Slate's Summary Judgment: 'Kingdom of Heaven,' 'Crash,' 'House of Wax'

Slate contributor Mark Jordan Legan looks at what the nation's critics are saying about this week's major U.S. movie releases, including Kingdom of Heaven, Crash and House of Wax.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Time now for that weekly feature you get only on DAY TO DAY. This is something created by our friends at Slate magazine: Summery Judgment, a roundup of what many critics are saying about the weekend's movie releases. Here's Mark Jordan Legan with Slate's Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN reporting:

First up, we have director Ridley Scott's latest epic, "Kingdom of Heaven." Set during the Crusades in the 12th century, the story focuses on the adventures of a young peasant played by Orlando Bloom who finds himself part of a holy war. Jeremy Irons and Liam Neeson also star.

(Soundbite of "Kingdom of Heaven")

Mr. LIAM NEESON: You hold your sword like a peasant, not a knight. Never use the low guard. Come over here. Let's work on your skills.

LEGAN: The critics are split on this one. Variety enjoyed it, calling it genuinely spectacular and historically quite respectable. The New York Times calls it an ostensibly fair-minded, even-handed account of one of the least fair-minded, even-handed chapters in human history. And many critics dislike its two-hour 25-minute running time. The San Jose Mercury News warns, quote, "The Crusades lasted just over 200 years, which is longer than `Kingdom of Heaven,' although not by as much as you might hope."

Next up, also in wide release, is "Crash." Directed and co-written by Paul Haggis, the acclaimed screenwriter of "Million Dollar Baby," this gritty drama focuses on 36 hours in the diverse urban melting pot of Los Angeles. Characters ranging from a wealthy DA to a couple of carjackers find their lives and fortunes colliding. Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle and Matt Dillon head the ensemble case.

(Soundbite of "Crash")

Unidentified Man: I can't keep looking at you without thinking about the five or six more qualified white men who didn't get your job.

Unidentified Woman: It's time for you to go.

Unidentified Man: Now I'm saying this because I'm really hoping that I'm wrong about you. I'm hoping that someone like yourself, someone who may have been given a helping hand, might have a little compassion for someone in a similar situation.

Unidentified Woman: Carol, I need security in my office...

LEGAN: Most of the critics have nothing but high praise for "Crash." Rolling Stone says, `Despite its preachy moments, the film is a knockout.' The Chicago Tribute calls it, `an intricate, explosive ensemble crime drama.' And Entertainment Weekly raves, `This stunning, must-see drama is proof that words have not lost the ability to shock in our anesthetized society.'

One recent big celebrity to benefit from our anesthetized society, Paris Hilton, is starring in a movie. And get this: It's called "House of Wax." Yes, there's a classic Vincent Price film from 1953 with the same title, but this is not a remake. The studio is calling it a re-imagining. In the re-imagining, six young friends on a weekend getaway have car trouble. And wouldn't you know it--they end up in a remote town that features what has to be a huge tourist draw: a creepy, evil wax museum.

(Soundbite of "House of Wax")

Unidentified Man: Hey, Car, here's a dog for you. Hey, puppy. You a little wax dog, too? What up, dog?

LEGAN: Now oddly, many of the critics did not enjoy this horror film. Even though the Christian Science Monitor generously says, `As a fright fest, it's better than today's average,' the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found it overlong, unscary and poorly paced.' The Atlanta Journal Constitution comes right out and just calls it `Crummy.' And the LA Weekly advises, `There's more to good filmmaking than buying the rights to a classic title.'

I may be going out on a waxy limb here to call this movie critic-proof, but I think people are going to line up at the box office no matter what in hopes of watching Paris Hilton's character meet a gruesome death. Gee, I hope I'm not giving away anything. After all, the horror film's tag line is, `Pray, slay, display.'

CHADWICK: Los Angeles writer Mark Jordan Legan with Slate's Summary Judgment.

I'm Alex Chadwick. More DAY TO DAY in a moment.

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