Normally, I don’t bother to cover poorly received films here. It’s easier to focus on the positive, at least outside of the awards race. However, this is a unique situation. The mob film Gotti opened last weekend, to some of 2018’s worst reviews. Well, some of in the sense that only a very small amount of press, notably those who were granted interview opportunities, were screened the movie in advance of its release. That led, in part, to a poor showing at the box office. Then, this week, the producers tried to use social media to spin it, claiming that audiences, the few who saw it, anyway, loved it, while critics were trying to keep you from seeing it. Simply put, that’s fake news, so it’s something I’m going to address today.
The movie is a biopic of crime boss John Gotti. The plot synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes (more on the site’s involvement in this flick in a moment) is as follows: “GOTTI follows infamous crime boss John Gotti’s (John Travolta) rise to become the “Teflon Don” of the Gambino Crime Family in New York City. Spanning three decades and recounted by his son John Jr. (Spencer Rocco Lofranco), GOTTI examines Gotti’s tumultuous life as he and his wife (Kelly Preston) attempt to hold the family together amongst tragedy and multiple prison sentences.” Kevin Connolly directs a script from Lem Dobbs and Leo Rossi. In addition to Preston and Travolta in the title role, supporting players include Stacy Keach, Pruitt Taylor Vince, and more.
So, this film is apparently terrible. I wouldn’t know, since I wasn’t invited to see it. Almost no one was, and that’s part of the point. Like many a title that its producers or distributor expects to go over poorly, it was held back from almost all critical eyes. Now, some might put forward that doing so all but guarantees a bad review from a critic. As one myself, I disagree, though oftentimes not screening is a form of self fulfilling prophecy. Had anyone involved with Gotti truly felt like the work was worthy of acclaim, they wouldn’t have hid it from tastemakers.
The thing that gets my goat is the Donald Trump like approach to the score from Rotten Tomatoes. Critics weren’t stopping audiences from seeing the flick because they had an agenda. The few who reviewed in advance of release, putting their pieces up that Friday morning, were doing so because the product was crap. Claiming there was an agenda makes seeing it some sort of protest vote. Worse, the data doesn’t even back up their claims. 40% of those who saw the film did so using MoviePass, which is notable because the service took on a stake in the project at the 11th hour. So, almost half of the audience on hand represented essentially the company buying itself a ticket. These shenanigans, especially when mixed with the supposition that critics had an agenda, make the whole thing kind of gross.
What you have with Gotti is a dangerous situation. The movie is just your garden variety bad one, but that’s not even the point. It’s the attempt to obfuscate and to make it seem like that’s not the reason the film is failing that bugs me. To insinuate that critics are out to get you and that any negative criticism is tantamount to a conspiracy is part of why we’re living in such a divisive time. Sometimes, the answer is simple. Gotti was poorly made and is being ignored by consumers who want more value for their money. That’s it. Anything else is just fake news…
Gotti is currently playing in theaters. See it if you dare!