Everyone thinks he or she knows how to fix a broken picture. I wish it were that easy. Rescuing a flawed movie is even central to the plot of a new film, “Entourage,” which itself is a film that needs a rescue mission. In my years as a journalist and reformed studio executive, I’ve witnessed myriad eleventh-hour re-shoots and re-writes, with characters dropped and endings switched.
But here’s the bad news: It’s hard to save a movie. When it sucks, it’s tough to mask the suckage.
Several current films stand out as unfortunate examples. “Aloha” has a can’t-fail cast (Bradley Cooper, Bill Murray and Emma Stone), brilliant dialogue and an exotic setting (Hawaii). And it doesn’t work.
It’s impossible to see “Aloha” without imagining the surgery that must have been applied by its perpetually argumentative producer, Scott Rudin, and its opinionated writer-director, Cameron Crowe. The trail of now-famous hacked emails from Sony executives also suggests serious tinkering.
And the signals are everywhere: Bizarre cuts, confusing fragments of storylines — even one intimate scene, devoid of dialogue, in which subtitles attempt to decode the exchange. As A.O. Scott writes in his New York Times review, “Aloha has too much story, and yet not quite enough. Themes pop into the sky and then fade like vapor trails.”
Personally, I found “Aloha” to be the most entertaining inadvertent disaster movie I’ve seen all year. And I would have no idea how to salvage it.
Which brings us to “Tomorrowland,” Disney’s $180 million tentpole that boasts an admirable theme, superb effects, excellent performances (with one exception), yet has “write-off” written all over it.
Was it fixable? The studio tried: Substantial cuts were made, then new scenes added in as an effort to lend more emotional impact to an oddly unengaging film.
Yet George Clooney looks uncomfortable in his role as part guru, part victim. His relationship to his leading lady is stillborn. So is his relationship to everyone else.
Then there is the case of “Entourage,” the TV show that fails to translate into a movie. Ironically, the film concerns the confused efforts of co-financiers to salvage the first feature fostered by mega-agent Ari Gold, who has now re-invented himself as a studio chief. The ever volatile Ari entrusts the $100 million tentpole to his former client, Vincent Chase, and his distracted and horny buddies. But it’s Doug Ellin, the writer-director, who needs rescuing, not Ari. His shtick worked well for HBO, but no one explained to him how to shoot and edit a movie, and I wouldn’t like to break up his party by trying.
Now I personally am sympathetic to the efforts of film doctors. I have been involved in a range of high-risk missions. I was supervising “Brainstorm” at MGM in 1981 when Natalie Wood drowned mid-picture. A crew of stand-ins and sound-alikes were recruited to finish the film (it was released posthumously, in 1983). I was at Paramount in 1969 when the director of “The Italian Job” suddenly admitted his ending to the caper film was unshootable, and walked off because he couldn’t come up with a better one. I couldn’t either; the picture was a hit without an ending, as was its 2003 remake, which also had no ending.
I firmly believe that a film can be improved in post production, and that reshoots usually represent good news, not bad. It’s always worth one last try. Unless, that is, it’s just plain unfixable.