Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Hollywood is in the midst of one of its periodic tizzies, and with good reason: We're well into the summer movie season, and every weekend brings another heavily-promoted release that tanks immediately.

This past weekend's big loser was the much-unanticipated movie version of The A-Team, a TV show that is fondly remembered by some, but never had the fanatical fan base of, say, Star Trek.  That the movie failed to perform isn't really surprising; the real question is, why did it get made in the first place?

Screens big and small have been littered lately with doomed attempts to revive popular TV shows from the seventies and eighties, and one would have thought by now it would be obvious to even the most thick-skulled executroid that audiences just don't care.  A once-popular title alone doesn't mean anything; the circumstances that made a TV show a hit likely can't be duplicated by even the most dedicated marketing team.  The A-Team may have been successful on TV a generation ago, but did the studio really think that would somehow translate into huge box-office?

Apparently so, because they did absolutely nothing to insure the movie would stand on its own merits.  The cast seemed to have been assembled at random.  Liam Neeson presumably got the gig because of the unexpected popularity of Taken, just as Bradley Cooper's in it because The Hangover was a hit, and Sharlto Copley was cast because of the success of District 9.  Clearly, no more thought was given to the casting process than the financial success of each actors' previous project.  Were they right for their roles?  Hey, it's a would-be tentpole picture!  Who cares about silly things like characterization?

To insure mediocrity down the line, the studio chose Joe Carnahan to direct, a guy who, in a perfect world, would go back to moving furniture.  Carnahan's continued ability to find employment is a case study in everything wrong with the movie business right now.  His debut feature, Blood, Guts, Bullets And Octane announced itself as a third-rate Tarantino knock-off by its very title, and his gritty, realistic cop movie, Narc, played as an imitation of James Gray's similar cops-and-criminals character studies, which are themselves largely imitations of Sidney Lumet.  Carnahan followed that with the dismal Smokin' Aces, yet another desperate Tarantino wannabe.

It's not that Carnahan is untalented, exactly, but he clearly has never had an original idea--his movies are full of things you've seen before, and better.  More to the point, none of his previous films were successful critically or with audiences.  If you were a studio head betting big bucks on what you hoped would be a new franchise, wouldn't you want to hire people with a proven track record?

You might, but you're not running a studio.  The thing with The A-Team isn't just that it flopped over the weekend, but that those who did show up, according to tracking numbers, were mostly disappointed.  Think about that for a second.  Nobody would go to a movie like this expecting high art, but it clearly failed to deliver even a modest level of entertainment.

How hard is that to achieve, really?  Audiences don't demand much from summer movies, but they expect them to be watchable.  But with the likes of The A-Team, Sex And The City 2, Killers, Get Him To The Greek, Prince Of Persia, Robin Hood and so on, it's like studios are willfully turning out crap, performing some sort of experiment to see just how bad a movie can be before audiences turn away completely.  Maybe at some point they'll try making good movies, just to see what happens, but...nah, probably not.