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Summary Judgment: 'The Black Dahlia,' 'The Last Kiss,' 'Gridiron Gang'


Three new, wide releases in movie theaters this week. On Fridays we bring you a digest of what critics are saying, as compiled by the online magazine Slate, and here is Mark Jordan Legan with Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN: First up in wide release we have the crime drama The Black Dahlia. Directed by Brian De Palma, this period film noire is based on James Ellroy's novel about the infamous Hollywood murder of a fledgling starlet that shocked and fascinated America back in 1947. Scarlett Johansson, Josh Hartnett and Hilary Swank star.

(Soundbite of film, The Black Dahlia)

Ms. SCARLETT JOHANSSON (Actress): (As Kay Lake) So what do you have to do to keep my name out of the papers?

Mr. JOSH HARTNETT (Actor): (As Officer Dwight Bleichert) What do you mean?

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Kay Lake) That's not very convincing.

Mr. HARTNETT: (As Bleichert) I don't need your daddy's money, if that's what you're saying.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Kay Lake) You know it's not what I'm saying.

LEGAN: The critics feel like leaving this film in a vacant lot. Even though the St. Paul Pioneer Press finds it to be a film as vivid, outrageous and thrilling as Hollywood itself. The New Yorker sniffs that The Black Dahlia is kind of a fattened goose that's been stuffed with goose liver pate. It's over-rich and fundamentally unsatisfying. And many agree with New York Magazine, which calls it a stilted thing: over-stylized and inexpressive, like high-school kids playing dress-up.

Next up in wide release is the comedy-drama The Last Kiss. Adapted by Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis from the hit 2001 Italian film of the same name, Zach Braff leads a cast of 20-somethings struggling to adapt to adulthood. Casey Affleck and Jacinda Barrett also star.

Ms. JACINDA BARRETT (Actress): (As Jenna) Are you having a permanent crisis?

Mr. ZACH BRAFF (Actor): (As Michael) I don't know, maybe. I've been thinking about my life lately, and everything feels pretty planned out, you know? It's like I know everything that's going to happen. There are no more surprises.

LEGAN: The nation's critics are split on this one, some enjoying it, but many complaining the Italian original is better. The Chicago Tribune says prego - a smart, witty, sexy take on the perils of becoming an adult; but the Atlanta Journal Constitution points out what probably seemed natural and even amusing in the original, comes off here like Berry Levinson's Diner done wrong. And the New York Times barks: sometimes feels like an entire season of TV series crammed into two hours, full of activity but lacking shape. Wow, a whole TV season in two hours. Hey, that's what the TiVo remote is for.

And we close with the wide-release sports drama Gridiron Gang. Based on real events, Dwayne The Rock Johnson stars as a probation officer at a juvenile delinquent camp who decides to use football as a way of teaching young criminals self-respect, responsibility and team spirit.

Mr. DWAYNE, The Rock, JOHNSON (Actor): (As Sean Porter) Are you ready to go out there and take what's yours?

(Soundbite of men shouting in agreement)

Mr. JOHNSON: (As Sean Porter) What you have worked hard for?

(Soundbite of men shouting in agreement)

LEGAN: The critics like the concept, but as for the execution, they want to bench this movie. The Austin Chronicle admits the film is a pleasant surprise, and the Arizona Republic straddles the goal line by observing: Gridiron Gang is full of clichés, but at least they're captivating clichés. But many agree with the Hollywood Reporter, which calls the film about as inspirational as a yawn. Hey, maybe so, but that's great that young felons can learn from organized sports because maybe, just maybe someday they can reach the pro level and play with - other young felons. Hey wait a minute…

CHADWICK: Mark Jordan Legan is a writer living in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mark Jordan Legan