dennis Lim, the Village Voice). When writer-director Finn Taylor "tries to turn it" from a "pokey little character comedy" with cameos by Jason Priestly and Liz Phair "into a genre thriller," Cherish "deteriorates" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). "Implausible at every turn, it offers a dab of quirkiness and edge, but otherwise has nothing for audiences to embrace" (Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times). "Bonus half-point: title song not by Kool & the Gang or Madonna but the Association" (Lim). (View the trailer.)—A.B.

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The Fast Runner (Lot 47). Awe-inspired raves for this "stunning, fully formed masterpiece (and the first feature ever in the Inuktitut language)" based on "1,000-year-old Inuit legend about a blood feud between families" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). "[S]o elemental in its means yet so cosmic in its drama, it could herald a rebirth of cinema": It is "spectacularly beautiful, not to mention mysterious, sensual, emotionally intense, and replete with virtuoso throat-singing" (J. Hoberman, the Village Voice). No wonder it won Cannes' Caméra d'Or prize for best feature: One of its icy scenes "has already become something of a classic, a word that will quickly be bestowed on the film as a whole" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). (Make sure you view the trailer.)— A.B.

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30 Years to Life (Exodus Entertainment). Decent, if sparse, early reviews for this independent ensemble comedy about a group of upper-class African-American New Yorkers during the year of their 30th birthdays. "Though 30 Years to Life doesn't break any new ground, it's a light, engaging, well-carpentered film, with a quick wit and a sense of character just deep enough to lend some weight to the laugh lines" (Dave Kehr, the New York Times). Neophyte writer-director Vanessa Middleton is a TV veteran (Cosby), and 30 Years can seem like a situation comedy. "But despite its sitcommy feel, Middleton's polished writing and amusing observations about the anxieties most people encounter when definitively farewelling their youth help compensate for her standard-issue direction" (David Rooney, Variety). (Click here for transcripts of Saturday Night Live sketches starring cast member Tracy Morgan.)— B.W.

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Music
The Eminem Show, by Eminem (Interscope). Critics are unsatisfied by the Detroit native's third major release. Everyone acknowledges his "kinetic wordplay" (Lorraine Ali, Newsweek) and "dizzying prowess" as a rapper (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly), but many complain that his subject matter is growing stale. Browne says that the album's "sincerity and psychological probing," its best features, are overshadowed by angry "self-pity" and unnecessary "self-mythologizing." In the New York Times, Jon Pareles writes that Eminem has become a corporate franchise whose once-compelling "sputtering rage" is now just a "shtick." Summarizes Neil Strauss, also in the New York Times: "Slim Shady, rather than being shocking, is becoming familiar." (Click here to watch the video for The Eminem Show's first single, "Without Me." Buy.)— B.M.L.

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Heathen, by David Bowie (ISO). Cosmic praise for Bowie's 27th album, "a 12-song epic for which the legendary artist reunited with famed producer Tony Visconti for the first time in 20 years" (Larry Flick, Billboard). Critics write that "Bowie has exquisitely hip taste": "The most immediate pleasures on Heathen are all covers" (songs of Neil Young, the Pixies, and, surprise, David Bowie) and "[t]he poignancy is in the heartbeat audible beneath the old tricks" (David Fricke, Rolling Stone). The consensus from Ground Control: "Packed with fantastic songs, liberally sprinkled with intriguing touches, Heathen is the sound of a man who has finally worked out how to grow old with a fitting degree of style" (Alexis Petridis, the Guardian). (Visit a Bowie multimedia archive. Buy.)— A.B.

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Frantic, by Bryan Ferry (Virgin). Critics say the former Roxy Music frontman's latest "rocks with more excitement than Ferry has exhibited in years" (Billboard). "Singing with the animation of old" (Jim Farber, Rolling Stone), he mixes covers and originals, varying between "the ambient pop that's become his signature" (Billboard) and material with "a more bluesy vibe" (Jim De Rogatis, the Chicago Sun-Times). USA Today's Edna Gunderson complains that Ferry's sound is "somewhat dated," but CMJ's Randy Harward argues that the album is intended for Ferry's '80s-loving core audience anyway. "Much like last year's Roxy Music tour," Howard says, "this is a record for the fans." (Click here and scroll down to see Bryan Ferry's 10 favorite songs. Buy.)— B.M.L.

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Be Not Nobody, by Vanessa Carlton (A&M). Mostly apathy for this 21-year-old songstress' "Jewel-meets-Mendelssohn" debut album (Tom Lanham, the San Francisco Examiner). Critics note that with her classical piano chops, simple looks, and a voice that "doesn't sound a day over 17" (Chris William, Entertainment Weekly), she's a worthy Britney antidote. But that's just not enough. Of course, "the musicianship is impeccable," and Carlton's "clearly talented." It's just "all in the service of overwrought victim-of-love material that's been done to death," and unfortunately, Carlton "seems to be playing dress-up" in the "emotions and themes" of "Alanis, Tori, and Fiona" (Ernest Hardy, Rolling Stone). (Listen to Carlton's songs on her Web site. Buy.)— A.B.

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Books Firehouse, by David Halberstam (Hyperion). Strong, respectful reviews for this "homage to firemen's values and firemen's culture, and to what one can only describe as the martyrdom that the New York Fire Department underwent in the catastrophe of the World Trade Center" (James Traub, the New York Times). Critics say Firehouse "provides a rare view into the private rivalries and rhythms of firefighting life"and that "Halbsterstam writes with the compassionate and urgent precision that John Hersey brought to Hiroshima" (Evan Osnos, the Chicago Tribune). The only minor flaw: "Halberstam plainly does not want to canonize these men, but he can't quite help it" (Traub). (Click here to read an excerpt. Buy.)— A.B.

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The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert (Viking). Excellent notices for this "wickedly well-written and finally pain-filled" biography of Eustace Conway (James Gorman, the New York Times), a "preternaturally gifted hunter, horseman, carpenter, ecologist and athlete" (the San Francisco Chronicle), who serves as a symbol of American frontiersmen. Critics call the portrait "engrossing and entertaining, filled with thoughtful meditations and humorous observations" while noting Gilbert's "funny, quick, and smart" prose "leaves no stone unturned in her exploration of the cultural landscape of masculinity." In short, Conway "could not have asked for a better writer to chronicle his story" (Heather Hewett, the Christian Science Monitor). (Read the first chapter.)— 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.