Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Nov. 1 2002 4:42 PM

Strip Flub

Christina Aguilera's new album almost redeems her sleazy video.

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Stripped, by Christina Aguilera (RCA). Pay no attention to the skanky video! "Stripped is an album for grown-ups," insists Jancee Dunn in Rolling Stone. The Washington Post's David Segal concurs, noting that despite super-lewd packaging of the "Dirrty" single, this album nudges Aguilera effectively into the "neo-soul sorority" of Ashanti and Alicia Keys. But while she does a solid job covering "vampy soul, quasi-metal, piano-bar intimacy, quiet-storm R & B, bounce-bounce hip-hop, and semi-exotic rock," writes David Browne in Entertainment Weekly, "she exhibits plenty of elastic skill but little joy." (Stripped.)

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I Spy (Columbia). "[L]azy, slow, shallow, stupid, amateurish, unfunny, unsuspenseful, uninformed, unspeakably dull and witlessly written, directed and acted (the special effects suck, too)," summarizes Rolling Stone's Peter Travers. "Cosby and Culp deserve apologies—and so does Budapest," sniffs the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro. A few critics do faintly praise Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson as the interracial buddies: "They give the film desperately needed life, dishing comic riffs back and forth like a jazz duet," writes Gregory M. Lamb in the Christian Science Monitor.

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The Santa Clause 2 (Walt Disney Pictures). Nostalgic reviews compare the first film's "softly dry humor and genuine wide-eyed wonder" with the sequel's "heavy-handed sentimentality and redundant gags hammered with action-film high jinks" (Melinda Ennis, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Grinchier complaints include "the amazingly unappealing child actors who play Santa's little helpers" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). In the New York Times, A.O. Scott turns wryly academic and suggests "The Theme of the Double in the Sequels of Tim Allen" as a dissertation topic: "Don't forget to footnote this review."

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Jackass: The Movie (MTV Films). "It doesn't take long for the endless parade of alligators attached to nipples, bottle rockets launched out of rectums, and [other puerile gags] to have a deadening effect," sighs the Onion's Tasha Robinson. "[L]ike a documentary version of 'Fight Club,' shorn of social insight, intellectual pretension and cinematic interest," writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times. The minority report: "I also wish that I had drank a few beers before my screening, since I'm sure that I would have enjoyed it even more," writes JoBlo (sincerely!) at Joblo.com.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui(Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University). "Shouting replaces satire. As a result, the dogmatic, not the dialectic, has its day," writes The New Yorker's John Lahr of this high-toned Brecht revival starring Al Pacino. As if that weren't enough, the New York Observer's John Heilpern offers 12 readers a bottle of champagne if they'll boo the performance—the correct, Brechtian response to the production's failures of imagination, rages Heilpern. "As that fawning Arturo Ui audience—who forked out $115a ticket to see the stars—rises at the end to give Mr. Pacino & Co. an unthinking standing ovation, you have to wonder whether they know what they're doing. Do they know anything about the Marxist Brecht or what they've just seen? Does it matter?"

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PlayStation 2). Kill hookers, and avenge your cocaine! This hilarious '80s-themed (and Lieberman-denounced) ultra-violent video game is even " bigger, badder, and better" than its controversial precursor, raves Jeff Gerstmann on Gamespot. The game's amoral universe is intriguing, writes the New York Times' John Leland, but comparisons with other media don't hold up: "The brutality in 'The Sopranos' forces viewers to confront their feelings about the characters and their lives; in Grand Theft Auto, it just shapes the scenery." Meanwhile, on Slashdot, geeks snark about the debate: "Since playing Quake, my hand-eye coordination has improved threefold and now when I do a driveby, I hit 57% less pedestrians!" (Grand Theft Auto.)

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The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt (Knopf). "A grownup book that captures the dark, Lord of the Flies side of childhood," purrs James Poniewozik in Time. "[E]very sophomore should slump this well." His rave is the exception: Despite crazy buzz in Publisher's Weekly, reviews are mixed to scathing. In Entertainment Weekly, Troy Patterson calls it "an extended prose catastrophe"; in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani labels it "a Frankenstein of a book, a lumpish collection of mismatched parts"; and some unnamed writer in the San Francisco Chronicle goes all bitchcakes about (and gives away, sorta) the ending. (The Little Friend.)

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Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, by Matthew Scully (St. Martin's). "[A] horrible, wonderful, important book," reports Natalie Angier in the New York Times Book Review—horrible in its details of cruelty to animals, "wonderful in its eloquent, mordant clarity, and its hilarious fillets of sanctimonious cant and hypocrisy." Republican Scully might seem an odd advocate for animal rights, and indeed, in the Weekly Standard, Wesley J. Smith disagrees on almost every point, arguing that cheap bacon trumps the need to treat pigs nicely. In the Atlantic Monthly, Christopher Hitchens (who likes the book, mostly) notes that when Scully reports on the meat industry, "The arguments he hears, about gutsy individualism in the first case and rationalized profit maximization in the second, are the disconcerting sounds of his own politics being played back to him." (Buy Dominion.)

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Memoirs, by David Rockefeller (Random House). "In writing about his life, Rockefeller does not attempt to gild his persona," hisses the Los Angeles Times' Peter Collier (whose own 1976 book on the Rockefellers caused a hubbub in the family). "He is saturnine, self-satisfied and obtuse—all survival traits in this family." The book may be "shrewd and useful," but it also features "pointless stories that end nowhere" and good PR for dictators, writes Joseph Losos in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. In the New York Times, David Brooks takes a more deadpan approach to Rockefeller's prose: "He is never furious, though he is occasionally 'distressed.' An event is never horrible, it is 'disagreeable' ... this is a voice from the lost world of the Protestant Establishment." ( Memoirs.)