The Blurbs

August 13, 2006

If You Quote the Reviews Accurately, the Terrorists Have Won

Our roundup of misleading review blurbs in ads for movies takes on World Trade Center, Scoop, Miami Vice, and more.

Carl Bialik

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.

World Trade Center (Paramount)

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Nicolas Cage is riveting and resonant. Michael Peña delivers with a performance of grit and grace."
Not quoted: "There's little joy in seeing [Oliver Stone] morph into Ron Howard to play it safe at the box office. ... His film is undeniably affecting, but you leave it wanting more."

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "A celebration of the human spirit ... undeniably uplifting."
Not quoted: "Stone does take some missteps: The score has some overbearing moments, and there is a fair amount of clichéd dialogue. Also, scenes featuring the officers' families waiting for news are often wooden and can feel like a TV movie."

Paramount craved good reviews enough to pay almost $1,100 for a junket for online critic Eric Snider. His piece about the trip—I Was a Junket Whore—wasn't exactly what the studio had in mind (and his C grade for the film in his review didn't help). Paramount and its advertising company responded by banning Snider from future screenings. "Has my reliability or professionalism as a film critic been called into question?" Snider writes. "No; they just don’t like that I made fun of their junket system, the inner workings of which are apparently some kind of secret."

Scoop (Focus Features)

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: "It's the funniest film this year! It's really, really funny. Funny like you walk out wanting to tell your friends its best lines. Funny like you're walking down the street and remember a moment and start laughing like an idiot. Scarlett Johansson brings deftness and freshness."
Actual quote: "For some, 'Scoop' will be a comedown after 'Match Point,' which was meticulous in all its particulars, something 'Scoop' decidedly is not. But 'Scoop' has something 'Match Point' didn't, something that none of Allen's films have had to quite this degree in 10 years. It's really, really funny. Not funny 'heh-heh,' but laugh-out-loud funny. Funny like you walk out wanting to tell your friends its best lines. Funny like you're walking down the street and remember a moment and start laughing like an idiot. Woody Allen has written himself an ideal role, creating a character and a situation that result in a continuous stream of winning bits. And he's paired himself with a partner in Scarlett Johansson who brings deftness and freshness to Allen's familiar comic universe. ... [many paragraphs later] Sometimes scenes end clumsily, and the mystery plot doesn't make complete sense, in retrospect. Allen takes elements of a murder mystery and bends them to his comic purposes, but he doesn't deliver a thoroughly satisfying mystery story. Allen does, however, deliver the funniest movie of the year so far."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman, oozing killer charm, handle the sexual hijinks in style!"
Not quoted: "Scoop is no more than a beguiling trifle."

Pulse (Dimension Films/Weinstein Co.)

Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazine: "Scariest movie of the year! It will feed your fear of technology! Unlike any horror film you've seen before or will ever see!"
Gelf isn't sure what's scariest: Dittman's continued presence in ads, or his ability to forecast what we will see for the rest of our lives. What does he know, and how does he know it?

Staci Layne Wilson, "Pulse-pounding thrills!"
Actual line: "Pulse-pounding fun!"
Not quoted: "The thing that makes the movie so amusing, is that it is not played for laughs. ... That's the typical tease of Pulse: certain rules are seemingly established, then abandoned without a backward glance or a word of explanation. ... some rather absurd dialogue ... some typical dumb horror movie character machinations ... Even though it was for all the wrong reasons — I am sure the filmmakers are hoping the audience will be scared — I had a great time watching Pulse..."
Changing the word "fun" to "thrills" is particularly insidious because Wilson was saying that the movie was so bad it was fun—but not at all scary. That earns this ad Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week award.

Miami Vice (Universal)

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Terrifically entertaining."
Actual line: "Michael Mann's feature-film update of his 1980s TV series turns out to be terrifically entertaining, even if the plot is borderline-incomprehensible."

Joel Siegel, Good Morning America: " 'Miami Vice' has all the ingredients for a terrific summer movie."
Not quoted: "The story is completely incomprehensible."
The quote in the blurb isn't in the online version of Siegel's review, but then again, the man himself has told Kevin Smith that he doesn't even write the online versions of his reviews. So Gelf doesn't know what to think.

Another Gay Movie (TLA Releasing)

New York Times: "Rude, rollicking and exceedingly raunchy!"
Not quoted: "What pleasure is to be had from the material—the frank addressing of sexual anxiety and social pressure, a nicely built and frequently undressed cast—is offset by a worldview that casts the lone African-American character as a libidinous go-go boy and finds it clever to provide subtitles for an Asian cheerleader speaking English. Skewering one status quo while pandering to another, 'Another Gay Movie' is exactly what its title presumes to subvert."

Quinceañera (Sony)

David Germain, Associated Press: "A fine film! A love song to the diversity of America."
Actual line: " ' Quinceañera' is a fine film, though not on the level of those predecessors [American Splendor, The Station Agent, You Can Count on Me, and In the Bedroom]. The story ultimately is rather thin, and after building its various character conflicts, the film deflates near the end, everything wrapping up too abruptly and neatly. It doesn't leave you thinking about much other than: Hey, maybe we can all just get along."

The Devil Wears Prada (Twentieth Century Fox)

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Malicious fun. Meryl Streep is scarily sensational."
Actual line: "Meryl Streep is scarily sensational as magazine editor Miranda Priestly, the tyrannical, all-powerful arbiter of New York fashion. 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."

Boynton Beach Club (Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn)

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "Relax and enjoy."
Actual line: "Once you’ve accepted that 'Boynton Beach Club' is a rose-colored fantasy of aging, you can relax and enjoy the bittersweet comic performances."
Not quoted: "A movie that sometimes feels like an aggressive infomercial for an antidepressant."

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: "A comic celebration of love in the sunset years."
Not quoted: "It's a shame the movie itself is as bland as a low-sodium diet."

Conversations with Other Women (Fabrication)

New Yorker: "Witty!"
Not quoted: "Somehow the charm of its novelty grows stale, and the airless feeling of a closed set begins to fester."

Ant Bully (Warner Bros.)

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Entertaining and energetic."
Actual line: "Ant Bully, while not wildly fresh or inventive, is entertaining and energetic."
Not quoted: "The story is predictable."

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