At The Movies Retrospective Part 3: Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper

We’ve now entered the second half of this cockamamie retrospective idea, and I’m pretty sure by the end I will have close to 50 accumulative hits! I would just stop altogether, but for my loyal readers I persevere. After all, we here at Everyview only give up on good ideas.

So here’s my take on Ebert and Roeper.

After original co-host and balcony mainstay Gene Siskel died of a brain tumor in early 1999, there was speculation the show, better known to the public as Siskel and Ebert, would be unable to continue with one-half of the duo deceased.

However, Ebert quickly let it be known he fully intended to keep the series running, continuing it for well over a year-and-a-half with 26 different guest critics.

Then in September 2000, it was announced Chicago Sun Times columnist Richard Roeper would accept nearly impossible task of sitting across the aisle and debating movies with Roger Ebert week after week. But while replacing Siskel wasn’t something he could have ever done, it’s hard to look back on the tenure of Roeper as anything but admirable.

While I haven’t gone through the experience myself, I don’t imagine going toe-to-toe with Roger Ebert is not a particularly easy task. Not only is he very knowledgeable about film, but he has always seemed very aware of just how knowledgeable he is. In fact, in archival interviews, he more or less said he and Gene Siskel made it a point to try to discredit the other’s opinion whenever possible. Working with him wasn’t a job for a ninny.

Luckily, Richard Roeper was no ninny, as he was able to win over even some of the most skeptical ATM fans who likely wanted nothing to do with him initially. From day one he got in and mixed it up with Ebert, which prevented the show from losing its thunder.

Like Gene Siskel, Roeper was not only able to get away with challenging Ebert, but was also very adept at making fun of his opinions. Whether it was an all caps “You are kidding me!” reaction to Ebert’s Thumbs Up review of Van Helsing or mocking his recommendation of Garfield: The Movie for two years, right up until he gave a similar nod of approval to its sequel A Tale Of Two Kitties, Roeper kept the trademark fights which made Siskel and Ebert so watchable for years, and ensuing he wouldn’t only be remembered as Gene Siskel’s replacement.

Another good sign was Roeper’s ability to take criticism as well as dish it out. Perhaps my all-time favorite Ebert and Roeper moment was a review of a 2003 movie Laurel Canyon, which features a lesbian makeout scene (one which is, if I may editorialize, ungodly sexy) between Frances McDormand and Kate Beckinsale.

After splitting on the review, Roeper, who voted Thumbs Up, argued the scene “grew organically out of the story,” to which Ebert, he of the Thumbs Down vote, retorted, “something may grow organically but I don’t think it comes out of the story.”  If you can’t take pleasure in hearing two intellectuals talk like that on TV, something is wrong with you.

My only knock on Roeper was as a critic he was sort of predictable. “Hard-R” comedies always got Thumbs Up, British Comedies got Thumbs Down, all horror movies not named The Devil’s Rejects got Thumbs Down with a side note of “I appreciate good horror movies, see my Thumbs Up for Devil’s Rejects” and every time George Clooney made a sanctimonious political espionage thriller set in the desert, it was guaranteed to top his list of the best movies of the year.

Perhaps it gives him more of an everyman feel, but the spontaneity of not always knowing what Siskel or Ebert would have to say made their At The Movies incarnation slightly better.

Final Words:

The pairing lasted until 2006, when Ebert’s throat cancer impaired his ability to speak to the point where he could no longer do the show. Roeper continued until 2008 with a string of guest hosts, ranging from future replacements Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott, to odd celebrity fill-ins like Jay Leno and John Mellencamp, before his contract ran out.

While he’ll never be as revered as the two men who came before him, Richard Roeper must be complimented for doing the very difficult task of stepping into a legend’s shoes without soiling the dignity of the dynasty he helped create. Seeing as how he was the last quality host to step down, it wouldn’t be unfair to say At The Movies died with him. At the very least, he was perhaps the last critic on the show where the viewer hadn’t wished for their own death so as to get out of watching anymore (though to be fair, I never actually contemplated suicide during the Phillips/Scott tenure).

Ebert and Roeper score: 8.5/10

Similar reviews:
Lyons and Mankiewicz
Phillips and Scott

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