Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
June 13 2003 5:37 PM

But Dude, I'm a Star!

The rise and fall of Ashton Kutcher, plus Harrison Ford's latest.

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Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (New Line). "There really is no hope for humankind," laments the Philadelphia Inquirer's Steven Rea, who proposes "Dumb and Dumberer: When Greedheads Make Movies" as an alternate title. "Cue the shit jokes, misunderstandings, and flatulent double-entendres," sighs John Patterson in L.A. Weekly. The only critic to like what may be the worst-reviewed movie of the year is the Christian Science Monitor's David Sterrit, who calls this prequel a "good natured farce" that's "somewhere between Wayne's World and Animal House." And the Washington Post's Desson Howe, who protests a bit too much, may have had more fun than he'd like to let on: "To be back-bendingly charitable, there is something passingly funny about a game of tag at the counter of the Big A Gas & Stop convenience store." But the Zinger of the Week goes to Mark Caro, in the Chicago Tribune. "So excruciatingly awful, the word 'dumb' could sue for slander." (Buy tickets to Dumb and Dumberer.)

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Hollywood Homicide (Sony). "What exactly is Hollywood Homicide, anyway?" Reviews are all over the map for this new Harrison Ford/Josh Hartnett movie from Bull Durham director Ron Shelton, but critics have a tough time categorizing it. "Sort of a comedy, but without many laughs, and sort of a mystery, but drained of any real suspense by the fact that we know who done it almost from the start," wavers the Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan, who concludes that the movie is mostly about "waiting for it to be over." At times, explains Luke Y. Thompson in the Dallas Observer, "it's exactly what it purports to be lampooning—a lame, boring cop buddy movie." But A.O. Scott dissents, arguing that Ford dances through "his loosest, wittiest performance in years." And both Scott and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Wilmington praise the movie as an intelligent satire about Los Angeles, the city of "envy, self invention and delusional ambition" where "even cops want to break into show biz." (Read David Edelstein's review in Slate.) (Buy tickets to Hollywood Homicide.)

When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent Into Power and Influence, by Connie Bruck (Random House). This "engagingly written, richly reported and endlessly fascinating" book examines the Hollywood executive sometimes credited with inventing the summer blockbuster, but reviewers warn that it's not quite a biography. "Despite the title, its real subject is MCA"—the company Wasserman founded—Richard Pachter notes in the Miami Herald. That's fine with Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, who raves about this "gripping anatomization of the modern movie business" and doesn't mind that Bruck jettisons "thumbnail psychoanalysis" to tell a business story about "embattled tycoons." But the Wall Street Journal's John Lippman complains that Bruck fails to paint a multidimensional portrait of Wasserman, who ultimately "comes across as a bore." "Blink and you'll miss the glamorous stuff," writes the New York Observer's Alexandra Jacobs, who had hoped for a juicier read. "If words like 'garnering' and 'utilizing' and 'encomium' are what tousle your beach towel, then this is the book for you." (Buy When Hollywood Had a King.)

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Ashton Kutcher backlash. The monthlong Golden Age of Ashton Kutcher may be coming to an end. The star of Dude, Where's My Car? has become suddenly ubiquitous because of a newfound friendship with P. Diddy and a Tadpole-esque romantic involvement with Demi Moore. Lev Grossman, in Time, speculates that the relationship with Moore might be "an unusually long and elaborate episode of his prank show Punk'd." "The whole thing SMACKS of a publicity stunt," all-caps "It's Only Me" on a Duxtra forum devoted to the topic. "BAM! Demi makes the cover of People magazine (first time she's been on that in, what, 8 years?), and Ashton suddenly becomes a household name." Proposing shows for the new men's network Spike TV, Boston Globe critic Matthew Gilbert snidely offers "Being Ben Affleck": "Follow the quintessential Hollywood hottie through his daily rigors. Who does he like to tongue-kiss more, J. Lo or the paparazzi? And how fast will his next movie disappear? Next season: 'Being Ashton Kutcher.' " Even USA Today gets in on the act in a typically belated story about trucker hats; Hipster Handbook author Robert Lanham tells the paper, "As soon as Ashton Kutcher adopts a trend, that's when you know it's over."

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The Winter Queen, by Boris Akunin (Random House). Critics on this side of the Atlantic are self-consciously giddy over this "brainy, chilly, shocking detective thriller" (Entertainment Weekly), the English translation of a Russian best seller. Akunin—actually the pseudonym of Russian writer Grigory Chkhartishvili, who changed his name because even Russians have difficulty pronouncing the original—wrote this mystery in homage to "classical writers" like Dostoyevsky and Robert Louis Stevenson because his wife was embarrassed to read trashy crime novels on the subway. "No element of The Winter Queen is original," writes Richard Dyer in the Boston Globe, but "familiar ingredients in unusual combinations"—including literary allusions and "a glamorous female villain with a rounded, glowing, milky-white shoulder"—make this "a tasty dish." Against her better judgment, the Washington Post's Maureen Corrigan is intoxicated by Akunin's use of "anachronistically improbable sleuthing gadgets" and other genre twists that turn the novel into something like "those exotically flavored vodkas that keep popping up on hip restaurant menus." (The Winter Queen.)

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Living History, by Hillary Clinton (Simon & Schuster). Some reviewers find an emotional inaccessibility in Hillary Clinton's new memoir. "The voice is consistently Clinton's: clear, concise, controlled—and detached," writes Nancy Pate in the Orlando Sentinel. "She names emotions without truly conveying them." The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani, scoffing at Clinton's "robotic asides about her official duties in Washington," argues that the book "has the overprocessed taste of a stump speech."Los Angeles Times political reporter Ronald Brownstein is on the fence; the book does seem annoyingly calculated, edited "with an eye toward how an opponent might use any word in it during a future campaign," but he finds it "suprisingly engaging." And in the Kansas City Star, John Mark Eberhart issues an unequivocal rave: Clinton "comes off as eminently human," he writes. "She worries about her hair. Her poor vision. Her backside." In lieu of a review, Aileen Jacobson in New York Newsday simply excerpts "the good parts." (Living History.)

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Hail to the Thief, Radiohead (Capitol). The sixth studio release from Thom "Leonard Cohen sounds like a stand-up comic compared to this guy" Yorke and his band confounds critics everywhere. For "99 percent of the planet" the album will seem "too dense and self-consciously arty," Thor Christensen predicts in the Dallas Morning News. The Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot compares Thief to a nightmare: "It would be almost beautiful, were it not so creepy." "Did I get the wrong CD in the mail?" wonders Newsweek's Devin Gordon, who thought Radiohead was returning to its more accessible roots. In his four-star review, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Tom Moon can only understand the album by concocting a Matrix- like narrative in which evil agents try "to capture the thoughts running through the head of the last individualist in a colony of worker drones," with Yorke as the "rebel holdout." And though many critics ponder the political significance of the title, New York's Ethan Brown proclaims that this "is a great record in spite of its politics." (Two music critics debate the album's mertis in Slate's "Music Club.") (Hail to the Thief.)

"Punk Picasso." In this corner, the Village Voice. In the other, the New York Times. The topic: Kids director Larry Clark's exhibit at the Luhring Augustine Gallery. "Punk Picasso" uses photographs, drawings, and press clippings to document the filmmaker's youth in Tulsa, Okla., the loss of his virginity, his drug use, his obsession with River Phoenix, and various film projects. "It may be too early to call," warns the Voice, "but Clark's massive, sprawling autobiography is definitely the one to beat this year." Roberta Smith couldn't disagree more; in the Times she calls Clark "an exhibitionist to begin with" and his work a "lurid, saddening, ultimately repellent exhibition … whose sensationalism turns looking into rubbernecking." The unlikely tie-breaker comes from Crash, a New York City-based rugby player and blogger. "Pretty amazing stuff, but not for the faint of heart," Crash writes, arguing that Clark uses graphic images to upend idealized concepts of childhood. "But then, I know jack shit about art."

Marshall Heyman is an editor and writer living in New York.