Slate's Summary Judgment: 'Nanny McPhee,' 'Big Momma's House 2,' 'Tristram Shandy'

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Writer Mark Jordan Legan offers this round-up of what movie critics are saying about the weekend's releases: Nanny McPhee Big Momma's House 2 and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

On Fridays we get our weekly digest of what film critics are saying about the new releases as compiled by the online magazine, Slate. Here's Mark Jordan Legan with Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN reporting:

We start with the wide release return of a character that just screamed out for further high jinks, Big Momma. That's right, for those of you who paid money to see Martin Lawrence in the first one, he's back in Big Momma's House 2 where as a master of disguise FBI agent Lawrence puts on his fat dress, becomes a nanny housekeeper in a suspected criminal's household, and slowly becomes attached to those darn kids. Nia Long also stars.

(Soundbite from Film)

Ms. NIA LONG (As Sherry Pierce): He does that all day long and you would think that he would get hurt, but he never seems to.

Mr. MARTIN LAWRENCE (As Malcolm Turner): Boy you are two kinds of crazy.

Mr. LEGAN: Many of the critics want Big Momma to retire. The Arizona Republic snaps, aside from the inane plot, Big Momma's House 2 is a dish of empty calories. And many agree with the Hollywood Reporter which snarls, painfully unfunny slapstick takes precedence over would-be satire.

Next up in limited release is the British comedy Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. From Michael Winterbottom, the director of 24 Hour Party People, comes a comic take on how to make a movie about a greatly admired classic novel that many consider unfilmable. It stars Steve Coogan playing an actor named Steve Coogan trying to play Tristram Shandy.

(Soundbite from Film)

Mr. STEVE COOGAN: It's a low-budget film.

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, don't worry about that. Jillian's(ph) interested in the quality of work. You know, she's not looking for a payday.

Mr. COOGAN: Great. Well, we need you to come over right away.

Unidentified Woman #2: Well, I can fly tomorrow.

Unidentified Man: Jesus, that was easy.

Mr. COOGAN: She's coming over tomorrow.

Unidentified Man: That's fantastic.

Unidentified Woman #1: Jillian (Inaudible) the one at Baywatch.

Mr. LEGAN: The critics cheer this strange little comedy. Entertainment Weekly raves, the first great mind-tickling treat of the new movie year. And many agree with Rolling Stone which shouts, Tristram Shandy may sound confusing, but it's really inventive and bizarre and marvelously entertaining.

And we close with the wide release family comedy Nanny McPhee. Based on the popular Nurse Matilda books, Emma Thompson writes and stars in the story of a well, yes, Nanny who tries to handle seven unruly children. Colin Firth also stars.

(Soundbite from Film)

Ms. EMMA THOMPSON (As Nanny McPhee): I understand you have extremely ill-behaved children.

Mr. COLIN FIRTH (As Cedric Brown): No, no, no, no, no. No, good grief, what a suggestion.

Mr. LEGAN: Overall the critics like this nanny, even despite the efforts of makeup artists to make her as ugly as possible. Newsday slobbers, a spicy little pastry with just right proportions of flakiness and gooeyness. The BBC cheers, Emma Thompson is a treat. And the Minneapolis Star Tribune finds that, Nanny McPhee casts a captivating spell.

So two out of the three releases this week are about nannies; but I say even Nanny McPhee and Big Momma together couldn't hold a candle to, call me old school, Maria von Trapp. Not only does von Trapp elude the Nazis, get Christopher Plummer to fall in love again, and turn the kids into a smash-hit singing group, but she also makes their clothes out of curtains. Now that's a movie nanny; she makes their clothes out of curtains.

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

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