The long Fourth of July weekend is another kind of holiday for film lovers: The documentary about beloved film critic Roger Ebert, Life Itself, hits theaters and on-demand services Friday. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), the film began as a loose adaptation of Ebert’s 2011 memoir of the same name, but as Ebert’s health declined — he was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 — the documentary became a frank, revealing and sometimes hard-to-watch look at his final days before his death in 2013. “I think it’s so poetic that a man like Roger, who spent his whole life reviewing movies, ends up ending his life on the big screen,” Ebert’s wife, Chaz Ebert, told Flavorwire in a recent interview.
Some of those movies he reviewed over the years were great — others, not so much. Reading Ebert’s passionate praise of exemplary filmmaking was a treat for readers, but his take-downs of the very worst of box offices provided another kind of joy. Here are seven of his most entertaining negative reviews.
Giving it two stars, Ebert didn’t totally trash this star-studded rom-com from 2010, but he also concluded his review with some sage dating advice: “Valentine’s Day is being marketed as a Date Movie. I think it’s more of a First-Date Movie. If your date likes it, do not date that person again. And if you like it, there may not be a second date.”
Ebert disliked North so much, one of the collections of his most negative reviews, I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie, gets its name from his 1994 take: “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Nobody really watches Michael Bay films expecting critically acclaimed works of art, but Ebert’s review of the 2009 blockbuster is just as fun, if not more: “[The movie] is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys.”
Ebert admitted he couldn’t even make it all the way through the film in his 1980 review: “Caligula is sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash. If it is not the worst film I have ever seen, that makes it all the more shameful: People with talent allowed themselves to participate in this travesty. Disgusted and unspeakably depressed, I walked out of the film after two hours of its 170-minute length … Caligula is not good art, it is not good cinema, and it is not good porn.”
This 1984 attempt at poking fun at cop movies failed miserably: “It’s so bad, maybe you should pool your money and draw straws and send one of the guys off to rent it so that in the future, whenever you think you’re sitting through a bad comedy, he could shake his head, and chuckle tolerantly, and explain that you don’t know what bad is.”
Deuce Bigalo: European Gigalo
This 2005 piece also inspired the title of Ebert’s second collection of reviews about the worst movies: “[Deuce star Rob] Schneider retaliated by attacking [ex-Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick] Goldstein in full-page ads … ‘Maybe you didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven’t invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who’s Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers.’ … As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”
Mad Dog Time
The first line of this 1996 review doesn’t hold back: “Mad Dog Time is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time. Oh, I’ve seen bad movies before. But they usually made me care about how bad they were. Watching Mad Dog Time is like waiting for the bus in a city where you’re not sure they have a bus line.”