If you're looking for a review of "Paparazzi" or "The Cookout" in your newspaper this morning, you're not going to find one -- in any newspaper anywhere. Both films, opening in theaters nationwide today, have been kept hidden from critics because, to put it bluntly, the studios think these movies are garbage and want to rake in as much money as they can before word gets out.
Of course, nobody will admit to this at Lion's Gate, which is releasing "The Cookout," or 20th Century Fox, behind both "Paparazzi" and "Alien vs. Predator," which was similarly sneaked into theaters last month. But it's no coincidence that every movie Hollywood doesn't screen in advance -- either by not holding previews until the night before opening or not holding them at all -- is largely lambasted once critics and audiences have caught up with it.
"The Cookout" is a comedy about an NBA #1 draft pick (Storm P) throwing a neighborhood bash to celebrate his success -- at his new manse in a quiet enclave populated by stuffy WASPs. With a cast that includes popular stars like Queen Latifah, Ja Rule and Danny Glover, the movie would seem to be relatively review-proof, so how bad must it be for Lion's Gate to chicken out of showing it to people who love movies for a living?
The theory behind hiding "Paparazzi" from the press may have more to do with its subject matter. Its plot centers on a rising movie star (Cole Hauser) taking meticulous revenge on unscrupulous tabloid photographers after they cause a traffic accident that injures his wife and kid -- so maybe Fox thinks entertainment journalists might take it a little too personally.
Every year as the summer movie season winds down in the end of August and the beginning of September, studios traditionally dump their worst offerings onto the market, hoping the lack of new big-draw blockbusters will translate into profits for any new movie with heavy TV advertising -- which is why you probably haven't been able to escape "Paparazzi" ads in the last two weeks.
But so far in 2004, nine movies have released without screenings (which may be a record), including "Alien vs. Predator," "Exorcist: The Beginning" and "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid" in August alone.
And with the strategy working better than ever -- the three aforementioned titles have already taken in more than $125 million collectively despite huge drop-offs in ticket sales after bad word of mouth -- Hollywood hucksters will likely be encouraged to continue cranking out crappy movies and hiding them from critics, counting on suckers to make them rich.
Whether you give a hoot what critics have to say or not, you should regard the lack of Friday morning reviews to be a huge red flag when considering shelling out $8 to $10 for the latest heavily-hyped wannabe blockbuster. Because when that happens, it's not some cinema snob with a newspaper byline telling you the movie is rubbish -- it's the people who made the movie admitting to it themselves and just hoping you're not smart enough to listen.