Saturday, May 06, 2006

'Mission' Truly Impossible: The Excuse-Making Begins

This is why I love Hollywood -- It's Saturday morning and heaven-forbid I sleep in until 9:30, though I already have my computer on and online by 9:40 and already, everybody in the biz knows that "Mission: Impossible III" is a disappointment. Before the first Saturday matinee ticket has been sold, the heavily hyped season-opening blockbuster is being written up as toast.

Why? Because overnight box office figures suggest that the Tom Cruise-fronted sequel took in only $17 million on Friday, a figure that includes a handful of isolated midnight showings here or there. That puts the film on track for a $49-51 million opening weekend, though one unnamed friend and colleague says that a source at a rival studio is already predicting a $45 million first frame. That's a lot of money, but when the first movie in the series opened to $45.4 million back in 1996 and the second opened at nearly $58 million in 2000, that's not the kind of progression anybody likes to see.

Thus, it's no surprise that the first of the "Did Tom Cruise Sink M:I3?" stories are being written. Actually, there were already dozens of "Will Tom Cruise Sink M:I3?" stories written last week, but if the movie underperforms, expect dozens upon dozens more. Here's the thing to get straight: Even if it only opens at $45 million, "M:I3" isn't a bomb. That would put it on track for maybe $125-150 million domestically (probably toward the lower side), and it will make at least twice that and possibly three times as much worldwide. But that hardly matters, because by 9:08 PST this morning, Nikki Finke, scabrous columnist for LA Weekly, had her story up speculating that young males may have tired of Tom Cruise. It's a tough contention to argue with. Is there a single person out there who REALLY wanted to know more about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes? Anybody who cared more about silent births, the evils of psychiatry or how the most powerful movie star in the world is really happy now, but had a different childhood? It's a self-fulfilling question, of course. If morons didn't devour ever word of US Weekly or Internet speculation, perhaps there wouldn't be the need for hundreds of reporters to be constantly on "TomKat Duty," as I've heard it called. It's all supply and demand. You keep reading the tabloid magazine stories and keep tuning in to the television segments and they're going to keep coming, even if you keep complaining about how you're sick of them -- you can't have it both ways, America. So you say you're sick of Tom Cruise, but you keep wanting to have new things to be sick of. Then again, there's a difference between watching a free TV program or reading a $2.95 magazine and paying 60 dollars for a family of four to go to the movies and get popcorn. Nobody's going to stop watching free Tom Cruise, but pay-for-play Tom Cruise may be in trouble.

But here's my position and one I'm going to stand by -- If "M:I3" isn't a smash hit and if it doesn't do the box office that Paramount is praying for, it's only partially Tom Cruise's fault. But the bigger fault is an issue that virtually nobody is talking about, an issue that ought to be basic in Hollywood, but really isn't...

Was anybody in America really really really eager for this movie to be made in the first place?

"M:I:3," a movie I happened to enjoy, was always the most obvious example of desperation franchise filmmaking since "Lethal Weapon 4" was rushed into production when Warner Bros. realized it didn't have a Summer 1998 tentpole. By the time David Fincher and then Joe Carnahan bailed on the sequel, it was already 2004, already four years after John Woo's "Mission: Impossible 2" and by that time, it may already have been too late. Woo's film made $215 million domestically and the film's reviews were acceptable (58% "Fresh" at RottenTomatoes), but almost to a person, everybody who knew I'd seen this new film asked me "Was it at least better than 'M:I:2'?" Some movies don't linger very well in the memory, it seems. Can anybody out there tell me anything about Woo's movie that doesn't involve Tom Cruise's hair, Dougray Scott taking his face off, the absurd motorcycle jousting or doves? Like what the movie was about? Didn't think so.

Did anybody want to watch another convoluted sub-James Bond spy vehicle with a disposable (and convoluted) plot based on a television series that young male viewers -- exactly the ones who were fickle enough to turn on Tom Cruise in the first place -- aren't even aware existed? Were there loose ends from "M:I2" that so desperately needed to be tied up? Hardly. Studios make franchise films until they kill them. That's just how it goes. Because Paramount knew the "Mission: Impossible" franchise wasn't dead, they made the movie, not because they had a storytelling reason to make the movie or because audience desire was there.

Paramount was placed in a position somewhat similar to what Sony faced on "Basic Instinct 2" -- so much money had been spent on pre-production on the different earlier incarnations and so much time had been spent leaking casting and production info to the trades, that failure to make the movie would cause everybody to lose face. That Abrams and his team actually turned in a decent film is a tremendous credit.

I guess we're a little bit sicker of Tom Cruise than we were last summer at this time, but "War of the Worlds" was a huge hit despite couch jumping, Matt Lauer baiting and all variety of other obnoxious behavior that was all fresh in our minds. Viewers were convinced that "War of the Worlds" offered them things they hadn't seen before, things that superceded how tired they were of Tom Cruise. If "Mission: Impossible 3" underperforms, it's because the movie wasn't enough of a reason to overcome Cruise malaise.

That being said, it's still Saturday afternoon. "M:I3" may get a big Saturday boost from teenage boys who spent yesterday in school yesterday. Maybe word-of-mouth will reflect the movie's quality and one or two people will tell their friends "Hey, it's not bad... Go see it." It may hold its audience well next weekend, when the biggest wide release is "Poseidon," which is nearly pre-ordained as a bomb. That Wolfgang Petersen disaster epic is still six days from release and Nikki Finke tells me it's dead in the water.

We like to move ahead of the curve out here in LA.

Anybody try seeing MI3 this weekend? Any hilarious stories about empty theaters?


  1. Anonymous11:49 AM

    Um... Obviously the Saturday box office was hurt by it also "Free Comic Book Day."

    Otherwise, I'm sure that M:I:III would have hit $54 million for the weekend.

    (Also, I think people are tired of cutesy abbreviations for movies.)

  2. I suspect that Free Comic Book Day is just a myth.

    In any case, "/M--i:3/" ended up with $48 million for the weekend and I'd bet dollars to donuts that when the figures shift from estimates to final #s, it'll drop a smidge more.

    The way a colleague put it, and a way that puts it in some sort of context, that's $3 million lower than Van Helsing three years ago.


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  4. Hey Venkat...

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  5. MacroGal,

    I read the Nikki Finke blurb and, as much as I love a good "Scientologists are INSANE" conspiracy story, I don't buy it. Buying large blocks of tix for a couple weekend showings of this movie at the Arclight isn't going to be enough to push the needle one way or the other. It's a lot like those VoteFortheWorst "Idol" freaks.... They don't have enough power to do anything, but they let people feel reassured that there's a shadowy figure behind inexplicable results... But who knows?