Monday Morning Quarterback Part One

By BOP Staff

September 20, 2005

We can't show any screen caps from this point on. It gets unexpectedly blue.

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If a romantic comedy is neither funny nor romantic, what is it?

Kim Hollis: Just Like Heaven opened to an estimated $16.5 million. Estimates in the trades predicted the $58 million film could earn $22-$25 million in its debut. Is this a disappointing result or another example that tracking data is woefully inaccurate?

Reagen Sulewski: It could be a function of the overall unimpressive slate of films out there at the moment.

David Mumpower: I think that's two separate discussions rolled into one. Tracking data is frequently no more reliable than our weekend forecasts. It seems like a tremendous waste of money for studios. With regards to Just Like Heaven, I can't imagine anyone at DreamWorks smiling over this result.

Reagen Sulewski: Even junk like this starts to find some headspace in a market this weak.

David Mumpower: And I think junk is the perfect description for it. I am a man who is unafraid to say that I like romantic comedies. When I think one looks garbage, you know it's in trouble.

Of blind squirrels, broken clocks, and tracking data

Joel Corcoran: I think Reagen has it. The tracking data is woefully inaccurate because the screwed-up summer season is continuing into the fall. My supposition is that the dearth of good films has disrupted forecasting efforts based on past performance of similar films.

David Mumpower: Joel, I think that this is always the case, though. For the past several years, box office evaluation has proven a more delicate science since the market has changed so dramatically with the afore-mentioned ultra-wide releases. Theater chains killed themselves with contracts that cause studios to aim for mega-opening weekends then followed up that mistake by allowing the mass early distribution of products.

Joel Corcoran: And the problem only seems to be growing worse.

David Mumpower: That's very true, Joel, and it's why the MPAA freaks out every time a studio hints that they might do joint day and date DVD/pay-per-view release of major motion pictures. When that day comes, theaters face the same precarious positions drive-ins faced 20 years ago when megaplexes arrived.

Kim Hollis: Which is why theater chains probably should start exploring new business models if they hope to survive down the line. No one in business (other than Google or Amazon) is ever proactive, though.

Joel Corcoran: When jury forecasting becomes a more exact science than box-office forecasting, you know that Hollywood is in trouble.

We are not too sold on Just Like Heaven's legs, either.

Kim Hollis: Going back to Just Like Heaven's performance, I think DreamWorks has to view the weekend number as disappointing, particularly given the confidence the studio gave it with the ultra-wide release.

David Mumpower: Kim hits on an interesting ancillary point. I saw DreamWorks saying that 86% of the people who saw the film gave it top two checkbox support, so they expect legs. The problem with this is that with such an ultra-wide release, the people who want to see it have already had the opportunity to do so. It's been soundly rejected.

Joel Corcoran: Yeah ... you can't really have a word-of-mouth bump if the population of people actually wanting to see this film has already seen it the opening weekend.

Kim Hollis: I really don't think the decent reviews are going to help it much. It's a flavor of the week that is quickly forgotten in the wake of stuff like Flightplan.

Reagen Sulewski: Word of mouth usually happens when a film sneaks up on people. There were coma patients who knew the plot of this film.

David Mumpower: The coma patients were lucky, though, since they had no means to accidentally witness the movie. Some poor bastards who easily give in to peer pressure got dragged to see it this weekend.

Comparing typecast southern belles

Kim Hollis: Reese Witherspoon seems to be given the opportunity to make major motion pictures if they are romantic comedies. Is the actress at the same career crossroads which Ashley Judd faced after getting typecast in Double Jeopardy?

David Mumpower: Her career to this point is something of a mystery to me. I at least get why people would cast Ashley Judd in films. Witherspoon has two moves as an actress: dumb blonde and bitch...and I think it's giving her the benefit of the doubt to call those acting.

Kim Hollis: Frankly, I don't really know what else you sign her for other than quirky stuff. I do think that Walk the Line has the potential to maybe open some new doors for her.

Joel Corcoran: I hope so, Kim. I admire Witherspoon as an actress - she's quite talented. But she does seem to get stuck in those weird, quirky roles. She deserves better.

Reagen Sulewski: I honestly think she's got acting chops, but has chosen to chase after big paydays instead of challenging roles. Just Like Heaven is something you expect some unknown actress to try and make her break with.

One of us really does not like Reese Witherspoon. At all.

David Mumpower: I've never gotten the idea that Witherspoon can act. She was annoying as Tracy Flick. Why do we presume that's acting ability? Of course, I'm one of the seven people who has seen Vanity Fair and Legally Blonde 2, so maybe I have a degree of bitterness other more discriminating moviegoers don't.

Joel Corcoran: I thought she was great in "Pleasantville," "Election," and "Cruel Intentions." She was annoying as Tracy Flick, but she also brought out an undercurrent of sympathy for the character.

Kim Hollis: Well, I liked her well enough in The Importance of Being Earnest - and even enjoyed her in Cruel Intentions. As for Election, I believe she probably wasn't acting much, but the performance is memorable.

David Mumpower: She was the part of Pleasantville which ruined the movie for me and I found Flick an abomination, not sympathetic. Cruel Intentions succeeded despite her rather than because of her.

Kim Hollis: It was all about Ryan Phillippe, right?

Joel Corcoran: It *was* all about Ryan Phillippe.

David Mumpower: Circling back to the original query, I do think audiences are slowly starting to reject her in these sorts of redundant roles. That's exactly what was the beginning of the end for Judd. Witherspoon needs for her June Carter performance to make some noise.

Joel Corcoran: And she needs to show some talent in Whiteout, too, before going back to her typecast in Sports Widow.

David Mumpower: As much as I hate to begrudgingly acknowledge this, Sports Widow seems like a perfect role for her and her fan-base (and what questionable judgment that group has).

Be the first on your block to start a Mark Ruffalo fan site!

Kim Hollis: Mark Ruffalo's two attempts at romantic comedy, Just Like Heaven and 13 Going on 30, have both underperformed. Is he a factor in their failures or is it coincidental?

David Mumpower: He's so innocuous in these roles that it's hard for me to imagine much causality here. Ruffalo is a fine actor who stole the show in You Can Count on Me. In studio system pictures, he's better served as a supporting player rather than a lead. Collateral offset against 13 Going on 30 nicely demonstrates this.

Joel Corcoran: I will (grudgingly) say that his presence is coincidental, based on his work in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and You Can Count on Me.

Reagen Sulewski: Neither Just Like Heaven nor 13 Going on 30 were really relying on him, so I find it tough to put any blame on him. It would be nice if he became a leading man, but his acting style doesn't really lend itself to that.

Kim Hollis: He's not really "leading man" material to my mind. I absolutely adore him in the smaller stuff he's done like You Can Count on Me and We Don't Live Here Anymore, but he's not a known commodity for audiences who might normally pick up on this sort of flick. With that said, though, it's not like the male leads in Sweet Home Alabama were that much more well-known.

David Mumpower: That's a good point, Kim. Josh Lucas vs. Mark Ruffalo is like a Hollywood battle of "Who in the Blue Hell are you?" Of course, I think Ruffalo would have opened Stealth to $70 million. You can't prove me wrong on this, either! Muwahaha!

Kim Hollis: If only Bill Nighy were aboard, it would have been gold.

Joel Corcoran: I want to see Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson in a movie. Someone send a memo to someone who can make this happen.

Reagen Sulewski: Brood: The Motion Picture.

David Mumpower: I think it will happen someday, but Ruffalo will only have ninth billing in the film, Joel.

Lord of War did not fight the good fight.

Kim Hollis: Lord of War opened to $9.2 million. This was Nicolas Cage's first film after the blockbuster, National Treasure. Is that film more representative of Cage's box office power or is this one?

David Mumpower: The last time Nic Cage had box office power, John Woo was still on a Hollywood power climb. Then, they went back to the well once too often with Windtalkers and the rest is history.

Joel Corcoran: I will recuse myself from discussing this movie because it's obvious I have no rational sense when it comes to Nicolas Cage. I was expecting Lord of War to do much, MUCH better.

David Mumpower: National Treasure is one of those projects that taps into the zeitgeist. It's a patriotic yet rebellious action film. Such fruitful ideas are rare. If Josh Lucas or Mark Ruffalo had been starring in National Treasure, we would be talking about their box office pull right now.

Kim Hollis: Frankly, I think Lord of War would probably have done zip without him. I can't comprehend the Nic Cage appeal myself, but he does seem to have a weird following. I really am looking forward to The Weather Man, though. That might be for Gore Verbinski more than Cage.

Reagen Sulewski: Cage films come in at least a couple of categories. For some reason, he's the perfect guy to stick in one of those noisy Bruckheimer explosion fests, but in just about anything else, he's poison.

Joel Corcoran: I will say that Cage is one of those rare actors that can bridge both big-budget blockbusters (The Rock, Gone in 60 Seconds) and small-budget, quirky films (Raising Arizona, Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation). I think the problem with Lord of War was it being marketed as the former when it really fell more into the latter genre. So, my answer to Kim's original question would simply be "Yes."



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