Everyone’s a Critic

And everyone reviews movies on the Rotten Tomatoes Show.

The Rotten Tomatoes Show

Variously scorned as an agent of the death of the film criticism and hailed as a resource for finding a movie that may be worth not walking out of, Rotten Tomatoes has been aggregating movie reviews since 1998, long enough to gain distinction as an Internet institution. Current TV, which earned a ton of attention when Al Gore founded it four years ago and perhaps 2 or 3 ounces since, is a Web 2.0 cable channel. “Interactive viewer-created content,” inanely dubbed VC2, comprises one-third of its programming. It is the kind of network that will broadcast your Twitter musings during presidential debates. Together, the two entities bring us the inevitable Rotten Tomatoes Show, “a show that puts the power of movie reviewing in your hands.” Disappointingly, it’s only fractionally the abomination a professional critic might hope for.

That’s fine. We’ll have to get used to not hating the show, as it won’t be getting canceled anytime before Armageddon. The business model’s too sensible. Movie studios supply perhaps 40 percent of the content in the form of clips while amateur reviewers—”citizen critics”—provide a similar amount by smirking and cooing into webcams. The producers need only supply two attractive young people to sit on director’s chairs in front a green screen and tie the whole thing together.

Thus, your hosts are Brett Ehrlich, who favors hoodies and works a Seth Green thing with some success, and Ellen Fox, who grins wide even when snarking up cute bile and light misanthropy. They project a quick-witted self-irony similar to Joel McHale’s on The Soup (E!), the reality-show recap program that exults in its own shame at its own trashiness, but with the crucial difference of being sincerely in love with the product they’re consuming, both as film buffs and students of camp. They’re not authorities but equals. Witness Brett seething with bafflement at the ridiculous conclusion of Nicolas Cage’s Knowing. “If you saw it, seriously, e-mail me because I wanna talk about it,” he said as his e-mail address flashed on-screen.

Despite the hints of Punch and Judy in their flirtily aggressive banter, Ellen and Brett are no Siskel and Ebert. They may quibble over a fine point in an analysis of Race to Witch Mountain, but their first duty is to serve as moderators or orchestra conductors or collagists putting a consensus together from the snippets uploaded by their pals out on the Web. Brett—we’re all on a first-name basis here—makes reference to “our review,” as if speaking on behalf of a labor union or a smiley-faced hive mind. Dispiriting though it is to witness the value of individual critical voices steamrolled so efficiently, it must be conceded that each review comes together with some degree of nuance. And who can resist the nonprofessional who, in reviewing Amy Adams’ Sunshine Cleaning, did a note-perfect parody of the tremulous gasping to which Adams too often resorts?

Every episode finds the hosts very nearly apologizing for the show’s most reductive segments. The less offensive of these is the “Haiku Review of DVD Releases,” presented with some faux-Eastern graphics and sound effects that acknowledge the silliness of dispatching Quantum of Solace thusly: “James Bond rips off Bourne/ Merely upsetting fans of/ Casino Royale.” It’s hard to get behind the feature accompanying the weekly box-office report, “Three Word Reviews.” Some home-schooled aphorist out there paid to watch Duplicity and reported witlessly back with “Way Too Complicated.” Though hardly a match for Brett’s own capsule summary of the film—”The movie pulled the rug out from under me so many times that by the end I just stopped trying to get back up”—this is still a clear improvement on the reviews Ben Lyons drools on At the Movies, if such a point is worth making in an era when everyone’s a critic.