“This is the First Time, I Swear!”
With critics and sofa kings churning out their lists for best and worst films of 2007 like Jonah Hill drawing dicks, let’s take a look at the movies that failed to reach general expectations, whether at the box office, creatively, or both. Some of these films carry repercussions for big stars in 2008 (Lions for Lambs), some seem like odd flukes (Walk Hard), and some underperformed with such dreadful flair they helped usher in a new mega franchise from Peter Jackson and New Line (The Golden Compass, natch!). As Bill Murray might put it, “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living togetherâ€¦mass hysteria!” This is what happens when major films drop, flop and roll.
And if we missed any of this year’s middling flicks, comment below!
Why: When I walked into the theater with a few friends and a flask in my jacket pocket, two truths hit me: Grindhouse was going to flop super hard, and the Internet had not yet crossed over to being “the new flesh,” to reference Videodrome. There were ten people at a nine o’clock showing, and the audience wasn’t even made up of geeks â€“ replace junkies and sketchy pervs with face-hugging teen couples, old farts and jocks and the turnout was equal to a Shaw Brothers triple-feature in suburbia. Clearly, these people didn’t know what they were about to watch, and I soon realized that, well, neither did I. Shock, horror. Planet Terror didn’t come close to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’ 1996 collabo From Dusk Till Dawn in terms of humor, scares, originality or raunch. A scantly clad, one-legged Rose McGowan does not equal Salma Hayek’s fully exposed stripper-vampire fun bags. Before the three trailers started, more than half the crowd had exited with actual boo’s. It says a lot that the directors behind the trailers understood Grindhouse far more than either director. After months and months of QT sweating balls and coke chills over Death Proof and hours spent observing a poster that promised “a white hot juggernaut at 200 mph!” we got teased with a clothed lap dance, a few classy kills, and more vapid chatter from vapid chicks than The Hills. I actually felt sorry for Kurt Russell! You only get one shot with QT, so make sure it’s a biggie (call up and ask Michael Keaton). The entire project was a $70 million cheat, and even worse, the web’s united defenders of Death Proof (U.D.D.P) were informing the majority of bummed QT fans that it was “supposed to be chatty” and “That’s how grindhouse pictures are! It’s genius!” Did they forget all of QT’s “Hard R” and “This film will be what the cool posters promised but never delivered!” rah-rahing beforehand? Even worse was reading Harvey Weinstein’s interview with Nikki Finke (oh, the power of a flop!) where he spouted that his company might separate the two movies and re-release them, which they later didâ€¦on DVD. Has the world gone mad?
The Fallout: As Rodriguez’ film unfairly took the harshest beat-downs in the press, Weinstein and Tarantino tellingly re-cut Death Proof and brought it to Cannes to lick their wounds. In the meantime, Rodriguez left his long-term partnership with the Weinsteins to shop his epic Barbarella project to outside studios with his home-wrecker starlet McGowan in Jane Fonda’s old role. As of today, there are no serious bidders. Wonder why? This entire ordeal has the appearance of a bad soap opera, and it’s a sign that the era of the ’90s auteurs (Weinstein Co. also passed on Kevin Smith’s Red State) is showing its age. To much surprise, so is the huge influence of geekdom on the green light of Hollywood execs. No film will ever scream “geeks’ wet dream” as loudly as Grindhouse, including Cloverfield and The Dark Knight, ever again.
Upside: Lots of Eli Roth‘s haters including myself admit to loving Thanksgiving‘s trailer, so he’s got that going for him andâ€¦a popular t-shirt at Hot Topic, I guess. QT will no doubt make Inglorious Bastards that much more crass and amazing in response to his growing detractors. Here’s waiting til’ 2020.
Why: David Fincher and serial killer movies go together like Woody Harrelson and weed, but even with solid actors like Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Ironman and arguably its most famous, titular star, Zodiac eked by at the box office with $33 million total. The film’s trailers lacked Se7en-ish scares to hook mainstream audiences (as did the actual film), and most critics didn’t push “four star” and “classic” blurbs until, uh, last week (weak dudes!). One of cinema’s definitive police procedurals, even those of us who were stoked on Zodiac couldn’t recommend it to everyone. A dopey friend of mine compared it to reading a newspaper in a theater, pointed to the beloved Fight Club poster on his wall and frowned. You know the type. And the (false) rumors that Fincher’s desired cut would add yet another hour to the lengthy running time made many fans question (and swoon over) the director’s incurable obsession (and sanity).
The Fallout: Everyone who knows good cinema, in L.A. and beyond, already at least respects Zodiac. A few Oscar noms will make it a costly success in hindsight. And Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, set for a fall 2008 release, looks and sounds promising in every way.
Upside: Zodiac is not only the densest $70 million episode of Unsolved Mysteries on record it’s also a modern classic not dissimilar to Chinatown. File it under: one for Fincher (and one for us). When hipster film students annoyingly reminisce about cinema’s ’70s heyday, point to Zodiac, No Country for Old Men, and There Will Be Blood and watch them push their hair into their eyes and glibly walk away. Dummies.
Lions for Lambs
Why: Lions for Lambs was like an off-Broadway play about the War on Terror that was adapted too faithfully into a movie, starring a major celebrity that almost everyone was sick of. Sound like a hit? Still, it’s surprising that Lions for Lambs grossed less than $15 million. Like Zodiac, for a good portion of the film, the leads sit at mundane desks having intricate conversations about intricate topics, so maybe the trailer should have been a fiery montage of iconic terrorism images that also played up the controversy and interesting cast. Also, if someone had told insiders at the beginning of 2007 that this film would have no shot at major Oscar nominations, most would have been shocked. It’s an all around let down.
The Fallout: The war genre still looks fertile in 2008, and Lions for Lambs was smartly budgeted, leaving Tom Cruise‘s United Artists out of harm’s way. However, Cruise should be worried both as an actor and as a studio head. His 2008 follow-up Valkyrie, directed by Bryan Singer, not only has a very unimpressive trailer, but Cruise’s appearance therein (an unfitting eye patch) and clumsy accent (think inexplicable Valley Boy) have drawn unintentional laughs and comparisons to Rocky & Bullwinkle for a deadly serious film about Nazis. Can buzz get any worse? Such a one-two punch would mean very little in the ’90s, but in its current shaky state Cruise’s career can’t take it. And it gets worse; Valkyrie‘s release date was recently pushed from summer to winter. That may be strategy, sure, but it looks like a hesitant retreat all the same and a reaction to this film’s quick dismissal.
Upside: Of all of the year’s war films, you can do a lot worse on an intellectual level than Lions for Lambs, and Cruise still gets brownie points for making a ballsy war film his first project at UA.
Somewhere Fred Willard is muttering, “Whaaa Happen?” I expected this to be Judd Apatow‘s true blue sleeper of 2007, but instead it almost cut the super-producer down to size like Dewey Cox’s brother. The marketing for this movie was fantastic, from a genuine rock tour with John C. Reilly to the promotional packages containing Dewey Cox underwear and a packet of chest hair (real?!). That said you can’t figure out Walk Hard‘s premise, title or modus operandi like Superbad (high school comedy) and Knocked Up (preggers comedy) because “music biopic comedy” doesn’t mean much this side of This is Spinal Tap. We’re almost entering Mad territory, and sadly a lot of plebeians don’t grasp what’s so funny about that magazine, Walk the Line or Ray. In a parallel universe, John C. Reilly is forever Dewey Cox, his megaflop (only $12 million so far) be damned.
The Fallout: By making his signature brand of raunchy, heartfelt comedy so ubiquitous in this year’s marketplace, it’s ironic that Judd Apatow may have killed one of his own flicks because it wasn’t in style. Even the punks who were firing up the Apatow backlash online now seem bummed that a flop interrupted his banner year, neutering the momentum of their future diatribes. Is that a bad thing? No, but it’s not good. As for Reilly, he should be fine, as he’s co-headlining another R-rated comedy called Step Brothers opposite Will Ferrell that sounds amazin’.
Upside: Walk Hard will have little problem stumbling drunkenly through its Dark Period into the cult movie pantheon. Also, the film has a great soundtrack, and critics dug it, so Apatow is still in their good graces as this year’s Drillbit Taylor approaches (perhaps an even bigger flop).
28 Weeks Later
Sometimes it’s a bad sign when you can’t remember if a film came out in 2006 or 2007, and that’s the case with this film, the incredibly strong sequel to 28 Days Later. We are all still suffering from zombie fatigue, and hey, zombies all look alike, whether they sprint or drag a foot, so who can blame most of us for passing on this? 28 Weeks Later was simply no match for the summer of sumo wrestling sequels, and it’s a damn shame, because it’s the best horror movie of the year (and a strong action title as well), surpassing the more popular original in unpredictability, suspense and endurance, while grossing only half its box office. The staff of Fox Atomic could hardly contain themselves over director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo‘s American debut (that’s a first), and many media outlets including the New York Times gave the flick beyond stellar reviews. In the end, it still meant too little, and perhaps the marketing and title was just a little too similar to the original to break out in pop culture like a killer virus.
The Fallout: The fate of a possible third film in the franchise is now filed away, at least theatrically. Zombies in general are back underground, awaiting a rainy day for the horror genre. Director Fresnadillo has an ambitious project at DreamWorks called Wednesday, so he’s fine, but his agent is probably veering him away from horror, which is unfortunate given the genre’s lack of innovators.
Upside: It’s had a decent life on DVD and serves as a great example for young directors on how to improve on a franchise’s formula with wicked intelligence and style. If you saw it, it was probably in your top three major films over the summer, and when a zombie film is this classic, you nearly forget about the others that weren’t.
The Golden Compass
Calling this film an underperformer is like calling Zac Efron for advice on being a badass. This is the type of franchise-aborting $200 million picture that studio execs’ pets have nightmares aboutâ€¦except for New Line’s. First, the Dark Materials novels offer an open dissent on Christianity, a religion that 80 percent of Americans align themselves with according to some poll â€“ this doesn’t sound like adaptable kids’ stuff even with heavy editing, no matter what your beliefs. Second, picking the holidays to release this film is beyond dumb, and third (this list goes up to 25), you hire Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, two actors who have no kid appeal, steely eyes, and patchy box office records, to act alongside the Coca Cola bears while sailing this risky proposition to over $700 million worldwide (in your dreams). This is the only “Doh!” heard around the world that is louder than Homer’s. Balding heads should roll.
The Fallout: No more sequels, I don’t care if Australia wants to have its babies. That beeping noise you hear is New Line putting its arse in reverse, giving Peter Jackson his bag of money owed for their other franchise, and signing him up to produce two Hobbit features. Unfortunately for Bob Shaye, Karma also wants a couple million dollars in cash delivered at its feet for The Last Mimzy.
Upside: Peter Jackson will probably grow his beard out and look all cuddly again. Nicole Kidman stays away from the world’s kids as well as her own. By its proximity to the bad luck of The Golden Compass‘ director Chris Weitz, hopefully the film based on Neil Strauss’ self-mythologizing pick-up artist book The Game is a disaster (Weitz is producing).
The Number 23
Up until now, every film listed here at least tried to accomplish something worthwhile on the screen. Jim Carrey‘s latest tale from the dark side is not only his worst film, but one of the worst films Hollywood released this year, and possibly ever. Fringe numerology is a kooky and creepy idea for a movie, and shares an irreverent, growing popularity to conspiracy theories like Mothman and the Illuminati, and Carrey’s genuine fascination for numbers (does this explain Jenny McCarthy?) drew him to the material. But The Number 23 can’t capitalize on its title’s potential, it has to pile on a beyond cheesy and ridiculous film noir subplot taken from an entirely different movie, and thenâ€¦wait for itâ€¦it tacks on a shocking “he’s got two personalities” ending lifted from Fight Club, only eight years tardy! There needs to be a name for this painful, semi-recent phenomenon, where you’re sitting in a theater and you start to feel the Fight Club ending creeping up on you. You resist it – yet another film can’t be headed there you reassure yourself – and then wham! You end up walking out of theater during the credits with a feeling of surreal violation. They did it again! This film underperformed ($33 million) simply because it sucked.
The Fallout: A lot of moviegoers can no longer remember why they liked Jim Carrey to begin with, so dismal are his choices year after year. This is a huge, nearly permanent problem that Dr. Seuss cannot mend. In perfect contrast, Joel Schumacher is a notoriously inconsistent director, capable of delivering this type of rotten tripe (Batman and Robin) with a huge, pleased grin on his face. It’s almost endearing. But the man made The Lost Boys and thus gets three life time passes. And his Falling Down wasn’t too shabby either.
Upside: Nothing, not even the tired possibility of Jenny McCarthy posing in Playboy.
Feel free to discuss these runner-up underperformers of 2007 below: The Mist, Beowulf (debatable), The Heartbreak Kid, Michael Clayton, Things We Lost in the Fire, In the Valley of Elah, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Shoot ‘Em Up, Stardust, Evan Almighty, Black Snake Moan, Hannibal RisingCool Posts From Around the Web: