It’s common enough for the majority of critics to have the same general opinion of a movie. But what about when they use the exact same words to express that opinion? That’s what we call a freaky coincidence. And readers have alerted me to three examples where my description of a film was echoed by other reviewers (or, if you prefer, where other reviewers’ descriptions were echoed by me).
I neglected to make a note of who brought this to my attention (sorry!), but I wrote:
“The screenplay is attributed to three writers. That means if the film’s funny parts were divided evenly among them, they each wrote zero.”
Kyle Smith of the New York Post wrote:
“The movie has five writers, so the number of funny jokes they each came up with, on average, is exactly … let’s see if I can do the division in my head … oh yeah, zero.”
With all due respect to the very funny Kyle Smith, my phrasing of the joke is better. As for the discrepancy in the number of writers — I said three, he said five — three are officially credited was writers, with two more getting “story by” credits.
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A reader named Card (not Orson Scott) pointed out a similarity:
If you check out the “Never Back Down” top critic quotes on the [Rotten Tomatoes] page, there is another reviewer that has nearly the same quote that Eric has on his. Seriously, nearly the same formula and everything. How is this possible without plagiarism?
Here’s my Rotten Tomatoes quote:
“If you combined The Karate Kid with Fight Club, then threw in a dash of The O.C. and You Got Served, then beat it with a stick until it was really stupid, you’d have something twice as smart as Never Back Down.”
And I assume the copycat Card refers to is Michael Phillips, of the Chicago Tribune:
“It’s a little Karate Kid, a smidge of Fight Club…a lot of The O.C. (evil boy Gigandet played an evil boy on that series), and presto: probable hit.”
How is it possible without plagiarism? Well, it’s only plagiarism if the copying is done intentionally. Since we published our reviews at the same time, without knowledge of one another’s work, that means it’s just a plain ol’ coincidence. (If you saw “Never Back Down,” though — and I am not for a moment suggesting you should — you would see it’s not even a terribly astounding coincidence. The “Karate Kid,” “Fight Club,” and “O.C.” connections are very obvious. Rare was the critic who didn’t mention at least one of them in his review.)
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Ampersand posted a comment on the review:
It seems that “insouciant” is a popular word for describing this film. Besides Eric, it has also been used by A.O. Scott of the New York Times and Christopher Kelly of the DFW Star-Telegram.
“Insouciant” is a very useful word. More people should use it. I actually hesitated, wondering if too many readers would be unfamiliar with it, but I’m glad I kept it. If it’s good enough for A.O. Scott, it’s good enough for me. The dictionary defines the word as “free from concern, worry, or anxiety; carefree; nonchalant,” and offers as synonyms lighthearted, debonair, jaunty, breezy. If that’s not a perfect description of George Clooney — particularly his performance in “Leatherheads,” and the film in general — then I don’t know what is.