Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The movie year. 2009. so far. not good. for grown-ups.

About a month ago, the box-office tally for the March 20-22 weekend produced a lot of dropped jaws among dedicated movie analysts.

Somehow, the seemingly surefire Julia Roberts-Clive Owen romp, "Duplicity," failed to make the coveted Number One slot, upstaged by a standard-issue Nicolas Cage nonentity titled "Knowing."

Adding to the oddity of it all is the fact that the Cage film appeared to come out of nowhere, whereas the trailer for "Duplicity" seemed to be unreeling in the cineplexes for months prior to its opening.

What went wrong? A lot of wags blamed Roberts, the cads, jumping to the conclusion that her star powers has dimmed. Even the women on "The View" weighed in, suggesting that Roberts' relatively new status as a mom turns off the male audience core that once lusted after her.

Personally, I think the trailer for "Duplicity" made the movie look - how shall I put this? - intricate. A tad too intricate for today's modern attention-deficit audience. Meanwhile, the nakedly adolescent "Knowing" came across as a movie you could, well, sleep through and still "get." Earlier in the year, Owen's "The International," decidedly a film for adults, barely made a blip on the box-office radar. It was here and yet it's wasn't.

It's the weekend of April 17-19. Zak Efron's "17 Again," a generic rehash, also takes movie-watchers by surprise, outdistancing Russell Crowe's sly and superb "State of Play" by several millions. Score one for the kids.


The moral of this disturbing tale:
Julia Roberts was hastily blamed for "Duplicity" not living up to its dollar-sign expectations. It had nothing to do with her status as star or mom.

If you go back and examine the Top Spot (the only place that counts these days) for each movie weekend, you'll notice that, with the possible exception of "He's Just Not That into You," it's been littered with films for kids and/or childlike adults, starting with "Paul Blart, Mall Cop," the year's first official hit. It spent two weeks in the Number One slot.

This hit list also includes: "Friday the 13th" and "Madea Goes to Jail" (both also the dominant films for two weeks in a row), "Race to Witch Mountain," "Monsters Vs. Aliens," "Taken," "Watchmen," "Fast and Furious" and ... drum roll, please ... "Hannah Montana: The Movie."

Maturity, seemingly, is out. Maybe not so seemingly. So is sophistication.

Brainless is in.

Note in Passing:
The weekend that "17 Again" opened, I happened upon Scott Mantz's enthusiastic review of the Efron film on "Access Hollywood." He also had a few positive words to say about "State of Play" but only in passing. (The focus of Mantz's piece was really "17 Again.") He ultimately commented that he couldn't get completely behind "State of Play" because - I'm paraphrasing him now - "you had to pay attention to it too much."

I'm afriad that says it all.

The End.


jbryant said...

Movies for grown-ups don't do business because nobody grows up anymore.

Am I crazy, or didn't young people used to WANT to see adult-targeted films precisely so they could feel all grown up? I guess I was a weird kid, but some of my favorite films as a young teen were The Hustler, Casablanca, The Last Picture Show, Grand Illusion, etc., most of which I discovered on TV (in the pre-TCM days, to boot -- though I saw Last Picture Show at a drive-in with my family!)... Sure, I still loved the genre stuff that was directly targeted to my "demo," but I seriously wonder if today's young people ever develop much interest in films that don't overtly pander to them or "the kid in all of us."

Sylko said...

I think the economy is driving more people to brainless movies. They want pure, thoughtless escapism. I think what they get is the opposite effect. As soon as you leave the theater after a brainless flick, you're right back in the stressful/depressing situation.

When I'm overcome with stress, however, I want a movie or television show that makes me think really hard (Memento, the Prestige) so I forget about all the bad stuff for long after the movie is over as I puzzle out all the different bits.

I save the complicated watching for days when I really want to escape reality.

I understand wanting something light (on a bad day, I do not want to watch a movie that's going to make me cry), but there's light, and then there's insubstantial.

joe baltake said...


Escapism is one thing. Juvenile or braindead escapism is quite another. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is certainly escapism, but of a very high order. Adults could relish it. Right now, there are few escapist films for adults and, when the rare one does come along - "Duplicity" - it's avoided like the plague.

Serious adult films are quite another matter - they only seem to thrive during the 10 Best/movie awards season. One month, give or take a week or two.

And, yes, there was a time when kids wanted to see adult films - to feel grown-up or because they were taboo. Now, they are regarded as too deep think - something medicinal.

BTW, check out this post again. I added a postscript that you might find interesting. It puts matters into context.

joe baltake said...


I agree with you. When I'm depressed, the last thing that I want to see is a light, fluffy film (or, if I'm at home, hear a laughtrack from a sitcom). Somehow, the forced frivolity just makes me feel worse.

I don't think most people understand or can grasp this notion, but it makes complete sense to me.

Case in point: "Sex and the City" is the last thing that a lonely, single woman should see. It could only make her plight seem worse, right?

jkaiser said...

What do you expect for a year that within the first four months saw two mall cop movies.

jbryant said...

jkaiser: Yeah, but to be fair, those are two rather diametrically opposed mall cop movies!

Stephanie said...

The End, indeed

joe baltake said...


Jay is right. Paul Blart: Mall Cop" and "Observe and Report" couldn't be more different. One is a family-friendly, throwaway entertainment, while the second is compelling and often disturbing.

Bob said...

You just don't understand, Joe. It's tough to have to pay attention to a movie. The movie is supposed to do all the work for you! Everyone knows that.

jkaiser said...

Still show's how things go downhill, in the 90's we had competing Columbus, Prefontane and Robin Hood movies, now we're down to Mall Cops. I guess Hollywood will have really hit the dregs when we have studios competing over Rush Limbaugh bio-pics.

jkaiser said...

To Bob: These days the trailer does all the work. The movie is supposed to be nothing more than an expansion of the trailer.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is The End when a critic has a reservation about a film because one has to think too much through it!