Complaining that box office cashiers are crediting “Malcolm X” purchases to films like “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” director Spike Lee held a press conference to warn his fans to check their stubs.“Since the movie opened, we’ve been getting phone calls and reports across the country from people saying their tickets were blank or read ‘Home Alone 2’ or ‘Aladdin,’ ” said Lee, who added he had no evidence of how many tickets were wrongly punched. “But even if one ticket was mistakenly punched wrong, that’s $ 7.50 that didn’t go to ‘X.’ ” Wearing a “Crooklyn” baseball cap instead of the “X” lid he normally sports, Lee said an investigation was done by Warner Bros., the film’s distributor, and added that exhibition chains have attributed the mishaps to human error. This was also the conclusion reached in a statement issued by WB distribution president D. Barry Reardon, who added: “Many theaters are using part-time holiday help at this time of year who may not be as familiar with the ticketing equipment as the regular staff, and such accidents can happen.” Reardon and Lee urged exhibs to be more careful, with Lee suggesting more attention to hiring clerks who can push the right buttons. Asked if it wasn’t likely that “X” was conversely getting credit for patrons of films like “Home Alone 2,” Lee quipped: “We need the money more than ‘Home Alone 2’ does.” Both exhibition and distribution sources said that these kinds of mistakes aren’t uncommon, but that effect on the gross is negligible. Lee also spoke briefly about “X’s” precipitous drop-off in grosses the last two weekends. In the face of strong competition from other big-budget films, “X” grosses have fallen more than 50% in each of the last two weekends, leading to questions of whether the activist’s story is crossing over to white audiences, and whether it will be able to hold enough screens to earn a high gross. Through last weekend, “X” had grossed $ 35.7 million, but its per-screen average had dropped off to the $ 1,400 level. “I’m not happy about the slight fall-off, but I feel we’re in for the long haul. Black History Month is coming up, and the film will be used as a learning tool. With the 10-best lists and Oscar nominations coming up, we’ll be around awhile,” Lee said. Lee also seems to be borrowing anti-bootlegging techniques last seen in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables.” In Lee’s case, it’s a proliferation of bootleg “X” tapes he’s worried about. To stop the pirated tapes being sold on Gotham streets, he’s named his Untouchables “the Batsquad,” a team of baseball bat-wielding loyalists scouring streets for the tapes. So far, his crew has confiscated about 200, he said. “We walk up to them, ask if they have any bootleg copies of ‘Malcolm X,’ and then we take them.” Lee said he’ll next exec produce two projects by young black filmmakers, including David Johnson’s “Drop Squad,” about a group that kidnaps blacks who behave like they’re white and deprograms them.
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