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 6 2003 1:45 PM

Unleaded

2 Fast 2 Furious makes sensible critics long for Vin Diesel, and turns them into hokey punsters.

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2 Fast 2 Furious (Universal). How readers suffer when studios devise terrible sequel titles: "Might as well be called 2 Slow 2 Tedious," "2 Foolish + 2 Flashy = 4 get it," "2 Potentially Lucrative 2 Refuse," "2 Fast 2 Flameout," "Just 2 fun 2 deny." Vin Diesel does not appear in this follow-up to The Fast and the Furious, the surprise hit that made him a $20 million man; he supposedly wanted "2 much money" for the sequel. "My hands tremble slightly as I type these words," writes Manohla Dargis in the Los Angeles Times, but "I miss Vin Diesel."She's not alone. In Diesel's place we get the model/rap star Tyrese, who inspires at least one complimentary review. The Miami Herald's Rene Rodriguez writes that Tyrese "exudes the sort of brawny bravado and flip, sly insouciance this material requires." She especially likes when he refers to a nightclub "overrun with trashy, underdressed women" as a "ho-asis."[Correction, June 6, 2003: Rene Rodriguez is a "he."] (To read a review by Slate's Michael Agger, who also misses Vin, click here.) (Buy tickets to 2 Fast 2 Furious.)

Out of Order (Showtime). This new Showtime miniseries (about a husband and wife screenwriting team whose marriage is falling apart) garners comparisons to thirtysomething—both positive ("ranks right up there with," says Ken Tucker in EW) and negative ("A marriage best left unexamined," says Alessandra Stanley in the New YorkTimes). This is one of those shows set in Los Angeles that wears its self-conscious references to Hollywood on its sleeve; it has a … what's that word again? Ah yes, "meta-knowingness," as Joy Press calls it in the Village Voice. And frankly that just annoys the Boston Globe's Matthew Gilbert, who's tired of the "fantasies and clever metatricks that have been overdone on network TV shows since Ally McBeal." One clever metatrick that has us excited: The long-awaited return of Justine Bateman, who co-stars here with Eric Stoltz and who, Manuel Mendoza happily notes in the Dallas Morning News, is "looking a bit more filled-out than her days as Mallory Keaton on Family Ties."

Whale Rider(Newmarket). "Like Billy Elliot, but with messianic ambitions," writes the Onion's Keith Phipps of this film about a teenage girl in a patriarchal Maori fishing village who longs to lead the tribe when her grandfather dies. It's "a doozy of a female-empowerment fantasy," explains David Ansen in Newsweek, but one that is "mercifully free of any feminist smugness" and "never resorts to … condescending exoticism." Critics are bewitched by Keisha Castle-Hughes, the 11-year-old star: Elvis Mitchell, in the New York Times, writes that the movie serves as an "entrancing contrast to The Lizzie McGuire Movie" and that the newcomer's "intelligent, dark eyes are so expressive that she has the piquant confidence of a silent-film heroine." Michael Atkinson dissents in the Village Voice; though he finds Castle-Hughes impressive, the movie is "muddily conceived and ill focused" and "the aboriginal hoopla" doesn't lend the film any depth. (Buy tickets to Whale Rider.)

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Mortals, by Norman Rush (Knopf). Critics herald Norman Rush's eagerly awaited 715-page second novel as 2003's Big Summer Literary Read. Rush's Mating won the National Book Award in 1991; Mortals prompts New York's John Homans to call Rush "the best writer of his generation" and the novel—which follows an undercover CIA operative in Botswana who believes his wife might be having an affair—"canonical." Though Jennifer Egan in the New York Observer is especially annoyed by a dialogue between Ray and Iris that "runs to almost 50 pages," she places Rush in the distinguished company of Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad, and Robert Stone. But Alan Cheuse of the Chicago Tribune wonders if anyone will actually plod through the whole thing. Readers who do, he notes, will be rewarded at the finish by "a description of intercourse between a husband and wife that is so well done it might even make such matters fashionable again." (Buy Mortals.)

Vincent Gallo: Vincent Gallo, actor and director, clearly has a problem with critics. In 1998 when Thelma Adams gave Buffalo '66 two-and-a-half stars in the New York Post, Gallo left her a message saying she was "ugly" and her reviews "amateur," "insignificant," and "sophomoric." These words are all apparently applicable to his second feature, The Brown Bunny, which premiered at Cannes and which Roger Ebert (but not only Roger Ebert) called "the worst film in the history of the festival." At a press conference, Gallo acknowledged that his movie stinks, but apparently he's had a change of heart. This week, he attacked Ebert, or, more specifically, Ebert's colon, which he, with the help of filmmaker Kenneth Anger, has put a curse on. If Gallo's curse works, "Rogert Ebert will be dead of prostate cancer ... within 16 months, and my film will live far past the biopsies that are removed from his anus," the director tells the New York Observer. Though Ebert should know better than to respond to Gallo, at least he doesn't let the bullying affect his sense of humor: "It is true that I am fat," Ebert writes, "but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of 'The Brown Bunny'."

[Correction, June 6, 2003: The roundup of 2 Fast 2 Furious reviews refered to the Miami Herald's Rene Rodriguez as "she." Rodriguez is a man.]

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