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Summary Judgment: 'Smoking,' 'She's the Man,' 'Vendetta'

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

It's almost the weekend. That means new movies and our weekly digest of what critics are saying about them, as compiled by the online magazine Slate. Here's Mark Jordan Legan with Summary Judgment.

Mr. MARK JORDAN LEGAN (Contributor, Slate Magazine): In honor of St. Patrick's Day, all three of today's releases have leprechauns in them shouting, Where's me pot of gold? Okay, I lied. No leprechauns. But two of them have something rarer, darned good reviews.

First up in wide release, we have the much anticipated action thriller V for Vendetta. The Wachowski brothers, of Matrix fame, have adapted the much beloved graphic novel about a mysterious masked man, named V, who fights a futuristic corrupt government. Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman star.

(Soundbite of V for Vendetta)

Unidentified Actor (in V for Vendetta): You have one chance, and only one chance to save your life. You must tell us the identity or whereabouts of Code Name V.

Mr. LEGAN: There's been some controversy over this project because V's actions have been seen as terrorism by some, but most of the nation's critics applaud the move for its power and emotion. Premier magazine raves, A compelling, rousing, and at times, strangely moving entertainment. The Philadelphia Inquirer finds V for Vendetta, A lot of dark, Orwellian fun. And even though the Toronto Globe and Mail calls it, V for very, very ordinary, the majority agrees with Time magazine, which shouts, It's a terrific movie!

Next up in limited release, we have the political comedy, Thank You for Smoking. Aaron Eckhart stars as a tobacco industry spokesman who will stop at nothing to promote his product. William H. Macy and Maria Bello also star.

(Soundbite of Thank You for Smoking)

Mr. AARON ECKHART (as Nick Naylor): If your parents told you that chocolate was dangerous, would you just take their word for it?

Unidentified Children: No!

Mr. ECKHART (as Nick Naylor): Exactly! So perhaps, instead of acting like sheep when it comes to cigarettes, you should find out for yourself.

Mr. LEGAN: Over all, the critics cough and hack their support. The Hollywood Reporter wheezes, The movie is amusing and clever but only skin deep. Yet the New York Times says, Thank You for Smoking is glibly funny and eager to please. And USA Today really lights up, The wittiest dark comedy of the year.

And we close with the wide release teen comedy, She's the Man. Amanda Bynes stars as the girl who dresses as a guy because, well, that's what Shakespeare wrote. That's right, folks, Twelfth Night is finally done properly.

(Clip of She's the Man)

Unidentified Man (actor): I won't break us up over a stupid soccer issue. Okay? Can you just be a girl for five seconds, huh?

Ms. AMANDA BYNES (as Viola): For five seconds? Okay. First of all, it's not a stupid soccer issue. And you're a jerk. Oh, look at that. Time's up.

Mr. LEGAN: Me thinks thy critics are thrown asunder by this lad, er, lass they call Bynes. Even though the Los Angeles Times cheers, There's a sweetness about that wins you over, the Hollywood Reporter warns of, Unconvincing slapstick aimed at 12 year olds and gags Shakespeare would have found ancient. And the Washington Post snaps that, She's the Man is another gate crasher at the let's-do-a-mediocre-update-of-Shakespeare party.

To be fair, I went back and researched the original reviews of the premiere of Twelfth Night, and did you know his working title was also She's the Man? And many of the 16th-century critics slammed the bard for pandering to the 18 to 34 demographic.

CHADWICK: Mark Jordan Legan, a writer and Shakespearean scholar living in Los Angeles.

NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mark Jordan Legan