Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

April 17, 2005

Blurb Racket 4/17/05

Our weekly roundup of misleading review blurbs in movie ads takes on Fever Pitch, Sahara, and more.

Carl Bialik

The arts section of each Friday's New York Times has pages of movie ads that feature positive blurbs from critics. Leafing through the ad pages in today's paper, I found quotes out of context and other cinematic sins. See the inaugural Blurb Racket column for background and useful links.

Sahara (Paramount)

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "... A delirious escape into adventure-serial heaven. Amid its madcap derring-do ... 'Sahara' has the timing and stamina of a marathon runner. As ''Sahara'' careers between swashbuckling silliness and semi-serious comment, it builds up reserves of energy and good will that pay off when it bursts into its final sprint, a rootin'-tootin' 21-gun finale ..."
Actual line: A fusion of old and new, it both is and isn't a delirious escape into adventure-serial heaven. Amid its madcap derring-do, the movie inserts clear, simple alarms about environmental protection, African despotism, global interdependence and bureaucratic cowardice. ... The two-hour-plus film has the timing and stamina of a marathon runner. As "Sahara" careers between swashbuckling silliness and semi-serious comment, it builds up reserves of energy and good will that pay off when it bursts into its final sprint, a rootin'-tootin' 21-gun finale as satisfying as it is preposterous."
Not quoted: "It may not be 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', but 'Sahara,' the screen adaptation of Clive Cussler's sprawling African adventure yarn, is a movie that keeps half a brain in its head while adopting the amused, cocky smirk of the Indiana Jones romps. ... Once again, [Penelope] Cruz's fiery physical intensity goes only so far in compensating for her language barrier, but most of her sparse dialogue is watered-down doctor talk. ... Even with order so strictly imposed, 'Sahara' has more story than it can comfortably accommodate. It brashly, shrewdly pretends otherwise. ... It's all sleight of hand, of course, but 'Sahara' lopes into the distance with the easygoing swagger of a con man who has just pulled off a $100 million scam."
Poor New York Times reviewers try hard to be nuanced but just become grist for the studio misquote machine.

Stephen Humphries, Christian Science Monitor: "A sleek thrill ride! The secret ingredient that makes this handsome thriller so enjoyable is the chemistry between Alpha-male McConaughey and zany Zahn."
Actual line: "The secret ingredient that makes this handsome thriller so enjoyable is the chemistry between Alpha-male McConaughey and zany Zahn. If the yarn careens around plot corners on one wheel at times, it manages to do so without losing its balance as a sleek thrill ride."
Not quoted: 'Sahara' plot is a bit daft, but the actors make it work.

Fever Pitch (20th Century Fox)

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Extremely smart. 'Fever Pitch' delivers."
Not quoted: "erratic, if not downright lumpy ... When 'Fever Pitch' is dumb, it can be very dumb. Sitcom situations keep threatening to tear the patchy fabric to tatters. Ms. Barrymore tries fitfully to be charming; it's only when she stops that her great natural charm re-emerges. (Just watch her beguiling delivery of the bizarre line "I'm concussed.") Mr. Fallon, who sometimes looks like a silent-film star, often seems uncomfortable; his limited skills as a movie actor are not enhanced, to put it mildly, by the primitive cinematography and direction."

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Thoroughly winning..."
Actual line: To watch ''Fever Pitch,'' the new, thoroughly winning if not especially good film by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, is to appreciate, yet again, that the great loves of our lives are rarely perfect.
Not quoted: "Try as they might, the Farrellys don't seem wholly comfortable with this material. ... This is the first Farrelly movie not stuffed to the gills with comic bells and whistles and booming yuks, which may explain why the first 20 minutes are so excruciating. The film has the flat lighting and sound of canned television, and the actors look as if they have been dropped on the set without instruction."

Kung Fu Hustle (Sony)

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "A thrill ride! Hectic and eclectic! Show stopping fight sequences! 'Kung Fu Hustle' can be watched again and again!"
Actual line: "Hectic and eclectic, the movie snatches tasty morsels of international pop culture, ranging from Looney Tunes to Sergio Leone to "Airplane!," and tosses them into a fast-moving blender. After 90 minutes, you will be dizzy and perhaps a little annoyed, but those aftereffects, like the queasiness that follows an amusement park ride on a stomach full of junk food, serve as proof that you have been thoroughly and mercilessly entertained. A thrill ride like this hardly requires a plot summary, and in any case the story is deliberately cobbled together out of time-worn conventions, which it both obeys and mocks. ... The showstopping fight sequences are choreographed by the legendary Yuen Wo Ping (whose credits include 'Crouching Tiger,' the 'Matrix' movies and 'Kill Bill') and given an extra jolt of nutty inventiveness by some cheerfully crude digital effects. ... There will probably be sequels, but to some extent they will be redundant, since 'Kung Fu Hustle' can be watched again and again. This is only partly a compliment: for all its punches, kicks, whacks and thumps, the movie does not have much impact, and for all its affectionate nostalgia, it produces a strange kind of amnesia. It knocks the sense right out of your head, and its own as well.
This ad blurb was deliberately cobbled together out of intermittent positive quotes in an overall mediocre review.

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Nonstop mayhem! Defies all laws of gravity in its pursuit of thrills and laughs."
Actual line: "Amid the surreal and nearly nonstop mayhem, Chow finds little pockets of poignancy: watching these gallant old-timers bite the dust can produce an uncartoonlike pathos."
Even when quoting from a rave review, the copywriters couldn't help themselves; the sentence they quoted from was making the point that the mayhem isn't nonstop, noting exceptions. Yet the word "nearly" is gone from the ad, of course; it's probably banned from all movie ads, since it conveys nuance and all. This blurb also inserts an exclamation point where there was none; Scott's got three gratuitous ones. Amid a plague of unlicensed exclamation within movie ads, this one stands out as an especially egregious violation. At least Sony has somewhat cleaned up its act after Gelf last week exposed the hustle behind three positive quotes; all three we mentioned—from Peter Travers, Ken Tucker, and Roger Ebert—have since been removed.

Perlasca (Castle Hill)

Village Voice: The 'Italian Oskar Schindler'. More courageous than Spielberg."
Actual line: "More courageous than Spielberg in its depiction of Nazi brutality, Perlasca occasionally feels like the made-for-Italian-TV film that it is. When it does transcend its weepy reliance on melodramatic shorthand, you're left agape at the man's stubborn fearlessness in the face of such horrific hatred."

Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.







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Article by Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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