Labor Day Weekend is almost always slow at the box office — the most any film has ever made on this weekend is $20 million — and in the interest of perpetuating that cycle, Hollywood generally puts out inferior product. Hence today we have the dismal drama “Crossover,” the smug comedy “Trust the Man” (which opened last week in NYC and LA and goes wide today), and two they didn’t even bother to screen: “The Wicker Man” and “Crank.”
Now, a note on those two. I discuss it in this week’s edition of “In the Dark,” but both “The Wicker Man” and “Crank” actually were screened — at 10 p.m. last night. It’s a studio tactic to prevent opening-day reviews from appearing in the newspapers while avoiding the stigma of not screening the film at all. Those of us with half a brain in our heads know what they’re up to, though, and we declare: “Baloney!” (Or words to that effect.)
I couldn’t be in two places at once last night, so I went to “Crank,” because that’s where my pal Dawn Taylor and her faithful husband Patrick were going, and also because it was playing at a theater much closer to my house. I soon learned that Lionsgate had found a way to make the 10 p.m. screening even more annoying than it already was: Hold it at a movie theater that’s inside a mall that closes at 9! All the doors were locked when I arrived at Portland’s Lloyd Mall at 9:30. The only way I got in is that someone happened to be leaving and I caught the door before it closed.
Dawn and I imagined the studio’s conversation. “Where should we hold this screening? Is there an abandoned warehouse someplace?” “What about an old condemned school cafeteria?” “Maybe a shuttered mental hospital on the outskirts of town?” “Ah, I’ve got it! A mall that’s closed with all its doors locked!”
Anyway, despite the initial inconvenience, the movie was more or less a hoot. Lionsgate’s refusal to screen it in the regular fashion is symptomatic of a problem we’ve seen several times this year, including with “Snakes on a Plane” and “Slither.” Studios think that critics just don’t like “this kind” of movie and that there’s no point in showing them to us. But in fact the two I just mentioned got mostly good reviews when critics did finally see them, and I suspect “Crank” will, too.
Note also that “Slither” and “Snakes” both tanked at the box office, and I won’t be surprised if “Crank” does. If they’d screened ’em, they’d have had all those positive reviews in the Friday papers, almost certainly helping to raise awareness and boost attendance. It’s a case where critics could have been useful to the studios, instead of being the bane of their existence like they apparently are most of the time.
Moving back in time a bit, I saw “Crossover” Wednesday night, and I believe I was the only critic in attendance. (Someone slipped in at the last minute who might have been, but he was sitting at the other end of the row and I didn’t recognize him.) The film was not good at all, and the studio rep and I were having a bit of a giggle at its expense, and then, at the 75-minute mark, the film broke. It got jammed up in the projector and we saw the frame it stopped on burn up before our eyes. Frames are only supposed to pass in front of that very, very hot bulb for a fraction of a second. If they pause for longer than that, poof!
The only other time I can recall this happening was during the press screening for “Pearl Harbor,” way back in 2001. In that case, it took them about 20 minutes to fix the print and get it rolling again. This time, they said it should only take them five minutes. I was suspicious. Five minutes later, they announced that the problem was worse than previously suspected and they would not be able to fix it at all. The audience was dismissed. One of the security guards had seen it at a previous screening, though, and she was on hand to tell interested parties what happened in the last 15 minutes. Not much, it turns out.