Monday June 4 6:56 PM ET

Hollywood gives thumbs down to fake critic

By Arthur Spiegelman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - David Manning was a film critic only a Hollywood studio could love -- he always said what you wanted him to say. If Siskel and Ebert gave two thumbs up to a movie, David Manning would give three.

If he sounds too good to be true that's because he is. Over the weekend, Newsweek exposed Manning as a fake made up by someone in the advertising department of Columbia Pictures.

Columbia, a unit of Japanese electronics giant Sony Corp (news - web sites). , promised a full-scale investigation followed by ''appropriate action.'' In short, heads may roll.

Meanwhile, all of Hollywood seemed to have one question and one question alone about the embarrassing discovery made by Newsweek reporter John Horn: why did someone at Columbia bother to invent a friendly critic, when he or she could have reached out and touched someone real?

``You don't need to make up quotes in this town. They've got 'Quote Whores' who will do that for you. There are plenty of people who like everything they see and like to see their names in the paper,'' said Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel.

HOLLYWOOD AGREES

It was a sentiment echoed across town, not least of all at Columbia where executives were shaking their heads and using words like ``stupid'' to describe the Manning stunt.

Leonard Maltin, the film critic for the ``Entertainment Tonight'' television program, said, ``I laughed because it was absurd on so many different levels. There already seems to be no shortage of people to give studios the quotes they want and the studios have no compunction about quoting the most obscure film critics in America.''

One studio recently was reported to have called ``critics,'' asking them if they would be willing to say certain nice things about their films that could run in the advertisements.

But according to Newsweek, the beautiful part of David Manning was that you didn't even need to call him. He gave a string of recent Columbia films gushingly positive comments on the spot without being asked.

Rave reviews attributed to Manning included calling Australian actor Heath Ledger of ``The Knight's Tale'': ``this year's hottest new star!'' and describing Rob Schneider comedy ''The Animal'' as ``another winner!''

Sony Pictures Entertainment, the parent of Columbia Pictures and movie-making arm of Sony Corp. pulled ads that quote Manning, who was described as working for the The Ridgefield Press in southwestern Connecticut, a real weekly paper with a circulation of 6,500 and no regular film reviewers.

``We buy capsule reviews from Newsday and I don't think they liked those films as well as David Manning did. We got a call from a Columbia executive apologizing and assuring us that action will be taken,'' said the paper's publisher Thomas Nash.

Nash added, ``At first we were amused then we started to get irritated by all the attention.''

Los Angeles-based film critic F.X. Feeney says the studios often want to boil a critics' words down to adjectives like ''thrilling'' followed by three dots.

``My first reaction was to laugh but then I realized that this is so disrespectful. I write carefully and don't get blurbed but certain critics fall into the trap of being quotable. It is important for critics to be careful and not be a branch of the publicity business.''

But as critic Maltin recalled, sometimes it doesn't matter what you say. ``Many years ago I reviewed a film in which the star was hyped as 'the new James Dean.' I was very careful and said as for his being the new James Dean, I would have to wait and see more of his work. The ad quoted me as calling him '...the new James Dean'. All you need is three dots.''

Time critic Schickel said that despite Manning's lack of existence he did agree with his assessments of Ledger as a hot new star and ``The Animal'' as a winning film.

Maybe Manning has a future after all in Hollywood.

Reuters/Variety REUTERS