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The emperor: wearing clothes or not?

"God help anyone who gives 'Inception' a negative review."

So said one movie writer before any of us had gotten a look at the year's most awaited film. Because the News' splendid new website is currently under construction, my two and a half star review of "Inception" (in the publicist's trade, reviews like mine are known as mixed/negative) is currently unavailable to News readers. Which, it seems to me, is a perfect opportunity to say what should have been said long ago: Rotten Tomatoes doesn't work. Period.

While the well-known movie website may pretend it's giving you a consensus of critical thinking on a hugely important movie like "Inception" what it's doing--while giving you an 86% per cent fresh-as-opposed-to-rotten rating-- is anointing critics from nowhere (or worse those seeking to flatter studios) and, worse, pretending that movies full of reservations top to bottom are actually "fresh" reviews, when more than a little rot is implied.

When I first saw Christopher Nolan's 'Inception"--and was more disappointed by it than any film I'd seen in years--I'd read two reviews, Peter Travers' encomium in Rolling Stone and David Edelstein's "tell-the-truth-at-any-costs" pan in New York Magazine. It was an even split.

I wrote my review praising the movie for being almost a perfect litmus test for those who wanted to know if they trusted a critic or not. Then I read those on "the fresh" i.e. visionary masterpiece side of the ledger:Ebert, Richard Corliss in Time Magazine, a few others I esteem.

But let me hasten to add that while Rotten Tomatoes readers are being told how dandy "Inception' is and how we should all be so grateful for such "intelligence" from a blockbuster during the summer, I'm delighted with the company I'm in among critics who don't think "Inception" is all that hot, let alone the movie of the year.

A selection.

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "With its dreams, dreams within dreams, and dreams within dreams, Christopher Nolan's 'Inception' manages to be clunky and confusing on four separate levels of reality--while out here, in this even more perplexing dream we call 'life', it's being hailed as a masterpiece on the order of '2001: A Space Odyssey.'

Slap! Wake up, people! Shalala! Slap!"

Rick Groen, Toronto Globe and Mail: "Pretty good, not bad but brilliant it surely ain't..Here a Daliesque tableau, there an Escher maze--at best, the effects are truly special, our eyes truly dazzled. But that's where the truth, and any emotional response to it stops. The rest is a murky stream of subconsciousness..Occasionally, the mania pauses for interludes of chatty exposition, including a colloquy informing us that dreamers in this particular dream world don't awaken when they die but are doomed to an eternity in limbo. Yikes. It's like watching a movie and having a catechism class break out."

David Denby, The New Yorker: "For long stretches, you're not sure whether you're in a dream or reality, which isn't nearly as much fun as Nolan must have imagined it to be...Who cares if Cobb gets back to two kids we don't know? And why would we root for one energy company over another? There's no spiritual meaning or social resonance to any of this, no critique of power in the dream-world struggle between C.E.O's."

Nick Pinkerton, The Village Voice: "With his inability to let actors occupy a scene together, Nolan couldn't pass Pathos 101 and here he's trying graduate seminar stuff....It's obvious that Nolan either can't articulate or doesn't believe in a distinction between living feelings and dreams--and his barren 'Inception' doesn't capture much of either."

Todd McCarthy, former critic for Variety on indieWIRE: "'Inception' plays like the film of a brilliant mathematician, scientist or engineer rather than a work by someone who, in another era, would have been a novelist, poet or philosopher. Nolan is a thinker all right, a very busy explorer of mind functions but capable merely of diagrams when it comes to the heart and soul"

I like the company I'm on on the subject of "Inception" very much indeed. In my view, the Emperor may not be parading around stark naked. But he doesn't look all that good in a thong either.

--Jeff Simon



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