Thursday, February 05, 2009

Super Bowl film ads are winners and losers — but mostly losers

Sunday’s Super Bowl is the first I can recall where the game definitely outshined the commercials.

Advertisers paid record rates, but the only one that seemed to get its money’s worth was Denny’s, which generated plenty of water-cooler buzz with its offer of free food, which is second only to free T-shirts as a way to lure customers.

But who were the biggest losers? Offhand, I’d say they were the Hollywood studios trying to build hype for this year’s slate of would-be summer blockbusters.

Jack Black and Michael Cera star in “The Year One,” a historical comedy that features the two as lazy hunter-gatherers who get banished from their tribe. Left to fend for themselves, they encounter a host of biblical characters. Yes, it’s a comedy of biblical proportions — if, of course, you haven’t already had enough of Black’s poor-man impersonation of John Belushi and Cera’s impression of a depressed turtle.

The late Dudley Moore already tried this joke in the 1980 stinker “Wholly Moses!”  Nothing short of a burning bush giving “The Year One” a three-star review could get me into the multiplex for this.

The latest ad for director J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot offers plenty of explosions but still looks like “Star Trek” crossed with “Beverly Hills 90201.” That is not a good thing. Of course, “Trek” fans will pack theaters opening weekend, if only so they can complain about how the movie trashed Gene Roddenberry’s vision. But does anyone else care? And is the world ready for a James T. Kirk who is not William Shatner?

It will take more than a commercial that makes “Star Trek” look like every other action/adventure movie on the market for this Enterprise to live long and prosper.

Next up, the sequels and prequels. Tom Hanks returns for “Angels & Demons,” the prequel to “The Da Vinci Code,” while Vin Diesel takes the “Fast and the Furious” franchise for another spin in “Fast & Furious.” Neither film seems to have much appeal beyond fans of the original films, and Diesel’s star power has dimmed after a string of duds. At whom are these Super Bowl ads aimed, anyway?

And that brings us to the Super Bowl’s power couple: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” Both are based on Hasbro toys. Both were incredibly popular in the 1980s. And both inspired multiple lines of comic books and cartoons.

Those of you who made the first live-action “Transformers” movie a hit in 2007 know who you are, and if you actually liked the first movie, this one will give you more of the same. That means not enough giant robots fighting each other and way too much Shia LaBeouf.

“G.I. Joe” looks absurd and completely over the top, which is exactly what I expect from “The Mummy” director Stephen Sommers. Die-hard “G.I. Joe” fans are nervous, but the cartoon was pretty silly, too. Remember the episode in which Cobra Commander used a huge laser to carve his face into the moon? Besides, the movie features Christopher Eccleston (“Doctor Who”) as Destro and Sienna Miller inside the Baroness’ fetching leather cat suit, which is more than any of these other films have.

But did the ads for “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” really move Super Bowl viewers who weren’t already fans? I doubt it. Still, Super Bowl exposure probably did help two contenders.

The sleeper hit of the bunch may be “Race to Witch Mountain,” Disney’s return to a live-action film series that was popular when I was young. If Disney was trying to reach Generation X dads who now have children of their own, a Super Bowl commercial was the way to go.

The same goes for “Land of the Lost,” a big-screen remake of a popular 1970s Saturday-morning adventure series. Except, in this case, what was a clever and sometimes spooky TV show is now just another alleged Will Ferrell comedy, only with dinosaurs. When will Ferrell’s movie career go extinct?

Probably not before this travesty makes a bundle and tarnishes my childhood memories.

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