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Slate's Summary Judgment: 'Kicking and Screaming,' 'Unleashed,' 'Monster-In-Law'

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Now does Hollywood have anything this weekend that's worth your business? Here's our regular digest of what the critics are saying about new movie releases. Writer Mark Jordan Legan has Slate's Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN reporting:

We start things off with Jane Fonda returning to the big screen for the first time in 15 years. She's back in the comedy "Monster-in-Law." Jennifer Lopez finds the man of her dreams until she meets his mother, a famous broadcast journalist recently replaced by a much younger pretty face. That's right, it's J. Lo vs. J. Fo. That `J. Fo' thing is mine, so no one try and steal it.

(Soundbite of "Monster-in-Law")

Mr. MICHAEL VARTAN: (As Kevin) Charlie, will you marry me?

Ms. JANE FONDA: (As Viola Fields) It's too sudden. She's in shock.

Ms. JENNIFER LOPEZ: (As Charlotte "Charlie" Honeywell) No. I mean...

Ms. FONDA: (As Viola) Yeah.

Ms. LOPEZ: (As Charlie) ...I mean, I am, Mom, but...

Ms. FONDA: (As Viola) No. No. Say no.

Ms. LOPEZ: (As Charlie) Yes. Yes.

LEGAN: Hmm, I wonder if my J. Fo nickname is sweeping the nation yet. Anyway, the critics want to leave this movie at the altar. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer sums up the consensus by calling "Monster-in-Law" `incorrigibly unfunny.' A few critics do have some kind or perhaps sympathetic words for Jane Fonda. The LA Times says, `Hers is the only speck of emotional honesty in this otherwise insipid and casually insulting fantasy.'

Next up, also in wide release, is Will Ferrell's new family comedy "Kicking & Screaming." Ferrell plays an uptight dad who coaches his son in the cutthroat world of Little League Soccer. Robert Duvall and Mike Ditka also star.

(Soundbite of "Kicking & Screaming")

Unidentified Man #1: You're my assistant, OK? You're supposed to back me up and go get me juice boxes when I tell you. Now go get me a juice box.

Unidentified Man #2: You know who you're talking to?

Unidentified Man #1: I'm talking to the juice box guy.

Unidentified Man #2: You're crazy!

Unidentified Man #1: I'm not crazy. I'm just thirsty.

LEGAN: The critics were split on this one. Some kicked, some screamed, but almost all praised Ferrell's comic performance. Even though USA Today gripes, `A good script is the most essential ingredient for a good movie; hiring a comedian isn't enough,' Variety enjoyed it, calling "Kicking & Screaming" `an immensely likable, funny comedy.'

And we close with the action thriller "Unleashed," written and directed by Luc Besson. The gritty film stars martial arts legend Jet Li as a human who has been raised by mobsters to be an attack dog. Bob Hoskins and Morgan Freeman also star.

(Soundbite of "Unleashed")

Unidentified Man #3: In the market, those men, they were fighting, you knew that, right?

Unidentified Man #4: Yes.

Unidentified Man #3: But that didn't bother you?

Unidentified Man #4: No.

Unidentified Man #3: You weren't afraid?

Unidentified Man #4: No.

Unidentified Man #5: Normally, people find themselves in situations like that, they get afraid.

LEGAN: Overall, the nation's critics want to shout, `Good boy! Who's a good boy?' to this underdog. Yes, the Chicago Tribune growls, `Even with its clever gimmick, "Unleashed" is like an old dog: no new tricks.' But the LA Weekly barks, `The most entertaining film Besson has had his name on in eons,' and Entertainment Weekly calls it `a heartfelt, heart-stopping flick that is totally off the chain.'

So, poor Jet Li, ooh, `I was raised as a dog, poor me.' So what? I was raised as a guilt-ridden Catholic. You don't hear me going around complaining about it. Oh, wait, yeah, you do. Sorry. Now I just feel awful.

CHADWICK: Mark Jordan Legan is a writer living in Los Angeles, where he feels guilty.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

CHADWICK: Did I say DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News? I meant NPR News and slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mark Jordan Legan