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Criticwatch - Horrible, Horrible Whores

by Erik Childress

Warner Bros. has been having a rough year. Sure they snapped up another $250 million locally by letting Todd Phillips make the same movie, but Green Lantern was not quite the blockbuster they were expecting. They even knew it was kind of junk when they chose to show it to most critics two days before it opened. (Paramount is doing the same with Captain America, so uh-oh.) Their seven other wide releases have only totaled to just about $40 million more than their Hangover sequel. This is not a box office column though. We're referring to the rough year the WB has been having critic-wise. The numbers there may not be the ones that the studio cares about, but maybe their marketers and junket organizers want to take another look.

Through this weekend (July 8) there have been 68 wide releases into movie theaters. Warner Bros. has released 10 of them; six of which are rated in the bottom third of them at Rotten Tomatoes. Two more (Hall Pass & The Hangover Part II) are in the five runners-up to that bottom list, where another two (Red Riding Hood & Something Borrowed) are amongst the ten worst-reviewed releases of the year. Their best reviewed film of the year has been Unknown at 56%. That means that heading into the 27th weekend of 2011, Warner Bros. has not had one review in the positive red at the website that is often accused of having more softer reviewers represented than, say, a site like Metacritic. With the exception of Sony and their mainstream affiliates (who released bottom 10 entry, Zookeeper, this weekend) no other studio can boast such a record this year of critical negativity. Who can blame Warner Bros. for seeking out positivity wherever they can find it?

Numbers being what they are though, it is not like NO ONE has said anything nice about the WB lineup this year. Even the year's worst reviewed films, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (3%) and The Roommate (4%) got a total of four positive reviews. Maybe these reviews did not arrive in time to make those first weekend ads, but that happens when you don't screen the movies for critics beforehand. This is a primary lesson that all the studios still have not grasped. The closer you screen a movie to its release date - like two days before for Captain America - the more you are signaling you are not overly optimistic about its critical reception. We have heard the excuses about last minute effects work and twists you don't want spoiled and we're not buying any. And if you are so worried about negative response leaking out too early, all you have to do is finally start enforcing those embargoes we keep hearing about. A screening "pattern" of selecting which critics you want to see movie first, second, third, etc... only makes sense when you are trying to control the flow of the positive. Group "A" is more likely than Group "C" to like the movie so we'll show it to "A" two weeks early and "C" three days early. When Group "A" is invariably those invited, flown-to and put-up at your junkets, it is a down payment on a positive quote you might get from a whore, if it has not been supplied for their approval in the first place.

Which brings us to Warner Bros.' Horrible Bosses. The film was screened in many markets just over a week before its release. A good sign from a studio that has not screened one of their films (for the majority) prior to the Monday before their release. Two of them (Green Lantern & Sucker Punch) were sad Wednesday screenings. How did those turn out, Captain America? Horrible Bosses, on the other hand, despite its flaws turned out to be one of the funnier films of 2011. Right away, just from surveying my Chicago colleagues, I knew the good reviews were going to be there for it; a chance for Warner Bros. to get its first fresh-reviewed film of the year. And as of this morning, the film is holding steady at 75% with 92 written reviews posted. Finally, they can rest easy and not have to worry about choosing from their junket whores. So it was with a sense of dismay and a bit of anger on Independence Day of all that it was the same names littering the first quote-filled ad.

"Jennifer Aniston leaves you wanting more." - Greg Russell

This from the guy who told us last year to " Don't miss the furriest, funniest film of the spring!" aka Furry Vengeance - aka the 4th worst reviewed film of 2010.

"A wild, wicked ride!" - Bill Bregoli

Bill was Criticwatch's 6th ranked whore in 2005 and one the "Sloppy Seconds" runner-up prize in 2007. His totals dropped sharply in 2008 & 2009. But his last two quotes were for...Warner Bros. (The Blind Side & Ninja Assassin). In fact, 6 of his 11 quotes in that two year span were for Warner Bros. (including Sex and the City & Nights In Rodanthe). The only reason the Bregoli didn't get the top prize for his last year of extensive whoredom was because of this guy.

"Colin Farrell is unbelievably funny." - Shawn Edwards

That's two-time Whore of the Year winner Shawn Edwards and he's making a real play for his Criticwatch leading third award in four years. In 2010, 19 of his 26 quotes were of the 50% or below variety at Rotten Tomatoes. This included a quote for M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender, which only received 11 positive reviews out of 173. The only wide release last year to achieve a worst percentage of reviews was the last Jason Friedberg/Aaron Seltzer monstrosity, Vampires Suck. In fairness to Edwards though, his quote is not of the usual Shawn-stain variety.

"**** The funniest comedy of the year!" - Shawn Edwards

Ah, there's the Shawn we know turning up the volume to 11. While we can all argue our own opinion of what actually is the funniest so far - Bridesmaids, Midnight In Paris and The Trip could all provide debate - the only one Shawn should be arguing with is himself. Cause if history holds, Horrible Bosses probably won't be the last film to earn that title with Shawn.

(2003) "A hip-hop comedy classic for everyone from the ‘burbs to the block." (Malibu’s Most Wanted)
(2003) "Insanely funny! the chart comedy. You'll laugh your head off." (Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star)
(2004) "The best comedy of the year!" (Barbershop 2: Back In Business)
(2004) "The funniest comedy of the year. The Wayans brothers have delivered another comedy classic." (White Chicks)
(2004) "The best romantic comedy of the year!" (Little Black Book)
(2005) "The Comedy of the Year." (Hitch)
(2005) "The craziest comedy of the year!" (Waiting)
(2006) "The best romantic comedy of the year." (A Good Year)
(2007) "The funniest, craziest, wildest comedy of the year." (Are We Done Yet?)
(2008) "Awesome! The freshest and funniest comedy in a long time." (Drillbit Taylor)
(2008) "It's Superbadder than any comedy this year." (Sex Drive)
(2010) "The most outrageous and inspired comedy in years." (Youth In Revolt)

How does Warner Bros. feel knowing that the last time Edwards used the exact quote "the funniest comedy of the year" he was referring to WHITE CHICKS! Not a good parallel. Maybe that's why they can always fall back on a guy who has admitted to not always seeing the movies he is being quoted for (sometimes it's a "staff member") and is normally just reading a pre-written radio spot for himself. That's the Sixty Second Preview for you.

"Kevin Spacey is killer funny." - Jeff Craig

This is the fifth film that Warner Bros. has used the Sixty Second Preview for this year (after Unknown, Hall Pass, Red Riding Hood & Arthur) and it is the third time a pun has worked its way into one of "his" quotes." See, the guys in Horrible Bosses want to kill their bosses so "Kevin Spacey is killer funny." Can you make the connection on the others?

"A knockout thriller that will blow your mind." (Limitless)
"Riveting, an unforgettable experience." (Water For Elephants)

Fun, isn't it? So clever that Jeff Craig or whomever from the studio or staff that is writing his copy. Want to keep playing?

"Mind-blowing." (Megamind)
"A knockout!" (Kung Fu Hustle)
"A hugely enjoyable knockout of a movie." (The Karate Kid)
"An irresistible action comedy that's pure tail-wagging family fun." (Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore)
"Funny…the music is simply divine!" (The Fighting Temptations)
"The holiday's biggest comedy." (Gulliver's Travels)
"An irresistible comedy that will put a big fat smile on your face." (My Life In Ruins)

Harmless fun or just a pathetic critic. Do puns, other than of the negative variety, ever provide a smile or just the urge to smack the person? Eh, in one ear, out the rubber. Let's just get to the biggest offender of the week. Warner Bros. has used Mark S. Allen four times this year, as many as they did in 2010. Now before we get to what he said about Horrible Bosses, let's look at some of his quotes over the years.

"Fall on the floor funny and the most honest slice of high school since Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (Mean Girls)
"Side-splitting, gut-busting laughs. The movie you'll be quoting for the rest of the summer. The funniest movie you'll see this summer!" (Anchorman)
"The funniest movie you’ll see this summer!" (You, Me and Dupree)
"Awesome fun for thy whole family! Elephant sized laughs! Divine! Thou shalt laugh a lot!" (Evan Almighty)
"You’ll laugh so hard you’ll dribble." (Semi-Pro)
"Funny, Sexy, and Smart – a triple threat! You will laugh out loud, VERY LOUD!" (Fired Up)
"Over the top-under the sea action and non-stop laughs". (Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie)
"The perfect mix of sexy-funny-rock-the-house action! You will see this again and again!" (Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle)

In 2004 Anchorman was the funniest film of the summer. The next year it was You, Me & Dupree. Then one quote after another trying to top the next with Barbershop 2 ranking as "a comedic masterpiece" to Soul Men as "Perhaps the best buddy picture ever!" So what is Horrible Bosses, Mark?

"The new standard for no-holds-barred comedy!" - Mark S. Allen

It doesn't take long for this guy to set a new standard, does it?

"One of the funniest movies ever made!" (The Hangover)
"Relentlessly wrong and funnier than the first." (The Hangover Part II)

The folks behind the junkets at Warner Bros. may see this at first glance and think, "well, at least they were all our films." Yes, but how long until Mark takes his limited talents over to another studio film and renders a new standard? Will it be three months for the next Jennifer Aniston film where she goes from lingerie and an open lab coat to the no-holds-barred of audiences finally seeing her breasts in Universal's Wanderlust (that should certainly please Greg Russell) - or - will it be a mere two weeks for Sony/Screen Gems' Friends with Benefits? Mark S. Allen is a male quote whore/slut/tramp. While a legitimate critic who actually writes up reviews might find something better from week-to-week, they will at least do their best to make that film feel special and unique while making sweet love to it. Mark S. Allen is the fratboy who will bang anything willing to spread their legs or buttcheeks for him he tells them that they are the greatest, most perfect lay he's ever had. Occasionally he may even mean it in the moment, but by the next lay he'll have forgotten everything he said (or attached his name to) before.

Hopefully, the folks at Warner Bros. can take a good hard look at the best way to go about promoting their films. Easy quotes and five-question interviews with the same three questions being asked over-and-over again may seem like the simplest way. But we are through the looking glass on trying to fool the consumer. The average one could not care whose name is saying what on the commercials, rendering the junket whores moot immediately. Those who pay attention though to Rotten Tomatoes, Twitter and the countless legitimate outlets from print and online know when they are being bamboozled. A half-dozen positive notices on Green Lantern from people nobody has ever heard of, days before the general media has seen it are not fooling anyone. But the solutions are simpler than you think.

(1) Invite actual writers to your junkets - or - screen the films in their respective cities at the same time.
This will allow you to gauge what the general critical reaction is going to be. Give it a couple days and you are guaranteed to have some positive written reviews with quotes better than the simplistic prose being listed ten-fold on your junket memos.

(2) Enforce the embargo.
Again this is very simple. If you want to control the flow of information, this is the simplest of ways. Or you could even give carte blanche to anyone who liked the movie to post a review (from which you can now grab quotes from) and you kindly ask that those of the mixed or negative variety to please hold off their reaction, at least until the final all-media screenings. Those that post a negative early is then off your list until they learn the meaning of the word "embargo."

Of course you need to maximize the exposure of your film through inane entertainment, morning shows and news segments and this will lead to quickie interviews edited down to about 30 seconds. Think of the respect you can achieve by not only those who care deeply about film and good journalism but by the talent themselves who more often than not bemoan their time on the junket scene. Have you ever noticed the surprise on their faces when they actually get a solid, original question to answer? It's like the end of Field of Dreams. The junket scene is an outdated concept. Information flows quicker than ever. It is time for Warner Bros. and other studios to get with the times and put their focus around those who have too much respect for film of all genres and budgets to just pay it back with puns, hyperbole and empty statements.

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originally posted: 07/09/11 02:29:33
last updated: 07/09/11 02:40:59
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