I usually enjoy Entertainment Weekly a great deal, devouring everything from Jim Mullen's Hot Sheet to the Gimme Shelter profiles of on-the-market celebrity homes to the always cheeky CyberDigest column. And, as a rule, I trust the magazine's reviews, confident that if Ken Tucker says the new CBS show The Fugitive is an A-minus, it's an A-minus. I must, however, take strong issue with the C-plus grade for the DVD release of The Patriot.
While I concede that The Patriot had its flaws, it hardly deserves the pitiful C-plus rating the usually reliable Ty Burr mystifyingly chose to bestow upon it. In dismissing The Patriot as a "revolutionary ruckus," Burr willfully ignores all that was worthwhile about this Revolutionary War epic, including the kinetic, vibrantly directed battle scenes that put moviegoers mere inches from the Redcoats. And Aussie heartthrob Heath Ledger's (10 Things I Hate About You) star-making performance as Mel Gibson's (Braveheart) eager-to-fight teenage son. And the numerous extra goodies on the DVD, including director Roland Emmerich's (Independence Day) surprisingly illuminating commentary track.
I'm not saying the movie deserved an A. Or even a B-plus, for that matter. The Patriot is rife with historical inaccuracies, and the German-born Emmerich's grasp of the colonial political climate of 1776 is tenuous at best. But don't you think at least a B would have been in order? Is this really the sort of movie that would cause one to muse that "the narrative breakthroughs of Saving Private Ryan... have been swallowed by the mainstream and digested into pap"? Apparently so, provided your name is Ty Burr.
I don't know what was going on over there at the EW offices this week, but something was definitely off. I mean, rating Fatboy Slim's new single "Ya Mama" a C? Giving a B to the WB fansite www.charmed.org? Doling out a C-minus for Keri Russell's delightful new hairdo? None of these, however, got my goat quite like the C-plus for The Patriot.
Then there's the not-so-small matter of the title of the review. "Soldier Ploy"? Upon what, pray tell, is that supposed to be a pun? When The Patriot first hit theaters, EW cleverly titled its review "Revolutionary Bore." You may have disagreed with that assessment (I certainly did), but there's no denying that it's a clear, direct play on "Revolutionary War." But "Soldier Ploy"? What's that? My only guess is that it's a play on "Soldier Boy." Should that be the case, such punnery would have to be regarded as a stretch, to be kind.
The only aspect of The Patriot review that was dead-on was the caption accompanying the photo of Gibson as lead character Benjamin Martin. The movie is, indeed, "all about the Benjamin." Gibson is in top form throughout, virtually exploding off the screen with brooding, musket-wielding bravado. But one good photo caption is not much to recommend about an entire review.
To prove that injustice was, indeed, served by Mr. Burr, we need only look at the "What We Said Then" addendum which follows "Soldier Ploy." The addendum, a paragraph-long distillation of Owen Gleiberman's June 30 review of The Patriot, concludes with his original grade for the film: B-minus. The grade is a far more accurate appraisal of the movie's worth. For some reason, though, four months later, the magazine's editors made a cowardly retreat from Glieberman's more Patriot-friendly stance, docking the film a notch. They say hindsight is 20/20, but in Entertainment Weekly's case, it seems to be more like 20/80.
I'd give Ty Burr's review a C-minus. No, make that a D-plus.