The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Dr. Phil: Movie critic?

January 9, 2009 |  2:19 pm

PhilWhat should you do if you're a film studio that's made a movie that isn't for movie critics? Get a blurb from ... Dr. Phil! That's what Sony has done for its new movie, "Not Easily Broken," which is not only being touted by Dr. Phil ("Inspirational, hilarious and deeply moving") but may well be the first movie blurb ad that doesn't have even one movie critic featured in the ad. Even if Sony couldn't get a shout-out from Larry King, the film, a drama about an African American couple whose marriage is on the rocks, has words of praise from the likes of Dr. Phil, filmmaker Tyler Perry ("It's a powerful movie!") and CNN's Soledad O'Brien, who says: "Bravo!"

What exactly is going on here? First off, "Not Easily Broken" is going after an audience that rarely pays attention to critics in the first place. The film, which co-stars Morris Chestnut and Taraji P. Henson, is based on a book by T.D. Jakes, the Dallas-based ,mega-church pastor and entrepreneur who has a deal at Sony to make low-budget African American-oriented fare. Jakes has a huge religious following around the country, especially in the South, so the marketing for the film -- which opened today in 700 theaters around the country -- has relied on a lot of word-of-mouth screenings set up by his church organization.

It certainly doesn't hit the sweet spot with critics, having scored a woeful 28 at Rotten Tomatoes, with most critics dismissing it as an earnest marital melodrama marred by too much sloggy sermonizing. But movie critics, being largely middle-aged and, ahem, nearly all white, are not an especially receptive audience for a story that tends to preach a gospel that's much closer to the heart of an African American choir. (Actually Glenn Whipp, who reviewed it for our paper, gave it a generally positive notice.) But Sony's strategy of using blurbs from non-film critics is probably a sign of the times. If you want to influence potential moviegoers, you need to rely on voices -- or brands -- that they respond to and find trustworthy.

For a film such as "Not Easily Broken," the right voice isn't Roger Ebert or Kenny Turan, it's Dr. Phil. It's an idea whose time has come. If I were 20th Century Fox, who opened the comedy "Bride Wars" today, I'd get rid of those blurbs from some obscure junket critic in Palm Springs and replace them with huzzahs from "The View's" Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. I bet with a subject such as "Bride Wars" that they'd be the kind of experts moviegoers would listen to.

Photo: Dr. Phil. Credit: Paramount Television.