Friday movie roundup – Aug. 18

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At last the day has arrived: Today “Snakes on a Plane” stops being “eagerly awaited” and starts being the only movie this summer that has been exactly what you expected it to be.

I’ve been onboard with the whole SoaP thing for a year, ever since I discovered there was a movie with that title. The title, as you know, says it all. When you inform someone that there’s a movie coming out called “Snakes on a Plane,” that person has one of two reactions. Either it’s a skeptical, disgusted “Really?,” or it’s an excited “Really?!!” The latter group is who I want to be friends with.

Or who I WANTED to be friends with, anyway. Before long, looking forward to SoaP got to be so hip it was unhip. It went mainstream. It lost its luster.

I am glad, then, that upon actually SEEING the film, my zeal for it is renewed. It’s a fun movie, and it’s exactly what you’d expect a movie called “Snakes on a Plane” to be. You have to admire that.

New Line did not screen the film for critics. Now, when a studio doesn’t screen a film in advance, that almost always means the movie is so bad that even the studio knows it’s bad. And considering how good studios are at deluding themselves, that’s saying something.

But New Line’s official reason for withholding SoaP was that since its pre-release popularity had been fan-driven, they wanted to let the fans — not the critics — be the first ones to see it.

Fair enough. But it demonstrates yet again that Hollywood has no idea how to deal with movie critics. The prevailing attitude among the studios is that critics don’t like horror movies. Hence, of the 20 movies so far this year that have been released without pre-screenings (or with only last-minute Thursday night screenings), 10 have been horror films.

The thing is, we DO like horror films — when they’re good. (We do have that stipulation.) The reason we keep bashing the horror flicks isn’t that we just don’t like the genre. It’s that the ones we’ve been seeing have been lousy.

A few months ago, in accordance with the “hide scary movies from critics” policy, the outstanding horror/comedy “Slither” was released cold. It flopped. Yet nearly all of the critics who eventually saw it loved it. So there’s a case where if they had screened it in advance, opening day would have been full of positive reviews encouraging people to see a movie that they apparently weren’t considering otherwise. Hiding it from us hurt the film’s box office, and it’s all because studio execs can’t distinguish between a good horror movie and a bad one.

The same applies to “Snakes on a Plane.” The New Line thinking holds that Movie Critics and People Who Are Looking Forward To SoaP are two separate, mutually exclusive groups. But in fact lots of my fellow critics and I were eager to see it, as giddy as anyone else over the absurdity of the title, the big, silly grins we would surely get from watching it.

Of course, as much as I try to insist that movie critics are regular movie fans, too, there are always going to be snotty critics serving as evidence to the contrary. But I think they’re in the minority. Among the couple dozen critics I know and interact with personally, I can only think of two or three who are the pretentious kind. Most of us are, you know, normal.

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I caught SoaP at a 10 p.m. showing last night with my pals Dawn Taylor and her husband Patrick. The theater was packed, almost entirely by people younger than ourselves. This was an enthusiastic crowd, to say the least. Whenever they felt too much time had elapsed without a snake appearing onscreen, they would hiss, as if to coax the snakes out of hiding. Everything Samuel L. Jackson did was greeted with roars of approval, and when he finally uttered his already-famous line — the one that’s only in the movie because the filmmakers went back and added it after Internet message boards practically demanded it — that line being “I have had it with these m*****f****** snakes on this m*****f****** plane!” — he got a standing ovation from some of the crowd.

In general, I do not like audience shenanigans, and in truth many of the snake-related things they were yelling grew tiresome after a few minutes. (Luckily, most of them realized that, too, and they stopped.) But I was delighted by one particular instance of audience participation. In the film, a stewardess tries to put two young passengers at ease by telling them a famous rapper is onboard. She says, “Do you know who’s on the plane?” At that moment about 75 percent of the audience yelled with one voice, “SNAKES!!” It was pretty awesome, actually.

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Apart from the business with the snakes and the plane, there are two wide releases today. One is “Material Girls,” starring not just Hilary Duff, and not just Haylie Duff, but Hilary AND Haylie Duff. OMG is right! Alas, it was not screened for us, though the trailer alone is enough to make me despair of ever knowing happiness again. A review will appear sometime next week.

The other new release is “Accepted,” a surprisingly funny teen comedy. The ads for it are silly, though: “From the studio that brought you ‘American Pie,'” they say. From the STUDIO?! From the writer, from the director, OK. I’ll even accept a “from the producers.” But the studio? Studios are vast, multinational conglomerations that release dozens upon dozens of movies, often with little or no creative input from the studio heads whatsoever. Observing that “Accepted” is from the studio that brought you “American Pie” is like saying tacos are from the country that brought you Pancho Villa. It’s true, but neither product has anything to do with the other one.

These reviews and more can be found in this week’s edition of “In the Dark,” a free and sassy e-zine that’s sent to your mailbox every Friday with reviews, DVD releases and other movie-related stuff. If you haven’t subscribed, you should, won’t you?

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