Although Jerry Seinfeld has been relentlessly plugging his family-oriented animated flick Bee Movie, and although it is opening in 3,500 theaters and about twice that number of screens, box-office prognosticators figure that An American Gangsterwill lead the box office this weekend. They are also predicting that a third film, Martian Child, starring John Cusack, will flop, earning perhaps less than $5 million.


Reviews of American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe,are split between love and hate. On the love side is Roger Ebertof the Chicago Sun Times who awards it a four-star ranking. "This is an engrossing story, told smoothly and well," he writes. Likewise, Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal sums up: "It's a great big gangster film, and a good one." Claudia Puig in USA Today concludes that it "is probably the best gangster crime drama of the year." And Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post raves, "In American Gangster,time doesn't fly, it explodes." The thing is 2 1/2 hours long; it feels like 40 minutes. Whether it's the next great American crime movie or simply this year's professional stunner will be determined over the net few months." On the other hand, Jack Mathews in the New York Daily Newssays he likes the final 40 minutes of the movie, "but the film is 2 hours and 40 minutes long, and the runup, setup or whatever-up you want to call the first two hours is largely a drag." Jan Stuart in Newsdaysays "the film begins to show its flab about two-thirds in." Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sunpronounces it an intriguing true story turned into "facile melodrama" and dismisses it as kind of "a cover version of a Scorsese, Coppola or De Palma movie." Which is apparently good enough for Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle who writes: "So it's not a classic. ... Instead, it can be classed as a respectable second-tier entry."


Critics are treating Seinfeld as if he were Kramer. His Bee Movieis getting mostly Cees and Dees -- with a single exception among the major critics: Kyle Smith of the New York Post, who writes, "Bee Movie is dazzling fun. Jerry is master of a new domain." But Claudia Puig in USA Today writes that it is "tedious and often seems to be running on empty." Peter Howell in the Toronto Star asks, "Jerry, where is thy sting?" Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times remarks that "it's a bee movie about nothing." The movie does get a few polite claps. Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily Newspronounces it "amiable." And Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune regards it as "moderately entertaining." Not that there's anything wrong with that.


Martian Childarrives without much buzz and receives mostly so-so reviews. Kyle Smith in the New York Postdescribes it as "a sweet father-son heart warmer ... which works the tear ducts as expertly as an Irish barman dispensing Guinness." And Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mailadvises: "If you're allergic to schmaltz, bring a bottle of Benadryl along to Martian Child."


The closure of hundreds of competing video stores has apparently not driven many consumers to Blockbuster outlets. On Thursday the video renter posted a quarterly loss from continuing operations of $34.8 million, rising from a $23-million loss during the comparable quarter a year ago. The figures were considerably worse than expected. There was one bright spot in the quarterly report: subscribers to its online rental service dropped to 3.1 million from 3.6 million a year ago, with most of the lost subscribers presumably moving to NetFlix. "Our goal is to continue to increase our membership base by providing even more ways for customers to get the entertainment they want through our stores, through the mail and through new technologies," Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes said in a statement.


In what appears to be a new strategy in the high-definition DVD wars, Best Buy and Wal-Mart have announced that they are dropping the price of HD DVD players below $100. In-store sales of the players were expected to begin today (Friday). They are listed as sold-out on the stores' websites.