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Slate's Summary Judgment: 'Friends with Money,' 'Lucky Number Slevin,' 'Benchwarmers'

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BRAND: Stay with us, DAY TO DAY returns in a moment.

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BRAND: This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeline Brand.

CHADWICK: And I'm Alex Chadwick. Every Friday we get a roundup of what the critics are saying about the week's new movie releases. Here is Slate's Mark Jordan Legan with Summary Judgment.

Mr. MARK JORDAN LEGAN reporting:

First up in wide release, we have the crime thriller Lucky Number Slevin. A case of mistaken identity lands Josh Hartnett smack dab in the middle of a mob feud. Lucy Liu, Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman also star.

(Soundbite of movie Lucky Number Slevin)

Mr. JOSH HARTNETT: Nick set me up, but I called Nick. I initiated contact.

Ms. LUCY LIU: Well, maybe it just seems that way.

Ms. JOSH HARTNETT: This isn't the first time this has happened, you know?

LIU: You mean this isn't the first time a crime lord asked you to kill the gay son of a rival gangster to pay off a debt that belongs to a friend whose place you're staying in as a result of losing your job, your apartment and finding your girlfriend in bed with another guy?

WILLIS: No. This is the first that happened. But Nick has been paying me in the corner since we were kids.

LEGAN: Many of the nations critics enjoy the twists and turns. But a few shrug it off as Tarantino light. The LA Weekly growls, Another drearily sadistic and pointless crime thriller. But the Minneapolis Star Tribune says, Lucky Number Slevin is an ingenious maze that viewers will enjoy getting lost in. And the Hollywood Reporter cheers, Stylish as hell with sharp dialogue, a tongue-in-cheek plot and visual and editing razzle-dazzle.

Next up in wide release is a comedy that, well, for those of you who once dreamt of the day when Napoleon Dynamite, Dickey Roberts and Deuce Bigalo would all star in a movie together, your dream has come true. That's right The Benchwarmers is here. And yes, Jon Heder, David Spade and Rob Schneider lead a baseball team of nerds who challenge the meanest Little Leaguers around.

(Soundbite of movie Bench Warmers)

Mr. ROB SCHNEIDER: Now all of us here in this room have been excluded from athletic activities. And now our kids are going through the same tomfoolery. Now Ritchie, do you have any kids?

Mr. David SPADE: Never had a date.


Mr. JON HEDER (As Clark): Never spoke to a girl.

LEGAN: Guess what? The movie was not made available for the media. Studios usually withhold screenings from critics in order to avoid negative reviews and rope unsuspecting viewers in on opening day. And this is happening more and more. In fact, so far in 2006, 11 films have followed this path where only two had done so at this point last year.

And we close with the limited release comedy Friends with Money. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener's third feature focuses on how money and social status affect friendships between four grown women. Those four women are played by Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack and Frances McDormand.

(Soundbite of movie Friends with Money)

Ms. FRANCES MCDORMAND: (As Jane) This kid's played at my house all day and his parents don't even know who I am.

Ms. CATHERINE KEENER: (As Christine) How do you know?

Ms. MCDORMAND: (As Jane) 'Cause the next day I see him at school and they smile. They don't say anything like thank you.

Ms. KEENER: (As Christine) That's insane.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (As Jane) It is. I've fed him two meals. (Unintelligible) cleaned up his pee. Don't you think that his mother should at least acknowledge me?

Unidentified Man #1: That's just rude.

LEGAN: Overall, the critics applaud the smart script and the strong performances. Even though New York magazine complains the film doesn't quite snap into focus, it just floats along, the majority agree with Rolling Stone, which finds it to be smart, witty and alert to the buried resentments that poke through the shiny surface of affluence. And the Chicago Tribune says, Friends with Money is acutely perceptive and slyly quick-witted. Yeah, it's tough when all your friends are rich. But of course, working in public radio, I don't have to worry about that.

BRAND: Mark Jordan Legan makes a little more money working as a writer living in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mark Jordan Legan