Movies

These Reviews Prove Roger Ebert Didn’t Care About Popular Opinion

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Legendary film critic Roger Ebert would have been 73 today, and this seems like an appropriate time to reflect on his illustrious career. Over his five decades reviewing films, Ebert was known both for the praise he lavished on his favorite films, and the brutal disdain he would give the ones he loathed (sorry, Rob Schneider). Of course, Ebert was never one to necessarily go along with critical consensus, and with that in mind, let’s look at five films that he evidently loved a lot more than the rest of us.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

While the Kevin James comedy was derided as lacking a coherent plot, and not being particularly funny by critics, Ebert was a big fan, praising the film for somehow turning Kevin James into a believable action star. Sadly, we’ll never get to know what his thoughts on Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 would have been.

Ebert quote (read the full review here):

“Paul Blart emerges as a hero, and something else: Kevin James illustrates how lighting and camera angles can affect our perception of an actor. In the early scenes, he’s a fat schlub, but after he goes into action, the camera lowers subtly, the lighting changes, and suddenly he’s a good-looking action hero, ready for business. He demonstrates what fat men have been secretly believed for a long time. Should Daniel Craig someday retire, I am supporting Kevin James for the next James Bond.”

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 33%
Ebert Score: 3/4

Crash

Okay, this might seem like an odd choice, seeing as Crash won Best Picture, and has a strong Rotten Tomatoes score of 75%, but let’s be honest; this movie’s reputation has taken a beating over the years. The moments of racial tension that might have seemed poignant upon the film’s release now just seem excessively preachy and overblown. Still, Ebert was moved by it and even thought the movie had the power to make its audience better people.

Ebert quote (read the full review here):

“Not many films have the possibility of making their audiences better people. I don’t expect “Crash” to work any miracles, but I believe anyone seeing it is likely to be moved to have a little more sympathy for people not like themselves. The movie contains hurt, coldness and cruelty, but is it without hope? Not at all. Stand back and consider. All of these people, superficially so different, share the city and learn that they share similar fears and hopes. Until several hundred years ago, most people everywhere on earth never saw anybody who didn’t look like them. They were not racist because, as far as they knew, there was only one race. You may have to look hard to see it, but “Crash” is a film about progress.”

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Ebert Score: 4/4

The Happening

The 2008 M. Night Shaymalan movie was pilloried by critics for being boring and incoherent, among many other grievances, but Ebert found it quite intriguing. He thought the notion of nature retaliating against mankind — and how we might react to it — was quite fascinating. He was also aware that he might be in a small minority of people who enjoyed the film.

Ebert quote (read the review here):

“I suspect I’ll be in the minority in praising this film. It will be described as empty, uneventful, meandering. But for some, it will weave a spell. It is a parable, yes, but it is also simply the story of these people and how their lives and existence have suddenly become problematic. We depend on such a superstructure to maintain us that one or two alterations could leave us stranded and wandering through a field, if we are that lucky.”

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 17%
Ebert Score: 3/4

You Don’t Mess With The Zohan

This 2008 Adam Sandler comedy doesn’t have a ton of fans, even among Sandler’s acolytes. It was a full decade after The Waterboy, and for many, Sandler’s zany antics had grown tiresome. Ebert, however, was a surprising fan of this movie, and he even acknowledged how unlikely his fondness for it was, even apologizing for laughing as hard as he did.

Ebert quote (read the review here):

“Sandler works so hard at this, and so shamelessly, that he battered down my resistance. Like a Jerry Lewis out of control, he will do, and does, anything to get a laugh. No thinking adult should get within a mile of this film. I must not have been thinking. For my sins, I laughed. Sorry. I’ll try to do better next time.”

Rotten Tomatoes: 36%
Ebert score: 3/4

Speed 2: Cruise Control

Speed 2 was similar to the first movie, except that instead of being on a bus that couldn’t slow down, it was about a boat. Also, Keanu reeves was replaced with Jason Patric. If that seems like a rather unpleasant experience to you, most critics felt the same way. Ebert, however, got some joy out of it, praising the film for the ridiculousness that caused so many others to deride it.

Ebert quote (read the review here):

“I chortled a few times. The first was at the digital read-out. Why do mad bombers always go to the trouble of supplying them? There’s not much room inside the head of a golf club (even a wood), so why waste space on a digital read-out? I also chortled a few moments later, when the villain pulled out a piece of equipment labeled FIBER OPTIC CONVERTER in letters so large they could be read across the room. Doesn’t mean much, but it sure looks good. And I will long treasure a moment when a computer asks Geiger, “Time to initiate?” and he types in, “Now.” Is the movie fun? Yes. Especially when the desperate Bullock breaks into a ship’s supply cabinet and finds a chainsaw, which I imagine all ships carry. And when pleasure boaters somehow fail to see a full-size runaway ocean liner until it is three feet from them. Movies like this embrace goofiness with an almost sensual pleasure. And so, on a warm summer evening, do I.”

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 3%
Ebert Score: 3/4

In Closing

So, was Ebert wrong about these films? Not necessarily. As Ebert once said, “any worthwhile review is subjective.” Every film has its merits and its supporters. Besides that, most are worth rewatching after some time has passed, just in case you missed something the first time. So maybe spend some time this weekend doing exactly that with these films to see if you can pick up on the goodness that Ebert identified.

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