Summary Judgment: 'Night Listener,' 'Barnyard,' 'Talladega Nights'

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Slate contributor Mark Jordan Legan reviews what critics are saying about the weekend's major movie releases: The Night Listener, Barnyard: The Original Party Animals, and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

On Fridays, the online magazine Slate compiles a digest of what movie critics are saying about the new releases. Her is Mark Jordan Legan with this week's Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN reporting:

First up in wide release is the mystery thriller The Night Listener. Based on the novel by Armistead Maupin, the author of Tales of the City, Robin Williams stars as a famous author and popular radio host whose life changes when he is contacted by a troubled young listener. Toni Collette also stars.

(Soundbite of movie The Night Listener)

Mr. ROBIN WILLIAMS (Actor): (As Gabriel Noone) Hi, Pete. This is Gabriel Noone. Ashe gave me your number, and I read your book. I really liked it.

Mr. RORY CULKIN (Actor): (As Pete Logand) Hey.

Mr. WILLIAMS: (As Noone) Hey...

LEGAN: The nation's critics want to switch over to classic rock. USA Today likes it, saying The Night Listener weaves a fascinating tale, and Collette and Williams give two of the summer's best performances. But the New York Observer frowns, A creepy head-scratcher more atmospheric than believable, and many agree with the Associate Press, which finds the film more admirable for what it tries to be than for what it actually achieves.

Next up is a big ol' wide release of Talladega Nights, Will Ferrell's latest comedy about a clueless race car driver. Sacha Baron Cohen and John C. Reilly also star.

(Soundbite of movie, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character): Dear Lord Baby Jesus, we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Dominos, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell.

LEGAN: The critics had a pretty good ride. Even though the Washington Post thinks it drags when it should be crackling and popping, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer raves, Ferrell's best movie and the summer's funniest comedy so far. The L.A. Times shouts, Talladega Nights is a bit of a mess, but it is a genial mess, and one that will make you laugh. And absurdly funny, cheers the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Our third wide release is the computer-animated family comedy Barnyard, which tells the true story of what barn animals do when the farmer is not around. Kevin James, Danny Glover and Courtney Cox are just a few of the stars who provide voices to the flock, or herd, or pack, or whatever.

(Soundbite of movie, Barnyard: The Original Party Animals)

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) Good morning, everyone. Okay, before we get started, we have a birthday. Everett the Dog turned 13 today.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Actor #2: (As character) Boy, those dog years are rough, huh?

(Soundbite of noisemakers)

LEGAN: Critics are split on this one. Some claim funny-cartoon-critter burnout, like the Detroit Free Press, which snarls, Barnyard is the worst in an endless line of computer-animated movies starring animals. But the L.A. Weekly crows, Delightfully cheeky, and Variety clucks, The film is zippy enough to delight youngsters and clever enough to engage their parents.

Yeah, right. Take it from me, who will be dragged to this by my six-year-old, I will not be engaged by its cleverness. The other parents and I will try and count on one hand the grown-up movies we've seen on a big screen recently and then we will watch in horror as a theater full of children get so hopped up on soda and candy, there's a good chance they won't even become slightly drowsy until after Labor Day.

BRAND: Mark Jordan Legan is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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