Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

February 24, 2007

Eddie Murphy's 'Huge, Belching Spectacular'

In this week's edition of Blurb Racket—the Gelf 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 Breach, Norbit, The Number 23, 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.

Graphic created by Paul Antonson
"Norbit is a comedy for masochists—an often awful parade of flatulent gags about big butts, sadistic relationships and sexual idiocy, which tries at the same time to be sentimental and romantic. Sheer talent saves it from the dumpster."—Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune

Graphic created by Paul Antonson

Breach (Universal)

Entertainment Weekly: "An enigmatic thriller. Chris Cooper perfectly embodies real-life double agent Robert Hanssen."
Actual line (from a photo caption): "Cooper (shown with Phillippe) perfectly embodies real-life double agent Robert Hanssen in the overly enigmatic thriller Breach."
Too much enigma can be a bad thing.

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "An edge-of-the-seat thriller. …standout performances by Chris Cooper …and Ryan Phillipe. Nerve-racking and riveting… 'Breach' is a compelling, intelligent drama."
Not quoted: "The film has a substantive flaw: It fails to probe deeply enough into Hanssen's motivations. Shattered Glass suffered similarly: [director Billy] Ray did not sufficiently examine the motives of disgraced journalist Stephen Glass."

Norbit (DreamWorks SKG)

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: "Hysterically funny!"
Not quoted: "The title character is a bit bland. He's caught between Murphy's need to make him ridiculous and his function within the script as, more or less, a romantic lead."

Jane Horwitz, Washington Post: "Very funny!"
Actual line: "Insulting overweight women, spoofing various ethnicities and being mean to sweet little dogs, 'Norbit' is rude, crass, politically incorrect and yet often very funny."
Horwitz writes "Family Filmgoer" reviews. Her Post colleague Desson Thomson begged to differ, saying the film had funny moments but is "a poor cousin to [Eddie Murphy's] other family comedies."

Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune: "Eddie Murphy's comic skills are immense."
Actual line: "Murphy's comic skills are immense, and 'Dreamgirls' shows he's a fine straight dramatic actor too. So why does he want to make these huge, belching spectaculars, movies as swollen, monstrous and full of hot air as Rasputia herself—here misdirected by Brian Robbins of 'Good Burger,' 'Varsity Blues' and that lousy 'Shaggy Dog' remake?"
Not quoted: "'Norbit' is a comedy for masochists—an often awful parade of flatulent gags about big butts, sadistic relationships and sexual idiocy, which tries at the same time to be sentimental and romantic. Sheer talent saves it from the dumpster."
It's a classic ruse: The critic says something good about an actor by way of questioning his choice of films, and the ad uses that snippet of praise to suggest the critic wanted to praise the movie. For this bit of misdirection, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week award.

Chris Hewitt, St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Murphy is brilliant!"
Not quoted: "Eddie Murphy plays three roles in 'Norbit,' and you'll wish he played seven or eight. … The rest of Murphy's co-stars, including Thandie Newton and Cuba Gooding Jr., struggle with subpar material. …'Norbit' is so dependent on Murphy's dazzling gifts that it's not just unfunny when he's gone; it's out of focus."

The Number 23 (New Line)

Pete Hammond, Maxim: "Mind-bending! Jim Carrey skillfully leads us on a twisted trek with hair-raising jolts. A must-see movie."
Not quoted: "Carrey is first-rate in a movie that could have been ludicrous in lesser hands."
Gelf suspects that Hammond awards stars (three out of five here) for the sake of his readers, and the highly quotable text for the movie-ad writers. No wonder he was the Criticwatch 2006 Quote Whore of the Year, with 69 quotes in movie ads. You might say (as many critics said about this movie) that Hammond's stars don't add up.

Hannibal Rising (MGM)

Pete Hammond, Maxim: **** reviews for "The new year's most terrifying thriller!"
As noted in an earlier Blurbs, that's not quite what Hammond wrote, forty days into the new year. But also, while the ad shows other reviews which granted the film four stars (one of them out of five stars, while most reviews use a maximum of four), Hammond gave it just three and a half stars out of five.

Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle: "****!"
Not quoted: "'Hannibal Rising' isn't a classic … the pace may be too slow for cheap-thrills-seeking horror fans … "Hannibal Rising" isn't complete trash … Compared with "The Silence of the Lambs," this is an inferior work in almost every way …"
There's no sign of four stars in the Chronicle's online rendition of Hartlaub's review. Metacritic scores it as a 75, which would translate to three stars. That seems about right. It's also the highest score for this mostly panned film on Metacritic.

Factory Girl (The Weinstein Company)

Stephen Schaefer, Boston Herald: "Sienna Miller gives a tour-de-force performance."
Actual line: "As beautifully played by Sienna Miller, whose life as a tabloid regular must have informed bits of this tour de force performance, Edie is sweetly endearing, impish and funny, flirty and rebellious, a real-life Holly Golightly, although with sexual issues."
Not quoted: "Much here seems familiar, too by-the-numbers. This film could have been made on an assembly line."
Miller probably wouldn't have appreciated the inclusion of her status as tabloid regular in the ad, but quoting conventions demand it, or at least an ellipsis.

Avenue Montaigne (ThinkFilm)

Liz Smith, New York Post: "This is a film for the senses and the heart. So full of love, despair and the elements of living life to the fullest!"
The Post's film critic wasn't as enamored as Smith; V.A. Musetto gave the flick one and a half stars out of four and wrote, "There are few surprises in the contrived script, directed and co-written by Daniele Thompson. The characters are generic in a tres French way, and the predestined happy ending reeks of Hollywood sentimentality."

Carl Bialik

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

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- The Blurbs
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Article by Carl Bialik

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

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