Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Aug. 1 2003 4:32 PM

A Giant Step for Mankind

The former WWE wrestler earns comparisons to Dostoevsky.

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Tietam Brown, by Mick Foley (Knopf). "Yes, someone does get hit over the head with a chair" in the former WWE wrestler's "jarringly inconsistent" bildungsroman, warns Entertainment Weekly's Joshua Rich. The novel features "fairly routine dramatic arcs" chronicling an abusive father's relationship with his son, and the former Mankind "is an inelegant and simple writer," body slams the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Graydon Royce. The Los Angeles Times'Mark Rozzo, however, finds Foley's "no-nonsense declarative sentences" exhilarating; they end up "slamming the reader face-first into the turnbuckles." British critics are equally kind. The Evening Chronicle's Daniel Thomson singles out the "quirky, atmospheric and often beautiful prose" while the Guardian's Simon Hattenstone attempts to chart Foley's place in the literary cosmos: "Take JD Salinger, throw in a bit of Dostoevsky, sprinkle with Bret Easton Ellis," he swoons, and you'll have an idea of this book's—go figure—"immense power and subtlety." (Buy Tietam Brown.)

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Gigli (Sony). "Not a train wreck, not the crime against humanity it's been rumored to be," notes Salon's Charles Taylor, sticking up (in a way) for this troubled J.Lo/Ben Affleck vehicle, which, he says, is "merely bad." But Gigli possesses a "special badness all its own," writes A.O. Scott, and its stars—Affleck is a gangster who wants lesbian Lopez to "hop the fence"—utter "some of the lamest dialogue ever committed to film." As for the chemistry of this real-life Hollywood couple, "it's like rubbing together pieces of plastic to make a fire," jabs the Charlotte Observer's Lawrence Toppman. But at least one critic—the Miami Herald's Rene Rodriguez—finds this turkey tasty: "It's hard to hate a movie in which Affleck delivers a long soliloquy explaining why the penis is the center of the sexual universe" and Lopez dismisses it as "nothing more than a 'long toe.' " (Read David Edelstein's Slate review.) (Buy tickets to Gigli.)

American Wedding(Universal). "You'll see better film on ponds," scoffs Elvis Mitchell. The Los Angeles Times'Manohla Dargis agrees; this third installment in the American Pie series is the "grossest," "least funny—and here's hoping the last," because for jaded American moviegoers, "the sight of a guy eating dog feces no longer inspires shock." "To give the filmmakers credit, they do seem to be trying to extend the story logically," capitulates the Chicago Tribune's Michael Wilmington, which is more than he can say about most sequels. L.A. Weekly's Scott Foundas finds a certain brilliance in the "big gags" which are the product of "carefully crescendoing farce and superb comic timing." Most credit is apparently due to Seann William Scott, who showcases Jim Carrey-like talent as the "humorously grotesque" sex-obsessed Stifler: "He's shameless, sickening and disgusting," writes the Washington Post's Desson Howe, "and, naturally, I mean that in the nicest possible way."  (Buy tickets to American Wedding.)

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Avenue Q (Golden Theatre). In this new musical, " 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown' meets South Park" and the Financial Time s' Brendan Lemon calls it "the only offering on Broadway, apart from Rent, that one can safely recommend to anyone under 40."Avenue Q"dares to co-opt television, the theater's longtime adversary" by using Sesame Street-inspired puppets; songs with titles like "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" and "Schadenfreude" "demonstrate that ambivalence, indecision and low expectations can be the basis for a thoroughly infectious musical," raves the New York Times' Ben Brantley. The New York Post's Clive Barnes finds "this young-at-heart show," which Summary Judgment can wholeheartedly recommend, to be "good dirty fun" and singles out the hilarious expressions of the "wide-mouthed, goggle-eyed creatures."Newsday's Linda Winer also has a favorite: two puppets who "encourage everyone who should know better to forget their 'higher purpose' and have another Long Island Ice Tea." (Buy tickets to Avenue Q.) Rocco's on 22nd. In a surprisingly timid "Diner's Journal," the New York Times' William Grimes calls the new Rocco DiSpirito restaurant featured on his reality TV show "straightforward, two-fisted and uncomplicated." But New York's Adam Platt pulls out his ginsu knives. The "mountains of overpriced, occasionally slapdash food" may look tasty on television, but the walnut pesto, for example, has the consistency of "old dish soap." The best entrée is a simple chicken "baked under a brick to a kind of crackly tenderness." The New York Daily News' Pascale le Draoulec thinks the rabbit cacciatore "tastes loved," but snipes that the veal parmigiana is "rubbery enough to have bounced over from the Olive Garden." As for the service, don't ask CitySearch user Jackie Reading about her evening. "No bread, no drinks, no sign of our waitress anywhere," she writes. "Good luck Rocco—b.c. I am telling everyone I know how much your place SUCKS!!!!!"

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Wired: A Romance, by Gary Wolf (Random House). Critics find the title of this "wistful" memoir about Wired—a magazine that promoted the advent of digital technology as a "genuine social, political and even spiritual revolution"—somewhat deceptive. The San Jose Mercury News' Steve Weinberg thinks the tale is less a romance than a "business morality play" about the Internet bubble. And in the New York Times Book Review, David Carr argues that Wolf's book is in part a "theological autopsy of a religion"—Internet worship—"that flourished and went away in a decade" and more "fundamentally a biography" of founder Louis Rossetto. The Los Angeles Times' Jackie Bennion finds Wolf's "impassive third-party detachment" and his reliance on "e-mail excerpts" rather than direct quotes lacks a certain passion, so she suggests a new title entirely: Wired: An Agreeable Date but No Kiss. (Buy Wired: A Romance.)

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Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (Dimension). The 3-D visuals in Robert Rodriguez's final Spy Kids flick are "as stomach-wrenching as they are eye-popping," and they give the Dallas Observer's Robert Wilonsky a "three-dimensional" headache. But Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman calls Game Over, "The Matrix meets TRON meets Jimmy Neutron, with all the cheery (if not cheesy) evanescence of a Jolly Rancher commercial"; evidently, this is a good thing. The movie itself may be as overwhelming as Gleiberman's description: "Even at a swift 85 minutes," the Philadelphia Inquirer's Steven Rea observes, the jam-packed film is "exhausting." But Scott Foundas in L.A. Weekly compares the "imaginatively deranged" movie to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, labeling it "one of the best part 3's ever made"—a compliment which places Game Over in the company of Return of the Jedi and Police Academy 3, and could therefore be either glowing or back-handed. (Buy tickets to Game Over.)

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Camp (IFC). The Onion's Scott Tobias compares this Fame redux, which takes place at a summer theater camp, to an "ingratiating dog that doesn't know when to stop licking." The movie proclaims that "it's okay to be different, that being black/gay/overweight is actually beautiful," but L.A. Weekly's Scott Foundas thinks Camp revels in the stereotypes it attempts to debunk and refuses to applaud this "heavy-handed pedantry." The New York Times' Stephen Holden counters that the performers' eager desire to be liked—a "spark of enthusiasm"—enables Camp to transcend its "rickety, formulaic, overacted and tonally wobbly" elements and become a full scale "delirious musical comedy." And though the Village Voice's Ed Park finds the whole thing boring and self-conscious when none of the young newcomers are singing, "the quote marks fall away as soon as they lift their voices." (Buy tickets to Camp.)

The Madonna Gap Ads. "It's never pretty watching an iconic pop figure fade," muses the Boston Globe's Joan Anderman, referring to new Gap ads in which the Material Girl and Missy Elliot pair up to peddle blue cords. Camille Paglia worries that Lady Madge's adventure in advertising "seems like a symptom of desperation," but admits it's a "shrewd decision": After a disappointing album and the failure of Swept Away, Madonna remains in the public eye without taking any creative missteps. But the whole thing "screams, 'I'm not old, I'm not old,' " a trend prognosticator tells the New York Times' Ruth LaFerla; and few fashion insiders think "the style world's pet chameleon" can still "spearhead a trend" the way she did with the Western look three years ago. Still, Adweek's Barbara Lippert * thrills that the campaign broadcasts "a democratic elasticity that goes to the heart of what the Gap brand has always stood for"—"an effortless blend of ages, ethnicities and musical styles."

Correction, July 31, 2003: An earlier version of this item mistakenly noted that Barbara Lippert writes for Ad Age. She writes for Adweek. (Click here to return to the item.)

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