B O O K S
A COLD CASE By Philip Gourevitch The author of the best-titled book of the '90s (We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda) has taken on another grim reconstruction: a 27-year-old murder. No car-chase thrills here, merely the gathering of string, knotted together to lasso the perpetrator, who is the guy everyone thought it was all along. Gourevitch is more interested in context, argot and character than plot. The book is the better for it.
C I N E M A
RUSH HOUR 2 Directed by Brett Ratner In this sub-ordinary sequel to the entertaining 1998 hit, a don't-invite-'em pair of cops--the serious one (Jackie Chan) from Hong Kong, the shrill one (Chris Tucker) from L.A.--do battle against malefactors of nearly every race. It's good to see Zhang Ziyi, the high-flying ingenue from Crouching Tiger, in a dragon-lady role, and fetching Roselyn Sanchez as a woman of uncertain loyalties. But until a vigorous climax, the action scenes have little punch. The film seems content to rely on the formula that could (small sigh) extend for a few more sequels: Jackie kicks butt; Chris kicks sass.
M U S I C
CELEBRITY 'N Sync If pride goeth before a fall, look for 'N Sync to be arriving soon in a ravine near you. The boys open their third album with Pop and Celebrity, Michael Jackson-style salvos against, respectively, the critics who await their demise and the hangers-on who like them only for their fame. But even when ranting, 'N Sync wields its pop hooks like weapons; they nail every chorus, emote feverishly on the ballads and hedge their bets on the whole pop thing by bouncing between techno, two-step, hip-hop and any other style Billboard might one day have a chart for. Slick and stupid? Sure. But it will make you dance. 'N Sync is probably all right with that.
T E L E V I S I O N
JAMES DEAN TNT, Aug. 5, 8 p.m. E.T. Sick of movie-star biopics? Then there's little to change your mind in this one, written by Israel Horovitz and directed by Mark Rydell: celeb struggles to overcome childhood demons, audience struggles to find the remote. It's worth seeing, though, because James Franco uncannily channels the sulky, sexy, short-lived heartthrob. Franco recalls not just Dean's recklessness and (cue E! True Hollywood Story music) his icy relationship with his father (Michael Moriarty), but also the acting craft of a phenom who lived hard and left a good-looking memory.
T H E A T E R
MAJOR BARBARA By George Bernard Shaw Cherry Jones, one of our best stage actresses, is surprisingly subdued as Shaw's Salvation Army idealist, and David Warner, in his U.S. stage debut, is too suave and nonthreatening as her arms-merchant father, the capitalist who alters her dreams. Still, even if the Roundabout Theatre's new production of Shaw's great comedy lacks some pizazz, it can't douse the fire of a dramatist out to bust open the sentimentality and conventional wisdom that infected both society and the stage. We could use a new Shaw today; until he (or she) comes along, the old one will do nicely.