Stir of Echoes (Artisan Entertainment). The second film this summer featuring a little boy who sees dead people gets decent reviews, but most say it’s not as good as the similar box office smash The Sixth Sense. Echoes focuses on the little boy’s father, played by Kevin Bacon in “one of his best performances” (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). Bacon also possesses second sight, not to mention a compulsion to dig up his backyard following an impromptu hypnosis session at a party. The film “is at its best in its mysterious, genuinely chilling first half. But as the plot kicks in, the hysteria mounts and the explanations start coming, the tension starts to dissipate” (David Ansen, Newsweek). (Click here to find out about Kevin Bacon’s band, the Bacon Brothers.)
Stigmata (MGM-UA). This would-be thriller gets punctured by the critics: “Possibly the funniest movie ever made about Catholicism–from a theological point of view” (Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). The film stars Patricia Arquette as a beautician who is mysteriously afflicted with stigmata after receiving a rosary with a history from her mother. Critics term it “a silly, roiling melange of special effects and overheated religious symbolism” that is at heart a “half-baked anticlerical screed” with “lots of broken glass, bird feathers, dripping blood and desperately fancy camera angles” (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). (Click here to visit a fan page devoted to the film.)
OutsideProvidence (Miramax Films). Evenly divided negative and positive reports for this unexpectedly sincere coming-of-age story from the masters of gross-out comedy, the Farrelly brothers (There’s Something About Mary). Directed by Michael Corrente and based on a novel by Peter Farrelly, it’s a standard fish-out-of-water tale (poor kid from small-town Rhode Island gets sent to a snobby boarding school). Those who like it say it’s “a sweet, funny little movie” (Ansen, Newsweek) and that “one finds oneself asking how such familiar material breeds contentment instead of contempt” (Richard Schickel, Time). Critics also note that two great performances, by Shawn Hatosy as the kid and Alec Baldwin as his gruff dad, help lift the film above cliché. Those who pan the movie call it a vanity project for the now-famous brothers that offers “nothing fresh, and everything bland” (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). Or as Susan Wloszczyna writes in USA Today: “Let’s hope they have exorcised these pap-spewing demons and get their minds back in the gutter.” (Click here to read an interview with the Farrelly brothers, and here to read David Edelstein’s rave in Slate.)
For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today, by Jedediah Purdy (Knopf). Critics dig into 24-year-old Purdy, who argues that irony and ironic figures such as Jerry Seinfeld are a cancer corrupting the soul of America. Unsurprisingly, Irony Inc. (a k a the New York Observer) shreds the book, calling the chapter on the dangers of genetic engineering “a warning so bloated with bombast that one begins to wish that the gene for pomposity could be extirpated for the sake of future generations. … I say earnestly, with feeling, What garbage!” (Adam Begley). Harper’s calls Purdy a “cornpone prophet” and blasts his “unctuous sentimentality” (Roger D. Hodge). Christopher Lehmann-Haupt writes in the New York Times that the book is “impressive if somewhat pious” but finds Purdy’s points unoriginal: “He labors at length such crashingly obvious ideas as the ethical ambiguities of technology.” A few stick up for the embattled author, arguing that though “the ideas expressed aren’t complicated,” Purdy “grapples with them with a seriousness that puts more seasoned–and ironic–commentators to shame” (Publishers Weekly). Walter Kirn, writing in Time, seems a bit gleeful at the fact that “the brainy nature boy has stormed the capital, panicking the languid sophisticates with an unfashionably passionate attack on the dangers of passionlessness,” only to later concede that the book is “an arduous read that would test the syntactical skills of a tenured professor.” (Click here to read the first chapter.)
’Tis: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt (Scribner). The hype revs up for McCourt’s follow-up to his best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning Angela’s Ashes. ’Tis tops all fall preview lists, and now the first review is in: Michiko Kakutani (the New York Times) says it’s “a considerably angrier book than Angela’s Ashes. … [T]his sour tone of complaint does not make for particularly engaging or sympathetic reading.”
ChillFactor (Warner Bros.).Critics barely even bother with this action flick starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Skeet Ulrich as a pair of ne’er-do-wells who end up with a load of heat-sensitive poison on their hands. They drive it around the country in a dilapidated ice-cream truck trying to keep it cool. “Stale macho jokes and formulaic cliffhangers drive this chase-by-numbers thriller on the bumpy road to nowhere” (Holden, the New York Times).