Criticwatch - Hit & Run. But First, Back Up

By Erik Childress
Posted 08/25/12 03:08:32

For your average film critic it is very rare to meet the two extremes of critical thought after back-to-back screenings. This happened to yours truly the day before writing this. In the afternoon, I saw a film which I believed to be one of the absolute best films of the year. That evening I saw a movie so bad that if anyone on Rotten Tomatoes dares to give it a positive review they should be put in the critic black book like Joe Pesci in Casino. The awfulness is so extreme in Warner Bros.' semi-wide release of Todd Lincoln's The Apparition that it shouldn't give someone pause in pronouncing it as such even if it has become as easy to announce films as "one of the worst ever" as it is to declare the opposite. When considering how much I loved the other film though, I was prone to come up with a statement that would declare just how great I thought it was. But even as I was saying it in my head, to colleagues of mine in the room and dying to put it out there on Twitter and Facebook to share with the world a film I believe to be a real treasure, I still wanted to give a second thought and even do a little research to see if even I agreed with my original thought. Is that really too much to ask of our film critics?

In the interest of full disclosure, here was what I said about The Perks of Being a Wallflower:

"It is the best film about high school since probably The Breakfast Club."

Yes, it's a tailor-made quote. One that I'm sure Summit would love to use and one that I hope to expand upon further in a review. Can I back that up though? What are the best films about the high school experience since 1985? Say Anything? More about a post-high school romance. Superbad? A great comedy but exists on a different plain. I like American Pie, but Wallflower is infinitely better. Yes, I feel confident in that statement. Considering how many bad high school comedies and dramas we've had over the years (Project X, John Tucker Must Die and I Love You Beth Cooper to just scratch the surface) perhaps it's not such an out there statement. Feel free to send in your suggestions and I'll listen. I can't post a review until Sept. 21 anyway. That gives me plenty of time to formulate my thoughts and express them in such a way that is aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and ears and encapsulate what is wonderful about the film without spoiling the experience for others or reducing it to the lowest common denominator. Speaking of which, have you seen the ads for Hit & Run this week?

"Fires on all cylinders! Fun-loving, fresh and winning." - Claudia Puig
"Lean back, buckle up and enjoy the ride." - Barbara Vancheri, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"This summer's great escape!" - Pete Hammond

Just to clarify - the movie is called Hit & Run. It prominently features a car in the ads and bills itself as a car chase picture. This is to be expected and should be labeled with the infamous Hackstamp that my colleague Scott Renshaw does week-to-week. Can you imagine the brainpower it lacks to say anything like that above without irony? Think of all the ads you have seen with critics boasting lines like that. Now consider that this is Pete Hammond alone:

"Head straight to Cars! The perfect summer joyride from start to finish line!" (Cars)
"A total gas! Revs up the action and laughs. Even better than the first." (Cars 2)
"Strap yourself in for a blistering, super-charged ride. This time around the fast and furious action is simply off the charts!" (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift)
"A hard driving adrenaline pumping blast that leaves everything else in its dust. The most spectacular and exhilarating action sequences the screen has seen in years. The best one yet." (Fast Five)

Clearly, brainpower and Pete Hammond do not belong in the same paragraph, let alone sentence. Then again, the divide between what constitutes a film critic these days is becoming quite the chasm as well. Consider this picture taken of a theater standee for Hit & Run at the AMC River East in Chicago weeks ago.

For those who thought MySpace is dead, wish on because they are apparently breeding quote whores over there. Andrew Freund is one of them, responsible for calling Gone "suspenseful", John Carter "thrilling", Prometheus "phenomenal" and Dark Shadows as "a wildly whimsical world." Now we have Chapin Young, who if her LinkedIn page is to believed, is the "Director of Editorial and Development at MySpace." Does that sound like a film critic? And does this sound like much of an editorial?

"Insanely funny. Best comedy of the year! Dax Shepard & Kristen Bell are magic. Bradley Cooper is ridiculously hilarious."

Or how about the additional hyperbole that has been seen from Chapin on television and in the papers?

"The breakout comedy hit of the summer. It's funnier than The Hangover and Bridesmaids combined."

OK, first off, as someone who juggles a lot of hats including being a film critic and a reporter on other aspects of the industry such as awards and box office I know this much. Never the twain shall meet. One can be upset that their personal choices for excellence never reap the rewards in dollars or golden statues. But one never compares greatness to Oscars or box office dominance as a means to satisfying an argument. Nor unless you are writing the opening paragraph in Variety does what may or may not be a hit should be used as a qualifier in film criticism. Not only is Chapin Young giving Open Road Pictures a prediction before the film has ever grossed cent one, but she's actually pretty bad at it to boot.

Hit & Run opened to 8th place on Wednesday, making just under $6,000 more than Sparkle. As for the film being funnier than The Hangover and Bridesmaids combined? I'm a big fan of the latter and a big detractor of the former; a fact I admit I'm in the minority of. Joke-for-joke, I don't think Hit & Run even ATTEMPTS as many gags in 90 minutes as those films do in their first act. Bridesmaids connects on more laughs before the title even comes up than Hit & Run does. But, hey, that's just one man's opinion. And I hope that with a little perspective (or just an extra five minutes before spewing that ridiculous quote) Chapin Young would admit as much too.

This bleeds into a bit about Hit & Run that you won't find on the ads. At least not yet.

"Next to Ted, I think this is the funniest movie of the year."

That is Dean Richards on Chicago's WGN morning show. Like I said, to each his own. I think Madhouse with John Larroquette and Kirstie Alley is better than its recent arthouse equivalent, 2 Days In New York, so judge away. Dean's review continues with:

"I'm telling you what this is going to be the sleeper comedy of the year."

Again, do we need to see the numbers again? First day gross: $625,000. Will Ferrell's Spanish-language comedy Casa de mi Padre started with $780,056 and on 2,316 less screens than Hit & Run. It's total gross in the U.S. was $5.9 million. Hit & Run might make more and turn a profit, but sleeper comedy of the year is unlikely. Remember, Dean is the one who said this:

Once again proving to keep film criticism and prognostication as separate entities. Especially when you suck at it. Here is the point though in why Dean's video review was brought into this column. Did you watch it? If not, here is how he describes Hit & Run on the air:

"A mix of Smokey & The Bandit meets The Hangover meets It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

So, Smokey and the Bandit cause there are car chases, Mad World cause some money is buried somewhere and The Hangover connection, I guess, because it features a scene with Bradley Cooper staring at old man nudity for its idea of a premium gag.

But it's the next line that brings it home where he describes Hit & Run as...

"...a complete original."

Having now put a year of weekly televised 3-minute segments on my resume, I can certainly appreciate the occasional slip-up, gaffe or vocabulary inconsistency that comes with pushing through facts and opinions. Hell, it makes me wonder how many of Ben Lyons' moronic comments on At the Movies were the result of being trapped in a moment of conflicting thought that he couldn't escape from. But then that would have required two thoughts at the same time. Agree or disagree on Hit & Run and Dean can hate me or loathe me, but even he had to look at that tape and admit that's a bit of a slip. One re-tape and the whole thing isn't even a memory.

There's a major difference though between three minutes of live television, an instant reaction on Twitter, a day to think about a movie and three days to write or talk about it. And that is why we give jagoffs like Peter Travers and Pete Hammond so much grief around here. Their thoughts are meaningless. Their words even less so. Whatever critical faculty might exist in their positive/negative reactions still don't qualify them to be taken seriously. Not when you have stuff like this from last week:

"There's magic in Paranorman!" (Paranorman) - Peter Travers
"There's magic in it." (Off the Map)
"Do not miss this absolute stunner of a film! There is magic in it!" (Broadway: The Golden Age)
"Be on the lookout for this one. There's magic in it." (Whale Rider)
"There's magic in it. Be on the lookout for Bottle Shock, it's a winner." (Bottle Shock)

And it continues this week:

"A mesmerizing mind-bender. (Cosmopolis) - Peter Travers
"An erotic mindbender!" (A Dangerous Method)
"Arguably [Lynch's] most ambitious mind-bender yet…"(Inland Empire)
"Devilishly clever, mind-bendin thriller! A master class in film artistry." (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
"A mind-bender of a thriller with twists you don't see coming!" (Mr. Brooks)
"Expect fireworks! Doubt will pin you to your seat. You may have doubts about which side to choose, but there's no doubt about this mind-bender. It is explosive." (Doubt)
"A brain bender! So suspenseful your palms will be sweating! It will have you howling!" (Wordplay)

Notice how that's two David Cronenberg films in a row (arguably the least mind-bending of his career?) Of course, there are more obvious connections to make with Travers.

"A mesmerizing mind-bender." (Unknown)
"A mesmerizing mindbender! Duncan Jones pulls off sci-fi miracles. You don't want to miss it!" (Moon)
"A mind-bending, nonstop mesmerizer of a movie. Make no mistake, you will be hooked. Also creeped out big time." (Zodiac)

Lovely, ain't he? The only differentiation between the quotes appears to be a goddamn hyphen. If you want to bring the whole thing full circle - like the shape of a tire - you know, on a car - then Travers can do that infinitely.

"Indispensable filmmaking. Hang on. You're in for a bumpy ride. (Compliance) - Peter Travers
"Terrifically exciting. Hold on tight." (The Grey)
"Hang on for an emotional powerhouse." (Rachel Getting Married)
"Just hang on for a shock to the system." (The Dark Knight)
"A wow of an action movie that buries the competition and sets a new gold standard for thrills and smarts. We've waited all summer for a wild ride to grab us with more than jolts. Now it's here. Hang on." (The Bourne Ultimatum)
"A red hot thriller that keeps popping surprises that shouldn't be spoiled...Hang on for the ride. (Salt)
"Mesmerizing! A wild, witty ride that will creep you out big time!" (Lemming)
"Magnificent! Mesmerizing! A wild ride of a movie!" (The Motorcycle Diaries)
"A ride that starts at wild and accelerates from there." (Source Code)
"A raucous ride...A recipe for nutso fun." (Due Date)
"A breathtaking ride. Up works miracles." (Up)
"Put on those 3D glasses and ride, baby, ride." (Beowulf)
"Prepare for a thrilling ride!" (The Constant Gardener)
"A bracing ride." (Melinda and Melinda)
"Fasten your seat belts." (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work)
"This is the real Fast and Furious. A tire-burning blast of action and fun with a beating heart under its hood. You can bet Cars 2 will rev your engines." (Cars 2)

And there are all different ways to ride:

(Weir's) triumph, though, is in balancing action and character. 'M&C' rides that road to glory. (Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World)
Matt Damon puts everything into the role and rides it to glory. (True Grit)
Greg Kinnear takes the star spot in Flash of Genius and rides it to glory. (Flash of Genius)
Kevin Kline gives a master class in acting. He finds every nuance of mirth and melancholy in this wonder of a role and rides it to glory. (The Extra Man)
Lou Pucci rides this spellbinder! (Thumbsucker)

And all different ways to hold, so behold:

Relentless suspense holds you in a viselike grip (The Girl Who Played With Fire)
Holds you spellbound! (Rachel Getting Married)
Norton is a wonder to behold (Down in the Valley)
Cohen's total immersion in his character is a wonder to behold. (Borat)
Magic. Sit back and behold. (Howl's Moving Castle)
Just sit back and behold. (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
Sit back and behold Michelle is luminous. (My Week With Marilyn)
Just sit back and behold as Jeunet takes you to hell and back with this epic love story. (A Very Long Engagement)
Robert Duvall holds you in thrall. (Get Low)
Gondry's hallucinatory brilliance holds you in thrall. (The Science of Sleep)
Christian Bale's gripping, beyond-the-call-of-duty performance holds you in thrall! (The Machinist)

Thank you, Peter Travers. Thank you very much. You have taught us all how to be film critics. Thank God I studied your prose before writing my review of one of the best films of the year. I take it back, Summit. I am going to write this into my review and would like to submit it as an official quote:

"Be on the lookout for The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It's a mesmerizing spellbinder that you must sit back and behold. Even if you were never a wallflower it will hold you in thrall with its mind-bending magic. It's an explosive winner that is the high school movie we have been waiting for ever since The Breakfast Club. You won't forget about it and will be pinned to your seat as Emma Watson takes you on a wild ride through the tunnel of love. We can all be heroes. So hang on." - Erik Childress, eFilmCritic

Actually, I take that back too. Stephen Chbosky's film deserves something better. So does Paranorman. So does Compliance. Find someone else studios. And to the "critics" mentioned above, find another gig.

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