The Blurbs

July 7, 2006

'A Deliriously Stupid Romantic Time-Travel Drama'

Our roundup of misleading review blurbs in ads for movies takes on Superman Returns, The Devil Wears Prada, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and more.

David Goldenberg

Blurb Racket
Paul Antonson
The critic blurb is a staple of arts advertising. Yet if you look behind some blurbs, you'll find quotes out of context, quote whores, and other questionable ad practices. Blurb Racket exposes the truth behind critics blurbs in movie ads from the New York Times. Movie titles link to, which compiles movie reviews in a far-more honest way than do movie ads. See the inaugural Blurb Racket column for background and useful links.

The Devil Wears Prada (20th Century Fox)

Christy Lemire, Associated Press: "Fun, flirty, spirited, sexy, you can't take your eyes off it. You've gotta have it."
Actual line: "Like the hottest new fashion trend, 'The Devil Wears Prada' is initially irresistible. Fun, flirty, spirited, sexy—you can't take your eyes off it. You've gotta have it. And then just as powerfully as it bursts onto the scene and commands your attention, it dies."
For twisting a criticism into a rave, this ad wins Gelf's bogus blurb of the week award.

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Malicious Fun. Meryl Streep is scarily sensational."
Actual line: "When the satire stays focused on Streep or her snooty Brit assistant (Emily Blunt), 'Prada' is malicious fun. But the central story about how smart, idealistic Anne Hathaway, as Miranda's drably dressed new assistant, loses her soul (and boyfriend Adrian Grenier) in pursuit of success and great shoes is dramatically anorexic."

Blurbs Extra

Just before the Oscars, Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgenstern wrote a column (subscription only) discussing how hype changes audience expectations and leaves viewers set up for disappointment. He also talks about the role he plays as a sometimes-creator of blurb fodder. "The last thing I want to do as a critic is become part of Hollywood's publicity machine, but once I've discovered a movie I care about, I'm glad to be able to support it."

An article in Los Angeles City Beat dissects a Duke study of movie critics that suggests that when a critic decides not to write about a film, he or she is making a tacit statement about it. Of the lead researcher, the article states: "His team is not unlike a group of our ancient forebears rigorously—or, in this case, not so rigorously—recording observable data about thunderstorms in order to better understand the moods of the gods."

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Buena Vista/Walt Disney)

Joel Seigel, Good Morning America: "Absolutely the best summer movie!"
Actual line: "And all the other wannabe summer blockbusters have been so serious and glum. 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest' is the best summer movie of the summer."
Though Seigel's review is one of the few raves this sequel has gotten, his point is merely that this film—unlike other big-budget summer movies—is fun.

Superman Returns (Warner Bros.)

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: " A sleek marvel of fun! Singer is now a commanding orchestrator of pop spectacle and he does his grandest work to date with 'Superman Returns.'"
Not quoted: "I was happy, in the end, that Superman came back, though I hope next time he does something I can hardly believe."

Cars (Buena Vista)

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Eye-popping!"
Actual line: "'Cars' is as eye-popping as anything Pixar has done. But 'Cars' inspires more admiration than elation. It dazzles even as it disappoints. This time around, John Lasseter and his co director, the late Joe Ranft, seem more interested in dispensing Life Lessons than showing us a roaring good time."

The Wall Street Journal: "Visually brilliant!"
Actual line: "Missing Nemo: 'Cars' Is Visually Brilliant, But Lacks Magic of Pixar's Past Hits"
This blurb was taken from the not-so-nice headline to a not-so-nice review.

A Scanner Darkly (Warner Independent)

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "A wittily twisted vision...prepare for a major head trip."
Actual line: "Yes, Linklater trips on his ambitions. But this gifted writer-director isn't out to dull the masses with cinematic opium. Embedded in the visionary headtrip of 'A Scanner Darkly' is a hotly political call to arms."
Unless Gelf missed another review by Travers, this blurb only faintly resembles the text from which it was pulled.

Andrew O'Hehir, Hilarious... a pitch-perfect portrait of life in deadbeat slackerdom and Linklater's funniest, loosest movie in years.
Actual line: "Robert Downey Jr. is the more-than-slightly-sinister (and hilarious) alpha male know-it-all."
This review, written over a year ago at the Cannes Film Festival, is fairly quoted in the rest of the blurb, but it seems that the hilarity O'Hehir observed was only attributed to Robert Downey Jr.'s character.

Wendy Ide, The London Times: "Deranged, trippy and extremely funny..."
Actual line: "The thrill from this film is in its striking look, and the deranged, trippy and extremely funny dialogue that should ensure a cult audience, if not a broader appeal among sci-fi fans."
Dialogue does not a film make.

The Lake House (Warner Bros.)

A.O. Scott, The New York Times: "Effortlessly entertaining."
Actual line: "But the movie is, above all, a showcase for its stars, who seem gratifyingly comfortable in their own skin and delighted to be in each other's company again, in another deeply silly, effortlessly entertaining movie."

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "A really good time. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock have so much chemistry."
Actual line: "Those wishing to suppress real-life traumas may submit to the deliriously stupid romantic time-travel drama 'The Lake House'—I did and had a jolly time... As they proved in 'Speed', Keanu and Sandra have so much chemistry that you happily wait for them to overcome their ridiculous spatial-temporal hurdles."

Click (Sony)

Paul Fischer, Dark Horizons: "One of the best and most extraordinary films of the year."
Gelf couldn't find Fischer's review anywhere on the web. Here's what the review we did find on Dark Horizons had to say about the widely-panned Adam Sandler vehicle. "Both the comedic and dramatic portions of the film have a few scant moments that ring true, but those are only scant moments in a mess of a studio picture that essentially throws a bunch of ideas at a wall in the hope that something will stick."

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