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The Net's stealth movie critics

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Their work is secret, risky, and without reward. Their mission: to sneak into the test screenings studios use to fine-tune unreleased movies. These amateur spies are film buffs and industry insiders — from studio execs to stagehands — who post their candid reviews on Ain’t It Cool News (http://www.aint-it-cool-news.com), the Austin, Tex.-based gladfly website run by one Harry Knowles, a scoop-hunting gossip and, according to Hollywood publicity types, one-man film-wrecking crew.

Knowles has been cited for negative buzz on Batman & Robin and Speed 2 and for glowing reviews of Titanic. The studios would love to cool Harry. So far, they’ve had no luck. When Sony hit him with a cease and desist order for publishing Starship Troopers pictures prematurely, he ran the lawyer’s letter. Fox tried to fool him with four good ”reviews” of Alien Resurrection — a movie his spies happened to love. He ran one — plus a story on the episode. ”Studios like to blame people for negative things,” he says. ”And when the film does well, they like to say, ‘Look what we did!”’