(Photo by ©20th Century Fox Film Corp.)
The late Tony Scott worked with Denzel Washington five times over the course of his nearly three-decade Hollywood career, forging a relationship with the powerhouse actor that began with 1995’s Crimson Tide. The one collaboration that proved to be a miss for critics was Man on Fire, the 2004 action thriller based on a novel about John Creasy, an alcoholic former soldier and operative who takes a job as a bodyguard for a young girl (Dakota Fanning) in Mexico City and embarks on a tour of vengeance when she is kidnapped.
At 38% on the Tomatometer, the film ranks near the bottom of both Scott’s and Washington’s extensive filmographies, and it’s the worst-reviewed of the movies they did together. Critics largely agreed on Washington’s uncanny ability to fill up the screen with his brooding charisma, but many of them also pointed to what they felt was the film’s bloated runtime and excessive, unnecessarily brutal violence.
But there remains a contingent of fans who were fully on board with John Creasy’s particular brand of vigilante justice. The movie’s title is Man on Fire, after all; you sort of know what you’re in for when you sit down to watch it, and “Denzel Washington takes out a bunch of bad guys” was essentially the selling point. In fact, Man on Fire’s 89% Audience Score is the highest of the five movies Scott and Washington made together — even higher than Certitifed Fresh winners like Crimson Tide (83%) and Unstoppable (72%).
So what did audiences see that critics missed? Or, more to the point, what were audiences able to stomach that critics weren’t? Our very special guest this week has some thoughts on the topic. Jay Ellis is just about to wrap up the fifth and final season of HBO’s hit comedy Insecure, on which he plays the longtime boyfriend of star Issa Rae’s character. However, Ellis also happens to have a Tony Scott-related project on the horizon, as he’s set to appear in next year’s Top Gun: Maverick alongside Tom Cruise.
Ellis joins RT’s own Mark Ellis (no relation… they think) and guest co-host Sharronda Williams of Pay or Wait (Jacqueline is away covering awards season developments) to chat about why this critically maligned film is so beloved by the fan community. While Sharronda admits a recent rewatch of the film revealed a few problematic moments, she still loves it, and Jay recounts the first time he saw Man on Fire as a college kid in Oregon. Then, of course, they dive into the final season of Insecure and the other projects Ellis has coming up.
Check in every Thursday for a new episode of Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong (A Podcast From Rotten Tomatoes). Each week, hosts Jacqueline and Mark and guests go deep and settle the score on some of the most beloved – and despised – movies and TV shows ever made, directly taking on the statement we hear from so many fans: “Rotten Tomatoes is wrong.”
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Meet the hosts
Jacqueline Coley is an editor at Rotten Tomatoes, with a focus on awards and indie coverage but with a passion for everything, from the MCU to musicals and period pieces. Coley is a regular moderator at conventions and other events, can be seen on Access Hollywood and other shows, and will not stand Constantine slander of any kind. Follow Jacqueline on Twitter: @THATjacqueline.
Mark Ellis is a comedian and contributing editor for Rotten Tomatoes. He currently hosts the Rotten Tomatoes series Versus, among others, and can be seen co-hosting the sports entertainment phenomenon Movie Trivia Schmoedown. His favorite Star Wars movie is Jedi (guess which one!), his favorite person is actually a dog (his beloved stepdaughter Mollie), and – thanks to this podcast – he’s about to watch Burlesque for the first time in his life. Follow Mark on Twitter: @markellislive.