KANSAS CITY – Critics review movies. The studios sometimes don’t want them to.
In recent months at least 11 studio pictures, including several titles that dominated the box office on their debut weekends, hit the screens without opening-day reviews.
It has become such a common phenomenon that TV movie critics Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper for a time employed a “wagging finger of shame” for movies not shown to critics.
That slow-simmering grudge match between Hollywood and movie writers flared up again this week.
Originally Sony Pictures Entertainment planned to let critics see its new David Spade-Jon Heder-Rob Schneider sports comedy “The Benchwarmers.” A tentative date for a press screening was announced.
But as Friday’s opening date approached, the Sony brass changed their minds. Apparently they decided that advance reviews wouldn’t help their movie and might even hurt. All press screenings were canceled, including one for the Kansas City media.
But at least one critic did see the film, wrote his review and got it on the Knight Ridder/Tribune wire service.
Roger Moore, who for the last six years has been the movie reviewer for the Orlando Sentinel, gave the film one star out of four.
“How sad does a movie have to be,” Moore wrote, “for Rob Schneider to be “the cool one,’ “the normal one’ and “the jock’?”
Then things got really interesting. Tuesday evening The Kansas City Star received a call from Christine Gutierrez of Universal McCann, Sony’s advertising and public relations agency. Gutierrez said Wednesday that she was asked by Sony to call newspapers subscribing to the Knight Ridder/Tribune wire service and advise them that Moore’s review was “unauthorized.”
Moore has a different story. He says he was invited to a “Benchwarmers” screening earlier this week along with other critics from central Florida.
“We sat in an area roped off for critics,” Moore said. “There was me, some online critics, reviewers from several local publications and several student journalists. It was a typical screening.”
Moore went back to his office, wrote his review and that same day it went out on the Knight Ridder/Tribune wire service, to which Moore is a regular contributor.
“Three hours later someone from Sony called me and said there had been a mistake, that I wasn’t supposed to have seen the movie,” Moore recalled. “Well, too bad. The train has left the station. The Titanic can’t be turned around. … But then this is the studio that a couple of years ago invented critics to write good reviews of their movies.”
Moore said that if he had not already sent the review to the wire he might, out of courtesy to Sony, have held it.
“I’d tell them, “Sure. But let me have an interview with Tom Hanks when “Da Vinci Code” comes out.”‘
Moore said that he had often joked that if the studios kept critics from seeing films in advance he might be forced to disguise himself to get inside, but that he’d never actually done that.
“Obviously Sony’s local field representative made a mistake. She wasn’t supposed to let critics see the film and she did. It’s probably going to cost her her job.
“The crazy thing is that this is a critic-proof movie that’s going to do business no matter what I or anybody else writes about it. I don’t understand why Sony has its panties in such a bunch.”
In a statement, Knight Ridder/Tribune said: “The Orlando Sentinel is attempting to clear up the misunderstanding, but in the meantime, we want you to know that Knight Ridder/Tribune stands by Roger Moore’s work. This is a legitimate review by a nationally respected film critic.”