Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

June 20, 2008

'Dumbed Down' Hulk Meets Lesser Goals

In this week's edition of The Blurbs—the feature in which we take a close look at those critic blurbs that are a fixture of ads for movies—see breakdowns of blurbs for 'The Incredible Hulk,' 'Zohan,' 'Get Smart,' and more.

Carl Bialik

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, and find out what critics think of the racket.

"As the movie goes on, it grows sillier and more cartoonish."—USA Today's Claudia Puig, on The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk (Universal, Marvel)
Metacritic Score: 61

Pete Hammond, "Mega-tons of fun. This super-powered summer movie adrenaline blast that will probably have you leaping out of your seat. This time the 'Hulk' really IS incredible!"
Actual line: "This time they got it right; The Hulk really IS incredible! Iron Man was just the warm up for this mega-tons of fun, super powered summer movie adrenaline blast that will probably have you leaping out of your seat."
Even Hammond, one of the most blurbable men in Hollywood, throws in a "probably" just to be safe, since maybe not every last viewer will leap out of his seat. It's dangerous in stadium seating! Yet it doesn't make the blurb. Nor does the full gibe against the first Hulk film.

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Steeped in action and spectacular special effects."
Not quoted: "It's hardly the best superhero movie around. Iron Man was wittier and more fun. So was the Spider-Man trilogy, and it can't compare with the darkly excellent Batman Begins. … As the movie goes on, it grows sillier and more cartoonish. And the Hulk is a little lacking in humor. … Adults might be checking their watches."

James O'Ehley, "Marvel has done it again!"
Not quoted: "Liv Tyler replaces Jennifer Connelly (not a good move actually—Tyler is rather bland)… Judging from the credentials involved you may think that The Incredible Hulk has dumbed down—and you'd be right. … The Incredible Hulk may ultimately be as brainless as its main character…"

The Happening (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 35

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "…a divertingly goofy thriller with an animistic bent, moments of shivery and twitchy suspense and a solid lead performance from Mark Wahlberg… Something wicked this way comes though…"
Not quoted: "The movie unwinds like a series of ghastly tableaux vivants pasted together with sloppy domestic comedy. By the time the story shifts to a town where people are hanging from trees in overly neat formation, the image of mass suicides has been drained of its shock, and a human calamity is revealed to be an aesthetic choice. Something is happening, all right, but Mr. Shyamalan, who certainly appears to enjoy playing God, doesn't seem to care much. But what is happening, exactly? Is it the end of the world, a blip on the green screen, a Chernobyl rerun, Al Gore's worst nightmare? Mr. Shyamalan tells us, more or less, letting the kitty out of the bag early. But here's the thing about doomsday scenarios: They require an escape hatch or the weight of tragedy. Just knocking off the world because you're mad at it isn't enough."

Glenn Whipp, Daily News: "Genuinely enjoyable. The horror is expertly crafted and often very funny. One thing is certain: The man hasn't lost his ability to entertain."
Actual line: "… a genuinely enjoyable B-movie for anyone inclined (or able) to see it that way … The love story of romantic rebirth comes up short, but the horror is expertly crafted and often very funny. … One thing is certain: The man hasn't lost his ability to entertain."
Not quoted: "There's an obvious environmental message here as well as Shyamalan's unfortunate penchant for explanatory dialogue."

William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Daring, refreshing and scary. Easily the best thing he's done since 'The Sixth Sense.' "
Actual line: "I found the movie daring, refreshing and genuinely scary. … As a director and a storyteller, Shyamalan can be shallow, overly sentimental and self-conscious. But aside from its weak ending, 'The Happening' is unexaggerated, hauntingly naturalistic and easily the best thing he's done since 'The Sixth Sense.' "
Not quoted: "Shyamalan has cited 'The Birds' and 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' as his inspiration, but both of these nature-run-amok classics rely on imaginative visual effects. 'The Happening' has absolutely none: The unexplained enemy here is wind-borne and unseen."

You Don't Mess With the Zohan (Columbia)
Metacritic Score: 54

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "I love this movie! One of the funniest and bravest comedies I've seen."
Actual line: "I loved it. It's one of the funniest, and, in an odd way, one of the bravest comedies I've seen in a long time."
In his print review, Scott added, "Less amusingly, there are also some lumpy computer-assisted special effects, an overstuffed plot and a scattering of awkwardly executed gags."

Rafer Guzman, Newsday: "Flat-out hilarious."
Actual line: "Crude, idiotic, ridiculous—in other words, flat-out hilarious."

Get Smart (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 53

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Funniest movie of the summer!"
Shawn, Shawn, Shawn. Always sure to like crappy comedies. Larry King and Gene Shalit (appearing twice in the video to illustrate his comment that he was "beside myself laughing") were also quoted in the ad for this one, never a good sign.

Expired (MRC)
Metacritic Score: 65

Anthony Breznican, USA Today: "Patric plays one of the nastiest dinner dates since 'Goodfellas'."
Actual line: "The film had audiences laughing for its first half, but then takes several disturbing turns. Patric plays a violence-prone hot-head, who may be one of the nastiest dinner dates since Joe Pesci in Goodfellas."
Not quoted: "…a bizarre relationship dramedy…"

Brick Lane (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 64

David Denby, New Yorker: "A lovely movie! Sarah Gavron is a filmmaker to watch."
Actual line: "A lovely movie. If only it were a little more exciting. … The first-time director Sarah Gavron, working with the cinematographer Robbie Ryan, has an appreciation of temperament and a tactile feeling for flesh that suggests extraordinary talent, but the movie is a shade cautious—it doesn't take off emotionally. Yet the tensions of an embattled immigrant community are fully realized. Gavron is a filmmaker to watch."
For taking Denby's back-handed compliment and turning it into a rave, with exclamation point, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award."

Mongol (Picturehouse)
Metacritic Score: 75

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Sergei Bodrov's thrilling steppe epic…is huge and hugely impressive."
Actual line: "Sergei Bodrov's thrilling steppe epic [128 words later] it's a huge, and hugely impressive, international enterprise."
Don't like the original review? Edit it to your liking!

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (Picturehouse)
Metacritic Score: 66

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "Enchanting… Spells entertainment with a capital E… One of the summer's most pleasing surprises!"
Not quoted: "Considering the surfeit of popular junk that is currently polluting the ozone, an enchanting little movie like Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is so sweet and sanitized it makes me feel almost guilty for liking it."

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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