I feel bad for Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer and Jerry Bruckheimer. They're in the unenviable position of going on the European press tour for The Lone Ranger weeks after the movie utterly flopped in the US. When you're doing press before a movie comes out - even a piece of shit stinker like The Lone Ranger - you can put on a brave face and bluff your way through. But once you're doing press in the shadow of bomb - one month after release the film hasn't cracked $100 million and has lost most of its theaters - everything gets squirmy and you have to answer questions like "Why did this movie do so badly in America?"
The answer: the critics! While talking to Yahoo! UK, Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer and Jerry Bruckheimer presented a unified face that laid all the film's box office woes at the feet of people like yours truly, a guy writing about movies from his bedroom in Los Feliz. Glad to know I can undermine the efforts of the richest, most powerful men in show business right here from my desk, all while sans pants.
The complaint amongst the three is the same: critics walked into the movie ready to hate it and pan it. Reviews, they say, were written well in advance of release. It's the usual whine from people like this, people who don't realize that The Lone Ranger's dismal 28% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes well outstrips the 20% rating of a successful film like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Or they do realize it, but they just can't say 'This movie sucks, sorry about that,' because they're still selling the movie. Armie Hammer will probably say something to that effect in a couple of years, though.
I wish critics could kill movies - Hollywood would be in better shape. No, critics are largely ineffectual when it comes to the big films. We can't get you guys to go se the good ones, and we have a hard time keeping you guys away from the shitty ones. Sometimes the public sees through a movie in advance - The Lone Ranger being a good example - but it rarely has anything to do with the likes of us. What critics are good for, in general, are the following:
- We champion little movies. This is our best function, letting you know about smaller films you might otherwise miss. The selling of big movies is like the selling of cigarettes - they have that shit down to a science and no amount of warnings will dissuade the targeted consumer. But little movies need the push from critics, and at our best that's what we do.
- We contextualize the big movies. If you're the kind of person who likes thinking about movies (and you're at this site so I really hope you do) a review can give you a new way of thinking about a movie. This is the most fun part of the job, when you have a specific take on a movie's meaning.
But that's about it, really. I don't think critics should be consumer advocates and I don't think most most people approach them that way. It seems like most folks now read reviews to get their preconceived notions reinforced, which is why people go apeshit about negative reviews of anticipated blockbusters they haven't seen.
For now critics are happy to take the scorn of Team The Lone Ranger. It makes us feel like we have a purpose, if only for a moment. But these guys should really be looking inward and trying to figure out why nobody wanted to see their steaming pile. I guarantee it had nothing to do with reviews.