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Criticwatch - Gone Goes The Wanderlust
by Erik Childress

There are some movies that studios don't know what to do with. Take the case of Universal and Wanderlust. Their move from an October release date into February could bring about the speculation that something is wrong with it - or - perhaps it just made more viable economic sense - or - it just took that long to carefully remove any evidence of Jennifer Aniston's boobs. But it is all just speculation. After all, its David Wain, Ken Marino and Paul Rudd making their first film together since Role Models, a decent hit for the studio that was also very well received by critics. Cut to February 2012 and Universal is now forgoing their usual "national policy" of screening on Tuesday nights to screen Wanderlust on Wednesday, just 2 days before it opens. Is there really something wrong with it - or - did they just need the extra time to remove the boobs? We may never know the answer to the latter (nor why of the four films on the weekend of Feb. 24 it is getting the smallest theater launch) but in terms of quality, Wanderlust does not at all disappoint. Consistently funny throughout, it's a great ensemble that is enlivened by Paul Rudd having some of the funniest moments of an already stellar career in it. So why did Universal wait so long to show everyone? They didn't get bad advice from the quote whores, did they?

Again, that is mere speculation. We are well aware that the junkets are often used like a focus group. If the attendees like a film well enough, the studio may start screening the film for more, say, discriminating, press than their easy lays. They won't wait for us to offer our thoughts and go straightforward with peppering the week-early ads with the typical pre-written blurbs you often see skewered right here at Criticwatch. But if the big name critics offer the same praise, those whores turn into frigid prom dates right quick and they are traded up for a greater model. In the Friday ads for Wanderlust, Universal managed to snag Nick Pinkerton from The Village Voice with "Big laughs. Gut-busting funny" but also this:

"Hysterical! The funniest movie of the year." - Dan Jewel, Life & Style

Those who read last week's column will remember that rising whore Joel Amos already labeled McG's This Means War as "the funniest movie of the year." A statement that is ludicrous not just because that film sucks hard but because it is pretty much the only comedy released that Amos would have seen. So, he basically wins a semantic argument. Fast-forward a week later and now the choice is Wanderlust vs. This Means War. So, a clear winner for Dan Jewel and anyone with a brain. Dan is not even one of Universal's beloved jewels (I know, just wait.) This is only the 4th time we have seen him on an Universal ad out of the 40 times he has been quoted since 2005.

"Not since The Matrix has an action movie made you repeatedly sit up and go, ‘Whoa, I’ve never seen that before!" (Wanted)
"A smart, hilarious comedy." (Role Models)
"Adults and kids will be rolling in the aisles! The funniest movie of the summer." (Despicable Me)

Hey, and look at that, he was a fan of Role Models too. So why not? And he's clearly willing to throw the "funniest" adjective down when you need him to.

"The flat-out funniest movie of the year." (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story)

See? At least Walk Hard was a December release and we can at least say he had a full year's worth of comedies to make an informed statement. Would it kill some of these people (and the studios) to just include the words "so far" in their praise?

"Easily the best comedy so far this year." (The Devil Wears Prada) - Dan Jewel

There ya go. See, it doesn't change the praise of the movie. It just simply states that of all the movies released under the traditional calendar, this one happens to be the best to date, and you don't look like an idiot, Joel Amos, when a better film is released the very next week. You can simply just look like an idiot, Dan Jewel, when you offer quotes like these:

"A thrilling white-knuckle flight. Wes Craven is at his best here...don't miss this Red Eye" (Red Eye)
"Hilarious, sweetly romantic and as infectious as a great pop song. This one hits all the right notes!" (Music and Lyrics)
"A quirky, intelligent comedy…this Dog deserves its day at the box office." (Year of the Dog)
"With a plot kids and adults will love, and top-notch animation, threes turtles have come out of their shell!" (TMNT)
"A hare-raising adventure perfect for the whole family!" (Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit)
"50/50 delivers 100 percent." (50/50)

Your choice whether or not to trust the words of Dan Jewel and if you're not a Village Voice person, you can take my word for it or the other 58% of critics at Rotten Tomatoes recommending Wanderlust. Even at 58% still the 7th best reviewed wide release of the year. So far.

One film that didn't get a chance to be reviewed though was Summit's kidnapping thriller, Gone, with Amanda Seyfried. Or so we thought. Since last week (and probably earlier) we knew it was not going to be screened for critics. And then I open the paper this morning and see the following:

This is, without question, the most quote whores Criticwatch has ever seen on an ad for a film that didn't screen for actual critics. EVER! This is unprecedented. Summit screened the movies for these whores, figured they hit their high note, and walked out the room. It is actually a dangerous precedent to be set and film critics from all mediums should be up in arms in regards to its implications. If you cannot read all the names, allow us to reprint them:

"An intense psychological thriller." - Mike Androsky, Entertainers
"Nail-biting suspense. Amanda Seyfried rocks as the thrills and surprises keep coming." - Jeanne Wolf
"Riveting." - Joel D. Amos
"It will keep you guessing to the end!" - Kylie Erica Mar, Made In Hollywood
"Suspenseful." - Andrew Freund
"Chilling." - Greg Russell

At the time I saw this, there was only one review of Gone linked to Rotten Tomatoes from Matthew Pejkovic who wrote "Gone is a mystery/thriller that is neither mysterious nor thrilling and proves Amanda Seyfried is quite a ways off at becoming a leading lady of quality entertainment." This from a guy who gave POSITIVE reviews to This Means War and The Vow. By the end of the day Friday, reviews were up to 18 with only three positive, including Stephanie Zacharek (who poo-pooed Inception.) So it goes both ways. While this week's article began on Friday morning, I tend to wait until I can at least see the whore-loved film in question before passing judgment. And let me tell you that we do not get such gloriously incompetent films like Gone in theaters all too often.

This is a shockingly inept piece of work, even in a year that has given us films like One For The Money, The Devil Inside and Red Tails. Imagine Tyler Perry directing the lamest remake of Kiss the Girls imaginable and you can get a sense of how flat-out awful the storytelling and character development is in this one. Between the Portland police treating Amanda Seyfried like she is Jake & Elwood Blues and one howling dialogue scene after another, the pure aesthetics of moviemaking don't even have time to breathe in a film that may as well have just called itself Creepy Guy: The Movie, for every ominous-looking male character introduction every seven minutes. The neighbor who won't go outside but spies late at night. The generous hooded diner patron who tips hundys to waitresses that don't even wait on him. The father/son locksmith team who should get their own Wrong Turn spinoff sequel. Wes Bentley.

Speaking of creepy guys, there is Joel Amos again now tied for the most quotes on the year. Not one of them on a film hitting higher than 53% approval. We are starting to think Amos might be part of a grander plan to just expose the junket system by getting himself on as many ads as possible. Like a double agent. The Mata Hari of quote whores. We hope that is the case. Otherwise Amos is truly headed down a path that is going to make studios AND their films look very bad.

We are definitely through the looking glass here people. The timeline is very clear and while the studios have tried to buck the trend and add some legitimacy to their prize junketeers, the message is and has always been simple. When you see a name like Shawn Edwards, Mark S. Allen, Joel Amos, Maria Salas and countless others that you read about here on a film ad, the film may as well just be stamped with a crap seal of disapproval. And every film marked with their monikers from here on out should be considered as much.

Unless, of course, studios from Summit up to Universal start recognizing that praise for their movies is out there and it is time to start from the top. Flip the script on your screening practices and invite some real critics with names that moviegoers and readers recognize to your early screenings and junkets. Give them a day or two to write their reviews and then have at it. Even we were shocked at some of the names at Rotten Tomatoes offering praise to Gone. You can always have your Amos' and Allens' (or just Shawn Edwards) waiting in the wings to pick up the ball if all else fails. Although since you have allowed the system to linger for so long we will know the film in question is crap if it goes that far. Just like when you don't screen it for critics - or - maybe when you keep delaying the inevitable - or - maybe cause it takes an extra day, week, month or year to edit out all the boobs in this business.

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originally posted: 02/25/12 16:54:57
last updated: 02/25/12 17:06:41
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