August 07, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

There is a commonly believed myth that film critics should go into a movie screening with no expectations. After all, expectations damage objectivity. The reality, however, is that there is no such thing as an "objective review," and any critic claiming to produce such an essay is either deluded or a liar. Reviews, no matter how well thought-out or informed, are always subjective (as is any form of criticism). How else is it possible to explain that a movie derided by one critic as a piece of garbage may be regarded by another as a masterpiece?

It's rare for me to go into a movie without some degree of expectations. Because I read so much about films, the concept of a "virgin movie-going experience" is alien, except at film festivals, when many pictures arrive without advance buzz. Expectations, however, do not impact my post-viewing opinion of a movie. Some may argue that if I go into a movie expecting not to like it, I have handicapped my ability to appreciate it. But that's not the case. When the movie starts, I want it to work - otherwise, I wouldn't be there. Until a film loses me, I'm its biggest booster. A couple of weeks ago, I was dubious about Sky High, but I ended up giving it one of the most positive reviews of the summer.

I never go to a movie anticipating that it will be lousy enough to earn less than two stars. Admittedly, I didn't have high expectations for either The Devil's Rejects (although I was hopeful) or The Dukes of Hazzard (I wanted at least three laughs, which I didn't get), but never did I imagine I was going to be subjected to a pair of half-star movies. My rule of thumb is that if I sincerely believe that a movie is likely to fall below the two-star threshold, I skip it. That's why there will be no review of Four Brothers. And that's why I won't be giving Rob Schneider 77 minutes of my time for Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. If I hear from other critics I trust that either is worth my time, I'll change my mind.

Mediocrity in film more than anything else has dampened my overall enthusiasm for the medium. Surprises are increasingly rare. With every passing year, Hollywood retreats more into the realm of sequels and re-makes. "Orignal" fare is often little more than a paint-by-numbers production. Staleness has replaced freshness. Too many movies are carefully pre-packaged and homogenized. That's why, when something catches my attention, I want to trumpet its virtues.

When it comes to the motion picture industry, there's no adage more apt than a familar one: hope for the best, but expect the worst. Words for the critic to live by.