My favorite film critic is unquestionably Roger Ebert. When I was a kid, I used to get his "Yearbooks" for Christmas every year, and I've watched every incarnation of his television show. I loved Siskel and Ebert, I like Ebert and Roeper, and the show currently exists in a sort of limbo state I call Not Siskel and Not Ebert. Since Ebert's unfortunate illness, the show has tried a variety of "guest critics." Usually these are film journalists -- A.O. Scott of the New York Times does an excellent job and is the closest the show has to a regular. But they've made some very interesting non-critic choices too. Jay Leno, Fred Willard, and Harold Ramis (Egon!) are just a few of the less traditional names they've brought in for the gig. Kevin Smith did a particularly nice job of co-hosting, and has been invited back. But none of these guests could have prepared me for tonight. The show comes on at 1AM here in Los Angeles, and when I saw who was sitting in I actually jolted up in bed, horror-movie style. None other than John Mellencamp was filling in for Roger Ebert! That's right, the "Cougar!" And it hurt so good!

Mellencamp did the worst job I've seen yet on the show, but it's hard to make fun. The guy's clearly not trying to be a serious critic, he's got a pretty decent day job going. He and Roeper reviewed Vacancy, Lonely Hearts, In the Land of Women, and Fracture. Of that list, Roeper only gave a positive review to Women, but Mellencamp loved each and every one, using the word "fantastic" to describe just about everything. He picked the classic documentary Grey Gardens as his video pick of the week. I don't know how they booked him or how it happened, but Mellencamp did seem to be pretty clueless in the film department. Now I suppose I could get on my high horse and say "What business does a musician have criticizing movies? Does Gene Shalit play "guest guitar" for Green Day?" But I actually think it's kind of fun to hear from these unlikely sources. And hey, Mellencamp did direct and star in a movie called Falling From Grace. I haven't seen it, but before you mock, Grace is highly respected by Ebert, who gave it a four-star review back in 1992, and Roeper, who wrote a column then offering money back to anyone who didn't like it. Apparently the staff of NBC's The Office aren't as keen on his film work. On the episode two weeks ago, Kevin said "If someone gives you 10,000-to-1 odds on anything, you take it. If John Mellencamp ever wins an Oscar, I am going to be a very rich dude."

To watch the Mellencamp show in full, keep checking the Ebert and Roeper website. Get well soon, Roger! And hurry back! Please!