If the numbers on Box Office Mojo are accurate, "A Haunted House" cost just $2.5 million to make. For that $2.5 million, plus an indeterminate marketing spend, distributor Open Road got a $40.0 million return on investment. Not exactly a mega-blockbuster, but good enough to launch a new comedy franchise; Open Road already announced "A Haunted House 2" coming in the spring of 2014. Three days ago, they even released the sequel's first teaser poster.
"A Haunted House" earned all that money with basically zero support from film critics; the movie wasn't screened in advanced for reviewers, and when they finally got a look at it they weren't exactly enthused. In the end, the movie received just two positive reviews out of more than thirty posted at Rotten Tomatoes; at our own Criticwire Network, eight critics gave it an average grade of a D (on the bright side, it passed!). There were enough severely negative to reviews to fill one of our occasional Barbed Wire columns. "Where do jokes go to die?" quipped Eric Walkuski from JoBlo.com. "'A Haunted House.'" Ouch.
"A Haunted House" starred and was produced and co-written by Marlon Wayans. This was not his first bad report card from critics. To put this in perspective: over a more than 20 year career in movies, Wayans has appeared in just a single (1) film that current holds a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 2000's "Requiem For a Dream." The rest, including "The 6th Man," "Dungeons & Dragons," "Scary Movie," "The Ladykillers," "White Chicks," "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" and more, not so much.
Down in Australia promoting "A Haunted House"'s local release, Wayans was asked for his opinion of film critics and their often unkind view of his work. Here's what he told Luke Buckmaster of the Australian website Crikey about whether he cares about negative reviews:
"I don’t give a shit. After 'White Chicks' I gave up on reviewers. I was just like, whatever. Whatever you guys want to say. I look at 'White Chicks' and it gets one and a half stars and I’m looking at the audience and I’m hearing the thunderous laughter. I’m just going, you know what, you guys have got a thumb up your ass. You have a fist. It’s a fist up your arse and I’m not going to fight you on it. Just enjoy it and I’m not going to fight you on it. Their opinions are their opinions and I’m not mad at them. The only time they give great reviews is when you do a movie for them. Critics like, I guess, smarter comedy. Scatalogical comedy and weed jokes don’t work for them."
Wayans does say he's not mad at critics. He doesn't wish them ill for giving his movies bad reviews (beyond, y'know, continuing discomfort from sitting on their various appendages). He does actually sound like he's made peace with negative notices and doesn't care too much about them.
That said, are critics really only interested in "smarter comedy?" Typically, when I hear a filmmaker say that critics don't matter because audiences love their work, what I really hear is "Why try hard when aiming low works just fine?" Still, this would be an interesting thing to investigate on Rotten Tomatoes and our Criticwire Network; compare the scores in, say, a calendar year for all the quote-unquote high-brow and low-brow comedies. Would we find that critics favor the smart to the stupid? We very well might.
Then again, we might find that critics favor the smart in the stupid. There is a way to do dumb comedy intelligently. What Marlon Wayans makes is not terribly different than what Mel Brooks has made for decades; satires, spoofs, and parodies of genre conventions and stereotypes. You could hardly say that critics don't "get" Mel Brooks. Generally, his best movies -- "Blazing Saddles," "The Producers," "Young Frankenstein" -- have received good reviews.
Then again then again, "Spaceballs," "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," and "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" are all rated rotten on Rotten Tomatoes. "Dracula: Dead and Loving It"'s rating -- a 9%! -- seems especially low (and due for a defense by some guy with two thumbs and a blog called Criticwire). So Wayans might actually have a point.
"When you’re doing comedy the only thing that’s truly important is that people laugh," says Wayans. He's right.