The Last of the Mohicans

by Scott

I saw an interesting TV advert while on the stairmill in the gym this beautiful Friday morn.  It was a promo for Tom Cruise’s “Knight and Day” touting the positive reviews for the film opening this weekend.  Usually you would associate this type of advertising with the Audience Interview and “See it again for the first time” re-cuts of the trailer in the 3rd or 4th frame of a theatrical run, not prior to open.

If you believe the thesis that “Knight and Day” is the last of several recent films descended from 2005′s breakout “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, then you must also believe that the producers are kinda freaking out[11.As would also be indicated by their “soft open” on a Wednesday. “At Theaters Everywhere! This Wednesday (6/23/10)!”].

These films are:

mr_and_mrs_smith/
|-- bounty_hunter
|-- date_night
|-- killers
`-- knight_and_day

And I do think that these recent films were directly driven by “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” It was an alluring formula, “High Concept” all the way: international stars, action for him, romance for her. A “Romancing the Stone” amped up for “today’s audiences.”

These movies weren’t a case of “How the hell did we get two dog-cop movies 1989??[22.Tom Hanks’ Turner & Hooch [imdb]][33.James Belushi’s K-9 [imdb]]”  The occurrence of which owes itself more to a zeitgeist-type explanation: “dog-cop was in the air” if you will.

But the real motivator for these descended films was the box office.  For “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” it was great: $478M total, with the juicy split of $186M domestic, $291M international (!).

But Alas, you are freaking out if you are a producer for “Knight and Day” because all of these recent descended films have done dreadfully at the box office[44.Although with “Date Night,” one must really question the wisdom of so explicitly targeting an audience that, as its defining characteristic, has difficulty making it out on a Friday or Saturday evening.], and now you’re up, you’re the last of the bunch, and it’s your turn.

Problems Abound

We need to be honest with ourselves, there was a lot going wrong with “Bounty Hunter[55.Roger Ebert’s great “inside baseball” review of “The Bounty Hunter” [link]]”.   The independent draw of Jennifer Aniston and the draw of Gerard Butler were probably overestimated.  And it wasn’t helped by Gerard Butler’s recent “take-the-money-and-run” role selection, e.g. “The Gamer” (That man is not my King! My King died that fateful day, honorably! And he will be remembered through the ages that way!  I do not know this impostor).

Little noted, but a key driver in our model (which got within 4% of BOUNT’s 4-wk box office total), was the lingering taint in audiences minds from the hateful Sarah Jessica Parker / Hugh Grant vehicle “Did You Hear About The Morgans?” which had opened 12 weeks prior.

The themes were too similar. It was in the same psycho-social territory as “Bounty Hunter” but drawing it, perception-wise, inexorably and fatally towards “slapstick romcom” thereby collapsing the “action” thesis.

“Dude, I ain’t going to watch Gerard Butler get chased by some bear!”

This offers a possible explanation for “Knight and Day” touting positive reviews. In a summer of notable disappointments (looking at you Clash), it is facing terrible headwinds from its sibling films (I think BOUNT has an 8% on Rotten Tomatoes and “Morgans” 11%.) They really want to state as loudly as possible: that is not us, this is a good film!

Maybe that works, maybe it doesn’t.

Perhaps a better strategy would have been, and I’ve had a lot of back and forth on this topic with MC, to really highlight the “action” thesis.  If you look at the trailers from “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” for the entire 1 minute and 30 seconds, they BLOW. SHIT. UP. Like, lobby of The Matrix-style. Really demonstrating to the audiences that you will get best-of-class action sequences.

Now, clearly BOUNT didn’t clear the “this is real action” bar.  I think the closest it got in the trailer was when Gerard Butler “maniacally” rear-ended Jennifer Aniston’s rickshaw.

The “Killers” trailer did a little better, but Katherine Heigl fumbling with a handgun really deflated it.

Now, MC thinks “Knight and Day” has proven to audiences that “this is real action.”  I don’t have an opinion.  It will be interesting to see.  I haven’t followed “Knight and Day” all that closely[66.But if I were to undertake a psycho-social mapping exercise, I would be very interested to see how the title “Knight and Day” may have had echoes in the collective unconscious with “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” (amplified no doubt by “A-Team” and “Karate Kid”) and how that may have negatively affected the “action” thesis.] now that the fuddy-duddies at the MPAA are gumming up the works on the regulatory approval of Cantor Exchange, so I will be looking on like everybody else is going to have to (thanks MPAA! ), as an interested spectator, not an interested speculator.