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The Hangover Beats Up, Universal Loses on Land of Lost

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 8, 2009 at 7:15AM

Americans who are cinching their belts and making do with less flocked to cinemas over the weekend to watch a group of grown men exercising no restraint whatsoever. The Hangover was the perfect antidote to a nation on a fiscal diet.
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Americans who are cinching their belts and making do with less flocked to cinemas over the weekend to watch a group of grown men exercising no restraint whatsoever. The Hangover was the perfect antidote to a nation on a fiscal diet.

Let's be honest: this trailer will be hard to beat as best of the year.

With marketing like that, how could the R-rated comedy not open? And it played well for most folks, because the movie upticked enough at weekend's end to beat the formidable Up on the second go-round. (And this was the movie Wall Street loved to hate because it was about an old guy and lacked merchandizing potential.) Nora and her pals went to see Up but it was SOLD OUT. When does that happen anymore? So they went to The Hangover instead--and LOVED IT.


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Two male buds and I checked out some shiny vintage cars at The Grove after chuckling--not guffawing--through The Hangover. Ed Helms was the best thing in it--his piano solo alone was worth the price of admission--although Bradley Cooper looks just fine with his shirt off. But how could any movie live up to that trailer? Impossible. There was no way for the movie to pay off the mystery of how a baby, a chicken, a tiger and a missing tooth ended up in a Vegas hotel room. As the movie unspooled, it was mildly diverting, with diminishing returns.

And why wouldn't Warners green light a sequel in advance? It cost nothing, there were hardly any profit participants--co-financier Legendary comes out ahead on this one. I've never understood why the studios, with hundreds of millions at their disposal, don't pay for more cheap high-concept comedies and see which ones stick, because when they hit, they churn out profits. The answer: American comedies without established stars tend not to make money overseas and the studios would rather hedge their bets, all the time. They also tend to aim for the fences and lose more money when they strike out. See: Universal's Land of the Lost, in which Will Ferrell jumps out of his R-rated comfort zone into family terrain-- and bombs.

Universal, which had been zagging against most studio trends and getting away with it, got cynical about delivering a commercial summer hit, and belly-flopped. Now they're saying--oh, we're just going to make comedies and tentpoles, just like everyone else. Damn, Universal was making the most interesting movies out there. (Wanted, the Bourne series, Drag Me to Hell, Coraline, Duplicity, State of Play, Mamma Mia!, Changeling, Baby Mama, Hellboy II.) And I don't want them to stop. Hate to say it, but unless they deliver some serious hits this summer, co-chairmen Marc Shmuger and David Linde will likely jettison someone as a scapegoat for their current woes. Not sure if it will be marketing, distribution, or production, but watch someone get the boot if one or more of their summer slate-- Bruno, Funny People or Public Enemies-- fails to score.

This article is related to: Marketing, Box Office, Studios, Genres, Summer, comedy


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.