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Marshall Fine Headshot

What's Wrong With Rotten Tomatoes?

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A summer getaway led me to miss the press screenings of Cowboys & Aliens, The Change-Up and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. (I guess I don't think of it as a vacation because I associate that word with paid time off, no longer an option.)

So I took myself and my wife to the movies last weekend to see the latter two (since the former seemed like such a lumbering dud just from the trailers).

As it happened, it was opening weekend for both films -- but Apes sailed into the weekend with 80-plus percent positive rating from Rotten Tomatoes, while Change-Up could only manage a positive rating in the low 20s. Opposite ends of the spectrum, if you will.

And, as is often the case, I found both verdicts incomplete. Rise was fun, to be sure, with a self-assured and straightforward performance by James Franco. Yes, Andy Serkis' motion-capture performance as the rather tall chimp named Caesar is impressive; on the other hand, there's never a moment when you're not aware that you're watching a computer-generated image. And isn't that supposed to be the point -- that it's so photorealistic that you can't see the seams? There are seams a'plenty in these visuals.

There are also huge plot holes, the key one being: Where did the seeming army of chimps and simians that suddenly take over San Francisco at the finale come from? How many chimps did they have at that foul monkey prison run by Brian Cox and the corporation where Franco worked? Maybe these genetically enhanced chimps were also given the power of splitting in two, like amoebas or earthworms.

Apes is fun -- but the fact that it's better than any Apes movie in years is not the same as being a terrific movie. It's entertaining, but also too implausible and forced to let you get so caught up that you forget that it's just a movie.

Similarly, as crude and inconsistent as it is, The Change-Up is still a movie that has enough big laughs to keep you watching. And it has a certain enjoyment factor in watching two pros like Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman not only exchange riffs but exchange personalities. Its reach for outrageous jokes often exceeds its grasp -- but it's not significantly worse than Bad Teacher or Horrible Bosses.

Yet that 20-plus-percent-positive rating seems to indicate that, having given a pass to the previous films -- as well as the mildly overrated Bridesmaids -- critics decided they couldn't find something positive to say about The Change-Up. More of them found redeeming value in the meager 30 Minutes or Less.

Anyway, this exercise reminded me why I think Rotten Tomatoes creates false equivalences and forces critics to reach for black-and-white conclusions on movies where there's bound to be a lot of middle ground.

This commentary continues on my website.