I've interviewed filmmaker Kevin Smith numerous times, in person and via telephone, and he's always been terrific - disarmingly funny, uncommonly forthcoming, self-deprecating and highly intelligent. But I'm not entirely surprised that Smith is claiming that after the critical reception his last movie, Cop Out, received, he's considering not screening his films in advance for critics anymore and making them buy a ticket like everyone else.
I first interviewed Smith for Dogma when it played the Toronto Film Festival in 1999. I wrote a feature story about the movie and the controversy that surrounded its release. Then, a week later, I wrote a two-and-a-half star review. I next spoke to Smith for a feature story about Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, then gave the movie two stars. Smith called me out on his message board when that review ran, accusing me of pretending to have liked his movie when we spoke in person, then turning around and stabbing him in the back.
This is the thing: I learned very early in my career (when I was very young and green and interviewed Michael J. Fox about For Love or Money, and asked him point-blank if he was disappointed in the finished film) that you simply don't tell actors and filmmakers you didn't blindly love their movie. It's rude, it puts them in an impossible position, and what are they supposed to say?
After Smith publicly stated he felt I had betrayed him (I've searched but I can't find his post online anymore), I decided I would never again write a feature story about a movie I didn't genuinely like. Since then, my mantra to publicists who pitch me interviews has been "I need to see the movie first." If I don't like the film, I turn down the interview. I did this a couple of weeks ago, when I was offered an interview with John Cusack for Hot Tub Time Machine. I've never spoken to him and was very interested. Then I saw the movie and politely declined.
The next time I interviewed Smith - for Jersey Girl, a movie I really enjoy and think was unfairly trampled by the Jennifer Lopez-Ben Affleck affair - the first thing we spoke about was his reaction to my negative review of Jay and Silent Bob. In my defense, I explained that I had wanted to interview him, even though I hadn't loved his movie, and dwelled on the positive during our chat out of respect. He argued that he came away from the interview believing I thought Jay and Silent Bob was funny, and he felt like a chump when he read my review. I can understand that.
The difference between Smith and, say, Michael Bay or Martin Scorsese, is that Smith still reads his reviews and cares about them, even though he's at a point in his career when you'd think he would be beyond that. He is, at heart, very much the ordinary guy he puts forward on his website and on his podcasts. That's what makes him such a great interview subject, and that's why he takes negative reviews so personally.
Smith is blaming critics for not taking Cop Out on its own terms - a silly buddy comedy - but he's not acknowledging the reality: The movie just wasn't funny. Despite all the drug references in his films, Smith always claimed to never partake of narcotics, until he started habitually smoking weed during the making of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, which was a perfect marriage of his vulgar humor and his romantic sensibility. Maybe all the pot-smoking has made him paranoid, but I'm disappointed in Smith's newfound attitude toward critics. I'm also baffled as to why he's taking the reviews of his most impersonal film to date so personally, I really want to see Red State, his next film (a horror picture!) and I'd love to talk to him about it, too - if it's good. Put down the pipe and nut up, Kevin. Sheesh.