Friday, July 24, 2009

The perils of prejudging

I've slammed Matthew McConaughey several times on this blog, both directly and indirectly.

But I believe in fairness, and when I actually like a Matthew McConaughey movie, I'll say it.

Such is the case with Fool's Gold, the re-teaming of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days co-stars McConaughey and Kate Hudson. Usually when you re-team a pair of likeable stars, it's because their first go-around was terrific -- leaving the second one inevitably inferior, often by a huge margin (Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in The Runaway Bride, anyone?). In this case I found that the reverse was true -- that How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days was insufferable, and that Fool's Gold was actually quite charming.

(And if I may interrupt myself for a moment -- Fool's Gold is another case of a director who gravitates to similar titles. Andy Tennant also directed the only other movie I've seen that starts with the word "fool:" Fools Rush In. It's like Brian de Palma with Mission: Impossible and Mission to Mars all over again).

I'm not going to say I loved Fool's Gold or anything, but it did succeed quite well for me in terms of turn-your-brain-off escapism. The leads are not only charming, but have oodles of chemistry. They're involved in generally funny scenarios while trying to find sunken treasure off the coast of the Bahamas and/or the Florida Keys, many of which feature McConaughey escaping death in absurd ways. The tone is generally light (despite a modest body count), and damn it if I'm not a sucker for the setting -- even though my own trip to the Florida Keys was something less than I was hoping, that setting still holds a certain romanticism for me. I say it's "turn-your-brain-off escapism," but I don't mean that as a backhanded compliment either; I thought some of the dialogue was actually quite witty. I guess I should really call it "ignore-the-snobby-part-of-your-brain escapism."

Unfortunately, I'm the only one who seems to think Fool's Gold was worth more than a squirt of piss. Which makes me a little bit the fool, don't you think?

I called this post "The perils of prejudging" in part because that's what they had to do at my website. The film remains unreviewed -- it was one of 25 on a request list I submitted on Wednesday, and by watching it, I took a leap of faith that they'll actually approve me for it. (Now that new releases take up all the staffers' time, no one is scrambling for a Matthew McConaughey vehicle from February of 2008 -- no one but me, that is). But even without a review, it still gets a star rating -- a star rating that they determine from a general consensus of critics out there.

That star rating for Fool's Gold? One-and-a-half. Out of five.

Unconvinced that everyone else could really have hated Fool's Gold this much, I checked some of the other websites that tabulate critical responses to movies. And 1.5 stars summed it up pretty accurately.

Metacritic? Twenty-nine percent out of 100. "Generally unfavorable reviews."

Rotten Tomatoes? It gets even worse. Only 14 out of 137 critics considered it "fresh," the other 123 going for "rotten." Leaving it with a freshness rating of a measly 10%. Granted, the strict thumbs up/thumbs down scale is a bit more rigid, but still. That's as low as it gets.

The funny thing is, this doesn't mean I have to write a 1.5-star review of Fool's Gold. In fact, as I have been told, there's no such thing as a review that's too positive. After all, many of the websites that buy our content are in the business of selling these movies as DVDs. An honestly given positive review is perfect -- not only is it sincere, meaning the critic can live with him/herself, but it also helps move product.

Does it lose me credibility with my colleagues, though? Eh, only if I make a habit of it.

The one thing I do wonder -- any time I like a movie much more than other people -- is what I'm seeing that everyone else couldn't see. Am I a fool? On some level? And does a movie like Fool's Gold function as my fool's gold?

Well, I stopped analyzing any of that too closely years ago. Sometimes a movie just works for you. And as for concerns about the respect of my peers, I've been writing for them for nearly a decade. If I was going to lose credibility with them, it would have happened a long time ago.

I'm just glad that there are movies like Fool's Gold that come along sometimes -- movies I'm reviewing that I've prejudged as terrible, but end up satisfying me more than I expected. I can think of others like it, though I almost hate to list them here. Okay, twist my arm: Inspector Gadget. Without a Paddle. Swing Vote. The Story of Us. Numerous others I can't remember right now. They're all movies I reviewed, expecting to hate them; in fact, using my expected hatred -- of the star, the director, the genre -- as a reason to want to write about them in the first place.

But if these movies were all bad, that means I'd spend even more of my life's hours on drivel. Much better that some of them provide me a modicum of guilty enjoyment -- maybe even not-so-guilty enjoyment.

Fool's gold? Heck, I'll take it.

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