Let me tell you what can strain a friendship more than anything else these days: rental movie recommendations.
Do yourself a favor, OK? If you're ever talking about movies and someone mentions one you haven't seen and says "Oh, it's great, you gotta rent it!" don't do it.
Trust me on this. The whole thing could blow up in your face.
This was driven home to me again the other day when my buddy Nate and I were hard at work in The Sun's newsroom talking about movies.
I mentioned that I had just rented Enemy at the Gates, a great flick starring Jude Law and Ed Harris about a Russian and Nazi sniper going head-to-head during the Battle of Stalingrad.
"If you liked that one, you might like Quigley Down Under," Nate said.
Never heard of it, I said.
"Tom Selleck plays this American cowboy who's an expert marksman," Nate said. "He's hired by this wealthy rancher in Australia to shoot wild dogs.
"But it turns out the rancher doesn't really want him to shoot dogs. He wants him to shoot humans. Specifically, aborigines."
OK, sounds like an interesting plot, right?
But in the back of my mind I'm thinking: How good can this movie be if I've never heard of it?
Then there was the fact that it starred Tom Selleck.
Oh, Selleck was big in his TV series Magnum P.I. with the mustache and the Hawaiian shirts and that whole thing. And he had a huge hit with the movie Three Men and a Baby.
But the guy's film career sort of flamed out after that, didn't it?
"You know what?" Nate said. "I have Quigley Down Under at home. I'll bring it in for you tomorrow."
OK, now things were moving a little too fast.
When a person recommends a movie, and then goes to the trouble of actually bringing the movie to you, that just ratchets up the pressure.
Now you have to watch the movie.
Now you can't use some lame excuse like: "Oh, I didn't get to the video store" the next time he asks if you saw it.
So Nate brought the movie in the next day, and I watched it that night. And I was, um, less than taken with it.
To me, it was way too over-the-top. By the time the bad guys beat Quigley to a pulp and toss his body in the desert and he makes a miraculous recovery and stabs one and shoots the other off his horse at 300 yards, I was rolling my eyes.
But this, of course, presented another dilemma.
If someone recommends a movie and personally delivers it to you and the movie stinks, what are you going to tell him the next time you see him?
Are you going to say: "Hey, thanks for going to all that trouble. By the way, the movie was horrible?"
No, you're going to do what any decent, thoughtful human being would do.
You're going to lie.
You're going to say you loved it.
If you really want to lay it on thick, you might even say it was the best movie you ever saw.
So that's what I was prepared to do when I saw Nate the next day.
Oh, I knew he'd want a full report on Quigley. See, people who recommend movies and personally deliver the movie to you, they want to know what you think of the movie.
They'll seek you out for days and weeks to find out. They'll follow you out of the country, if they have to.
So I wasn't surprised when Nate appeared at my desk to grill me on Quigley, except he caught me before I could shift into full Movie Lying Mode.
"What did you think of the movie?" he asked with a smile.
"Well ... ," I began.
OK, this probably should have been a tip-off for Nate.
Let's face it, anytime someone asks what you thought of a movie and your answer begins with "Well," it's not going to be a good review.
Nobody ever says "Well, I thought it was brilliant" or "Well, that was the best movie ever."
"Well" just means you're stalling for time.
At best, the next words out of your mouth will be: "It was OK."
This time, when I started with "Well," the rest of the thought just sort of tumbled out.
"Well ... " I said, "I wasn't crazy about it."
The honesty of that answer stunned me, and I made a mental note to never again tell the truth in such matters.
The good thing, though, is that Nate took the whole thing in stride, and he and I are still buddies - although he'll probably never tout another movie to me.
On a related note, you really should rent Enemy at the Gates if you haven't seen it.
It's a great movie. I liked it so much, I bought a copy the other day.
I could run it over to you, if you want.
No, really. It's no trouble at all.
To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd.