Artificial Intelligence

Ever see the movie Freddie Got Fingered? I did, and I have to tell you, it is “awesome.”

It “sizzles with the electric energy” of Tom Green. It has “great special effects,” including a baby getting spun around by its umbilical cord and Mr. Green having “sex with animals.” Rip Torn gives a “tour de force” performance and often “pulls down his trousers.” It’s “a real crowd-pleaser,” “better than Deuce Bigolo” and “a movie you’ll want to see a second time.”

Believe any of this?

David Manning didn’t review Freddie Got Fingered—he typically pays more attention to Columbia Pictures than to 20th Century Fox—but he would likely appreciate the tone of the review. In the happy-happy world of movie ads—where films that aren’t “masterful” are “superb” and those that aren’t “poignant” are “heart -wrenching”—Manning has been particularly enthusiastic about telegraphing his glee.

Problem is, Manning isn’t a critic. He also isn’t a live person. He was invented by Columbia Pictures (which is owned by Sony Pictures) to say nice things about its movies.

Oh, and he did say nice things. He thoroughly enjoyed A Knight’s Tale, for example, and was particularly smitten by its lead actor, Heath Ledger (“this year’s hottest new star!”). He also chortled his way through The Animal, the latest Rob Schneider epic, catching his breath afterward long enough to declare, “The producing team of Big Daddy has delivered another winner!”

Alas, Manning’s love was real. But he was not.

Do I care? Not really.

Debating the credibility of movie ads is about as silly as some of the movies themselves. In an industry that’s learned to refer to a certain pack of critics as “quote whores,” it’s tough to expect high standards. Ply these guys with food and drink in a warm, sunny locale and you’ve got your rave review.

We’re not exactly being duped. We’ve learned not to write our elected officials every time two or three comedies starring Saturday Night Live alums all claim to be “the funniest movie in America.”

Even excerpted opinions from the more respected critics often can’t be fully trusted. As Leonard Maltin pointed out last week, if a reviewer casts doubt on an actor’s reputation as the next James Dean, a helpful ellipsis will ensure that the guy is, indeed, ” … the next James Dean.” This is tougher to detect, but by no means a savage ethical breach.

Since it is such buggy terrain, it begs the question: If so many of these reviews are manufactured, why are we shocked when someone saves a buck by manufacturing the reviewer? It does eliminate one unsavory element—the greedy hack. For all his faults, I sort of like David Manning. He’s a quote whore minus the whore.

Perhaps we should stop insisting that critics must, technically, exist. Surely it would be more fun for the copywriters. And for us, too. Just once I’d like to see an ad declaring Freddy Got Fingered a “sure Oscar winner” and Tom Green the next Marlon Brando.

If the movies aren’t funny, at least the ads might be.