TALES FROM TINSELTOWN: When it comes to film flops, 'Town &Country' is in a world of its own

New Line Cinema has three million reasons to be sorry right now.

Three million dollars was the opening weekend box-office take for its

much-ballyhooed Warren Beatty starrer Town & Country. That's certainly

not what it was hoping for, and is worse than it probably could have

imagined, considering the cost of the production was reported to be some

dollars 90 million.

Is this another case of negative publicity sinking a movie before it

even sets sail? Looks like. Admittedly, it received less than stellar

praise. USA Today called it a 'sporadically engaging train wreck.'

(Don't think the studio will be using that quote in its ads. If there

still are any.) Nevertheless, reviews don't normally make a movie DOA.

Stories about the ballooning budget and infinite shoot (three years in

the making) are what killed this flick. The buzz was so bad the studio

even dispensed with a premiere.

Usually publicists put a positive spin on a film's poor box-office by

claiming it did well with 'select demographic target audiences,' such as

'14-year-old males living west of the Mississippi and flunking biology'

or '47-year-old women married three times and driving sub-compacts.' No

such attempt could be made with Town & Country. Studio spokesman Steve

Elzer simply admitted it was 'very disappointing.'

A publicist at a rival studio told me, 'Once first blood was spilt,

everyone in town started kicking this movie. Honestly, it's a relief to

have a high-profile bomb each year. It attracts all the negative

attention. Other flops can sneak by in its wake.' Nice.

Town & Country is indeed one of the biggest flops since another Warren

Beatty film, Ishtar, which was hurt by the same negative buzz concerning

the script being sacrificed on the altar of vanity and of money flying

out the window like startled bats.

Ishtar, in my view, was funny. I didn't see it until years after it came

out, but I enjoyed it. Yet it seems most of America has never embraced

Warren Beatty as much as the industry itself has. They may like him in

the town (Hollywood) but not in the country.

Once the current of publicity is flowing against it, it's difficult for

a studio's publicity department to turn things around. However,

Paramount managed that a couple of years ago with Titanic. It's easy to

forget, but many critics assailed that movie from development to

post-production, predicting it would sink under the weight of its cost

and James Cameron's ego. Paramount smartly previewed the film in Japan

(where Leonardo Di Caprio has legions of crazed young fans) and the

ecstatic buzz that came back across the Pacific created a tidal wave

that swept the naysayers right out of their armchairs.

Unfortunately for New Line, the negative wave on Town & Country is

sweeping the movie right out of the theaters.

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