This weekend will see the debut of a long-awaited film about a valiant fight between good and evil, set in a fantastical world populated by ghoulish monsters who want to drag the world into terrible darkness, with the only hope for salvation a brave young rebel who casts spells of magical gibberish. But as exciting as that sounds, surprisingly not that many people are behind Sarah Palin’s The Undefeated, at least from a critical standpoint: The documentary chronicling Palin’s victory over her many enemies, a victory achieved through maverick means such as losing and then quitting, currently boasts a rare 0-percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes—though to be fair, that’s based only on the eight critics who have bothered to see it so far.
Eight liberal elitist critics, probably, though most of them took pains to point out that they set politics aside and entered with an open mind: “I swear I gave The Undefeated a chance, because who wants to writhe in agony for two hours?” wrote David Edelstein at Vulture, more or less summing up the general preemptive protest of his fellow reviewers. Unfortunately, he reached much the same conclusion as our own Alison Willmore and the other critics about the film being little more than a glorified infomercial, and a not particularly effective one at that.
But as Edelstein also points out, there’s something strange about The Undefeated screening for New York and L.A. critics in the first place, considering it’s only scheduled to play in “heartland” cities like Houston, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and so on—and he believes it’s a strategy of counting on negative publicity from “coastal elites” to once more “be red meat for Palin loyalists, paid and unpaid, who’ll be spurred to come together yet again in the face of a common enemy” and buy up all the tickets. And while his theory is probably as paranoid as any of The Undefeated’s scenes implicitly comparing Palin’s press "attacks" to zebras being devoured by lions, it seems to carry some weight, at least, in the growing reaction to this story filed by The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, who writes of attending a midnight Undefeated screening populated solely by him and random couples who snuck in to make out (then promptly exited as Andrew Breitbart began talking about eunuchs, as anyone would).
And yes, “Sarah Palin Movie Debuts To Empty Theater” certainly makes for a great headline, but is it all part of yet another Mainstream Media Conspiracy? Breitbart’s blog Big Hollywood definitely thinks so, as it decries the “phony narrative” that’s currently being created around Friedersdorf’s account. To be fair, Friedersdorf was writing about a midnight movie screening on a Thursday that isn’t Harry Potter, and it’s highly unlikely even the most devoted Palin fan would have been there for that—and besides, as Big Hollywood's John Nolte asks, the movie already sold out in Grapevine, Texas, so where are the reports on that, besides here and here and here and here?
But according to some others, Friedersdorf’s complicity in this act may go even deeper than merely choosing a specifically iffy debut showtime: The Freedomist argues that Friedersdorf was actually tipped off by “someone from inside the movie theater, someone who must have arranged for this ‘special’ midnight showing” in order for him to have an empty theater from which he could properly write his “hit piece,” all in a sinister effort to stop the movie from being seen elsewhere somehow. “If this was Florida,” the piece concludes, “Conor might be able to convince 12 people that he is a real journalist, but this is not Florida and we find it hard to believe his intentions were ‘journalistic.’” (Yeah, take that Florida! Also, what?)
Anyway, all pretty par for the course when it comes to Sarah Palin stories, really. It’s either a vast liberal conspiracy intended to defame The Undefeated and dissuade the American people from seeing it (you know, those independent-minded American people who nevertheless also listen to liberal movie critics) or a right-wing conspiracy to goad left-wing writers into slinging the exact sort of mud that will rally and strengthen Palin’s fan base and make the movie a huge success. Whatever the case, it seems like there will be plenty of inspiration for a sequel. Maybe this time they can incorporate one of those stock footage shots of Roman soldiers pouring hot oil on barbarians to symbolize critics dumping their scathing reviews on the nation's teeming hopes and dreams?