I’ve always maintained that one quick way to tell whether someone’s from Red America or Blue America is to ascertain his or her reaction to The Passion of the Christ. Mel Gibson’s movie about Jesus’ crucifixion was sneered at by most of the blue-American film-critical elite but embraced by tens of millions of rank-and-file red-American Christians overjoyed that a Hollywood professional for once took their religious beliefs seriously.

And now, the blogsite Beautiful Atrocities (thanks, Andrew Sullivan, for the link) has confirmed my view that the “Passion” makes an ideal red/blue litmus test. The site has collected the a list of  glowing reactions from the critics to Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11–which has got to be as extremist as anyone ever said “The Passion” was–and compared the raves to what the same critics said about Mel’s movie. What’s funny is the critics adored “Farenheit”–for the very same reasons that they hated “The Passion.”

Here are some samples from the Beautiful Atrocities site (there are many more at the site, and you can read the whole reviews at Rotten Tomatoes):

A.O. Scott, New York Times:

F9/11: “Mr. Moore’s populist instincts have never been sharper…he is a credit to the republic.”

Passion: “Gibson has exploited the popular appetite for terror and gore for what he and his allies see as a higher end….”

Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune:

F9/11: “Received both the first prize and the longest continuous standing ovation in the history of the Cannes Film Festival and it wasn’t because of some cliched French antipathy to America.”

Passion: “Lacks artistic and even spiritual balance.”

Ty Burr, Boston Globe:

F9/11: “Should be seen because it takes off the gloves and wades into the fray, because it synthesizes the anti-Bush argument like no other work before it, and because it forces you to decide for yourself exactly where passion starts to warp point of view.”

Passion: “If you come seeking theological subtlety, let alone such modern inventions as psychological depth, you’ll walk away battered and empty-handed.”

David Edelstein, Slate:

F9/11: “After the screening, a friend railed that Moore was exploiting a mother’s grief. I suggested that the scene made moral sense in the context of the director’s universe, that the exploitation is justified if it saves the lives of other mothers’ sons.”

Passion: “A two-hour-and-six-minute snuff movie’The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre’that thinks it’s an act of faith.”

Eric Harrison, Houston Chronicle:

F9/11: “(Moore) is an indispensable treasure, and his imperfections are part of the reason, because they mark him as real.”

Passion: “It’s awful because everything he knows about storytelling has been swept aside by proselytizing zeal.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post:

F9/11: “Moore exercises admirable forbearance … his finest artistic moment.”

Passion: “Gibson has exhibited a startling lack of concern for historical context.”

Tom Long, Detroit News:

F9/11: “A film every citizen of voting age in America should see.”

Passion: “The feel-awful movie of a lifetime, a filmed bloodletting like no other on record.”

Geoff Pevre, Toronto Star:

F9/11: “A plea for America’s deliverance … it may not be an argument one agrees with, and it may be unbalanced and propagandistic, but it is both convincingly argued and sincerely motivated.”

Passion: “A work of fundamentalist pornography.”

Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer:

F9/11: “A magnificent piece of filmmaking.”

Passion: “The first spiritual splatter film.”

James Verniere, Boston Herald:

F9/11: “At a time when the film industry is turning out sugarcoated, content-free junk, Moore has given American viewers a renewed taste for raw meat.”

Passion: “An exercise in sadomasochistic bullying.”

You get the idea. Beautiful Atrocities reports that Slate’s David Edelstein thinks his review of “Farenheit” was quoted out of context, so B/A advises reading the review and then deciding for yourself.

By the way, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web reported that “Farenheit 9/11” was outgrossed on its opening weekend by another opener, Jackass: The Movie. Now Taranto admits he was wrong:

“‘Fahrenheit’ brought in $23.92 million, vs. $22.76 million for ‘Jackass.’ But ‘Jackass’ came out in 2002, and using this page from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we calculated that $22.76 million in 2002 dollars is exactly $23.92 million in 2004 dollars. So call it a tie.”

Nonetheless, says Taranto, Michael Moore insists that “Fahrenheit” is doing awfully well for a documentary. Taranto counters that if “Fahrenheit” is a documentary, so, arguably, was “The Passion of the Christ”–which took in $83.85 million on its opening weekend.