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The top-secret formula for decoding Toronto Star movie reviews, revealed

Everyone’s a critic, right? Well, at the Toronto Star, even its film critics don’t seem to be too, well, critical these days. Every other week, there’s a three- or four-star (out of four) review popping up. And unless it’s been an especially good year for movies (editor’s note: it has not), then there’s only one answer to why the reviews are so darn positive: math.

Through some crack investigative work—and one very-soon-to-be-sorry radio room intern—The Hype has managed to get a hold of the entertainment department’s top-secret “ridiculously absurd virtues for entertainment” equation, or RAVE for short. This classified formula reveals just how critics manage to award stellar reviews to such universally acknowledged dreck as Alice in Wonderland (3 1/2 stars, but 53 per cent on, the remake of Death at a Funeral (three stars, but 51 per cent on metacritic) and, shudder, The Twilight Saga: New Moon (three stars, but a pitiful 44 per cent on metacritic).

Herewith, the math behind a Toronto Star movie review.

The formula breakdown, after the jump.

RR - A rave review from Star critics Peter Howell, Bruce Demara, Susan Walker, Linda Barnard or freelancer Jason Anderson, who’s usually saddled with reviewing films that a) the other critics don’t want to see, or b) aren’t screened for critics (flop alert!), and thus has to catch Friday showings for his review to make it into Saturday’s edition.

PE – The number of “populist” elements in a film, i.e., does the movie star George Clooney and/or other audience favourites, such as Tina Fey, Johnny Depp and talking dragons? (Also acceptable: vampires.) But if the film is directed by Michael Bay, automatically subtract one star.

USA – How American is the film? If it’s a Hollywood superhero blockbuster, this variable should be the only boost a film needs to achieve three- or four-star glory. (See Howell’s four-star review of Kick-Ass.) Subtract accordingly if the film is a teenage sex comedy, despite its unique American-ness.

CC – The all-important CanCon variable. This one is tricky: if the film is Canadian-made and -funded, then it must, by necessity, result in a loss of one star. If it’s made by Canadians who have achieved considerable success stateside, though, then this variable can be the key to the film’s success. (See Jason Reitman, James Cameron—basically anyone who will allow the Star to yell “Look, a Canadian!” when the Oscar nominations come out.) Beloved Canadian actors apply here, too—see today’s four-star review of Splice, starring Sarah Polley. Also: the rare times when a film is made by a Canadian in Canada but stars Hollywood types. (See Atom Egoyan’s generally reviled Chloe, to which Howell awarded 3 1/2 stars.)

SNB – All equations must be divided by SNB, or the “snobby” factor. Star critics surely recognize that they are writing for the most eloi of readers (to borrow a phrase from Hollywood Elsewhere blogger Jeffrey Wells describing average moviegoers), but they are critics, after all, and thus must keep up appearances. So, such award darlings as Precious, The Hurt Locker and even the emo-puppets-gone-mad Where the Wild Things Are get four-star props.

FP – Finally, any film that’s foreign or has the air of European sensibilities (cough, Chloe, cough) is also given a token rave review—whether the picture’s from Sweden (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), France (A Prophet) or—why not?—Belgium (A Town Called Panic).

  • Stezie

    This is funny but supremely vicious.
    Alice in Wonderland was complete dreck.

    But can we talk about how poorly written and space wasting “anti hit-list” is in the music pages svp?

  • Rex Saigon

    What an absurd piece. This kind of logic can be applied to the reviewer collectives of any newspaper or magazine you’d care to name. This is the kind of sour graping usually reserved for internet movie nerd discussion forums, and often aimed at reviewers for same (“He/She loved this movie I hated, and I’ve got my finger on the collective pulse of the moviegoing public, so there MUST be a conspiracy going on”). I don’t suppose it’s possible that Toronto Star reviewers are like ALL OTHER FILM CRITICS and have personal tastes that guide them? God forbid! The Star isn’t my first go-to choice for movie reviews, but I don’t see why this piece isn’t four times the size in order to include The Post, The Globe and The Sun. “A CRITICAL guide to TV, movies, theatre and music”, eh? Yeah, sure . . .

  • davEy

    Kickass was a good movie for a lot of reasons.

    Was somebody turned down for a job at the Star?