If I was to call Rex Reed a nasty, ugly, old, bulbous-nosed curmudgeon instead of thoughtfully critiquing the pros and cons of his ridiculous, purposely attention-inciting and unnecessarily scathing review of Identity Thief, I’d probably get a lot of hatred thrown my way. And rightly so. Attacking someone on a personal level when you’re trying to make an argument is the sure sign of an arguer that has not enough intelligence to even construct a sentence that is meaningful, or in many cases, doesn’t have the actual intelligence, experience or general knowledge to even make an argument. So people like this have to resort to pot shots to try to make their weak points. That’s exactly what film “critic” Rex Reed did in his recent review of the film Identity Thief for the New York Observer.
Identity Thief is by no means a fantastic movie, but it’s certainly not drivel, as Reed calls it. Trust me, I’ve seen drivel. I know it. I’m sure Reed’s seen actual drivel too in his many years as a film critic, and he knows this movie is not truly that bad to sit through. But he’s a poor, flailing, quickly-becoming-unrecognizable “movie critic” for the upper classes in New York who still apparently want to relive the days of Reed’s career when he was actually something meaningful, recognizable and important to the arts and to the country. And I say this out of no disrespect because what I mean is, he was good at his profession for a moment in time, but Reed doesn’t see the cinema that he once knew and loved as now evolving and so he will forever be curmudgeonly against anything that doesn’t fit neatly into his box of acceptable and worthwhile film fare.
What Reed doesn’t seem to realize is that he’s no longer a singular voice, he’s just a speck of dirt in the large stain that is the news media. The only purpose of a critic as bygone as him anymore is to give glowing sound bites for the indie, sleeper hits and foreign films half the audience wouldn’t have seen if it hadn’t been for the snippet or quote on the poster or trailer that he’s paid to provide – or, in cases like this, to help bring some much-needed notoriety back to a sinking newspaper by throwing out some slurs that are sure to be picked up by the media. Reed doesn’t know, understand or truly appreciate the cinema anymore, not like the thousands of real movie critics and cinema aficionados who live online now, arguing intelligently over the latest films, or reviewing them using a sense of humor or tangible knowledge and a general appreciation for the genre of the film they are reviewing (and most of those guys and gals do it because they love it). Unfortunately, this is the point in Reed’s career where he no longer really cares for or understands the cinema or knows what’s good. He clearly has no taste for comedy and certainly not the comedy of today’s younger generations.
Maybe he was bitter that he was required to even review Identity Thief in the first place, and so he went into it with a bad taste in his mouth to begin with, or maybe he just doesn’t care anymore unless it’s something that meets his pretentious standards ahead of time. It probably has to have Ryan Gosling and/or be a documentary on an impoverished country or HIV. I don’t think he was even really paying attention to the film while he was watching it, if we’re being honest. In fact, I’d debate that he even watched it to begin with (I’ll explain why below). There’s a lot of obvious errors and inconsistencies in his review to back this up. In fact, I think Reed’s contentious review is worthy of a review itself. So, here goes: the first ever Cinematic Public Enemy review of a film review.
Is Reed a critic or a reviewer? If Reed was a film reviewer, I’d let him get away with his ridiculous drivel of a review, because film reviewers are just people offering their opinion on something, and opinions, even when they’re mean, vicious and from the mouths of mean-spirited people are just that – opinions. But Reed is supposedly a Film Critic – a title I take to heart very dearly. Criticism is a skill. Criticism can and is a learned ability. Criticism, while it may very well include opinion, is rooted in critical thinking, critical comparisons and in-depth examinations, topped off with maybe an opinion or two for good measure and a little bit of engaging readability. Reed has lost any sense of film criticism that he ever may have had (and I know he had some, just read his review of the amazing classic Hearts and Minds).
First, let’s take his opener in his review of Identity Thief: “How many ways can a person waste valuable time and lose vital I.Q. points at the same time? If you’re movie critic, the possibilities are unlimited.” Read this opening very carefully. Right here, Reed has already given up his whole profession and reduced what he does to a ludicrous job. He’s essentially saying that much of what he sees in the cinema of today is not worth his precious New York Observer-paid time. So why would (or should) anyone ever care about one word that he writes in a review ever again? I don’t think we should. Rex Reed clearly thinks the cinema of today is stupid and a waste of his time as he alludes to in the opening sentences. And frankly I don’t need to take advice from someone who is clearly not impartial or willing to weigh all aspects of what he is paid to do, so everything he writes after that in the review is really negated (and you’d think this would have been a red flag to his editors too), but for the sake of criticism and a fair argument here, let’s continue on with the review of his review.
In the second paragraph, Reed calls the screenplay “stupefying” although he never actually backs up why he is making this claim, so I have no way of actually knowing what about it is stupefying. I guess Reed’s opinion on the matter is just supposed to be enough, because he’s such a world renown critic. Riiiight.
Soon after he’s referring to Melissa McCarthy’s character as “tractor-sized” which is where he started to repel readers. I agree, it’s a harsh way of describing her, and because he placed it in parentheses, it even seems more like he is referring to her as the actress and less as the character she plays. What’s interesting though is, clearly McCarthy is overweight, maybe she can help it, maybe she can’t, but regardless, that’s her look right now and like many of the other great overweight actors she knows how to use her size to enhance her character’s presence – and there’s no doubt the producers and director Paul Feig (whom she worked with on Bridesmaids) had any thought that she wouldn’t be great in a part like this as well, because of her size and the demeanor she has grown fond of portraying with it.
She started the character in Bridesmaids, was honored for it by Hollywood even, and so of course she’s going to be reviving that character type and building on its outlandishness and craziness in this movie (and most certainly her next one in the can with Sandra Bullock, where by the look of the trailer, she’s playing the exact same type of character, yet again). This is her role and she inhabits it well, so yes, to refer to her as “tractor sized” and later a “hippo” in the article is crass, but at the same time, it is the role she wants to portray and right now it’s working well for her, so I’d say McCarthy is probably not as burned by this name-calling as everyone thinks she is (or should be), and it’s just actual overweight people without the luxury of a fat SAG paycheck who are offended that her flaws are being pointed out in an unnecessary and cruel method when she’s become a beloved character actress for many 18-35 year old women (who are a core audience for Hollywood these days).
Another reason to pan his pointless review and anything Reed actually says, is because he clearly wasn’t even paying attention to the film when he reviewed it. I truly believe this is equivalent to not performing the duties of the job as required and should really be grounds for termination, if nothing else. If you are getting paid to review films and you can’t even get the details of the film’s storyline right, then what good are you at your job? Let’s start with Reed writing that McCarthy’s character is in Miami, Florida, when in fact she is noted as being in Winter Park, Florida (and once as being in Orlando, which is the same area). Additionally, the area code on the phone number from the salon Jason Bateman’s character is called from is 407, which is the Orlando area. So where did Reed get Miami from? If I was being cruel, I could ask, Is it senility setting in? Or deafness beginning? But really I just want to ask was he just that uninterested in performing his job to best of his ability (regardless of how much he hated the film, or it wasn’t for him, he is still being paid to pay attention and review for his audience), and at this he failed miserably.
Further on, Reed embellishes the description of how “bad” McCarthy’s character is when he lists her as “beating him up,” (which she never really does, unless you count punching him in the throat a couple of times; Bateman’s character smashes a guitar over her face and throws an iron Panini press at the back of her head). How come that’s not considered “bad?” Reed then goes on to say she “wrecks his rental car and leaves him stranded on the highway in a pair of pants stolen from a dead hobo.” While both of these details are somewhat accurate, they are most certainly not carried out in this contextual proximity, and technically, Bateman’s character was responsible for his rental car being wrecked because he stopped it in the middle of the highway without pulling to the shoulder and consequently it was t-boned by an 18-wheeler. Not McCarthy’s actual doing, in other words, but I guess it worked for Reed’s quippy sentence. This all helps to prove that he likely didn’t even see this film before reviewing it, he just phoned this in, maybe watched a trailer or two online and probably read some other synopsis’. This man should not be allowed to review films anymore, he’s clearly not a valid part of this business and is a horrible representation of what film criticism is all about.
Reed’s next couple insults are all having to do with the wackiness of the “road movie” aspect of the story. He can’t seem to fathom that they could be pursued by gangsters and bounty hunters (he also embellishes here, saying “bounty hunter and skip tracers,” but they are one in the same, and there was only one of them in the movie), and that people can jump parole and get arrested for things they didn’t do or get away with things they did. First of all, let’s talk about the standard Hollywood movie: it’s called suspension of disbelief, Mr. Reed. As a long time critic you should be fully aware of this. You don’t always have to believe what is happening on the screen is something that would happen in real life exactly the same, that’s why people like the movies, because they’re fun, exciting and they take us on adventures that are unexpected, dangerous, comical, outlandish, and likely and many times hopefully wouldn’t happen to us. Audiences like to watch movies with things happening to characters that they wouldn’t want to happen to themselves because it makes us feel better about our lives. We see movies for the escape. Second, a lot of the things that happened in the film are very much possible, just maybe not in such a concentrated amount of time as the movie portrays, but again, this is what’s referred to as suspension of disbelief.
Next Reed talks about McCarthy’s sex scene in the film, in which he unnecessarily refers to her as a “hippo.” It’s crass, pointless and just shows what an uptight, un-open-minded man this Rex Reed really is, and basically destroys any positive image one may have ever had from reading one of his film reviews during his prime as a critic. McCarthy is anything but a hippo, and in fact, is very funny in her sex scene and not in the least “grotesque” in a bad way. If you can watch any of the litany of R-rated Judd Apatow comedies of the last few years, hell, if you can watch HBO’s Girls, you know what a truly grotesque love scene can be like, this is PG-13 stuff by today’s standards. Reed is displaying that he is really a repressed prude, if he found this offensive. Also important to note here, Reed got yet another fact wrong when he notes the love interest of McCarthy as “demanding a threesome,” when that was not the case whatsoever. McCarthy’s character actually set the whole threesome up, and the guy she picked up was even scared to do it. Did Reed not even see the part of the scene where the man is crying on the bed in anticipation of having sex with her?
I find it infuriating how little interest Reed even had in doing a proper review for this movie, whether he liked it or not, the filmmakers deserved his time and meaningful criticism and instead all they got was this drivel Observer let him publish. They should be ashamed and he should be ashamed. To top it all off and even add a laugh at how preposterous and literally outdated Rex Reed is now, he ends with a closing sentence that basically criticizes the film on the fact that it uses identity theft as comedic plot device. Reed confesses that he is so afraid to even approach an ATM without the threat of someone stealing his glowingly perfect identity, that he thinks the filmmakers should have made a film that deals with this topic in a serious way. (Pretty sure that’s been done, by the way, The Net? Single White Female?).
Identity Thief is a fun comedy, and Melissa McCarthy is great in her newfound character type. Check this one out sometime, the rest of America is.
Rex Reed can be disregarded, he says what he says so that someone will pay attention to him. He’s clearly scared at becoming irrelevant. Unfortunately for him, he already is irrelevant.