Can film biz face reality?

Bigscreen trip can be a bummer

“The Real Cancun” was real disadvantaged by its R rating, but the failure of TV’s “Real World” concept to translate to the bigscreen poses unsettling questions about similar projects from 20th Century Fox and Universal.

Will a longer marketing span help Universal’s unscripted youth-gone-wild pic “The Quest” succeed where New Line’s spring break docudrama tanked? Will Fox’s “American Idol”-inspired musical “From Justin to Kelly” prove stronger just because it’s a scripted drama?

“Cancun,” which follows the resort-town hijinks of horny college kids, garnered reams of pre-release publicity from articles keying on the novelty of its concept. It just didn’t ring up much box office coin: “Cancun” bowed in 10th place this weekend with a measly $2.1 million — slim pickings even for a pic costing under $8 million to produce.

Skin not enough

“The T&A almost never gets people to go to a movie by itself — they also want a story,” observed one exec at a rival studio in the wake of the aftermath of the New Line flop.

U and Fox execs argue their pics bear just that caution in mind and rep much more substantive films. But then nobody would want to say they were exactly like “The Real Cancun” at this point.

“Quest” — which follows a group of youth on a collective booty call — was bounced from the spring release sked in part because it was deemed too similar to “Cancun,” though studio execs emphasize an aim to nurture marketing. And “Justin to Kelly,” though largely a beach romancer of the Frankie-and-Annette ilk, was given its title to underscore that pic’s topliners are the same two singers who finished atop TV’s “American Idol” competish.

R rating likely

“Quest” is likely to be hung with the same R rating that so hamstrung “Cancun” — and ditto MGM’s scripted adaptation of homevid’s “Girls Gone Wild” if that spring break movie is ever greenlit. “Justin to Kelly” — expected to get a “PG-13” rating — won’t have that problem but does share other handicaps of the reality-inspired genre:

  • A lack of true star power for the all-important chat show circuit.

  • A general disconnect between TV and movies (to wit: Jennifer Aniston is still not a movie star).

  • MTV isn’t a corporate cousin. One reason Paramount’s movie adaptation of the “Jackass” reality show succeeded was its production base at MTV Films, insiders confide. It’s one thing to buy ads on the MTV cable channel; it’s quite another to have a seat at the corporate table while a marketing campaign is being constructed.

MTV was notably not involved in “Cancun,” even though the picture was inspired by the cable channel’s long running series of “Real World” skeins following college-age youth in various locales. “Real World” producers Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray produced the movie, but MTV passed on the project.

No ‘Jackass’ sequel

It’s worth noting, too, that no “Jackass” sequel is planned. Even reality-pic winners ride an ephemeral cultural zeitgeist that’s impossible to sustain for a film franchise, many believe.

U has yet to assign a new release date to “Quest,” but execs claim optimism that a longer marketing lead time can build heat that was just never there for “Cancun.” Execs hope pic’s fewer main characters will make “Quest” a more marketable movie than “Cancun.”

“They seemed intent on getting out first,” U vice chairman Marc Shmuger said. “We made a decision that it wasn’t about getting out first but about getting the picture right and getting the campaign right.”

New Line moved “Cancun” from its original May 9 launch date to April 25 in part to beat “Quest” to market. In the process, a promo tie-in with MTV had to be severely truncated.

U hopes to get “Quest” into theaters in “the second half of the year,” Shmuger said.

Pre-release tracking data had indicated “Cancun” B.O. would likely be limited to the single-digit millions — though no one expected the low single digits and industry aftershock was apparent by Sunday morning. The campaign for “Cancun” was effectively launched only after pic wrapped March 21.

“The tracking data was really hard to read, because it was never as big as the buzz,” one industryite noted. “Things got a little out of whack, because there was so much industry interest in the picture (even as) the audience was deciding not to go see it.”

Or simply couldn’t get in. Exhibs have tightened admission policies considerably of late, and a restricted movie rating now generally means youth will actually be restricted from viewing R pics.

As for older youth, “If they really wanted to see naked women that’s easy enough to get on video,” one industryite suggested.

‘Justin’ tuning up

“Justin to Kelly,” slated to bow wide on June 13, is being touted as a romancer packed with musical interludes.

“It’s like an old beach party movie,” Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said. “It’s very scripted, and there are a lot of production numbers. It has nothing to do with ‘American Idol’ at all.”

A big Fox success would be highly noted throughout Hollywood in the aftermath of Miramax’s high-profile win with its “Chicago” musical.

There appears a bit more industry skepticism over “Quest.” But producer Mike Fleiss, best known as the creator of TV’s “The Bachelor,” remains brashly confident.

“I’m not surprised (‘Cancun’) didn’t do well,” observed Fleiss, who’s currently involved in editing his pic. “You need more than just reality to have a hit movie.”

Or as another industryite mused: “People don’t want to watch a movie of something that they can watch on TV for free.”

(Gabriel Snyder contributed to this report.)

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