Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Selling Comedy Isn't Pretty

The saying goes that dying is easy, but comedy is hard. But you know what's even tougher? Selling comedy, that's what.

Over the next few weeks, at least four comedies will be opening from the major studios: MR. WOODCOCK, GOOD LUCK CHUCK, SYDNEY WHITE, and THE GAME PLAN. Please allow me to make something clear here: I have not seen any of these pictures. I will not be criticizing any of the films themselves because I don't know if they're really good or bad or not. However, there is another question at hand here - do I want to? Are these comedies being sold in a manner that makes me say, "Hey, I'd like to see that". The answer to that is a very simple no. Actually, it's a big, fat motherfucking no, thank you very much.

Promoting comedies is not a job I would ever envy because it can be so damn difficult sometimes and if you don't do it right then no one goes. There are various comedy classics that happen to have classic trailers, give you enough laughs in a 2-minute trailer to make you anticipate the movie for months on end. I remember seeing the trailer to THE NAKED GUN about 2 months prior to the film's theatrical release and suddenly it became a highly anticipated film for me; it no doubt helped that the film was hysterically funny throughout and that the trailer didn't give away all the best gags, but that I'm convinced that trailer alone is what drove most people into the theaters. The film was a hit the moment it opened, which was somewhat remarkable because it was based on a brilliant TV show that no one watched. On the flip side, I distinctly recall the trailer to FLETCH being one of the lamest I've ever seen (still), containing not a single laugh or even indication that the film was in any way funny. Turns out that was a case where context meant everything, because the line "Can I borrow your towel? My car just hit a water buffalo" gets a stone-faced reaction from the trailer, but now it's quoted by obnoxious jerks everywhere like a Freemasons secret code. So it can go either way.

Of the four comedies I mentioned, I think MR. WOODCOCK might have the best chance of not sucking, in part because it has a solid, funny premise (a self-help guru discovers his mother is about to marry the junior high gym coach who mercilessly terrorized him as a kid) and a very good cast. There's talk that there were a lot of reshoots with a different director (David Dobkin) along with a lot of time spent in the editing room and there's something in the trailer that seems to indicate to me that this is true. Amy Poehler is in the movie as the agent to Seann William Scott's character and she seems to spend a lot of her time insulting people, which Poehler is actually very good at, so I don't exactly mind. But this kind of stuff, while fine in the feature itself, doesn't have anything to do with the film's actual plot, so I'm guessing (and please note that I'm guessing here, as I have no contact with the MR. WOODCOCK team) that this is in there only because it gets laughs, that it was probably noted as a favorite of the test screening audiences and they want folks to have a good impression of the film. But I'm equally turned off by the poster (look, Billy Bob Thornton is holding a pair of basketballs right where his actual balls are - and his name ends with the word "cock"!) and don't have a good feeling overall. But hey, maybe I'm wrong.

Then there's the unusual case of GOOD LUCK CHUCK. The film's premise is that Dane Cook's character is a good luck charm to all of the women he meets; after he romances them and then leaves them, they all go on to meet their true love. But what were to happen when Cook meets and falls in love with Jessica Alba? I don't know, but there's an entire movie devoted to just that very premise and both Cook and Alba happen to star in it. But if you look at the latest ads and trailer to GOOD LUCK CHUCK, it gives the indication that the film is actually about a guy who falls for a sexy woman who just happens to be a total klutz. Yikes! Yeah, I'm not happy about it, either. Actually, I wasn't happy about it to begin with, since I can't stand either Cook or Alba, but let's give the film (which I haven't seen) the benefit of the doubt. My question here, however is why are they hiding the film's premise? What's wrong with telling people what the movie's really about? Is it too syrupy, too much of a chick flick for the Dane Cook "I'd never fuck a guy, but if I did, I'd fuck Dane Cook" audience? What's wrong with this idea? I have no idea, but they're hiding something and though I have no real interest in finding out, audiences will find out at the end of next week. I suspect they'll be disappointed with what they find, but hey, I could be wrong.

SYDNEY WHITE, on the other hand, seems to be a little too literal in what it’s all about, making sure we understand its “SNOW WHITE goes to college” premise. And when you look at the trailer, it pretty much looks like every other Amanda Bynes movie, a plus or a minus if that’s something that appeals to you, which is to say it looks like an innocuous and forgettable TV movie. But looking at the poster, you get the idea that, perhaps, it could be something more. “College is no fairy tale” says the tagline and I’m looking at this and thinking, is this Amanda Bynes’ first “adult” movie, her introduction to serious drama? Then you realize that it stars Amanda Bynes and all thoughts of that fade away. Hey, for some people, an Amanda Bynes movie is a good thing; I think I may know who some of those people may be, and to them I say, grow the fuck up, why don’t you? Anyway, I have no idea if SYDNEY WHITE is a good movie or not, as I have not seen it, but I have Amanda Bynes’ cinematic track record to consider (HAIRSPRAY excepted) and I gotta tell you, prospects don’t look too good. But hey, I could be wrong.

Finally, we have THE GAME PLAN. Listen, I like The Rock. I think we all like The Rock. Even people who don’t know him will like him once they see him in action. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a major movie star in the making, a naturally talented and likeable performer who some day will be as big a movie star there is. But what he’s been missing so far is a major movie to make him this star. Could THE GAME PLAN be it? Perhaps. While I have not seen the film, I’m looking at this trailer and thinking to myself, “Saturday and Sunday afternoon matinees could very easily sell out on this one”. Pair The Rock with a little kid and maybe you’ve got something there. Could very well be a recipe for success, although if it’s a recipe for quality is another matter. Honestly, it doesn’t look it. You look at the poster and you see Johnson with a silly look on his face and his bulldog in a tiara and you already know every direction this movie is going in. How it will start, how it will end and what’s in the middle. Might there be some laughs? Will Johnson’s considerable charm help this movie turn a corner in my heart? I don’t know for sure, but it’s entirely possible. The one thing I know for sure is that there’s a bulldog in a tiara on the film’s poster, and no good film has ever featured a bulldog in a tiara. But hey, I could be wrong.

However, I don’t think so.

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