Summary: Time was critics reviewed every movie that opened in the markets they covered. Publications that employed several critics had an easier time of it, but even those with only one critic (most of the magazines and newspapers in the country) struggled to make sure that every new movie received some attention. Well, as a famous singer and social prophet once said, "the times they are a changin'.
In my experience, most critics welcome the opportunity to see and review everything. But the studios have learned that some movies are better left unseen by those who might insist on thinking and writing about them. The aim, one supposes, is to minimize negativity and maximize grosses on the all-important first weekend of a movie's release.
Case in point: Last weekend, "Meet the Spartans" became the country's No. 1 movie. It wasn't screened for critics. Those who eventually did get around to reviewing "Spartans" gave it a thorough drubbing. The movie scored an abysmal 10 out of 100 at metacritic.com, an aggregate review site.
This week the studios have chosen not to show "The Eye," a horror movie starring Jessica Alba as a blind concert violinist whose sight is restored, and (in most markets) "Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus; Best of Both Worlds Concert." I'm not especially eager to see either of these movies, although "The Eye" -- a remake of another slice of Hong Kong horror -- might be worth a look: It's part of an increasingly prevalent Hollywood trend: appropriating the creepy creativity of Asian horror.
Critics have little power to alter this non-screening trend, which coincides with a de-emphasis of movie coverage by many papers. As more and more movies resemble "disposable" products -- here one week, gone the next -- criticism begins to acquire a disposable quality, as well. So don't be surprised if "Hannah Montana'' -- a pre-teen magnate -- emerges as the weekend's box-office winner. Did I mention it's in 3-D?
The one movie that was screened this week: "Over Her Dead Body.'' Here's yet another movie that's notable mostly for its casting. Eva Longoria -- make that Eva Longoria Parker -- tries to find big-screen life as a woman who's killed on her wedding day when an ice sculpture falls on her. Her fiancee (Paul Rudd) goes into a tailspin until his sister (Lindsay Sloan) introduces him to a psychic (Lake Bell).
Writer/director Jeff Lowell, who has done most of his work on TV, produces a TV-like movie that's long on contrivance and short on laughs. Following the lead of many ghostly predecessors, Kate returns to make sure that Bell's character doesn't get her hooks into Rudd's character, who earns a comfortable living as a veterinarian. "Over Her Dead Body" plays with the kind of conceits that might have been fun in a Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn screwball comedy of the 1930s, but the movie lacks the sophistication, wit and panache of its genre elders. Here, dumb slapstick looks mostly like...well...dumb slapstick.
Still, the releasing studio (New Line) should be applauded for not taking the easy way out. The movie was screened, and critics have had an opportunity to weigh in. Expect audiences to tune out.