Wednesday, August 18, 2010

610 - Heckler review

“Heckler” purports to be an examination of people who disturb comics during their routines but quickly transforms into part-examination of critics, part wound-licking party. Featuring and produced by Jamie Kennedy, this documentary begins by examining literal hecklers. An impressive roster of well-known comedians chime in with their best heckler stories (intercut with footage) and observations on the mindsets of those who would interfere with their shows. Kennedy brings a few hecklers backstage for interviews, where they shamelessly declare their belief that it’s their God given right to interrupt any performance they don’t enjoy. It’s an effective moment Kennedy and director Michael Addis let these damn themselves more than talking heads like Louie Anderson and David Cross ever could.

Alas, the title is just a cover for the film’s true topic: critics. Why are those damn critics so mean, Kennedy asks, over and over, clearly carrying deep wounds from the thrashings his performances and films have received from those in the know. Stars such as Harland Williams and Jon Lovitz, no strangers to dreadful reviews, keep the tone consistent: why can’t they see “The Benchwarmers” is good because 12-year-olds enjoyed it? What do they have against us personally? If they’re so smart, why don’t they perform better comedy routines and make better films?

Allow me to draw upon my humble credentials to answer such questions: If “The Benchwarmers” was good, it would be funny to a wide age range (see “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”). We don’t have anything against you personally, we just don’t like it when you foist awful movies upon the cinematic consciousness. And it’s our job to review your work, not to one-up you. These points are obvious, but entirely ignored by Kennedy and Addis, who are happy to let this documentary devolve into a pity party.

Kennedy brings on a few critics who trashed his work, most of whom make me look like Brad Pitt and are at a loss for words. One poignant scene occurs, however, when Kennedy confronts a loathsome blogger who declared that Kennedy needed to be dragged to death by a truck, amongst other things. “Dude, that’s just … evil,” Kennedy says without humor, and he’s right, though this film would have you believe that most critics share similar views. Notable is Richard Roeper, who doesn’t budge when Kennedy asks him if “Son of the Mask” was so bad, Leonard Maltin, who probably sounded too reasonable because he’s hardly in the thing, and Devin Faraci of CHUD, who gets angry at Maltin for disregarding the aforementioned website’s legitimacy (the geeks at CHUD do good work, actually).

The film’s conclusion is that critics, are, in fact, just a heckler with more ink. Pardon me, but that’s bullshit. No matter how vile some blogger or indie newspaper reviews in the Southwest might be, critics don’t hassle artists during their process, but analyze and advise afterwards. The truth is, when one puts their work out there, be it a comedy routine, a film, an NBA game, or even a review itself, one must know that they’ve opened themselves up to criticism, good and bad, from others. “People are either creators or destroyers, and I prefer to side with the creators,” says George Lucas, demonstrating the same wit and grasp of reality that propelled the last three “Star Wars” films to universal critical acclaim. It’s almost a bit shocking to me that so many successful performers seem to have a difficult time grasping this fundamental fact about performance, but then again, Kennedy seems to seek out those who have had a rough time. What would, say, a critical darling have said when asked their opinion on the subject? Is Kennedy so lacking self-consciousness that he’s willing to use “Son of the Mask” as a rallying point for why critics don’t get it? Did Kennedy and Addis think that portraying Uwe Boll's monstrously stupid "box the critics" stunt as righteous was a good idea? The public hates that moron's films just as much as the critics do, and if any filmmaker ever deserved intense vitriol from the critics, it's Boll.

The real surprise is an interview with Carrot Top, that critical punching bag and target of endless ridicule from critics and peers alike. When asked about bad reviews, he replies that they do hurt, but when asked what he’d say to his harshest critics, he simply replies that he hopes he can change their mind. Negative reviews or no, I think the Top gets it; most critics ultimately want people to do well. But I think that thought hurts more than just writing critics off as mean and vindictive. Nonetheless, the star of “Kickin It Old School” might do well to think about that.

2 out of 5

1 comment:

Christian Toto said...

Wow. This one wasn't on my radar at all. I can understand criticism leaving a mark ... I've been critiqued on a number of levels and it never eels good. But to ignore criticism is infantile. I try to use it to improve my work and learn something.

Should we witness the spectacle that was "Son of the Mask" and say, "more, more more ...?"