A.O. Scott, World Heritage Site

One of the reasons I keep coming back to the NYT, in spite of it all, is A.O. Scott. What in other hands would be exasperated snark — the kind that lowers the reviewer more than it lowers the already abysmal reviewed — in his reads like an understatement crafted to spare the reader the pain he endured in the screening room. The act of merciful reportage is revealed as the true entertainment it is. This is probably as close to the British style as American criticism can or should come, and occasionally, as here, Scott exceeds it:

There is no question that this movie, the first feature directed by Jeff Lowell, whose screenwriting credits include “John Tucker Must Die,” could be much worse. But it also could have been, with a little more effort, a lot better. The cast members are talented and game, but they struggle with some borderline-incompetent direction and a series of humorous situations that are less than fresh. I mean, sure, it’s always hilarious when a beautiful woman is squirted in the chest with mustard, or when Mr. Biggs’s arm catches on fire. But an extended bout of flatulence and a dessert-flambéing mishap don’t really yield big laughs. For good measure, there’s also an elderly priest and an overweight dog.

Near the end the guy rushes to the airport to catch the girl. This stunning plot development seems to have been designed either to elicit sympathy for the striking writers by giving a foretaste of the inferno of cliché into which their continued absence will plunge us all, or else to undermine that sympathy with a brazen display of hackdom. But maybe I should give Mr. Lowell a few points for originality, since this is to my knowledge the first rush-to-the-airport climax to feature a talking parrot riding in a taxi.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong: Scott’s not so great.