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Critics Should Look Before They Leap to Judgment

<i> Broderick Miller is a Los Angeles screenwriter who is writing "Highway Patrol" for MGM Pictures and "Bonnie Armor" for Universal Pictures</i>

Anybody else noticing this new disturbing American trend? Reviewing/analyzing/condemning movie projects: a) before seeing them; b) before they’re completed; c) before they are even begun?

Tom Cruise was publicly crucified by Anne Rice for being cast as the Vampire Lestat--before one frame of film of “Interview With the Vampire” was even exposed. Verdict: Anne Rice publicly recanted. She admitted she was wrong in a full-page apology to Cruise, fans and the industry.

Next, Sen. Robert Dole condemns a movie he admits he’s never seen (“Natural Born Killers”). At least I understand Dole’s agenda: appealing to the religious right and insecure parents afraid of teaching their own children values and moral fortitude. Lots of votes in these categories.

Then, the media skewer Kevin Costner, and anybody else connected with “Waterworld,” for a budget run amok. The movie suffered unequaled negative press--before anybody had seen the film. And yet, it still opened to $21 million--no thanks to the media.

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You may recall similar media attention did not generate box-office receipts for “I’ll Do Anything” and “Ishtar.”

I have no problem with informed criticism. But it is maddening how everybody has become so cavalier with their obituaries before all the facts are in.

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Take Howard Rosenberg’s latest, for example (“Hey, Alice! Ralph Isn’t Going to Be the Same Anymore,” Calendar, July 31). The news of Tom Arnold being cast as Ralph Kramden in a movie version of “The Honeymooners” has Rosenberg on his high horse. “How sweet it isn’t,” he writes.

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Rosenberg savages and impugns Arnold’s capabilities. He mocks producer Frank Price’s announcement of Arnold being “the ideal” actor, then attacks Arnold directly, saying his ". . . skills appear lowly measured against his predecessor’s genius.” Rosenberg suggests Arnold has no ability to match Jackie Gleason’s ". . . deep-down hurt that made you pull for him despite the tirades and rantings.”

Then how do you explain “True Lies”? Nine out of 10 people will tell you Tom Arnold stole the movie. Why? Because he infused the normally thankless action-hero-sidekick role with some touching drollery and humanity.

One-fluke wonder? OK, ask anybody about “Nine Months.” Nine out of 10 people will tell you how surprisingly poignant Tom Arnold is in the normally thankless Obtuse Jerk role. Why? Because he infused the Jerk character with vulnerability, ". . . deep-down hurt that made you pull for him despite his tirades and rantings.”

I am currently writing the movie version of “Highway Patrol,” which Arnold is slated to star in. Before you get started, his role is the son of Broderick Crawford. I have no opinion how terrific or “right” he is for the role. Because we haven’t begun shooting yet! But based on these previous performances, I’m delighted.

Everybody is fair game. But premature malediction by the media is unfair. And dangerous. You guys are too influential, and the damage can sometimes be irreparably devastating.

You can maul Tom Arnold’s acting talent all you want, Mr. Rosenberg. Just hold judgment, please, until you have actually seen the performance you are vilifying. Besides, those full-page mea culpas are pretty expensive.

Just ask Anne Rice.


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