Sunday, July 30, 2006

THE YEAR OF THE CLUNKER

Well, last night I decided to beat the heat by going to a fun action movie, Miami Vice, based on the iconic 1980s crime show from TV. And as I was watching I thought it was a pretty good movie, Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx shooting up the bad guys. There were good fight scenes where the bad guys were getting shot and killed. Standard fare, I thought, but it had some good moments.

But then when the movie ended, some guy stood up in the theater and did the Joel Siegel thing, and rendered his loud verdict on the movie: "Terrible!"

I thought maybe he was joking, but I noticed that the crowd at the theater looked decidedly like a group of unhappy campers. They looked like people who bet on a horse that just lost at the races. I overheard some guy on a cellphone tell somebody: "I was at Miami Vice, it was s#!t!"

Granted, this flick has a hard act to live up to. This wasn't some crappy remake of some crappy retro TV show like Charlie's Angels or The Dukes of Hazzard. This was a remake of a show that was actually good, Miami Vice! Don Johnson! And it was full of color and it was visually appealing, that series, and the score was dynamite. I'll bet a lot of people were saying this movie suffered in comparison to that series, and they're probably right. Colin Farrell is a good actor but Don Johnson owned the role. Besides, everyone says they are fed up with these remakes and sequels, and retreads of old TV shows on the big screen.

So I guess this movie with its big budget has turned out to be garbage, and that seems to be the story of this summer at the box office. Last year was, of course, The Year of the Flop, because movie attendance went down last year and everything from bootleg videos to video games was getting blamed. But this year attendance is up, 5% last I heard. And there have been some huge, huge hits. Pirates of the Caribbean 2 set a 3-day opening record, smashing Spider-Man's numbers. And a number of movies, like The Da Vinci Code, The Break-Up, Cars, X3, and so on, have done pretty good business. So this definitely is not the Year of the Flop. What it is, this year, is the Year of the Clunker, year of The Pan. A big year for walking out of movies in disgust and telling the whole world about what a piece of junk you just saw on the screen.

It has been the mainstream Hollywood productions and the big-budget, big-star movies that have left audiences feeling particularly let down. To put it mildly, the job of a film critic this year has been really easy. Whenever they get to review some flick from some independent production company somewhere, that's their green light to write up a big positive recommendation, because these flicks have usually been good. But if they see a flick made by Disney or 20th Century Fox, or WB or Universal or Paramount or Columbia or somewhere like that, well, that's their opening to trash it. It's as if you know the movie is no good the moment you see the studio's logo. If, at the very start of the film, they run some shots of a mountain, or the world spinning in outer space, or some woman holding up a torch or something like that, then forget about seeing a good movie. These studio pics are all getting clobbered.

The critics this year have been absolutely hostile. There was the laughter at Cannes over The Da Vinci Code. There were the negative notices for The Break-Up. X3 got so-so reviews. Pirates got clobbered by the critics, but the audiences showed up in overwhelming numbers for the movie anyway. And there was the infamous Joel Siegel walkout of Clerks II. I don't remember a summer where it seemed like every "big" movie shown at the theater was a letdown in one form or another with the critics.

Moviegoers like to say they don't care what the critics think, they'll go to a film they are interested in, no matter what. But if you see enough crummy so-so flicks, guess what? You end up getting turned off wasting money at the movies. You decide maybe it's a better idea to stay home and watch CSI reruns on television. Sooner or later people will decide that they've seen all the movies they're going to see, and they really weren't so hot anyway, so why bother with this other second-rate junk?!

So, after spending an entire summer watching crud at the cinemas, the public has finally seen enough. They are venting unusual hostility with the movies they are getting these days. The reaction to Miami Vice was just the tip of the iceberg. Some big name actors and directors are laying big eggs at the box office right now. You, Me and Dupree is a stink-bomb for Owen Wilson, who's used up all his goodwill from Wedding Crashers in one fell swoop. Everyone is accusing him of mailing it in with his performance in that awful movie, and even Steely Dan is on his case, saying Wilson ripped off the character from their song "Cousin Dupree". Anyway, that movie is a big flop and Owen Wilson is in the doghouse.

Other bombs include brother Luke's clunker My Super Ex-Girlfriend which is sinking fast at the box office. It's getting terrible word-of-mouth right now, I hear nothing but bad things about it. M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water has been a rare critical and box-office dud for him, too. The folks who brought us White Chicks served up a complete dud in Little Man, which was running around 15% at Rotten Tomatoes. Kevin Smith's Clerks II is getting killed, too, even though the reviews were OK. But the main complaint I hear about this film was that there was no reason for it to be made, it's as if people saw it the first time and feel that should have been it! All of a sudden, everyone says they are fed up with sequels; this after an entire summer filled with pointless sequels! It's as if every movie out there right now is paying the price for the mediocre sequels and retreads of earlier this year, and last year, too, for that matter. The customers weren't spewing venom over the junk they were watching before, but they sure are now. Movie fans have turned hostile on everything and everyone in a big hurry because they're fed up being disappointed and hosed at the box office.

And there's good reason why people are angry. Everything at the movie theater right now looks like junk. I've looked at the Rotten Tomatometer and just about every mainstream studio movie out there now is getting roasted on an open fire by the critics. It's incredible how many of these movies are being declared "rotten": Pirates 2, Miami Vice, Lady in the Water, You, Me and Dupree, Little Man, John Tucker Must Die, Scoop, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Click, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Garfield, even Strangers with Candy. That's basically everything at the local cinema! Recent releases like Little Miss Sunshine, Monster House and The Ant Bully are doing better with critics, though, so it's not a total loss.

But what's strange is that even the movies that critics have actually said good things about have found a way to disappoint at the box office, like Superman Returns and of course Mission: Impossible III. I suppose people just didn't feel they were getting a fresh, original product from those flicks, maybe that's why they stayed away. Plus, everyone hates Tom Cruise. The problem for the studios was that these films were very expensive to make. They were left holding the bag when these movies laid an egg with the public! So now, because so many expensive movies are laying eggs, these studios are cutting back on big budgets and forcing the big stars to take pay cuts. There was some report somewhere that Disney was cutting jobs in droves. I'm not terribly surprised.

It's strange. People have made flops out of supposedly good movies and hits out of bad ones this year. Now it looks like everyone has made up their minds and decided that going to the theater is going to be a total waste of time, and so they aren't going to show up--- not even for the good movies out there! But why have they suddenly made this decision? It's not as if the movies that were being shown earlier this summer were so great! It's not as if there's no reason to go to the movies right now; in fact it's a stinking hot summer everywhere in North America. You'd think people would want to go to the movie theater for some air-conditioning, some relief! What gives? I think the bottom line is that people have simply grown tired of watching garbage. They are finally fed up and Hollywood is paying the price.

These moviegoers are not just shunning these latest turkeys; they're not even making an effort to find one of these art-houses downtown or one of these upscale joints, these places that show real movies that are actually likely to get two thumbs up (or I guess it is "one thumb" these days, from Richard Roeper). Theaters which don't bother with this mainsteam Hollywood junk! Anyway, so goes this year so far, The Year of the Dud.

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