Movie reviews just don’t come much more relentlessly upbeat than F.X. Feeney's testimonial in Variety for “Road to Nowhere,” a film written by Variety's executive editor Steven Gaydos (pictured), the No. 2 editor behind Timothy Gray.
Feeney has been a regular contributor to Variety — and notably, the features department Gaydos oversees — for more than a decade.
UPDATE: Reached by TheWrap Friday, Feeney — a longtime L.A. Weekly film critic — said he wasn't pressured by Variety staff to write a positive review, but he was aware of the possible conflict of interest.
"I thought I could write this with integrity," insisted Feeney, who describes himself as an enthusiast of Monte Hellman, "Road to Nowhere's" director.
Certainly, he loved the new movie.
"(Director) Monte Hellman’s first feature film in 21 years is one of his finest and deepest, a twin peak to his 1971 masterpiece, ‘Two Lane Blacktop,’” gushes Feeney — in his lead — after seeing “Nowhere’s” Venice Film Festival premiere.
UPDATE: The review, published Thursday, was prominently displayed on Variety's website, adjacent to an ad for the movie purchased by the film's international distributor, Entertainment One.
In his write-up, Feeney struggles to find flaw in the youth-oriented “Road,” noting that Gaydos’ script “feels tailored with a knowing and loving eye toward the quiet, headstrong antagonists who populate Hellman’s best work. The story abounds in film-savvy references, such as a line clipped from ‘The Lady Eve’: “I coulda sworn they was the same dame!'"
At the bottom of the review, it’s disclaimed that the article was intentionally assigned to an “impartial non-staffer,” adding that Feeney has, in the past, written reviews of two other films with Variety staffer involvement.
That's true. And he liked those movies, too.
In 2007, Feeney called since-ousted Variety film critic Todd McCarthy’s documentary on filmmaker Pierre Rissient “first-rate festival and arthouse material” with “populist rhythm and (a) wealth of well-chosen film clips from the past half-century (that) predict a healthy life on pay TV, DVD and Internet venues.”
A year earlier, Feeney reviewed the HBO documentary “Boffo! Tinseltown’s Bombs and Blockbusters, a film executive-produced by Gray, former Variety chief Peter Bart and former publisher Charlie Koones (now on TheWrap's board of directors).
"With a cast of all-star hitmakers frankly and humorously recalling where they’ve gone wrong — offset by lyrical, superbly cut montages of film clips which demonstrate where they’ve gotten it right — ‘Boffo’ moves with the wit and speed of a musical number,” he wrote.
As for how kosher all this is as relates to standard editorial policy, big-city papers like the New York Times review their writers’ book projects all the time, with staffers often complaining of harsh handling of their works in print.
UPDATE: For full disclosure, the writer of this story worked at Variety from 2004-2009.
Meanwhile, for projects involving top-level editors, classy pubs tend to avoid the mess altogether. The New Yorker, for example, does not review the outside projects of its editor, David Remnick.
Finally, Feeney's rather buoyant viewpoint on "Road to Nowhere" is hard to kick the tires on, since no other major outlets have reviewed the film yet.