Cowboys And Ghosts Make A Comeback

Ed Harris' new film Appaloosa and the supernatural comedy Ghost Town are drawing gentle praise, reports Mark Jordan Legan. It's less clear if Lakeview Terrace is worth the price of admission.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

A western, a comedy and a thriller walk into a bar and - oh, wait a minute. No, they don't. But all three walk in the theaters today, and here to tell us what the critics think of these new releases is Mark Jordan Legan with Slate's Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN: Ed Harris had great success the last time he directed himself in a film. His biopic on Jackson Pollock was an award-winning hit back in 2000. He tries his luck again, only this time in a Western called "Appaloosa." A small mining town is being terrorized by a ruthless, powerful rancher, and Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen played the two hired gunmen brought to town to stop the lawlessness.

(Soundbite of movie "Appaloosa")

Mr. TIMOTHY SPALL: (As Phil Olson) Bragg and his men have got us all running scared. They buy supplies in my store. They don't pay for them. They harass our women, they use horses on the livery and don't bring them back. They eat and drink whatever they like, and they never pay.

Mr. JAMES GAMMON: (As Earl May) They've been living off us like coyotes live off a buffalo carcass.

Mr. ED HARRIS: (As Virgil Cole) Everything eats meat likes a dead buffalo.

LEGAN: That's so weird that he says that, because I just had a dead buffalo omelet this morning. It was delicious. And the critics feel the same way about "Appaloosa." Rolling Stone calls it, "gripping entertainment that keeps springing surprises." The Hollywood Reporter shouts, "a fine Western with fresh characters and witty dialogue." And Entertainment Weekly declares, "a pleasingly spacious piece of work."

British actor Ricky Gervais, who co-created and starred in the original U.K. series of "The Office," might have found the perfect Hollywood vehicle for himself with the comedy "Ghost Town." Gervais plays a crabby dentist who, after a near-death experience, can now see ghosts. And one of the ghosts, played by Greg Kinnear, wants his help to break up the impending marriage of his widow.

(Soundbite of movie "Ghost Town")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RICK GERVAIS: (As Bertram Pincus D.D.S.) Did anything unusual happen during my procedure?

Ms. KRISTEN WIIG: (As Surgeon) Ah, you died.

(Soundbite of gasp)

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Bertram Pincus D.D.S.) I died?

Ms. WIIG: (As Surgeon) A little bit.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Bertram Pincus D.D.S.) For how long?

Ms. WIIG: (As Surgeon) Seven minutes.

Mr. MICHAEL-LEON WOOLEY: (As Hospital Lawyer) A bit less.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Bertram Pincus D.D.S.) I died for seven minutes.

Mr. WOOLEY: (As Hospital Lawyer) A bit less.

Ms. WIIG: (As Surgeon) Everybody dies.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Bertram Pincus D.D.S.) I was dead.

LEGAN: The nation's critics like their visit to "Ghost Town." The Chicago Tribune cheers, "a welcome surprise, a supernatural comedy that works." The Washington Post giggles, "sweet and hilarious." And Variety smiles, "smartly supernatural with sensational performances."

Samuel L. Jackson plays a cop with an unsettling brand of justice in the thriller, "Lakeview Terrace." A young interracial couple moves in next door, and Jackson begins to make their life difficult.

(Soundbite of movie "Lakeview Terrace")

Ms. KERRY WASHINGTON: (As Lisa Mattson) Get off my property.

Mr. SAMUEL L. JACKSON: (As Abel Turner) Or what? You want to call the cops? Yeah, I'll tell you who's on duty.

LEGAN: The reviews are split on "Lakeview Terrorist." Even though the Chicago Sun Times finds it "alive and provoking," USA Today shrugs, "overheated but entertaining." And the Philadelphia Inquirer sighs, "a predictable B-movie cop out." Well, you know, I don't want to hear about neighbors from Hell. My neighbor refuses to trim back his rose bushes and blares Miami Sound Machine on his stereo day and night. That's much more frightening than a psycho rogue cop with a gun. Right? Huh? Did I mention the Miami Sound Machine at full blast?

(Singing) Come on, shake your body, baby, do that conga. I know you can't control yourself any longer.

(Shouting) Argh!

BRAND: I like that song. Mark Jordan Legan is a Los Angeles-based writer looking to, possibly, move.

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