Hollywood Will Apply Total Lack of Imagination to [Insert Brand Name Here]
Belittlement occurs on a regular basis for movie lovers. It’s a symptom of reading preposterous news—who’s ready for Vince Vaughn in The Rockford Files?—or watching previews of high-budget, low-IQ movies knowing they’ll become entertainment for rain-outs and the barren, alien terrain of late-night television.
Hearing about the film versions of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Battleship, currently battling for survival in theaters, felt different. As if I had been slapped in the face repeatedly with a dead cod, my hurt lasted for several days. Does Hollywood really think we’re that desperate for familiarity? What’s next, an international drama based on a pizza stone?
After enduring What to Expect When You’re Expecting in a nearly empty movie theater, I was still angry, but for a different reason.
Instead of trying to connect with the audience on a universal topic, director Kirk Jones and screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hach go for vomit gags, shrill characters (the men are jittery morons; the women are shrill know-it-alls), and lame jokes that mine the zeitgeist dry. There’s no reason for any of this to occur since What to Expect When You’re Expecting was originally a pregnancy guide. To my knowledge, there are no characters, no plot, no Lord of the Rings-like fan base with exacting standards. The filmmakers could have gone in any direction. Instead we get a sitcom, a bad one, in feature film’s clothing that features Jennifer Lopez, our blandest Hollywood star, and a domesticated Chris Rock.
Here, source material isn’t the problem; it’s the utter lack of imagination displayed by creative types confronted with limitless options. That should concern movie fans when they hear—and this is true, by the way—that projects based on Candy Land and the Ouija board are in development.
Nothing is going to change. Terrible ideas coming to fruition are the permanent cost of loving movies. We shouldn’t celebrate the pitiful box-office results for Battleship—annihilated by The Avengers and Men in Black III—and What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which barely mustered a $10 million opening weekend in a year of profitable, crappy romances like The Vow ($125 million) and The Lucky One ($56 million, but an estimated budget of $25 million). Studios will still develop projects based on name recognition. It doesn’t matter if the inspiration is a toy, a board game, or whatever. As long as people have a happy association with the product and there’s the possibility of profit, it’s a go.
Making these movies good is the hard part. How can that be done? I have some suggestions (also good for blockbusters) for the Hollywood power brokers who frequent Philadelphia-centric blogs.
1. When hiring a director, go against the grain. Before he directed Iron Man, Jon Favreau was best known for Elf. Christopher Nolan wowed us with the twisty Memento before Batman became his muse. Joss Whedon’s biggest claim to fame before The Avengers was being the mastermind behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a TV show hailed for its dialogue and story.
2. Get a good cast. Giant special effects are nice, but expected. You know what’s nicer? Robert Downey Jr. and his ladies’ man cockiness. The terror of an unhinged Heath Ledger. CGI can’t create those things.
3. Take the occasional chance. What to Expect When You’re Expecting proceeded with the verve of a bad stand-up comedian: I tell ya, folks, pregnant women are so moody. Didya ever notice that men are so competitive? Offer something to remind us that we have a functioning brain. Can we at least pretend that studios aren’t trying to guzzle from the swollen teats of a cash cow?
4. Secure a good script. Then have the writers take another crack at it. Wait six months. Revise it again. Then start filming.
All Hollywood has to do is follow these rules and in 18 months, tops, we will be savoring Philip Seymour Hoffman’s incendiary performance as Mr. Mouth.