The Good, the Bad, and the God-awful

Thoughts on Gigli and late-summer truffle hunting

Upon reflection, Gigli seems one of the few honestly received ventures in a summer where many movies got less than they deserved—in terms of either money (Terminator 3) or acclaim (American Wedding, The Matrix Reloaded), or both (Hollywood Homicide)—and a few (X2, Bruce Almighty, Pirates of the Caribbean) got inappropriately generous helpings of just about everything. As usual, the season's better offerings—28 Days Later, Man on the Train, Capturing the Friedmans et al.were indies and imports that flew well below the media radar, "counterprogramming" pitched at viewers fatigued by the studios' bloated-budget fare. Similarly, the best of the blockbusters weren't so much genuine delicacies as shake-and-bake ventures keen on satisfying their core fan bases and few others. They were, in short, movies with precious few aspirations to art and, least of all, respectability—whereas respectability and artistic pretension, at the expense of anything resembling wit, energy or imagination, were part and parcel of X2and Pirates.

How fortunate, though, that we now have the August 16 issue of Entertainment Weekly—the common man's Variety—to set the record straight, to inform us, in a cover story written by hands other than those of the magazine's regular critics, that not only was Pirates of the Caribbean (a sure-fire hit that even a 3-year-old could have spotted from miles away) the summer's "surprise smash," but that X2 is "arguably the greatest superhero movie ever." (And perhaps it is, if the only other superhero movie you've seen is Ang Lee's Hulk.) Even more noteworthy, that same issue of EW contains not one but two reader letters (imagine how many were actually received!) chastising one of the magazine's real critics, Lisa Schwarzbaum, for her mixed review of Pirates, which she awarded a grade of C. "What in the heck is going on with your movie reviews?" queries Lyn Jameyson of Grand Rapids, Michigan, before going on to explain that he/she fully expected the film to receive "a well-deserved A- or B+." Well, I'd like to take this moment to respond to Mr./Ms. Jameyson on Ms. Schwarzbaum's behalf, by saying simply this: When such praise is not only expected but given to such movies—and indeed, both Pirates and X2 received their share of raves—that may be the moment when critics and moviegoers have begun to collectively engineer the downfall of cinema, like the humans who inadvertently give rise to the deadly machines of the Terminator films. Or it may just be an indication that Martin Brest needn't worry about where his next meal is coming from after all.

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