Slate's Summary Judgment: 'Madagascar,' 'The Longest Yard,' 'The League of Ordinary Gentlemen'

Slate contributor Mark Jordan Legan looks at what the critics are saying about this week's major movie releases, including Madagascar, The Longest Yard and The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

If you're thinking about a movie for this Memorial Day weekend, writer Mark Jordan Legan is here to help. He's been sifting through the reviews of this week's new movie releases. Here he is with our weekly roundup of the movies, Slate's Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN reporting:

First up is a movie that may be critic-proof, especially if you have kids knocking around the house with nothing to do. It's "Madagascar," the latest computer-animated feature from DreamWorks. It focuses on a lion, a zebra, a giraffe and a hippo who escape from the Central Park Zoo and end up in the wilds of Madagascar. They discover that, frankly, most of them prefer the urban jungle to the real one. It features the voices of Ben Stiller and Chris Rock.

(Soundbite of "Madagascar")

CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER: (As Maurice) Who the heck are you?

Mr. BEN STILLER (Actor): (As Alex) I'm Alex. The Alex. And this Gloria, Marty and Melman.

CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER: (As Maurice) And just where are you giants from?

Ms. JADA PINKETT SMITH: (As Gloria) Mmm.

Mr. STILLER: (As Alex) We're from New York, and we...

Mr. SACHA BARON COHEN: (As Julian) All hail the New York giants!

Crowd: New York giants!

LEGAN: Most of the critics were lukewarm on "Madagascar," but they're not looking at a long three-day weekend with a bunch of five-year-olds over on a play date, are they? The Minneapolis Star Tribune calls it `a good-natured kid flick.' Variety shrugs, `Pleasant, if mediocre, family fare.' But Newsday growls, `The film oversells itself with superstar voices and set pieces bloated with noise and undernourished with wit.' Oh, well. At least the kids will learn a little geography. How many of them had heard of Madagascar before now?

Next up, also in wide release, is the remake of the classic 1974 prison sports movie, "The Longest Yard." This time Adam Sandler stars in the role that Burt Reynolds made famous, but--Wouldn't you know it?--Reynolds is in this one, too. He plays a former college coach serving time alongside Sandler's pro quarterback-turned-felon, and together they lead the prisoners in a game against the guards. The very busy Chris Rock also stars.

(Soundbite of "The Longest Yard")

Mr. CHRIS ROCK: (As Caretaker) I heard you were dead.

Mr. BURT REYNOLDS: (As Coach Nate Scarborough) No, I ain't dead. I've been right here, rotting, waiting for a chance to get back at those sadistic guards.

LEGAN: Critics were split on this one but, hey, teen-age boys are going to want to get out of the house this long weekend, too. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution cheers, `A genial crowd-pleaser.' And Newsday adds, `Just as slick and rousing as the original.' But The Dallas Morning News calls it `painfully unnecessary.' And the Chicago Tribune snaps, `Where the original was a serious film with funny moments, this movie isn't sure if it's a drama or comedy--too incompetently rendered to be both.'

And to continue the sports theme is the true sport of champions: bowling. That's right. Opening in New York and rolling out to other cities in coming weeks is the new documentary "The League of Ordinary Gentlemen," that focuses on professional bowling and its attempts to recapture its once-widespread popularity.

(Soundbite of "The League of Ordinary Gentlemen")

Unidentified Man #1: They're trying to get people, younger people, in it. They're trying to make it more exciting. You're the bad boys of bowling. What is a bad boy of bowling? What does that mean?

Unidentified Man #2: That means I don't play by the rules that they lay down.

LEGAN: The critics mostly cheer and want to go lace up their bowling shoes. Newsday raves, `It carries more warmth, intimacy and grit, and still manages to be as witty and engrossing as any Hollywood comedy.' And Variety shouts, `Immensely entertaining!'

Now some of you might be scoffing at bowling being labeled as a sport, but, hey, you try and concentrate on your game when within reach is ice-cold beer and seasoned curly fries. That settles it. That's what I'm doing this holiday weekend: eating seasoned curly fries.

CHADWICK: Mark Jordan Legan is a writer living and eating in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News and slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick. So long for the weekend. We'll be back on Monday.

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