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Is It Acceptable For Critics To Walk Out Of Movies?

Leonard Maltin has confessed to walking out of Zoolander 2 after only an hour. Is this acceptable behaviour from a  professional critic?

Words by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)


A couple of years ago veteran critic Rex Reed caused a storm by reviewing the horror anthology movie V/H/S 2. A critic, especially one seen as a member of the establishment like Reed, is always going to get some grief from a minority of horror fans for a negative review of their favourite genre, but that's not what raised the ire of film lovers in this case. Reed judged the entire movie while admitting to only actually sitting through the first 20 minutes. Despite the film consisting of five individual stories, from a variety of writers and directors, Reed somehow figured he could judge the entire project on the first segment. He was rightly lambasted by every critic with access to a thinkpiece column.
Compare the reaction to Reed's confession to the revelation this week that Leonard Maltin walked out of Zoolander 2 after an hour. Where Reed was lambasted as lazy, genre bigoted and unprofessional, Maltin has generally received praise for his stance. The commenters on his indiewire confession are predominantly of the "Bravo Leonard" variety, with many confessing to also walking out of similar Hollywood comedies.
You can put this disparity down to two main factors. Reed is an abrasive character, one who seems to purposely set out to wind up movie fans, especially in his reviews of genre fare like horror movies and comic book adaptations, ironic given his cameo in Superman: The Movie. Maltin has a similar dislike of genre movies, but his reviews are often so inoffensively bland nobody pays much notice. Plus, comedy doesn't have the same sort of rabid cult fanbase the horror genre does.
It can't be okay for one and not the other though, regardless of the quality of the movie and the personality of the critic. Lots of people walk out of bad movies, and that's their right. In this busy world of ours, time is more precious than ever before. If a film is failing to entertain, who could blame you for walking out? But in the case of professional critics like Reed and Maltin, they're not seated in the cinema to be entertained, they're there to do a job. Can a janitor decide he's taking a half day because the toilets are particularly blocked up? Can a bus driver exit his vehicle like Michael Douglas in Falling Down because the traffic is bad that morning? Being a professional critic means your job is largely enjoyable, but it can often be unbearable. That's why it's called 'work'. 
Can Maltin be excused because he didn't technically 'review' the film he walked out of? I'm not so sure. While some of us read critics for their prose, insight and knowledge, the truth is the general public just care about their opinions, and while Maltin's Indiewire piece may not be a review, it certainly lets you know his opinion of the film. I also suspect a lot more people have read Maltin's attention grabbing piece than would have read his review of the film.
Personally, I've never walked out of a press screening. For a start, it would be highly disrespectful to the distributor, who was good enough to allow me to see their film for free and before the general public get to. But mainly it's because there's simply no way I could in all good conscience review a movie I didn't see in its entirety; it would be like a sports writer penning a football match report without knowing the final score. I haven't seen Zoolander 2, and I suspect there probably wouldn't be anything to save the film if you weren't enjoying it after the first hour, but you just never know. I found the first half of The Hateful Eight unbearable, and had I taken Maltin's approach I would have penned a piece slating the film. But I stuck it through and the result was a four star review, this from someone who hasn't enjoyed a Tarantino movie since Pulp Fiction! The French gore-fest Martyrs is a movie that took all my resources to make it through. I absolutely despised every minute of that film, except for its final minute, which transformed it from a generic splatter flick into a profound piece of cinema. Maybe Zoolander 2 is redeemed by a final act that elevates it to the pantheon of great comedy cinema, but Maltin will never know. More damagingly, neither will the readers who rely on his opinion.

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