Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Book Review: Your Movie Sucks by Roger Ebert

“Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”

This line, the closing of film critic Roger Ebert's review of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, is what inspired the title of his newest book. Your Movie Sucks is Ebert's second collection of negative reviews following 2000's I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie. Featuring more than 170 reviews, this book proves that negative reviews are often more fun to read than positive ones.

After acknowledgments and a short introduction, the book begins with a preface called “Setting The Scene.” This section features three of Ebert's more notable negative reviews. The first review is of the aforementioned Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. The next is a review of a horror film called Chaos. Ebert's zero-star review annoyed the filmmakers so much that they put a full-page ad in the Chicago Sun-Times responding to the review. The text of the ad is reprinted here as well as Ebert's response to the filmmakers.

The saga involving Vincent Gallo's film The Brown Bunny follows and it's a rare example of a critic changing his mind. After its premiere at Cannes, Ebert called the film “the worst film in the history of the festival” and started a “feud” with Gallo. Ebert's interview with Gallo, contained in the book, reveals the lead-up to the film's Cannes showing. It also reveals that he actually liked the final, shorter cut of the film. Ebert's full review of the film ends the preface and is the only positive review in the whole book.

The rest of the book features a slew of other negative reviews, arranged alphabetically. A wide variety of films are covered here. There are certified clunkers (Catwoman), sequels (Men In Black II), remakes (Yours, Mine, And Ours), gross-out comedies (Tomcats), and even foreign films (La Mujer de Mi Hermano). Horror films are also well-represented as in addition to Chaos, High Tension, Wolf Creek, Cabin Fever, and others all get lambasted by Ebert. Two movie series, Resident Evil and The Princess Diaries, are represented in full.

Like most critics, these negative reviews are an outlet for the creative side of Ebert's writing to shine. There are many great lines to be found here. He calls the Charlie's Angels movie “eye candy for the blind.” In his review of Tom Green's Freddy Got Fingered he says “This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.” He compares the Steven Seagal vehicle Half Past Dead to “an alarm that goes off while nobody is in the room. It does its job and stops, and nobody cares.”

In addition to various one-liners, there are times when Ebert writes decidedly unconventional reviews. His review of the Hilary Duff film A Cinderella Story is structured like a letter to a young movie fan mentioned in a Wichita, Kansas newspaper article. The review of the comedy Wet Hot American Summer is written to the tune of Allan Sherman's famous “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” The review of the comedy Just Friends has Ebert telling us that he's setting a “timer on the stove to go off every sixty seconds as a reminder to stay on the subject.” Of course, he doesn't stay on the subject of the film and his diversions into such observations as why screenwriters like to name female characters “Samantha” are punctuated with the “Ding!” of that timer.

Even though the one-liners and put-downs in Your Movie Sucks stand out, there is a lot more to Ebert's negative reviews than that. Most of these reviews explain what Ebert sees as the problems in these films. He frequently explains flaws in logic of the film's plot and characters. He also praises actors he likes in these negative reviews. In the review of The Sweetest Thing, he praises the cast: “I like everyone in this movie...I like their energy. I like their willingness....” Even as he says bad things about these movies, he's often hopeful about the abilities of those involved. He says the filmmakers behind the film Undead “are obviously talented and will be heard from again.”

Your Movie Sucks is a fun-to-read collection of reviews from America's premier film critic. Although a couple of notable reviews are missing (The Life Of David Gale, Tyler Perry's Diary Of A Mad Black Woman), this collection is pretty solid nonetheless. It really makes you realize what we missed during Ebert's illness. Now that he's gradually getting closer to full-speed (he recently reviewed A Mighty Heart), I hope that we get to see another collection of negative reviews...or at least just another collection of his work in general.

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