LABORIOUS HOLIDAY FOR MOVIES

Five new movies are opening wide this weekend, the most ever released on a Labor Day holiday, but none of them is expected to displace Tropic Thunder from the top of the box-office list of winners, according to many box-office analysts. Fewer moviegoers visit their local theaters during the Labor Day weekend than during any other major holiday of the year, and this weekend is not expected to be an exception Only the two films that were released on Wednesday, Traitor and Hamlet 2, were screened for U.S. critics. The others were not, usually a sign that the studios that produced them have low expectations for them. Critics are suggesting that Disaster Movie will live up to its title at the box-office. The sci-fi thriller, Babylon A.D. has been rapped even by its director,Mathieu Kassovitz, who said that it looked like "a bad episode of 24." And College is expected to flunk out, perhaps not even landing in the top ten. Nevertheless, they are capping off a summer that produced far greater ticket sales than analysts had initially predicted. Overall, the box office is expected almost to equal last summer's record-breaking $4.16 billion.

MOVIE REVIEWS: BABYLON A.D.

Although Babylon A.D. was not screened for U.S. critics, it was for U.K. critics, who, as they might say, got their knickers in a twist over it. In a review that could only have been written for a British newspaper, James Christopher comments in the London Times, "It's utter codswallop, yet enjoyable if you unplug your brain." Xan Brooks of the Guardian uses the word "dunderheaded" to describe the film. Nigel Andrews, the critic for the Financial Times, calls it "tosh" (garbage). Horatia Harrod in the Telegraph says the movie's plot "is equal parts baffling, boring and absurd." Several critics lay the blame on Vin Diesel's performance. "Whatever happened to Vin Diesel's career?" asks Chris Tookey in the Mirror. The (unnamed) critic for the Sun answers, "The value of Diesel continues to plummet." And the (also unnamed) Belfast Telegraph critic writes, "Diesel has been running on unleaded."

EBERT SLAMS FORMER SUN-TIMES SPORTS COLUMNIST

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert has fired a broadside against the newspaper's most prominent sports columnist, Jay Mariotti, following Mariotti's resignation earlier this week. "What an ugly way to leave the Sun-Times," Ebert wrote in an open letter to Mariotti. "Your timing was exquisite. You signed a new contract, waited until days after the newspaper had paid for your trip to Beijing at great cost, and then resigned with a two-word e-mail: 'I quit.' ... The fact that you saved your attack for TV only completes our portrait of you as a rat." And Ebert, in a final shot, signed off with this advice to his former colleague: "On the way out, don't let the door bang you on the ass."

Brian B.