Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Feb. 7 2003 5:40 PM

Arch Enemies

Daniel Libeskind's fans have had it with two-faced critic Herbert Muschamp.

Ground Zero Designs. In December, New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp praised the spire-happy Libeskind design as "a perfect balance between aggression and desire." Yesterday he wrote that this same design was "an artistic representation of enemy assault," declaring that the  "astonishingly tasteless idea" had produced "a predictably kitsch result." Unsurprisingly, the architect's camp ain't happy—and according to Archlog, they fired off an e-mail to supporters suggesting anti-Muschamp themes for letters to the Times. (Sample: "He is just not reliable anymore. Please get rid of this guy.")

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How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days (Paramount). This romantic comedy wins resigned praise for its "beguiling averageness," with Kate Hudson singled out for her "boundless energy and wildly expressive pie-face." But critics seem weary of finding ways to distinguish the current crop of sub-par chick flicks. In Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman laments: "From Sweet Home Alabama to Two Weeks Notice, it's now part of the design of our romantic comedies that they be composed of equal parts saccharine and cheese." (Read David Edelstein's review in Slate. Buy tickets to How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days.)

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Shanghai Knights (Touchstone). Judgments of this nutsy sequel are all over the place; the New York Times' Elvis Mitchell raves that the film is as "contagious as it is outrageous" (and lards his review with dorky riffs on "This time, it's personal") while the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro sighs, "You've seen one revolving-bookcase fight scene, you've seen them all." In the Los Angeles Times, Manohla Dargis sneers that the action-comedy is "lazy and resolutely witless," while Salon's Charles Taylor goes giddily evangelical, begging cinema snobs to give in to Jackie Chan's charms. Meanwhile, in Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum likes the film OK but delivers this cinematic weather advisory: "Low movie expectations can be as helpful at this time of year as lip balm." (Buy tickets to Shanghai Knights.)

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Biker Boyz (DreamWorks). This fast-and-furious black biker movie "constantly skirts self-parody, yet inexplicably plays its guffaw-inducing drama straight," marvels Nathan Rabin in the Onion's "AV Club." In the Washington Post, Michael O'Sullivan calls it "the perfect revenge for every guy whose girlfriend made him sit through that two-hour movie about Virginia Woolf." Many critics warily flicker the toggle switch between rave and pan, with Africana.com's Aïda Mashaka Croal noting that the film "teeters between cheesy and absorbing" while Scott B. on FilmForce muses that it is as "as difficult to completely dismiss as it is to recommend." (Buy tickets to Biker Boyz.)

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Dorian: An Imitation, by Will Self (Grove). Critics tear into this "clumsy, unwitty rip-off of Wilde's classic," with the New York Times' Sophie Harrison describing Self's baroque prose style thusly: "[T]he effect on the page is occasionally that of a man leaning carelessly on a nail gun." In the Washington Post, Carolyn See discerns a maddening priggishness beneath Self's bad-boy swagger: "By loathing his world and his characters and all that they do so much, Will Self ends up like Rumpelstiltskin stamping himself into a meltdown tizzy, a writer who can't figure out if he's a moralist, an immoralist, or both." (Buy Dorian.)

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Great Neck, by Jay Cantor (Knopf). "Dense, wildly ambitious and schizophrenic, it is a book that you cannot just read. You must talk back to it," enthuses Matt King in the San Francisco Chronicle. And Cantor's '60s epic does attract many chatty on-the-one-hand/on-the-other critiques, with the majority concluding that despite flaws, the book is "so rich in character and incident that you can't help wishing it a long shelf life and many devoted readers" (Adam Begley, the New York Times). But there are serious complaints: Laura Ciolkowski gripes that Cantor "trivializes the politics of the counterculture," while Carlo Wolff complains that the book is "far too long, containing several potentially better—and shorter—novels." (Buy Great Neck.)

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Kingpin (NBC). Reviewers measure this Latin mob drama against The Sopranos, with Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker arguing that Kingpin"has different goals and ideas on its mind, and explores them with exciting snap," while the New York Times' Alessandra Stanley sniffs that the show "has very little voice of its own." In the Boston Globe, Matthew Gilbert jokes that the blueprints for the two programs "are so similar that a comparison graphic in the marginalia of Entertainment Weekly can't be far off"; he nonetheless finds Kingpin"ambitious and engrossing." In USA Today, Robert Bianco snarks that the real point of comparison is Dynasty, dismissing the series as "Mob camp."