Roger Ebert’s “Your Movie Sucks” might be the funniest book of the year: The title alone is worth a good laugh. Ebert’s latest book is the long-awaited companion piece to “I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie,” a 30-year retrospective of unfavorable movie reviews. Like its predecessor, “Your Movie Sucks” considers the various flops and failures he’s bombed over the years: Most of his comments are sarcastic and silly, others are angry and appalled. Being America’s most trusted film critic isn’t as easy as it looks, but, as he writes in the introduction, “A critic must be honest.”
A mere “Thumbs Down” simply isn’t enough to describe films as bad as “Battlefield Earth,” “The Hot Chick” or “Jason X.” Instead, each review gets a specific star rating which, with one exception, usually hovers around one and a half. (More on that later.) “Your Movie Sucks” even recognizes those rare and wonderful films in the zero-star category: “For years,” Ebert wrote, “I had a law that I would give the zero star rating only to films I believed were immoral in one way or another. Any other movie, however wretched, would get at least a half-star.” He added, not without relish, “that I have not always adhered to that rule.” Even if you don’t think a film like “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” deserves zero stars, the review is hard to argue with: “Mr. Schneider,” he wrote, “your movie sucks.”
Although I remember seeing “Resident Evil” years ago, I had forgotten how ridiculous it was: “The monster with the nine-foot tongue is mutating. Eventually, its tongue is nailed to the floor of a train car and it is dragged behind it on the third rail. I hate it when that happens,” wrote Ebert. I’ve heard various complaints about Pearl Harbor, described here as “a two hour movie squeezed into three hours…a love story of stunning banality.” Tom Green’s Worst Actor Award at the Razzies for Freddy Got Fingered was apparently well-deserved: “This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.”
Time for that exception I mentioned earlier. When Ebert was invited to the Cannes Film Festival in 2003, he wrote that “The Brown Bunny” was the worst film in Cannes history. (“I have not seen every film in the history of the festival,” he later wrote, “yet I feel my judgment will stand.”) The joke was on him: Director Vincent Gallo was so upset that he openly placed a hex on Ebert’s prostate. (Gallo later claimed he was misquoted.) A subsequent colonoscopy revealed that, yes, Ebert really did have prostate cancer, but it would take more than an unfortunate coincidence to shut him up: “My colonoscopy,” he announced, “was more entertaining than ‘The Brown Bunny.’”
When Ebert interviewed Gallo the following year, he explained that there were several mistakes with “The Brown Bunny,” and that the film would be re-cut for commercial release. After the final cut was liberated from the original wreckage, “The Brown Bunny” became a much more effective film: Ebert eventually gave it three stars. If you can believe it, he even defended the older, longer version: “I suggest the original Cannes cut be included as part of the eventual DVD, so that viewers can see for themselves how 26 minutes of aggressively pointless and empty footage can sink a potentially successful film.” (I’m good, thanks.)
Although “Your Movie Sucks” is a breeze to read, it’s difficult to describe: Even the summary on the back cover is carefully vague. I haven’t even seen films like “Death to Smoochy,” “Josie and the Pussycats” or Rollerball, and can only wonder if they’re as bad as Ebert says they are. I don’t plan on finding out anytime soon.