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Summer Movies: Drag Me to Hell, Away We Go

by Anne Thompson
June 5, 2009 8:16 AM
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Every once in a while I am reminded that my taste is not the same as the mass audience. I can usually call a blockbuster like 300 or Star Trek--in other words, I ignore the tracking and opening weekend predictions to insist--THIS MOVIE IS SO GOOD IT WILL DO BUSINESS. Sometimes, thank God, word-of-mouth counts for something, so that a movie becomes A MUST-SEE.

But occasionally I really like something--often beloved by critics as well--that just doesn't catch moviegoers' fancy. Take, say, the two-part Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse. Both movies were simply too arcane, too close to their pulpy cinephile roots. But what was arcane about Drag Me to Hell, which earned a whopping 83 on Metacritic? But opened to $16 million? And is getting creamed by the competition? What makes this Sam Raimi movie a tweener? Well, the fact that it's a horror/comedy hybrid, for one. (See Slither.) It looks like you can't have a fun scary gross-out E-ride rated PG-13: that way you lose both the family and the horror crowd. (And there's a Fright Night remake in the works.)

That's Dennis Cozzalio's theory (scroll down). He hosted a fun gathering at the Mission Tiki drive-in last Saturday night, complete with hearse and Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule T-shirt giveaways. Was this film freak gathering a bad sign for the movie? Well, most of the drive-in's business that night was over on the side showing Pixar's Up. Other folks have criticized Universal's marketing, which failed to distinguish Drag Me to Hell enough. Debuting it at SXSW was the right move, but the message that the movie was really fun somehow didn't come across.

It's easier to recognize a smart-house tweener that isn't going to do any business. Focus Features' Away We Go, which has all the indie cred bonafides in the world, from Dave Eggers and Sam Mendes to TV comedy stars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph and movie actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, just doesn't cut it. Mainly the two rom-com leads are not interesting enough, forming a warm mushy bowl of boredom in the middle of the film. We know they love each other. So?

Secondly, the film is a road movie, always a risky narrative structure (see: My Blueberry Nights, also with a non-pro, Norah Jones, at its center). Third, beware of smart sophisticated filmmakers who are making fun of US for being one or more of the following: idiotic, alcoholic, leftie, bourgeois, self-involved, or lousy parents. The movie might as well be called BOOBS ARE US. One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons shows one couple saying to some pals, "Did you see Honky Tonk Freeway? It ruined our August." That ill-fated 1981 John Schlesinger comedy also looked down on ordinary American folks who weren't as cool as the filmmakers. IFC's David Hudson rounds up Away We Go's bad reviews; 56 on Metacritic isn't going to get this pic very far.

Here's the trailer:


originally posted on Variety.com

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