Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (Sony). "If the Guinness Book included a record for most camera angles employed to shoot derrieres," McG—who directed the first Charlie's Angels along with this "feeble," "sloppy" sequel—"would hold the crown," says the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro. The "ass fetishism," which the Dallas Observer's Luke Y. Thompson finds "even more evident in this film than the last," includes both visual "bumps and grinds"—the first shot is Lucy Liu's "butt emerging from a box"—and an aural "slew of butt puns"—the Angel played by Drew Barrymore is named Helen Zass. Even "the storytelling is bumpy and lumpy," writes Malcolm Johnson in the Hartford Courant. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Sean Axmaker concurs: "It resembles a movie so much that soon it demands something resembling motivation, character, a plot, anything to explain the seemingly arbitrary connections between the stunts and the skits." And Elvis Mitchell, as is his wont, sums up the film with a food metaphor: "Like eating a bowl of Honeycomb drenched in Red Bull." (Buy tickets to Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.) (Read David Edelstein's review in Slate.)
28 Days Later (Fox Searchlight). "As if the PETA people didn't have enough bad press already," activists accidentally unleash a deadly virus when they break into a primate-research facility in this zombie horror movie from Trainspotting director Danny Boyle and novelist Alex Garland. The New Yorker's Anthony Lane believes the film suffers from a "serious shortage of fright" thanks to its propensity to "chop and chivy the images along." But other critics are sufficiently creeped out by this "environmental cautionary tale," which A.O. Scott and others agree is deeply indebted to the "hack-or-be-chomped" "visionary ghoulishness of George Romero." Most focus on the film's evocative look. The stripped-down digital video "conveys the appropriate fog of permanent doom" in a "haunting post-Armageddon London" where "metallic-blue rainfall spatter[s] down from the skies." But the Village Voice's Michael Atkinson contends that the film, which tries to make a political statement, musters only "fleeting glimpses of historically suggestive imagery" instead: "Romero had Vietnam and post-industrial consumerism; what do Boyle and Garland have?" (Buy tickets to 28 Days Later.)
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (Counterpoint). The New York Observer's Philip Weiss calls attention to this "gutsy" epistolary novel, which takes on "the taboo that you can't dislike your own children." Weiss argues that the book—about a Columbine-like massacre, but told from the perspective of Eva, the perpetrator's mother—has attracted the "underground" attention of "literate women" around New York City. Novelist Pearson Marx lauds the book for dispensing with the clichés of "mommy lit," which usually "has to end on an upbeat note." And the Seattle Times' Wingate Packard adores Eva—an Armenian American who has "found herself in exile in America because of her son's crime"—because she's a completely original creation: "adventurous, worldly, funny, sharp and vain." The Plain Dealer's Vikas Turakhia finds he can't turn away from this "slow, magnetic descent into hell," although he notes that Shriver's novel "provides so brutal an experience that to recommend it feels a bit perverse." (Buy We Need to Talk About Kevin.)
Welcome Interstate Managers, Fountains of Wayne (S-Curve). The "clever lyrical portraits" on this third album from the "criminally unheralded" New York quartet have critics dancing in the street. The songs chronicle New England ennui—"opening a vegan restaurant in Vermont" or "being fired from American Airlines"—and capture "that moment when campus greenery gives way to office parks" and "highballs in airport lounges take the place of cheap beer by the pool," writes Keith Phipps in the Onion. Which is not to say the album is depressing; New York Times critic Neil Strauss notes that despite its themes, Welcome always seems to "face the sun." G. Beato of the Washington Post explains that FOW (as fans call them) juxtapose "deadpan resignation with endless-summer harmonies," to create a sound that evokes, at various points, every happy band you've ever heard of: the Beatles, Paul Simon, the Beach Boys, and the Cars. (Welcome Interstate Managers.)
Dead Like Me (Showtime). John Masius, the executive producer of this new series about an 18-year-old girl named George who dies and becomes a reaper, occasionally describes it as "Seinfeld on acid," but critics compare the show to a short-lived high school drama. "Could just as easily have been called My So-Called Death. " "It's My So-Called Former Life." "Let's call it My So-Called Afterlife," writes the San Francisco Examiner's Sonia Mansfield, who is happy to watch a show "that features a teenage girl whose biggest dilemma isn't whether she wants to date Pacey or Dawson."Dead Like Me "handles adolescent angst by showing how death makes George as depressed and resentful as life did," explains Margo Jefferson in the New York Times, but "Who wouldn't be dismayed when the first person you meet after you are no longer alive … is Mandy Patinkin?" asks New York's John Leonard. Though Newsday's Noel Holston thinks the creators shoot for "black comedy" but land at "cute morbidity," the Los Angeles Times' Howard Rosenberg, the show's staunchest supporter, spots allusions to Our Town and ardently calls this dramedy "smartly written and urbane, tender without being sappy, and rich in wonderfully dark, twisted wit."
The Dogs of Babel, by Carolyn Parkhurst (Little Brown). This debut novel has "one hell of a premise"—a depressed widower tries to teach his dog to speak after his wife's death, hoping the Rhodesian Ridgeback can explain what happened. Lev Grossman in Time and the San Francisco Chronicle's Carol Doup Muller agree that "Either you go for this kind of thing or you don't," but have trouble articulating exactly what "kind of thing" this is. Grossman finds the "Q" factor—for "cute and quirky"—a little high: In flashbacks, the husband and wife meet at a "kitschy yard sale"; she makes papier-mâché masks and is obsessed with puzzles. Muller cautions, however, that Parkhurst's book quickly moves beyond cute; when it introduces a "kinky felon" who attempts to give dogs "humanoid jaws and voice boxes," it "veers suddenly" into Silence of the Lambs territory. The New York Times' Janet Maslin, among others, seems to go for this kind of thing. She calls Dogs a "captivatingly strange book" that "rises above its quirky particulars to reach a final moment of pure, stirring grace." (Buy The Dogs of Babel.)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon (Doubleday). Another "genuinely quirky" novel about a canine. This time, Wellington, a neighbor's dog, is dead and Christopher, a 15-year-old autistic child and "one of the strangest and most convincing characters in recent fiction," takes it upon himself to figure out whodunit. Critics praise the "purity of diction" and "directness of style," and say the "minimalistic narrative" is "not unlike a Raymond Carver story." In the San Francisco Chronicle, Kate Washington observes that "the impetus to keep reading … springs more from our desire to learn more about Christopher and the inner workings of his mind" than from any need to know who killed Wellington. Still, Haddon's first work of adult fiction (he has written several children's novels) is "more than an exercise in narrative ingenuity," according to the San Jose Mercury News'Charles Matthews: The book "verges on profundity" in its examination of the things—"customs, habits, language, symbols, daily routines"—that "simultaneously unite and separate human beings." ( The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.)
Dangerously in Love, Beyoncé (Sony). The "hormonal club tunes" on this "ultra-sleek, hook-laden, commercial tour de force" ooze with "sex, sensuality and self-confidence," hail critics in London's Daily Telegraph and Daily Mirror. Entertainment Weekly's Neil Drumming lauds the Destiny's Child frontwoman for embracing new sounds, citing a "damn-near-Björk bit of trip-hop, that could, if we're lucky, set off a new age of snap-crackle pop." Still, most find fault in Beyoncé's proclivity for "wailing ballads," particularly a song called "Daddy" that was written for her producer father—one critic calls it a "toe-curling embarrassment." When she "aims for something more intimate," warns the New York Daily News' Jim Farber, "she's out of her depth." (Buy Dangerously in Love.)
Hating Harry Potter. Sure, there have been a few disappointed kids on the street (Sarah Clifford, 15, told the Australian that OOP "dragged a bit"), but the Kansas City Star's John Mark Eberhart may be the only paid critic grinding his axe. His main gripe about the book is "the excess." "I would've said 'wretched excess,' but that's a worn-out phrase—something Rowling has trouble recognizing. Listen to these hackneyed or redundant or oxymoronic expressions from the book." He lists, among others, "unexplained disappearance," "vanished into thin air," and "bloodcurdling screech" before indulging in a bit of his own critical "excess." One example: "Watching this yarn trying to find its way is like feeling a mix of distaste and pity at seeing eight tentacles flop around in search of a brain."