Mickey Blue Eyes (Warner Bros.). Rather grim reports for Hugh Grant’s latest smirking, stuttering performance as an upper-crusty Brit. This time around, he gets mixed up in the mob family of his fiancee (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Yes, Grant’s cute, but the movie’s a stinker, “little more than a series of stitched together gags” (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). Reviewers disagree about whose fault it is. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert says the scenes where Grant learns to talk like a gangster are “so badly handled by Grant that the movie derails and never recovers.” The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan, on the other hand, argues that Grant “goes a long way toward saving [the film] from itself.” (Click here to read the review by Slate’s David Edelstein. Visit the official site to see stills and clips from the film.)
Teaching Mrs. Tingle (Miramax Films). Kevin Williamson, high off his continuing success writing teen films (Scream) and television (Dawson’s Creek), tries his hand at directing. The results are disastrous. The plot? Students take revenge on a sadistic teacher. (The film was originally called Killing Mrs. Tingle, but the title was toned down in the wake of recent school violence.) The film “bludgeons the audience with broad, crude, creepy developments” (Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times) and lacks Williamson’s usual humor and panache. Helen Mirren, playing the evil Mrs. Tingle, rises above the weak material–which only makes the film “even more painful” to watch (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). One critic dissents: Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times’ always easy-to-please critic, flouts conventional wisdom and calls the film a “knockout directorial debut.” (Click here to find out more about Williamson.)
The Jukebox Queen of Malta,by Nicholas Rinaldi (Simon & Schuster). Critics enjoy this love story about a young radio operator from Brooklyn and a local jukebox repairwoman who meet in Malta during the bombings of World War II. Richard Bernstein praises the novel as “a funny, melancholy, romantic, disturbing, character-rich window on the war” (the New York Times). But others complain that “the influences of Joseph Heller’s classic Catch-22 and Louis de Bernières’ recent Corelli’s Mandolin are rather too blatantly present” and make the novel feel overly familiar. Still, “if Heller hadn’t existed we might be calling this a pretty terrific novel” (Kirkus Reviews). (Click here to read the first chapter.)
ConductUnbecoming a Woman: Medicine on Trial in Turn-of-the-Century Brooklyn, by Regina Morantz-Sanchez (Oxford University Press). Critics are intrigued by the dramatic story of successful 19th-century gynecological surgeon Mary Amanda Dixon Jones, whose career was derailed by a smear campaign. Unfortunately, Morantz-Sanchez recounts the tale “in academic prose thick enough to thwart all but the most persistent” (Kirkus Reviews). Bernstein of the New York Times agrees, complaining that “Ms. Morantz-Sanchez is more interested in the scholarly value of her story than its inherent drama and that will make the book tough going for some readers.” But most say the interesting sociological history and insight into attitudes about women in medicine make it worth the slog. (Click here to read the first chapter.)
UniversalSoldier: The Return (Columbia Pictures). Critics groan at Jean-Claude Van Damme’s sequel to the 1992 action flick about reanimated dead soldiers. It’s all “bullets, bombs, and boobs–the biggest boob being Van Damme, natch” (Rod Dreher, the New York Post). But “for those eager to bid adieu to their credibility for 82 minutes,” at least the action “rarely flags” (Lawrence Van Gelder, the New York Times).