Verdicts on 'Night at the Museum,' 'Rocky Balboa'

Los Angeles writer Mark Jordan Legan summarizes the critical reviews of new movie releases for this edition of Slate's Summary Judgment. This week: verdicts on The Good Shepherd, We Are Marshall, Rocky Balboa, and Night at the Museum.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And from rating teachers to rating movies, or what movie critics are saying about the biggest releases this busy holiday weekend, our digest is complied by Mark Jordan Legan of the online magazine Slate. Here is Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN: Better watch out, better not cry, better not pout, because the nation's movie critics will do it for you. Hey, and what says peace on Earth better than "The Good Shepherd," a three-hour suspense drama about the origins of the CIA. Robert DeNiro directs, and Matt Damon leads an all-star cast that includes Angelina Jolie and John Turturro.

(Soundbite of film, "The Good Shepherd")

Unidentified Man (Actor): (As character) They wouldn't tell me your name.

Mr. MATT DAMON (Actor): (As Edward Wilson) Then how do you know you're not in the wrong place?

Unidentified Man: (As character) They said you were a serious SOB that didn't have any sense of humor. There can't be two of you.

LEGAN: The critics are split on this one, some raving and others, once they made sure they weren't being followed to their car by the CIA, complain of the slow pace and long running time. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution cheers, "The Good Shepherd" is one of the best pictures of the year. But many of the detractors agree with Rolling Stone, which complains it's tough to slog through a movie that has no pulse.

Next up, Matthew McConaughey stars in the wide-release sports drama "We Are Marshall." It's based on the tragic true story of the West Virginia college football team that perished in a plane crash and the young coach that tried to rebuild the program and help a community heal.

(Soundbite of film, "We Are Marshall")

Mr. MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY (Actor): (As Jack Lengyel) Talk to me.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) Oh coach. That was my team. They left it in my hands.

LEGAN: Many of the critics complain of the typical sports-movie clichés, but also confess that the lump-in-the-throat moments truly work. The Chicago Tribune calls it undeniably entertaining, but the Christian Science Monitor admits it's a powerful subject, but the film hauls out every cliché in the playbook.

And yo, who says the sixth time can't be the charm? "Rocky Balboa" is upon us, and Sylvester Stallone is back with his legendary character stepping in the ring one last time.

(Soundbite of trailer for "Rocky Balboa")

Mr. TONY BURTON (As Duke): (As character) To beat this guy, you need speed. You don't have it. And you've got calcium deposits on most of your joints, so sparring is out.

Mr. SYLVESTER STALLONE (Actor): (As Rocky Balboa) I had that problem.

Mr. BURTON: (As Duke) So what we'll be calling on is blunt force trauma. Let's start building some hurting bombs.

LEGAN: Maybe they're punch-drunk or in the holiday spirit, but the majority of the critics enjoyed the return of Rocky Balboa. The Hollywood Reporter declares, defies all expectations and really does come close to capturing the heart and soul of the original; and the New York Daily News cheers, packs a far more powerful punch than anyone would've expected.

And Ben Stiller leads a powerful comedy ensemble in "Night at the Museum." Stiller plays a bumbling security guard at New York's Museum of Natural History who triggers all the museum's figures to come alive, everyone from a playful T-Rex to Teddy Roosevelt. Robin Williams, Owen Wilson and Dick Van Dyke also star.

(Soundbite of film, "Night at the Museum")

Mr. BEN STILLER (Actor): (As Larry Daley) You guys got the whole room to run around in. You don't have to be near each other.

Mr. OWEN WILSON (Actor): (As character) Oh, you mean you're going to let us out? What, and just roam free?

Mr. STILLER: (As Daley) Yeah, yeah. I might if you promise to behave.

LEGAN: Critics are feeling like the Grinch on this comedy adventure. Even though the Dallas Morning News cheers, the special effects are a blast, but even better is the remarkable, star-studded ensemble; the Chicago Tribune calls it charmless, and the Los Angeles Times growls, the bulk of the movie is a series of sight gags and set pieces that wreak havoc but little else.

Hmm. You know, I'm surprised because I once worked as a nighttime security guard at a museum, and let me tell you, it's nothing but action, mystery and intrigue, and that's just from trying to remember whose leftover Chinese food that is in the employee refrigerator.

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

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