Showtime (Warner Bros.). “Satire is not a vaccine against stupidity,” observes the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, writing on this buddy-cop comedy starring Robert De Niro and Eddy Murphy. The premise: “Mitch Preston [De Niro], tough-as-nails cop, and Trey Sellars [Murphy], goofball officer, are forced to become partners while a reality-TV crew, led by a go-get-’em type, Chase Renzi (Rene Russo), trails them to create a weekly series” (Mark Caro, the Chicago Tribune). Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman doesn’t buy it: “Showtime is a lead-balloon caper, a showcase for the duller side of Bobby D” and for Murphy’s “overeagerness to please.” Scott expands: By playing “every convention twice, once as parody and once by the book,” the movie tries “to be two things at once” and “fails at both.” (Click here for the official Web site.)— A.B.
Kissing Jessica Stein (Fox Searchlight). Mixed reviews for “[t]he amusing but extremely derivative Kissing Jessica Stein,” as the New York Times’ Elvis Mitchell puts it. This independent romantic comedy concerns Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt), who after a string of romantic frustrations decides to respond to a “women seeking women” personal ad and hesitantly begins a lesbian relationship with the more worldly woman who placed the ad. Critics point out the film’s debts to Annie Hall and Westfeldt’s debt to Annie herself: “Westfeldt ought to be paying royalties to Diane Keaton for such generous appropriation of Keaton’s influential mannerisms” (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). Still, despite its familiarity, “Kissing Jessica Stein could turn out to be a sleeper, a date-night movie for open-minded couples” (Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times). (Here is a selection of memorable quotes from Annie Hall.)— B.W.
Resident Evil (Screen Gems). Shockingly, this ultra-violent, zombie-infested video game adaptation from the director of Mortal Kombat didn’t impress the critics. Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez are private-sector cops stuck inside an evil corporation that has developed the ability to reanimate the dead and has therefore produced a movie’s worth of zombies to kill. “[T]he movie has a frantic staccato style that is more game-oriented than cinematic” (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). Critics agree that “Evil’s one strong presence is lead Milla Jovovich. … [T]he enraged look she gets in her eyes makes her convincing when she’s strangling a bottom-floor undead creature between her thighs” (Mike Clark, USA Today). (Click here for the lyrics to Harry Belafonte’s “Zombie Jamboree.”)— B.W.
Ice Age (20th Century Fox). Mostly positive reviews for this computer-animated prehistoric comedy. A mismatched interspecies trio (mammoth Ray Romano, sloth John Leguizamo, and saber-toothed tiger Denis Leary) try to return a human infant to its parents. The animation and look of the film get unanimous raves, but the story disappoints some reviewers. The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan, by far the most negative critic, laments “how completely familiar and regrettably formulaic this film’s conception, plot and dialogue are.” But most agree with the Washington Post’s Desson Howe: “Pull your kids away from their video games. They’ll love it. Better yet, so will you.” The meanest and least necessary thing in any review, by the way, is the offhand suggestion by the New York Times’ Elvis Mitchell that any indication that Ray Romano could have a career outside of his sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond is an “illusion.” (Click here for information about real ice ages.)— B.W. Music
Become You, by Indigo Girls (Epic). As is their wont, the critics of overly puffy Billboard and predictably gruff Rolling Stone clash on this latest from the mellow female folk duo. Aptly dubbed an “homage to Americana” by the Observer’s Burhan Wazir, the album is “their strongest set in years,” according to Billboard, a reprise of “the lean, acoustic sound of their salad days” filled with songs “far more complex than the artists were capable of 10 years ago.” But Rolling Stone’s Evam Schlansky writes that “Become You lacks both the strummy, folk bombast of vintage Indigo Girls (1987’s Strange Fire) and the engaging musicality that has made their last few albums worth spinning.” The “harmonies are still top-notch and sparkling. Yet too often they’re marred by a lack of hummable tunes and the occasional awkward love lyric.” (Click here for the Girls’ official Web site.)— A.B.
In Search Of … , by N.E.R.D. (Virgin). Tremendous reviews for the debut album from N.E.R.D., aka hip-hop super-producers the Neptunes, responsible for such hits as Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass.” N.E.R.D., which stands for “No One Ever Really Dies,” was planning to release this last summer, but they decided to wait to rerecord it with live instruments. “[T]he gamble paid off. In Search Of … has a crackling vigor missing from the first stab, and its melange of genres makes for music unlike anything else around” (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly). This is “that rare hip-hop paradigm-shifter, an album that calls into question every current precept of what good hip-hop is supposed to be, then provides a jarring antidote” (Marc Weingarten, the Los Angeles Times). (Click here for N.E.R.D.’s official site, where you can download their first single, “Lapdance.”)— B.W.
Lovers Live, by Sade (Epic). Rank reviews for this live concert album from the “boring to some and sensual to others” Grammy-winning cool-jazz diva (Greg Crawford, the Detroit Free Press). “Though Sade has shown she can make her plush pillow music work almost as well in concert as it does in the studio, [this album] lacks warmth and intimacy” and “sounds as if it were recorded in an airplane hangar” (Larry Katz, the Boston Herald). It bores the New York Post’s Dan Aquilante so thoroughly that he resorts to riffing on the oft-criticized nature of live recordings: “You wonder if Sade’s fulfilling a contract obligation here or just needs the cash” because “no matter how good a live disc is, it never really captures the excitement of being at a show.” You don’t say …(Click here to visit Sade’s Web site, where you can view backstage concert footage.)— A.B.
The News About The News: American Journalism in Peril, by Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert G. Kaiser (Knopf). Lukewarm reviews for this assessment of one of the country’s now most honorable professions from two Washington Post top dogs. Larry Jinks, writing in the pages of that very paper, calls the authors’ views “worth our attention” and notes a general pessimism that derides media conglomerates and is therefore “sketchy” in its weak assessment of cable news. But Journo-vet Michael Janeway goes further in the New York Times: Not only does he criticize the softening of the authors’ critique, post 9/11; he argues that “more troubling is their failure to scratch the surface of the deeper historical forces at work in the turn of so much of the industry and its audiences alike from a news orientation to an entertainment one. They simply repeat that it has happened.” (Click here to read an excerpt from the book about Bob Woodward’s Watergate scoop.)— A.B.
Breaking Clean, by Judy Blunt (Knopf). Panoramic praise for this memoir by a Montana rancher’s wife, who bagged her taxing lot for a typewriter. Playing off the title, the Washington Post’s Bull McKibben leads: “Judy Blunt is. Her account of a Montana ranch girlhood stands staunch and unblinking with sentences as strong and upright as well-tended fenceposts.” The New York Times’ Elizabeth Gilbert finds the catharsis “original”: “What makes Blunt’s book different from anything I’ve ever read about the West is the delicate eloquence with which she captures the cost of these hard lives on people’s souls.” And the Los Angeles Times’ Bernadette Murphy applauds the prose’s energy: “Like an accomplished bucking bronco rider, [Blunt] gives us untenable flashes of equilibrium even as they evaporate.” (Click here to read an interview with the author.)— A.B.