This Week in Movies By Pete Hammond – “Footloose,” “Real Steel”

By Pete Hammond new wide release movies with built –in marketing elements “guaranteed” to draw audiences all failed on one level or another this week in movies. In fact it is Dreamworks and Disney’s Real Steel that continues to rule at number one for a second week just barely squeaking by Paramount’s reboot of Footloose, $16.3 million to $16.1 million. So what went wrong? Hollywood seems to be creatively drifting as this week so pales in comparison to last year when Jackass 3D opened to over $50 million. Of course you can build an industry on Jackasses although many have been before. But the sad fact is the town awaits next week’s third Paranormal Activities movie in as many years to give it an infusion of cash from entertainment-starved filmgoers. Certainly on paper this week’s films probably looked really good to the committees that made them. The Footloose reincarnation went through many different creative bumps including one-time stars Zac Efron and Chace Crawford (who both dropped out) before settling on a pair of real dancers , Dancing With The Stars’ Julianne Hough and Kenny Wormald (like, WHO?) to carry it though. Of course the name itself , Footloose (based on the 1984 original with Kevin Bacon) is the pre-sold marketing hook but it wasn’t enough to carry it over the top to the expected number one spot, at least based on these studio estimates. Audiences gave it a promising ‘A’ Cinemascore rating so maybe word of mouth will be good but the boxoffice should have been more.

Still it’s not as bad as Universal’s attempt to market The Thing again. This “prequel” to the 1982 John Carpenter remake of the 1951 original, The Thing From Another World made only an estimated $8.7 million for third place even though a pre-Halloween horror type picture would seem to be the recipe for much larger success. Not to be. Clearly audiences were looking for some-THING else. The pre-sold title didn’t live up to its reputation, another lesson for studios looking for easy hooks based on early 80’s movies.

The same rationale can’t be said for the week’s other wide release, The Big Year, a comedy about “birders” or guys who just can’t have enough birdwatching in their lives. Now THAT’S an original idea and the studio , 20th Century Fox, populated it major comedy stars including Steve Martin , Jack Black and Owen Wilson but it bombed BIG time taking in an estimated $3.3 million for 9th place (ouch, OUCH). I confess I really liked it . The movie directed by David Frankel (the Devil Wears Prada, Marley and Me) was gentle, sweet, funny and character-driven but it was sold in TV spots as a raucous slapstick sort of thing.Audiences expecting that kind of flick would be sorely disappointed (and apparently were judging by its B- Cinemascore rating from those who did manage to show up). This movie for me was more a throwback to 60’s studio fare like Cold Turkey or Russians Are Coming, comedies that focused on quirky characters rather than gross-out , over the top shenanigans. Of course that is about as hard to sell as a movie about, well, birdwatching. Too bad because if it managed to bring in a more appreciative adult audience they might have had a good time.

So let’s see what lessons we did learn from this week. Pre-sold titles for remakes don’t necessarily mean much to increasingly savvy moviegoers who are being hit by a bad economy. Big stars who each have fronted their own successful comedies like Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson can’t necessarily do the same thing when they are thrown together for a movie that needs a “hook” more than just names. Indicative of the fact that “big names” are no longer enough to sell a movie, just any ‘ol movie, is evidenced by the tiny release of a suspense thriller called Trespass this weekend in just one multi-plex in Santa Monica, Calif with almost NO advertising. This wouldn’t be that unusual for a small film looking to get traction in a crowded marketplace but this was a genre thriller about the home invasion of a well-to-do couple played by Oscar winners Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman . It was directed by Joel Schumacher and all have apparently seen better days if this is how their latest movie is treated (it also went straight to video on demand). I went to a prime Saturday showing of it at 5pm and there were all of 15 people there. Pathetic.

It’s no wonder Hollywood keeps looking for the magic formula . What used to work doesn’t seem to be working now – at all. Or maybe it was just a bad week. Here’s to better movies.

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About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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