If you came here today looking for a review of “Scary Movie 4,” I apologize. I had every intention of reviewing it but several factors, not the least of which being that no “internet press” were invited to the promo screening, conspired to keep me from doing so. You and I can debate the entertainment value of seeing Dr. Phil murdered onscreen (high) or sitting through yet another rehash of gags culled from a couple years’ worth of mediocre horror movies (abysmal), but we can both reach a consensus on one thing: Hollywood really doesn’t like you.
This is hardly news, of course. Tinseltown’s contempt for the American moviegoer dates back well before “Jaws” (when studios first tasted blockbuster blood in the water) to almost the very beginning of the industry itself, and we’ve come a long way from Groucho’s question about whether a particular routine would “play in Peoria.” The last few decades have shown a marked decline in not only the quality of writing, but the number of remotely original ideas coming out of Hollywood. That there is a fourth “Scary Movie” at all, to say nothing that “Big Momma’s House” was even made to begin with (and generated a sequel of its own), is only the tip of the iceberg.
Many of us who follow movies on a semi-professional basis have been bitching about this for years because, well, that’s what we do. The downward spiral of mainstream Hollywood’s output is a big reason so many of us seek solace in smaller films and – yes – even television. Imagine receiving the screening schedule for the week of March 10th, which included the likes of “Failure to Launch,” the remake of “The Shaggy Dog,” and the remake of The Hills Have Eyes. You’d be looking forward to “The Sopranos” or “Battlestar Galactica” as well.
So don’t feel bad. They hate me, too.
The studios, like perennial media whipping boy Rob Schneider, have apparently grown tired of getting picked on by the mean old reviewing press, so many are simply deciding to take their ball and go home (Schneider at least had the stones to stick up for himself). 2006 has already seen more films released “cold” than in all of 2005. Cold openings come in two primary flavors: no advance screenings at all, and screenings on the Thursday night before opening (press may be invited to these, but few will be able to get reviews in by Friday). And then there’s another increasingly popular version; screenings that allow print and broadcast media, but exclude us online types.
Because Owen Gleiberman is the new Pauline Kael, I guess.
And as far as I can tell, there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the studios’ decisions on how these screenings are handled nationwide. Some movies, like “Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector” and “BloodRayne,” weren’t screened in advance anywhere. Others, like “Madea’s Family Reunion” and “Hostel,” weren’t shown in some cities, but were given full press treatment in others. It probably depends on the kindness of individual PR reps and arcane demographic studies I don’t even want to get into here. The point is, studios have realized they can pocket their marketing budget and release a film with no advance reviews and nobody will care. The rationale we’re hearing more and more, by the likes of Disney, Sony, and Lionsgate (who’ve said they will no longer screen horror movies for critics at all) is that studios are tired of paying for negative publicity, which is what most low budget horror movies and lowbrow comedies seem to earn. On the surface, it would seem hard to argue with them.
I’ll try anyway. First, I’ve given favorable ratings to several cold-opening horror movies (Seed of Chucky and Resident Evil: Apocalypse, to name two), and I’m far from the only one. You don’t have to be Earl Dittman or Jeffrey Lyons to occasionally find merit in a movie even the creators are ashamed of. That’s sort of the point of critics in the first place: to give you an idea what to expect from a film and better inform your ticket buying decision.
Second, isn’t refusing to show a movie to critics essentially admitting that you’re putting out inferior product? If – after funneling millions of dollars into a movie – you can’t bring yourself to allow movie reviewers to take a gander at it, maybe you should reevaluate the kind of pictures you’re producing.
In a Washington Post article, none other than Richard Roeper opined that this approach wasn’t going to work because, as he put it:
…audiences are smart. They know if a movie isn’t being reviewed, it’s not because the studio thinks it’s great.
Richard Roeper: Super Genius. The bottom line is this: Hollywood is contemptuous of audiences because audiences steadfastly refuse to offer any proof that they are smart, and have done nothing to convince the studios that they deserve to be treated better.
Disney et. al. have a point. Benchwarmers grossed almost $20 million its opening weekend. When a Stranger Calls? $21 million open. Date Movie? Also $21 million. There are exceptions, of course: “BloodRayne” and Ultraviolet had pretty dismal returns, but also opened on significantly fewer screens. An average opening weekend gross of 20 mil for 88 minutes of shots to the groin and fat jokes, on the other hand, is a pretty good deal.
These movies will continue to get made as long as you keep rewarding Hollywood for making them. Reasonable people can disagree about just about everything, but “Date Movie” and “When a Stranger Calls” were – empirically – pieces of s**t: colossal wastes of time and money that would’ve had no business getting greenlit in Turkey, much less the United States. That each of them have grossed almost $50 million to date says more about our nation’s discerning tastes than nine seasons of “Family Matters” or the inexplicable continuing celebrity of Nick Lachey ever could.
This isn’t simply about how many movies are being withheld from a******s like myself, but about the future of the industry. Hollywood knows a sea change is right around the corner, and it scares the hell out of them. Laying back and allowing them to remake “Welcome Back, Kotter” or force Chris Tucker on you again in “Rush Hour 3” permits the studios to coast by on the status quo for another year.
And they’ll do it definitely, because when it comes right down to it, all you are to them is a barely literate blob with cash, useful for nothing except supplying them with money and getting occasionally harangued for downloading movies and not doing enough about the poor state of the box office. If none of this bothers you, then maybe they’ve been right all along.
But don’t worry about it, I’m sure “Mission Impossible: III” will be a masterpiece.