Joel Siegel: 'Old School' Spirit

Now in theaters: Old School, The Life of David Gale, Dark Blue and Gods and Generals.

Old School —

When I heard about Old School — about three guys in their 30s opening a fraternity house — I figured it would be one more gross-out movie, filled with mean-spirited bodily fluid jokes, trying to see how far they can lower the bar on basic human decency.

I braced myself for one of those movies that, if you're old enough to get into see it, you're too old to want to watch it. But it's my job. I went. I sat through the whole thing. And here, America, is the kiss of death — this should kill Old School for teenagers if anything can:

I liked it. I laughed. A lot. And loud.

Unlike other college kid comedies, the humor's never cruel. Not even the gross-out gags. The three leads — Luke Wilson, Will Farrell and Vince Vaughn — are awful good actors and maintain their dignity (Vaughn's performance made me want to watch Swingers all over again.) In two words: Funn … neee. Grade: B.

The Life of David Gale — The Life of David Gale is a whodunit disguised as an anti-capital punishment screed. I never try to figure out whodunit while I'm watching a film. I don't think it's fair for a critic. Also … when I do I'm almost always wrong.

But I figured out whodunit watching the commercial for this movie. Kevin Spacey , an anti-capital-punishment philosophy professor is convicted of a rape and murder and is on death row. Kate Winslet plays plays a reporter who interviews him for a news weekly (and $500,000). She doesn't figure out whodunit because in Hollywood they think movie producers are smarter than reporters. They're not. You know who else is smarter than movie producers? Audiences. Grade: The A-list cast gets an A. The movie gets a C (and I don't mean S-E-E).

Dark Blue —

Dark Blue isn't good cop, bad cop. It's bad cop, worse cop. Kurt Russell goads his rookie partner into committing murder — on orders from LAPD higher-ups.

That's a great scene, lit by a police chopper, the noise unbearably loud, the camera shaking from the bad vibrations. Ron Shelton, whose sports comedies have been winners, can do action. But the story is set against the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, and that makes it seem dated. The LA Confidential meetsTraining Day script doesn't help, either, because both of those were better films.

Kurt Russell's mea culpa movie star turn in the last reel subverts his explosive performance in the first hour of the film but, a favorite actor I don't see enough of, he's the reason to see Dark Blue. Grade: B.

Gods and Generals — On the night before Stonewall Jackson leaves to fight the Civil War, he and his wife read the Bible, from the Book of Corinthians. Later on, the Confederate hero wonders why he doesn't have children. Much later on. Gods and Generals is an excruciating three hours and 45 minutes long.

In three hours and 45 minutes I didn't count 30 seconds of honest, living dialogue. It's like a high school pageant. Nobody talks; they make speeches. Jeff Daniels plays a colonel from Maine. The studio didn't send the clip, but Daniels makes one speech — must be two minutes — in Latin.

But as bad as this movie is as entertainment, it's even worse as history, and that is unforgivable. We're told that Abraham Lincoln started the Civil War. There are only two black characters with any dialogue and only one of them says anything negative about slavery. And that's two hours into the movie.

Ted Turner produced this. It plays like it was supposed to have been a mini-series on one of his cable networks. I have no idea why they're releasing it in theaters. The best thing I can say about this movie? It runs almost four hours and with ticket prices at eight or nine bucks, in Manhattan that's cheaper than rent. Grade: D.

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