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Slate's Summary Judgment: 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose,' 'The Man,' 'An Unfinished Life'

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And with the weekend just hours away, it's time to see whether any newly released movies are worth your time or money. The online magazine Slate compiles a weekly digest of what critics are saying, and here's Mark Jordan Legan with Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN reporting:

First up in wide release, we have the buddy comedy "The Man." Samuel L. Jackson stars as a federal agent who teams up with a nerdy dental supply salesman played by Eugene Levy as they try and solve a crime in the gritty streets of Detroit.

(Soundbite of "The Man")

Mr. EUGENE LEVY: (As Andy Fidler) I just called 911, and you are in serious trouble.

Mr. SAMUEL L. JACKSON: (As Special Agent Derrick Vann) Get up.

Mr. LEVY: (As Andy Fidler) You shot me!

Mr. JACKSON: (As Special Agent Derrick Vann) I grazed you.

Mr. LEVY: (As Andy Fidler) Well, that's still shooting me!

Mr. JACKSON: (As Special Agent Derrick Vann) Watch your...

Mr. LEVY: (As Andy Fidler) Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!

LEGAN: The nation's critics don't want to hang with "The Man." The Arizona Republic warns that it resembles a photo negative of "Midnight Run," opposite in every way. The Washington Post moans that `"The Man" makes the mistake of assuming casting is all it takes to make a good comedy.' And the LA Weekly holds its nose and advises, `When a movie's comedic zenith is Levy farting in an elevator full of nuns, you know it's time to storm the box office to demand restitution.'

And next up in limited release is "An Unfinished Life," directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who brought us "Cider House Rules." This drama focuses on a modern-day dysfunctional ranching family haunted by a long-ago tragedy. Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lopez star.

(Soundbite of "An Unfinished Life")

Mr. MORGAN FREEMAN: (As Mitch Bradley) I always thought you had really lovely hands.

Mr. ROBERT REDFORD: (As Einar Gilkyson) You did?

Mr. FREEMAN: (As Mitch Bradley) Yeah.

Mr. REDFORD: (As Einar Gilkyson) You never told me that.

Unidentified Girl: I mean, it's cool. Everybody needs love.

Mr. REDFORD: (As Einar Gilkyson) ...(Unintelligible).

Mr. FREEMAN: (As Mitch Bradley) You got that part right, little girl.

LEGAN: The critics are split on this tear-jerker. Remember, one man's sap is another man's insightful foray into the human soul. Excuse me for a minute. (Whispering) OK, get it together. The New York Observer admires it, calling "An Unfinished Life" `powerful, thought-provoking and unforgettable.' The Minneapolis Star Tribune straddles the fence, calling it `an unabashedly sudsy soap opera that overflows with warm fuzzies. It's also really well done.' But The New York Times begs to differ, saying the weepy `suffocates in its own predictability and watered-down psychobabble.' Well, everyone knows you have to water down psychobabble; otherwise it's full of carbs and trans fat.

And we close with another wide release, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose." Loosely based on a true story, a Catholic priest is put on trial for the death of a teen-age girl who died during an exorcism. Laura Linney, Campbell Scott and Tom Wilkinson star.

(Soundbite of "The Exorcism of Emily Rose")

Unidentified Man: Before we get started, there's something I have to tell you, something I should have said to you before I let you take the case.

Ms. LAURA LINNEY: (As Erin Bruner) OK.

Unidentified Man: There are forces surrounding this trial, dark, powerful forces.

LEGAN: The critics thought it was either heaven or hell. Variety calls it `an unusually intelligent genre item that manages to mix full-bore horror with courtroom drama.' The Chicago Sun-Times finds it `intriguing and perplexing,' but The Atlanta Journal-Constitution growls, `"The Exorcism of Emily Rose" doesn't work. As horror, it's not so horrifying, and as a drama, we can see better any night on "Law & Order."' You know, maybe so, but still, Beelzebub vs. our legal system? Cool! `Your Honor, Satan keeps reading my thoughts and has turned my legal team into donkeys.' `I want to see where he's going with this. I'm going to allow it.' Now this is a televised trial I'd watch 24-7.

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

DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.