Andrew McMeel, 2007, 338 pages, C$20.99 pb, ISBN 978-0-7407-6366-3
As a reviewer, I’m not sure how I feel knowing that unfavourable reviews will be more popular than favourable ones. Roger Ebert has made significant contributions to film criticism, but why is it that the first book of his I’ve bought new is a book of the film he hates? What does that tell me about the value of reviewing in an entertainment-driven world?
Still, such doubts don’t last long once racing through Your Movie Sucks, an anthology of nearly 150 of Roger Ebert’s least-favourite films of 2000-2006 from Battlefield Earth to The Hills Have Eyes. (For earlier stinkers, refer to Ebert’s similar I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie) The blunt title and Ebert’s hangdog expression cover photo set the stage for seven years of terrible films, each rated one-and-a-half-stars or less. The selection is generally made of dumb comedies and terrible horror films, but it also has its share of art-house misses, big-budget action stinkers and manipulative dramas.
The opening section of the book has a few of Ebert’s greatest feuds, from the slam-dunk that is his infamous review of Rob Schneider’s Deuce Bigalo: European Gigolo that titles the book (“Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.” [P.xi]), to the spirited exchange after Ebert’s no-star review of the horror film Chaos, to “The Brown Bunny Saga” in which an Ebert pan of a preliminary cut shown at Cannes ends up becoming a three-star review of a much-improved film.
It’s impossible to read through Your Movie Sucks without gaining an appreciation for the elements of a good movie, even if only by opposition to what Ebert describes here. Movies that have no redeeming qualities past their shock value; movies so ill-conceived that they lower the entire level of moviemaking; movies that don’t work despite their intentions, and movies made for a crass buck rather than any artistic or popular worth.
As it happens, I have been reviewing films fairly consistently during the period covered by the book, and it’s a particular experience to be reminded of films that I hadn’t thought about in years (or, worse, being led to wonder if I had in fact seen said movie before a quick check of my own web site cleared that up.) It doesn’t prove or even mean anything, but Ebert and I don’t often completely disagree: At most, he’ll hate pieces that I consider to be decent little genre pictures (such as Resident Evil or Behind Enemy Lines). But even in disagreeing, we often see the same flaws: we just weigh them differently. (On the other hand, I wouldn’t dare compare “Best movies” list with Ebert.)
As you may expect (and as every reviewer knows), it’s far easier to be cutting, sarcastic and plain-out funny when slamming something worth hating. So it is that Your Movie Sucks could have been subtitled “More than a hundred of Ebert’s funniest reviews” without missing a beat: There are quite a few gems in his invectives (ah, that Freddy Got Fingered passage about finding the bottom of the barrel and then digging even lower… “This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.” [P.111]) and there’s nothing quite like reading him rip into a film that deserves it: I had forgotten a good chunk of his classic Battlefield Earth review, but reading it again made it all come back.
While the gimmick of the book may wear thin after a while, there’s no denying that it’s interesting enough to read cover-to-cover, and makes great bathroom reading. Now, to atone for my sins of only paying attention to Ebert’s bad reviews, I have ordered Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert from Amazon. It seems the very least I can do.