Thumbs and crossroads

Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer, circa 1970.

Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer, circa 1970.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel monopolized the televised film-critic market with At the Movies ever since beating off a slew of imitators in the 1980s. The show became an institution, but Ebert was making Siskel’s lightweight replacement Richard Roeper look like the “bad cop” critic even before thyroid cancer forced him off the air in 2006.

While the first attempt to revive At the Movies only succeeded in making a doofus pariah out of E! personality Ben Lyons, Ebert focused on his writing and his recovery. A series of surgeries have left him unable to speak, but he recently returned to TV with a new iteration of the show called Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies.

Ebert only contributes a brief segment called “Roger’s Office” (with his disembodied voice provided by Bill Kurtis), so At the Movies centers on two new thumb wranglers, Associated Press critic Christy Lemire and Chicago Reader contributor Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. Lemire has been the main Sacramento Bee critic since they started contracting out their reviews, and although intelligent and attractive, she doesn’t bring much to an argument besides good taste.

The show is once again trying to skew young, with the 24-year-old Vishnevetsky positioned as Ben Lyons 2.0, only more focused on film history than quote whoring. Vishnevetsky may look like James Agee next to Lyons, but arguing dispassionately in favor of dreck like No Strings Attached, The Company Men, The Dilemma, The Green Hornet and The Mechanic lands him closer to Roeper territory.

There are also brief “correspondent” pieces from a variety of contributors to take pressure off the inexperienced stars, but those segments lack motivation and insight. It’s good to see semi-credible film criticism back on TV, but Ebert Presents At the Movies feels more like the end of something than the beginning.