Length, timing help gut Weinstein film

Film biz pundits were doing post-mortems (or autopsies) Monday on the pokey $11.6 million weekend performance of “Grindhouse.”

The general consensus: The movie scored big points for its daring, but not much else.

For one thing, there was the April 6 opening date. Launching the pic on Easter weekend, when kiddies on spring break were being offered plenty of family films, was a cheeky bit of counterprogramming by the Weinstein Co. But the tykes and their parents decided to go for those family films (“Are We Done Yet?,” “Meet the Robinsons”), while young adults simply shrugged off “Grindhouse.”

And while the pic was dreamed up as a double bill, it was a big gamble to keep that format when the two films each ended up running 50% longer than their targeted one-hour running time. After 85 minutes of Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror,” some audience members started to leave, apparently unaware that there was another 85-minute pic, from Quentin Tarantino, awaiting them.

And then there’s the obvious question: Did anyone besides Tarantino and Rodriguez ever really care about the grindhouse movie genre that much to begin with?

Now observers are wondering whether the domestic B.O. can be salvaged, and whether the poor perf will affect box office overseas (where film fans are acutely aware of U.S. reaction to new pics).

TWC is planning to revamp its ad campaign, but with seven wide releases this weekend, it has an uphill battle.

As for overseas, there are plenty of films (ranging from “The Da Vinci Code” to “The Holiday”) that reap 70% of their B.O. internationally, so the movie is not dependent upon U.S. success.

More crucially, the films will be split in two in most overseas markets, which will enable new campaigns and new marketing angles. Now, there are questions as to whether the Weinsteins may do the same here and re-release both films.

Double feature experiment stalled out at the B.O. over the weekend, dragging down the track records of both helmers with the lowest openers for either so far this decade.

B.O. reference points

Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Vol.1″ sliced up $22 million in its 2004 bow, and that film’s sequel hit $25 million when it opened a year later.

The last Rodriguez film to open at the “Grindhouse” level was 1998′s forgettable “The Faculty,” which also hit $11.6 million in its debut.

Rodriguez’s biggest bow to date was the $33.4 million raked in by the last “Spy Kids” film in 2003. He’s had two films cross the $100 million mark, both from the “Spy Kids” franchise, whereas Tarantino has had one, “Pulp Fiction.”

The reaction to “Grindhouse” is the antithesis of that to “300,” “Norbit” and “Wild Hogs,” pics critics loathed but audiences loved. With “Grindhouse,” many critics loved the homages to old films but audiences were indifferent.

What was the target audience for the film? It was intended as an affectionate salute to the cheesy low-budget films of the 1960s and ’70s. But people old enough to remember those movies may not have been willing to spend more than three hours of their time celebrating the schlock of yesteryear.

And while young audiences laugh at references to recent films in “Epic Movie” and “Scary Movie,” the films of three decades ago (“White Line Fever,” “Caged Heat,” et al.) seem more remote than ancient Sparta.

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