Some of you may remember a couple of weeks ago when I posted something called the "2007 Terrible Spring Movie Preview". It was a silly little riff on movie previews and a nice little chance for me to zing some of the ones that looked really, really bad. One of the titles listed was KICKIN' IT OLD SKOOL, and in fact, it was that title that helped to inspire the piece. I'd seen the trailer for it in front of a film back in early March and thought to myself, "That looks terrible. Looks like a lot of terrible movies coming out this spring" and from that, inspiration was born. I wrote the piece up lickity-split, posted it, and got a nice little pat on the back when my friend Kim at MSN Movies Filter posted a link to it, for which I was incredibly grateful. All in all, I thought, a job well done.
Others thought differently.
Just a few days after the piece went up I received a comment on the piece from someone named "Jay" that was, to put it mildly, unkind. I was a bit surprised by how rude it was (Sample line: "Once we find those Headquarters 10 fucks who are writing this shit, we're gonna make 'em eat our shit, then shit out our shit, then eat their shit which is made up of our shit that we made 'em eat."), but knowing this is the internet I didn't give it much thought. But later that day I received an e-mail from someone claiming to be KICKIN IT OLD SKOOL star Jamie Kennedy saying that "ur exactly the shit thats clogging up the internet" and that he was going to interview me in his new movie about "internet geeks who hate everything before it comes out". I traded a few e-mails with this person thinking it was either some Jamie Kennedy fan or someone just going around claiming to be Jaime Kennedy and trying to raise my ire. The correspondence ended pretty quickly and I didn't think much about it afterwards. I did ask a few people I know in the press if they've ever had any contact with Kennedy and if the e-mail address provided was legit, but I hit nothing but brick walls. A few weeks later I'm talking to a friend of mine who writes for one of the online movie news sites and asked him if he knew anything about this. Turns out, not only was it really Jamie Kennedy, but the movie was playing the Tribeca Film Festival and my friend is interviewed in it! It was one of those "you could have knocked me over with a feather" kinda moments.
The film is called HECKLER, and I made a point of seeing it at its final Tribeca showing last Friday night. It was the only Tribeca screening I caught this year and the only film I felt both compelled and obliged to see. I really didn't have to, since it's not like I've attacked Jamie Kennedy on a personal basis or even mentioned any of his other films. I pre-judged his film, which certainly offended him and I thought I should, in a sense, hear him out. I also decided that I would actually see KICKIN' IT OLD SKOOL that same weekend in order to give it a fair shake, so it was going to be a Jamie Kennedy weekend for me. HECKLER has an interesting and legitimate topic as its subject: criticism in all its forms, from hecklers in comedy clubs and sporting events to critics of all sorts, but mainly film critics, especially those found online. Obviously, everyone has an opinion about everything, but for some reason film criticism and the internet seem to go hand in hand and according to HECKLER it's gotten out of hand. Kennedy is a very decisive performer, a love him or hate him type of comedian, although that's not based on his material per se (which is fairly routine) or his approach, but rather personality: A lot of people find him annoying. I can't say that I feel one way or another about Kennedy, since I haven't really given his career much thought. I suppose I can say that I like him as an actor, especially in the SCREAM films and THREE KINGS, but I haven't seen any of his stand-up or his starring role in MALIBU'S MOST WANTED. It seems that the worm turned for him with that film, an offshoot of his show, THE JAMIE KENNEDY EXPERIMENT, which was a kind of a CANDID CAMERA type show where he would don disguises and play practical jokes on regular folk. I caught one episode of that show and thought it was amusing in its way (I'm just not a big fan of "hidden camera" shows, unless it's TO CATCH A PREDATOR) and thought that Kennedy did a pretty good job of staying in character throughout his bits. But I guess that the one-two punch of MALIBU'S MOST WANTED and his 2005 film SON OF THE MASK rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, because he got a lot of nasty notices for them and throughout HECKLER he gets to confront most of his harshest critics, a very brave or stupid thing to do, depending on your viewpoint.
Creative types of all types are interviewed throughout HECKLER, from fellow comedians (Joe Rogan, Patton Oswald, Carrot Top) to musicians (Rob Zombie, Jewel) to sports stars (Mike Ditka, John Salley) and filmmakers (Eli Roth, Joel Schumacher) and the conscientious is clear: They all hate critics. BOY, do they hate critics. This film has given them an ample opportunity to vent and they're more than happy to take it. For anyone who reviews movies for a living or just writes about them on a harmless little blog, HECKLER will indeed be a big pill to swallow. No matter what you write, someone involved in its making will read it and take issue with it. I remember David Cronenberg once saying that he never paid any attention to film critics because when they didn't like something of his it was for the wrong reasons and when they did like something it was also for the wrong reasons, and if most creative folk were able to take that approach there might not be a movie here. But they don't, and the feelings they express about criticism are about the same: That those who criticize can't do this themselves; that they do so to feel big by just putting people down; that they're frustrated artist themselves who couldn't hack it, ect. And the thing is, they're absolutely right. Each point, no matter how viciously it's delivered (and it's pretty vicious at times) is still 100% valid. Creative types aren't just doing their job, they're doing something that they love doing and for someone who can't or won't do that to come along and say that what they're doing isn't good enough or any good at all is indeed a pretty shitty thing. So what if those people are right and so what if all that goes with the territory? No one likes to be criticized, especially by someone who either doesn't get what you're trying to do or simply isn't your audience. If you spend years of your life on something that some bozo dismisses with a few paragraphs of nasty language, wouldn't you be pissed, too?
HECKLER tries to even the sides by interviewing several critics, including my friend, along with the likes of Leonard Maltin (who, in turn, criticizes websites like CHUD) and it only briefly touches upon certain critics who are actually good at their jobs (Paulene Kael is never mentioned and they take an easy pot-shot at Roger Ebert by making fun of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, a film that's pretty much regarded as a classic these days) and positive, constructive criticism. It's certainly on the side of the artist and makes its point over and over again, but I couldn't help but feel that a bit more balance was needed. Kennedy is shown interviewing internet critics who've trashed his movies and he's briefly seen talking to Richard Roeper about SON OF THE MASK, but we never get to hear their arguements beyond the review quotes that Kennedy reads back to them. I'm sure Roeper must have explained why he disliked the film in a pretty reasonable manner, so where is that footage? And I never felt like it properly took the side of the audience. If you're in a paying audience and you're really not liking something, are you not allowed to dislike it and speak your mind?
One of HECKLER's main points is that we're getting in an age when everyone's a critic and you seemingly can't do anything without someone telling you how you suck. The scenes where you actually see comedians get heckled are among the most intersting because they show how the difference between pros (the immortal Bill Hicks tears into one heckler with his customary brilliance and even Kennedy equips himself well against a few) and those who are not (Michael Richards). But when audience members start walking up to comics to throw drinks at them or punch them in the face, something is very wrong. And when you hear some of the supposed criticism leveled at Kennedy and his films that are really more personal attacks, it's depressing because it makes legitimate, well-written criticism look bad. It's no wonder Kennedy was inspired to make this film.
So where does this leave me? I've been writing about movies off and on for many years now (occasionally getting paid for it) and I've usually tried to keep things on the level and try to not go too far. Doesn't mean I haven't flown off the handle at things I've actively disliked, but I've always tried to make it about the work and have rarely gotten personal. If I'm writing about anything, be it film or music or politics or food or whatever, I have to be honest. I'm not going to soft pedal something if I really feel like it's awful, but if I've learned anything from HECKLER, it's that it's always important to take the high road. I can't help it if someone disagrees with me, but I'm not going to be a jerk about it. I may not always be right, I may not always be wrong, but I'm going to be honest and respectful in every way. I can only hope that that those responsible for anything I've criticized can respect that in return.
With that in mind, I have decided to take the high road regarding KICKIN' IT OLD SKOOL. Simply put, no comment.