The Math of Charlie’s Angels

Charlie's Angels Full ThrottleThe problem with a movie like “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” is that it will clearly fail the critical metric applied to films like “The Pianist,” or even “The Matrix Reloaded.” This sequel is too loud, ridiculous and calculated, and yet it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. I’ve been thinking about this problem lately, about how film criticism always needs to be parsed, and how the difficulty in parsing a film review can obscure the value that an average moviegoer — someone like, say, me — might get out of watching three beautiful women shake their moneymakers and kick some ass.

Never Trust a Critic

Before heading out to the theater to see “Full Throttle,” I made a point of reading several reviews online, many of them handily collected at What I found was that, moreso than with most movies, I was fairly distrustful of what the critics were saying. Basically, I was convinced that I was going to enjoy the movie more than most any reviewer who slammed it, and I would probably like it less than any reviewer who fawned all over it.

So I started thinking, what if I didn’t have to do so much parsing? What if there were a way for critics to numerically indicate their feelings about the movie? I tried to picture a method more accurate than the standard four- or five-star rating system or even MetaCritic’s 100-point scoring system.

The problem with these methods of summarizing the quality of movies is that each is opaque; knowing that a movie has earned three stars or even 75 points doesn’t give me a clue as to what the reviewer is actually valuing. What I wanted was a system that was inherently componentized, one that could account for the subjectivity of the art of film criticism. So I drew this little sketch:

Alternative Method

An Alternate Method

This is my very rough, nascent outline for a new way of assigning numeric values to films. Basically, it assumes that there is an overall score that everyone is going to want to know, straight off the bat, regardless of what the movie is, who the reviewer is, or what the context of the film is.

But it also postulates that the overall score is made up of three basic components:

  • Craft, or how well was the film made?
  • Entertainment, or how enjoyable was the film to watch?
  • Affinity, or how much does the film mean to me?

First, before any Cahiers du Cinema devotees get all worked up, I freely admit that there’s no scientific, theoretical or factual basis for my contention that these are the definitive three components of any review. But as a filmgoer of average intelligence and above-average enthusiasm for the art of cinema, these three criteria made a lot of sense to me — these are the general areas that I evaluate each time I watch a movie.

Math as Criticism

My thinking is, by assigning numbers from 1 to 100 for each of these three areas and averaging them, the overall value could be determined. Let’s take “Full Throttle” as an example: for craft I would assign it a 55, because while it was expertly made, its direction was also shallow and cheap. For entertainment, I would assign it a 75, because I found it bracing, quick-moving and charmingly sardonic. And for affinity, I would assign it an 80, because I happen to actually like its mixture of shallowness, irony and humor.

Totaling those three scores and averaging them returns an overall value of 70, which is pretty much on the mark if I were asked to assign a single, simple score to the film. But with this method, it’s more apparent that I had some serious reservations about the thinness of the director’s work, and that at the same time I am predisposed to that very same style of filmmaking.

What this does is it accounts for contradiction — something that no other film scoring system that I’ve seen can do — while also satisfying (in the form of the overall score) that need for a high-level summary of a reviewer’s take on the film.

Look for the Sequel

Again, this is all noodling on my part. At the same time, however, I have a lot of thoughts about how this system could be put into practice. For one thing, I can see it allowing far more flexibility than I’ve demonstrated here. With a little finessing, I can see a way that critics can easily communicate much more detail about their take on the film. What’s more, I can see ways in which readers can use this system to more easily parse the reviews they read, and even separate the wheat from the chaff in a review. I’ll write about that in a future post, but not today, because it’s the start of a three-day weekend. I’m gonna make the most of it and go see a movie.


One Comment

  1. I like this! I also sometimes think movies should follow along with music reviews, the way they use “Recommeded If You Like:” or “For fans of:”. That way, you can compare it to a certain degree to similar movies and gives the audience or reader a comparable level of movie type: silly, serious, mindless entertainment, etc.

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