As someone who watches most new releases, I wind up listening to critics on the margins. If the logline and advertising make a movie look brutal, and I'm not obligated to see it, I'll sometimes skip the screening (if there is one) and wait for the critics to weigh in. If the reviews are middling-to-decent, I'll bite the bullet and go. If they seem to confirm my initial impression, I might let that particular film pass.

Except sometimes that method fails me. As I've learned over the years, and as an experience last week proved for me beyond a shadow of a doubt, the mainstream critical establishment is not to be trusted when it comes to comedies; in particular, when it comes to the type of comedy that conceals intelligence under a sophomoric facade. Time and again, I've seen comedies panned, gone anyway, discovered a smart and funny gem, and wondered what the hell everyone's problem is.

An example. James Berardinelli introduces Fired Up!with this horrifying line: "Move over, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer!" "No one in this movie has an idea in their bubbly little brains," moans Roger Ebert. The Detroit News' Tom Long calls it the latest in "a million-mile-long line of purposely dumb adolescent sex comedies" (though he does give the film a C+ for not being "painful"). On and on like that, to 30% on the tomatometer.
Reading these, you would be forgiven for thinking that Fired Up! is totally witless, akin to feeble teen raunch-fests like National Lampoon's recent output or, as Berardinelli suggests, the monstrosities generated by Friedberg and Seltzer. But... but... I don't see how anyone could say such a thing. Did we see the same movie? I totally get how someone might find Fired Up! unfunny. I found it hilarious, but sense of humor is a deeply personal thing (which is an independent reason not to listen too closely to the critical consensus on comedies). But to call Fired Up! "dumb" is, it seems to me, simply false. It's self-referential, subversive, constantly playing with the cliches of the genre, doing something very particular and, to my mind, interesting. Again, you might not find it as interesting. But the number of critics who said or implied that the movie was a stupid and worthless throwaway just confounds me.

I can think of a number of other examples of this phenomenon. Hollywood Homicide. Sorority Boys. Stuck on You. All films with a distinctive, bona-fide comic sensibility, and subtleties hiding under a broad exterior. It's clear as day to me that these movies were made by smart folks who had specific ambitions and weren't remotely trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. But they were greeted with a barrage of insults from a whole bunch of smart folks.

I'm afraid that I'm coming off here as just angry that people disagree with me. But I really do think that there's a stubborn unwillingness to recognize genuine wit when it's buried under coarseness or silliness. I guess this is just a long way of saying that you should ignore the bad reviews and go see Fired Up! if you can. And that making a smart movie that plays like it's stupid is an underappreciated art of its own.