The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'G.I. Joe' reviews: How bad can they get?

August 7, 2009 | 12:15 pm

BigpicGI You may remember that we've been tracking the strange phenomenon of the "G.I. Joe" reviews, which at one time earlier this week--thanks to Paramount's policy of allowing only fanboy enthusiastics like Harry Knowles to see the movie--were registering in the high 80s at Rotten Tomatoes, rivaling the kind of numbers that great films like "The Hurt Locker" and "The Hangover" have been getting.

But sadly, now that the film has opened and rank and file reviewers are getting a look at the goods, "G.I. Joe's" numbers are plunging faster than the stock market on Black Friday. At last glance, Rotten Tomatoes has the movie at a 41 fresh rating--though it may have dropped even lower by the time you read this. Let's face it, the only thing worse than making a fussy film critic sit through a bad movie is making a critic suffer through a bad movie with a noisy opening-day audience of crazed metalheads and wannabe soldiers of fortunes.

A fair barometer of the critical reaction comes from Time's Richard Corliss, who after enduring a public screening, wrote: "As you sit through the movie, you can feel your IQ drop minute by minute."

But why bother seeing the movie at all? For the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern, not seeing is believing. When Paramount refused to screen the film for him, the critic called the studio's bluff by writing a review anyway, basing his opinion on a viewing of the film's trailer. This has to be a first for a critic at such a widely respected publication. So far there has been precious little consternation, which I take as a clear sign of just how little regard the elite media has for the cynical way studio summer films are made and marketed. 

Morgenstern's justification? As he wrote:

Why do I have to see it to review it? People debate the merits of movies they haven't seen all the time--especially on the message boards of the Web, where vast numbers of fanboys, apprentice fanatics and professional grousers turn an endless supply of baseless assumptions into groundless conclusions. At first I felt shut out, but then I realized ... the studio has set me free to reach my own conclusions--not quite groundless but close--on the basis of the "G.I. Joe" trailer.

Needless to say, Morgenstern concluded that the movie was a stinker. But was he being fair to the film, even if it had every appearance of being an unbelievably dumb exercise in mindless violence, by reviewing it without seeing it? Or was that a defensible act by a critic who had been deliberately kept away from seeing the movie? I'm torn between my regard for Morgenstern and my concern that this sets a bad precedent.

Does anyone have a strong opinion, yea or nay?  


Above, Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow and Ray Park as Snake Eye in "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra."  Photo credit: Frank Masi / Paramount Pictures