- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2001

LOS ANGELES — The revelation that Sony Pictures promoted several movies with accolades from a critic who didnt exist raises the question: Why would the studio bother? Now it has triggered a probe by the Connecticut attorney general.
In Hartford, Conn., Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday that hes starting an investigation after getting complaints from the public over matters ranging from false reviews to selective editing of reviews to produce favorable blurbs.
"We give this practice two thumbs down," Mr. Blumenthal said. "It could be deceptive and misleading advertising."
If the investigation uncovers any violations, he said, companies involved in consumer deception that occurred in the state could be fined.
Sony spokeswoman Susan Tick said the studio was still conducting its own investigation into who generated quotes from "David Manning of The Ridgefield Press."
Miss Tick characterized the use of a fake critic as "a case of incredibly bad judgment."
Curiously, some of the movies that used the phony quotes already had gotten legitimate positive reviews.
In advertisements for the Rob Schneider farce "The Animal," the fictional Manning said: "The producing team of 'Big Daddy has delivered another winner."
The photo in the ad parodies the Adam Sandler "Big Daddy" poster, featuring Mr. Schneider and a monkey facing a brick wall.
Both films were Sony movies, and one benefit of the fake quote is that it allows Sony to link "The Animal" to the successful "Big Daddy" and try to hook the same audience.
In another ad, Manning declared Heath Ledger of the action-comedy "A Knights Tale" to be "this years hottest new star." The quote itself is puzzling, considering Mr. Ledger was a new star in 1999.
The phony blurbs were spotted last week by a Newsweek reporter who challenged the reviewers authenticity.
Major critics such as Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone had lauded "A Knights Tale," and Stephen Holden of the New York Times characterized Mr. Schneiders work in "The Animal" as "ingenious."
"Its very mystifying. There really wasnt a need to create quotes for these movies," said Marla Matzer Rose, the marketing writer for the entertainment trade newspaper the Hollywood Reporter.
The person who fabricated the Manning quotes may not have realized how serious the backlash would be, she added. "It might have been a game to that person."
Tony Silver, who produces movie commercials with the company Big Screen Ideas, said it no longer matters who praises a movie in an advertisement as long as someone does.
"The absence of such quotes is more meaningful than their presence at this point," Mr. Silver said. "Praise is so ubiquitous that you almost have to get someone to say something good about the movie. Its like any form of inflation."
Most potential viewers dont read the name of the critic being quoted, Ms. Matzer Rose said. "The only thing that matters, to people who pay attention to these things, is that its some sort of endorsement, some sort of third party saying, 'This is a good movie," she said.
When well-known critics and press outlets dont praise a movie, studios often look to lesser-knowns. Some little-known reviewers quoted in movie advertisements may have received free travel, expenses and hotel rooms during interview junkets, courtesy of the movie studios.
Studio officials can look to Internet armchair critic-fans such as Berge Garabedian, who runs the Joblo Movie Emporium Web site, if they are looking for a positive quote that cant be found in the mainstream press.
"There are always going to be people who like certain movies, end of story," he said in an e-mail. "Why Sony felt the need to 'make up this critic is beyond me."
Manning quotes also appeared in ads for the Sony movies "Hollow Man" and "Vertical Limit" last year.
At the Ridgefield Press, a small weekly newspaper in Connecticut, officials said they didnt realize the papers name had appeared in the ads.
"There has never been a David Manning who works for us," Marty Hersam, managing partner of the newspaper, said Monday. "Were as surprised as anybody."

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