Summary Judgment

The New Romeo, Now With Kung-Fu Grip 


The 72nd Annual Academy Awards. The statuettes were stolen, American Beauty swept, Annette Bening was huge, and Hilary Swank’s Best Actress win was a shock. After covering the basics, the critics delve into the behind-the-scenes wrangling: 1) DreamWorks pic American Beauty beat out Miramax’s The Cider House Rules for a “sweet vindication” (Rick Lyman, the New York Times) after last year, when Miramax’s Shakespeare in Love ambushed DreamWorks’ Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture. 2) The academy broke the “Hollywood tradition that top awards go to uplifting films” (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times) by giving five statuettes to the decidedly dark American Beauty; this “confirmed the arrival of a new sensibility in the heart of the moviemaking establishment” (Sharon Waxman, the Washington Post). 3) The Wall Street Journal’s exit poll got one wrong: Denzel Washington lost to Kevin Spacey for Best Actor. All agreed that it was “among the strongest recent years in motion pictures” (Lyman). (Click here to read David Edelstein’s extensive Oscars wrap-up, and here to see a list of all the winners.)


Blue Angel: A Novel, by Francine Prose (HarperCollins). Excellent reviews for Prose’s “astutely observed, often laugh-aloud funny and sometimes touching academic comedy” (Publishers Weekly) about a genial professor who falls for one of his students. Based on the same premise as the 1930 Marlene Dietrich film of the same title, the novel charts the professor’s fall from comfort and safety into dangerous territory; it is “a merciless satire of what [Prose] sees as the new puritanism of academia and the hypocrisy of its sexually political witch hunts” (Christopher Lehman-Haupt, the New York Times). (Click here to read an excerpt from Prose’s Guided Tours of Hell.)


Romeo Must Die (Warner Bros.). Hong Kong action star Jet Li and R & B singer Aaliyah star in a weak attempt to capture both the action and “urban” (read: African-American) audiences at once. Li admits as much in an interview in Newsweek. Li and Aaliyah play the offspring of rival gang leaders, and their flaccid romance provides the pretense for numerous martial arts action sequences set to a pounding hip-hop score. Li’s “sideways pinwheel spins and physics-defying acrobatics are among the few things about Romeo Must Die that soar above the mundane” (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). But not all the critics concede even this point. Several say the fights are “so obviously filmed via special effects that they miss the point” (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). Best line in a review: “What foot through yonder window breaks?” (Wloszczyna). (Click here to find out more about Jet Li.)

Whatever It Takes (Columbia Pictures). The critics sigh impatiently over yet another high-school film—this one based on Cyrano de Bergerac—that “involves teenagers who have never existed, doing things no teenager has ever done, for reasons no teenager would understand” (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). For those who go to teen flicks for the low gags (and who doesn’t?) the film includes the mandatory barfing-on-date episode, a girl with hair on her back, and “a scene set in an old folks’ home that makes use of enough flatulence to score a brief concerto” (Ebert). The movie proves that “ads for Mentos and Mountain Dew are far ahead of most theatrically released feature films aimed at the [teen] market” (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). This one’s headed for the dumpster. Or in Variety-speak, “sour word will spread quickly, assuring a quick theatrical exit and a tepid ancillary future” (Robert Koehler). (Click here to visit the official site.)

Here on Earth (20th Century Fox Film Corp.). This Love Story-ish romance/cancer film gets weak reviews: It’s a “shameless sob story on teen loss” (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). Leelee Sobieski and Chris Klein play high-schoolers from opposite sides of the tracks, and though both actors have excellent performances under their belts (Sobieski in Eyes Wide Shut, Klein in Election), they can’t salvage the weak script. The “lazily conceived characters and fatuous story line” (Desson Howe, the Washington Post) are beyond hope. (Watch the trailer.)