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Today’s installment of our on-going What Went Wrong? series of articles here at the Culture Cast blog will focus on two spring 2012-released movies that could not have been more different, yet both failed to excited moviegoers and flopped domestically in theaters. One film, the fourth theatrical installment of a long-running series of comedies, grossed less than half of its progenitor. The other features a star who has never anchored a hit film on his own, and yet continues to see work in Hollywood (not that I mind, because I love this particular guy). Today we’ll take a look at the flop movies American Reunion and Jason Statham’s Safe.
American Reunion (2012)
The first American Pie movie entered domestic theaters in the summer of 1999 (a great year for movies overall). Grossing well over a hundred million on a minuscule budget, American Pie was a surprise blockbuster, establishing a new film franchise for Universal Pictures and making stars of several young actors, including Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, and Chris Klein. Subsequent films in the series would also go on to gross huge numbers, with American Pie 2 being one of the big hits of the summer of 2001 and American Wedding closing out the trilogy successfully in 2003. A string of direct-to-DVD films performed successfully for the film series as well, and it seemed like the franchise was probably done as far as theatrical releases were concerned, having grossed hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, lining Universal’s coffers with sweet, sweet mney. Then came American Reunion in the spring of 2012. It ultimately grossed less than one half of the original 1999 film, despite reuniting the core cast members of that film. So, what exactly went wrong?
The American Pie film property, well-reviewed in the past, opened to middling reviews (43% on Rotten Tomatoes), and audiences collectively shrugged their shoulders. The Rotten Tomatoes consensus states that “It’ll provide sweetly nostalgic comfort food for fans of the franchise, but American Reunion fails to do anything truly new or interesting — or even very funny — with the characters.” The Hangover series of films as well as Bridesmaids pretty much upped the ante in the gross-out, hard-R comedy film, and American Reunion just appeared old and sluggish by comparison. It also didn’t help that a completely new film crew took over production, with the duo behind the Harold and Kumar series at the helm. The opportunity to bring back the Weitz brothers and really connect the film to the first in the series would have been nice. Additionally, American Reunion also opened just after the release of mammoth mega-hit The Hunger Games, leaving little wiggle-room for other films at the multiplex. It should be noted that American Reunion was a gigantic hit overseas, grossing nearly two hundred million dollars — a high for the film series.
Jason Statham has had a very weird but incredibly successful career. He has never anchored a box office hit on his own, yet he continues to get leading roles in mainstream Hollywood film productions (he also has the occasional direct-to-DVD film as well). Statham is a solid actor, a great action film presence, and generally makes good career choices that fit his image as a bad-ass. Statham’s recent film appearances include the flops Killer Elite, The Mechanic, and today’s topic Safe. In Safe, Statham plays Luke Wright, an ex-cop/minor MMA star turned semi-homeless man after the Russian mob kills his wife. Statham, through circumstance, rescues a young girl, who is also a math genius, from the mob and must protect her while he exacts his vengeance and righteous fury upon them for the death of his wife. Lionsgate released Safe into theaters in April, where it promptly floundered. So, what exactly went wrong?
The first indication that Safe may not have been the best bet for big box office numbers was its shifting release date, which went from October 2011 to to March 2012 and finally to April. Films with shifting release dates don’t often do well in theaters. Statham was also coming off of multiple box office flops, having appeared in one big film, The Expendables, in the past five years or so. Statham is an enigma; most people I know seem to love him, both as an actor and as a sex symbol for bald men worldwide. Yet, he seems unable to break through to the mainstream. This film was no exception. Additionally, Safe was written and directed by Boaz Yakin, writer of such films as the infamous 1989 Punisher adaptation and director of such films as the 2003 Brittany Murphy vehicle Uptown Girls (as well as a producer for Hostel Part II, one of the worst films I’ve ever paid to see in theaters). In short, not a great pedigree for action films, or really any kind of film. I liked Safe, having seen it in a nearly empty theater one late Friday night, but it is certainly a generic product. The supporting cast, including Robert John Burke and veteran character actor James Hong, are quite solid and Statham is good as usual. I just hope he can find some mainstream success soon, because he’s too good to end up in direct-to-DVD hell.