Slate's Summary Judgment: 'United 93,' 'Akeelah and the Bee,' 'RV'

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Slate contributor Mark Jordan Legan reviews what critics are saying about this weekend's movie releases — United 93, Akeelah and the Bee and RV.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY.

The weekend is coming and with it, new movies. For Slate summary judgment, our weekly digest of what critics are saying about the new releases, here is writer Mark Jordan Legan.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN reporting:

First up in wide release, we have the controversial docudrama United 93. Writer-director Paul Greengrass, who also made Bloody Sunday and The Bourne Supremacy, brings us the well known chilling story of the fourth ill-fated flight on September 11.

(Soundbite of United 93)

Unidentified Male #1 (Actor): They are not going to land this plane. They are not going to take us back to the airport.

Unidentified Male #2 (Actor): Is there any other option we have?

Unidentified Male #3 (Actor): We're going to die. We're going to die. They're flying us into a building. We're going to die.

Unidentified Male #4 (Actor): You should not interfere.

Unidentified Male #5 (Actor): There's a lot of us. We've got to do something. Do you see how low we are?

LEGAN: The nation's critics all praised the filmmaking. New York Magazine raves, Brilliant, tightly focused and momentous.

But the Dallas Observer stammers that it may be the most wrenching, profound, and perfectly made movie nobody wants to see.

And the Washington Post truly shows the dilemma that many filmgoers might also feel, saying, quote, "With Greengrass exerting superb control of tone, structure, and pace, United 93 may be the best movie I ever hated." Unquote.

Next up is the family comedy, RV. Robin Williams and Cheryl Hines play two hardworking parents who yearn for quality time with their children. So Dad gets an RV and off they go on a disastrous road vacation to Colorado. Man, with gas prices where they are, I bet Robin Williams makes a lot of funny faces as he fills up the RV at the service station.

(Soundbite of RV)

Unidentified Girl (Actor): Mom, some idiot just parked this ugly RV outside our house.

Ms. CHERYL HINES (Actor): (As Character) What?

Unidentified Girl (Actor): Oh my God. It's your husband.

LEGAN: The critics want RV to pull over and let them out. The Atlanta Journal Constitution musters up this praise: A few bumps in the road but overall it's an acceptable big, dumb summer movie.

But USA Today moans: Unfunny, sappy, and massively predictable.

And the New York Times sighs: Nowadays, no family movie is complete without a values-oriented agenda and a bountiful supply of fecal matter, and RV supplies both.

Our third wide release is the family drama, Akeelah and the Bee. It tells the story of a South LA girl who wants to better herself and finds her calling in spelling bees.

Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne and Keke Palmer star.

(Soundbite of Akeelah and The Bee)

Mr. LAURENCE FISHBURNE (Actor): (As character) Ever since you found out there was such a thing as the National Spelling Bee, you've seen yourself holding up that trophy, but if you can't say it, you can't win it. So say it.

Ms. KEKE PALMER (Actor): (As Akeelah) I want to win.

Mr. FISHBURNE: (As character) Say it louder, please.

Ms. PALMER: (As Akeelah): I want to win.

Mr. FISHBURNE: (As character) You want to win what?

Ms. PALMER: (As Akeelah): I want to win the National Spelling Bee.

LEGAN: All the critics praise the acting, many like the overall film, but a few complain of the heavy handed, feel good salesmanship. Variety snaps: This earnest weepy plays like The Karate Kid with a pro-literacy agenda.

But many reviews agree with The New York Times, which says: Along with a trio of crack performances, an underdog tale that manages to inspire without being sappy.

And the Los Angeles Times calls Akeelah and The Bee: A genuinely sweet and determinedly inspirational family film.

An interesting side note here is this film is being produced and heavily promoted by Starbucks. Makes sense. After two vanilla frappacinos, I like to spell words, too. Caffeine. C-A-F-F-E-I-N-E. Jittery. J-I-T-T-E-R-Y. Now I can't stop talking like this. Maybe chamomile tea next time.

BRAND: Mark Jordan Legan is the over-caffeinated writer living in Los Angeles.

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