Seems David Manning, the reviewer from the Ridgefield Press who raved about Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale ("this year's hottest new star!") and gave a big thumbs up to Rob Schneider in The Animal ("another winner!"), is not another Ebert after all, but a character created to pump up Sony movies by the studio's marketing machine.
Sony studio executives are shocked--shocked!--after learning that Manning is a fake.
According to Newsweek, which broke the story in this week's issue, Manning was concocted by an unidentified Sony marketing executive last July to put a positive spin on the hit-starved studio's films.
In addition to the recent plaudits for A Knight's Tale and The Animal, Manning's manufactured blurbs appeared in print ads for Sony's Hollow Man and Vertical Limit.
Newsweek says Manning's critiques were completely fabricated and the studio has launched an internal investigation into the incident.
"It was an incredibly foolish decision, and we're horrified," Sony spokeswoman Susan Tick tells the magazine. "We are looking into it and will take appropriate action."
Tom Nash, publisher for the Ridgefield Press, the small Connecticut weekly where the mysterious Manning was supposedly employed, said he became aware of the controversy more than a year ago, but initially thought it was only a mix-up with a review service his paper uses.
"We thought it was a database error that mixed up a reviewer with our paper," Nash said Monday. "We buy our movie schedules from a company called Cinemasource and [these ads] also include reviews. "We thought [Manning] was a Long Island News Day guy."
Sony wishes that were so. In Hollywood, where movie marketeers go to great lengths to generate the ever-elusive buzz (often quoting virtually unknown critics or dubious publications), the Manning deception is getting a thumbs-down review from its own honchos.
"It's hard to believe. It's terrible. Sony has to apologize and pull the ads. That certainly does cross the line. We would never, never, never, ever do that," Revolution Studios honcho Joe Roth tells Newsweek. His company produced The Animal, which Sony is distributing.
The news comes as Sony's marketing crew is taking heat for another of its recent ploys.
The studio broke a long Hollywood tradition of giving away trailers to exhibitors by paying theaters to play previews of The Animal before such blockbusters as The Mummy Returns. (The Animal placed third in its debut over the weekend behind Shrek and Pearl Harbor).
As for the Manning debacle, Sony reps say the studio is working to remove the fake blurbs from print ads across the country. However, some of Manning's quotes will still show up in newspapers that went to press over the weekend.
Calls to Manning's office were, of course, not returned.