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Toxins poisoned crop of flops

<I>Variety</I>'s subjective list of 10 biggest duds of 2004

“Success has a thousand fathers, but failure dies an orphan.”

The observation has been attributed to John F. Kennedy, but it’s as much a movie industry as a political cliche.

When it comes to a hit film, everyone squawks and claims affiliation. As for a flop, not a peep.

Thus, when Variety compiled a subjective list of the 10 biggest duds of 2004 (the science used was not complete hocus-pocus; budgets, domestic grosses and critical response were taken into account), no one would talk.

So be it. Here are the films, listed alphabetically, and the reasons we think they died of toxic shock.

  • “The Alamo”

    The toxin: historically handicapped

    Director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer’s version might have worked out, but Disney pulled out the rug due to that film’s projected $125 million budget and R rating. Instead, a less experienced director, John Lee Hancock, was hired to take over the mammoth-sized production. When the pic was delayed from its December 2003 bow, it was quickly labeled a loser. Not helping matters was that, as Hancock himself complained: “No one remembers the Alamo.” Alcohol to the wound was the fact that Hancock’s epic wound up costing $107 million. It grossed $22 million.

  • “Alfie”

    The toxin: wrong concept

    Unlike the cultural shocker that was the original 1966 Michael Caine starrer, the new “Alfie” failed to generate controversial sparks — or sparks, period. (The film grossed $13 million.) Jude Law might have puckish charm, but not enough to carry a story that no longer resonates. Today, the idea of a breezy male cad and the topics of unwanted pregnancy and abortion are no longer startling. Rather than update the movie, Paramount merely replayed material that no longer packs a punch.

  • “Alexander”

    The toxin: bum script

    Pet projects often prove poisonous and so was the case with Oliver Stone’s film-school passion. The director’s obsession came out in all the wrong ways — from the film’s swollen length to details concerning Macdeonian history that sailed high above auds’ heads. Stone has blamed the red states’ obsession with family values for creating a climate that failed to embrace a pansexual hero, but that seems to be just the tip of the over-reaching sword. The film, which cost $150 million, made $34 million.

  • “Around the World in 80 Days”

    The toxin: wrong timing

    Another movie that didn’t acknowledge contemporary times. As Variety‘s Peter Bart pointed out upon the film’s release, “Most kids today know you can get around the world in less than 24 hours; it only feels like 80 days if your companion is Jackie Chan.” Chan was another misstep. The thesp’s days as a surefire action attraction have waned, and considering the predominance of CGI and special effects, black-belt punches now seem almost as antiquated as hot-air balloons. Pic took in $34 million.

  • “Catwoman”

    The toxin: wrong animal

    Buzz killed the cat. Even before the first pictures surfaced of Halle Berry donning dominatrix-style leather, there was chatter on movie Web sites that Warner Bros. was worried about the film’s script and dailies. Meanwhile, Berry was under scrutiny in the press as a black female Oscar winner attempting to carry a summer blockbuster. The film didn’t deliver, but what might have been a mere miss (the film grossed $40 million) became a splashy disaster in the glare of the media.

  • “Flight of the Phoenix”

    The toxin: wrong release

    Another remake that failed to convince 40 years later. ABC’s “Lost” aside, the probability of being stranded in the middle of a forsaken landscape in 2004 seems questionable. (Nobody brought a BlackBerry?) And the suspense was reduced by the film’s plot-giveaway title and the trailers. The other hurdle was the pic’s release date: the weekend before Christmas, typically a crowded playing field. “Phoenix,” a solid B picture (that some critics have ardently defended), got lost in the clutter. Film has grossed $20 million so far.

  • “Home on the Range”

    The toxin: wrong demo

    In a year flush with intelligent and visually sophisticated CGI pics, such as “The Incredibles” and “Shrek 2,” Disney’s 2-D pic stood out like the toon anachronism it was. Furthermore, the writing was aimed more at tots than their parents, thus losing a sizable aud that Pixar reliably enchants. The $110 million film grossed $50 million.

  • “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”

    Toxin: bad story

    Technical wizardry still needs those old basics — story and characters — both lacking in what was essentially one, big special effect starring Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow. As with “The Polar Express,” the press elaborately chronicled the tech wizardry of this largely computer-generated pic, driving up expectations. The ubiquity of Law on the bigscreen last year probably didn’t help. Total tally was $37 million.

  • “Spanglish”

    Toxin: neurosis overload

    Sometimes, of course, characters can grate, as was the case in James L. Brooks’ latest $100 million family dramedy, which so far has pulled in $42 million. An hysterical wife, a half-asleep husband and an infuriatingly stubborn housekeeper ultimately combusted in an overload of neuroses that was too much even by this Prozac nation’s standards. Meanwhile, the pic’s politically correct attitude toward the Mexican help ended up coming across, inadvertently, as patronizing.

  • “The Stepford Wives”

    Toxin: bad buzz

    Financially, this stylized remake doesn’t qualify as a complete dud — it grossed $95 million worldwide on a budget of $90 million. (Domestic gross was $59 million.) But you wouldn’t know that from the buzz. Word of trouble on the set between director Frank Oz and the star-studded cast — brought on by the fact that the film went over production and required extensive re-shooting — made its way into feature articles and onto the Web. How could the actual movie compete with such dishy drama?

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