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Jerry Bruckheimer and ‘The Con Air Effect’

Jerry Bruckheimer and 'The Con Air Effect'

Uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer has not had a fresh movie on Rotten Tomatoes in a decade, since 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” In that time, he’s released a dozen movies — not including next month’s “The Lone Ranger” — all of them “rotten.” In that same stretch of time, he’s produced seven films that grossed over $100 million in the U.S. alone, including three “Pirates” sequels, “Bad Boys II,” two “National Treasure” films and a movie about a bunch of talking animals trained by Zach Galifianakis to be secret agents for the United States government.

So there is something of a disconnect between Bruckheimer’s audience and Bruckheimer’s critics; the former loves (or, at the very least, continues to financially support) his work, while the latter does not. At the Huffington Post, Mike Ryan addresses that disconnect in an interview with Bruckheimer. Here’s that portion of their conversation:

“Of all of your movies, the one I disliked the most when I first saw it in a theater was ‘Con Air.’ Now, I can’t not watch it if it’s on television. Please explain this.

You know [laughs], I think it’s a tough milieu. It’s kind of twisted, a little bit. That’s what it is. You have these despicable characters and another character who’s in prison because he did something he shouldn’t have done, but he was right because he was defending his wife and child at the time. And I think that’s part of it.

In 1997, I would never have believed that one day I’d have an appreciation for ‘Con Air.’

I’ve been though this *a lot* with journalists. We made a movie years ago called ‘Flashdance’ and I remember one journalist just giving us the worst review ever. Then, about five years later, we get this kind of love letter — that he totally ‘missed’ it. That he loved the movie. And it’s kind of the same with you that anytime it’s on, you have to watch it. It happens, you know.

I feel that some of your movies are so big, it becomes more of a cultural phenomenon. They become iconic.

We certainly have people who don’t like what we do — a lot of critics think that some of the stuff we do is not for them. My wife always says to me that if you look at music critics, there’ a critic for classical music and a critic for opera and a critic for pop music — but, for films, the critic who loves ‘My Dinner with Andre’ is the same guy who is going to write a review on ‘The Lone Ranger’ and they’re not gong to see the same movie. So, that’s kind of what happens with movies. You have people who are into art films who certainly aren’t going to like mass audience movies. And that’s what we make.”

Bruckheimer’s making two different arguments (or excuses) here. The second — that there should be different types of film critics for different types of movies — is not one I generally support. True, there are specialized music critics. But there are other music critics who review hip-hop and rock and jazz. Television critics review sitcoms and dramas and reality competition shows. Even Bruckheimer himself makes different kinds of movies — some darker, like “Black Hawk Dawn,” some lighter, like “Confessions of a Shopaholic” (all right, that one’s pretty dark, too). I want a film critic who’s seen all of them, and can write from a place of knowledge about where they, and he, fit into a broader cultural context. Good film critics like all kinds of movies and they don’t discriminate — except for quality. 

The first argument though, which relates back to Mike’s comment that he initially hated “Con Air” and now finds himself compelled to watch it over and over, is a bit more interesting. Bruckheimer agrees: his movies tend to grow on people, like the anonymous critic the producer claims wrote him a letter apologizing for his nasty review of “Flashdance.” If we use 2003 as our arbitrary line of demarcation and look to the decade prior to it on Rotten Tomatoes, we see a lot more fresh ratings — six in total, including “Enemy of the State,” “Crimson Tide,” and “The Rock.” 

It’s worth noting that Rotten Tomatoes didn’t launch until 1998, which means a fair number of the reviews of movies from before that year were written with the benefit of hindsight, as reviews of DVDs or Blu-rays. I mean, are Bruckheimer’s pre-2003 movies that much better than his post-2003 movies? Is “Glory Road” 20% points crummier than “Remember the Titans?” Is “Bad Boys” 20% crummier than “Bad Boys II?” Is “Enemy of the State” 35% better than “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time?” (Okay, yes. Yes it is.)

My point is that Bruckheimer may be right. His movies may indeed reap the benefit of what we could term “The Con Air Effect” — the way cheesy, mindless, watchable movies amplify in your mind with each successive viewing on basic cable. If we wiped the board and re-reviewed all of Bruckheimer’s post-2003 work, I would bet some would reap much improved percentages, including “Bad Boys II,” “National Treasure,” and “Deja Vu,” which might be too smart to qualify for “The Con Air Effect” but has nonetheless undergone a serious critical reevaluation from Tony Scott auteurists in recent years. Other non-Bruckheimer movies off the top of my head that have definitely benefited from The Con Air Effect: “Commando,” “The Fifth Element,” “Timecop,” “Hot Rod,” “You’ve Got Mail,” and any comedy ever made by Will Ferrell.

I’m not necessarily arguing that Jerry Bruckheimer is a brilliant artist of the modern cinema. But I am kind of arguing that at his best, Bruckheimer makes very accessible, very likable, very rewatchable movies that are specifically designed to be consumed over and over again — and that’s not something a critic can always glean from a single viewing. So maybe we do underrate his work, at least in the short term. 

Reevaluating an filmmaker’s work: what a feeling. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cry silent tears full of pride.

Read more of “Jerry Bruckheimer on ‘The Lone Ranger,’ Goose Not Dying in ‘Top Gun’ & ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ With Sylvester Stallone.” For more on Jerry Bruckheimer’s films, read “‘Top Gun’ and the Bruckheimer Hero.”

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