Monday Morning Critic 3.29.2010- What Just Happened to Robert De Niro, Kevin Smith can't jump the shark because of his girth and slightly much more!

On tap this week: Robert De Niro in What Just Happened, Kevin Smith jumping the shark and slightly much more!

I had a terribly unfunny bit about the people lashing out at health care reform this week, and how we need to give a horrible nickname to those for health care reform (I had this great bit calling them “rim-jobbers” and encouraging people to use that phrase in reference to them, if only to make the debate that much more fun to watch as an uncaring bystander) but then Kevin Smith mouths off and I just had way too many words to justify another whacky bit to proceed a stock pick in the Wit and Wisdom Draft (it was going to be Ellen Page, a solid second round pick).

Thus, this week’s Random Thought focuses on the fattest director in Hollywood. I preface it by saying that I am a big fan of Smith, always have been, and writing this column isn’t nearly as fun as my snarky commentary normally would be.

Smith wants to ban film critics from seeing any of his future films based on the evisceration Cop Out received. Travis echoed my thoughts on the film, which was just a generic cop thriller in every aspect. But perhaps what might be the most interesting thing to come out of this is that finally we get to see Kevin Smith for what he really is: a ‘90s fad.

In the late 1990s, four directors made their mark as the next potential great wave of cinematic auteurs that hadn’t been seen since Coppola, Scorsese, Allen, Spielberg and that generation all came of age during the 1960s and ‘70s: Smith, Guy Richie, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Ritchie has been hit or miss but seems to be getting his groove back now that he’s divorced from Madonna. Tarantino has been the most successful. Rodriguez has been the most productive. Smith was the least commercial yet had the potential to be a sort of potty-mouthed, morbidly obese version of Woody Allen. Clerks was a revelation and perhaps the most successful home video of all time.

Part of the reason why Allen has been able to stick around for as long as possible is that he’s been given a free pass by most film critics; he could make a film featuring two hours of bare ass cheeks breaking wind and I bet Roger Ebert would put it on his top ten of the year list. Everything he does get near universally good reviews no matter what; it’s hard for a lot of critics to be objective because Allen is the guy everyone likes and has always liked. For better or worse, part of the reason why Kevin Smith succeeded is because his films generally had good reviews from critics and thus enough word of mouth was generated to give him the sort of fan base that Allen has: small but dedicated enough to continually make just enough money per film in theatres and on DVD to turn a profit every time around. No film Smith has ever done has lost cash; they might not be the kind of profits that a film like Avatar brings but they are enough to continue justifying his existence in his chosen profession.

So it’s amusing to see him, after one poorly reviewed film, turn against the hand that feeds him for a film he famously said he was “hired to direct” as opposed to a “Kevin Smith” film. Considering the film is Smith’s highest grosser by far, $12 million more than the best gross for a “Kevin Smith Film” and a cincher to keep up his streak of profitable films, he ought to be happy that his fan base came out in higher numbers than ever. But he’s not and I think Smith, and us by proxy, are missing a grander point.

Smith looked to have all the promise in the world but others have taken his general framework and made it better (Judd Apatow and the ilk) and his one big shot across the bow, Zach and Miri Make a Porno, didn’t do any of the numbers it could’ve considering it had a red-hot Seth Rogen at the forefront. Going outside his wheelhouse, Smith has made a successful film financially but creatively didn’t do much with what was a lot going for him. And the film shows the one thing that took people years to figure out about Woody Allen: he’s a one trick pony.

You give Smith some skilled comic actors and a quirky premise and it’ll be interesting, but never really brilliant. Clerks remains the high point of his career, as it’s insanely funny and the only masterpiece he ever made, but there’s only so far one can with profanity and shlubs getting the girl. It’ll be the same thing that Judd Apatow will face two or three movies from now, too, but Smith has been bettered at his own game and now has been exposed. Comedy has evolved and Smith’s style has not. Given his best cast yet he managed to do more with less than any comedy of 2008

That was the main problem with Zach and Miri; that year Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Role Models both doubled up its box office gross and were both significantly better films. Both were in the same genre (R-rated comedy) and had actors of similar stature. But both of those films were more evolved comedies in both characters and story. Smith is hitting the point where he has to evolve as a director or walk back into obscurity from whence he came. And it’s obvious he’s not going to be doing that any time soon; instead, he’s lashing out at the people who gave him a niche career.

Cutting out critics is usually the first step for anyone who’s about to admit that they’re product isn’t that good. Films aren’t screened for critics for a reason; they want to avoid bad word of mouth as long as possible. Critics don’t make or break a film, that’s been proven true on any number of occasions, but they can make a difference for lesser known films. By Smith now throwing his child-like tantrum and wanting to charge everyone to see his films, and not pre-screening them for a select few, he’s admitting defeat. Me, I hope he’s just ticked off because he thought this was going to be a new millennium cop thriller and make $100 million domestically, thus giving him more leverage then before, but if he holds to his word (and he’s generally a standup kind of guy in that respect) then he might as well admit that he’s no longer amongst the select few directors whose films matter. He’s just another hack then. No more, no less.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – What Just Happened

There are only a handful of actors that get me into the theatre any time, every time. Robert De Niro is one of them. I grew up watching him excessively in films with my father, as he’s one of the few actors we’ve really bonded on. The other two are Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino. But sometimes schedules and showtimes don’t ever mesh, thus I missed What Just Happened in theatres. And I could never get myself to purchase it, always going “I’ll get it next time” and the like, and then Blockbuster starts shutting down every store in the local area. Thus, I finally picked it up for like $2.

Ben (Robert De Niro) is a famous Hollywood producer trying to keep his life together as everything seems to fall apart. The he’s film shepherded, “Fiercely,” screened disastrously while the film he’s about to get started has a problem: its star, Bruce Willis (hilariously over the top as himself), arrived overweight with a big bushy beard. Throw in problems with both of his ex-wives and you have an interesting character drama.

And it’s easy to see why this film didn’t take off at the box office, as it’s too much of an indictment on the way the Hollywood system works to be much more than a star powered version of Entourage. It’s a searing indictment of the system but it isn’t anything that hadn’t been done already, and done better.

Mild recommendation.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Clash of the Titans (2010) – Someone thought it would be a good idea to remake one of the 1980s worst flicks about Greek mythology.

See It – It looks like a $100 million Iron Maiden video with Liam Neeson. Good enough for me.

The Last Song – Miley Cyrus does a “grown up” movie role. Apparently she’s a teenager with issues from the other side of the tracks or something.

Skip It – Hopefully Greg Kinnear took his salary upfront as opposed to a percentage of the overall gross. But there is one good thing about all of this. We’re about three steps away from a reality show and a sex tape. Me, I’m hoping she does what any good woman does when trying to get into the A-list and at least find some marginally successful guitarist to give it to her doggy style. I’m thinking it would be doubly hilarious if it was one of the Jonas brothers.

Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too – More Tyler Perry shenanigans. I think this one doesn’t involve a picnic, but I don’t care enough to make sure.

Skip It – If you’ve seen one Tyler Perry film, you’ve seen them all. Hopefully Perry doesn’t put a dress on for this one.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

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