‘Aloha,’ ‘Entourage’ Prove It’s Not Easy to Rescue a Bad Film

Rescuing a Flawed Film Like 'Entourage,'
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

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.

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  1. All you “Critics” need to get off the corporate tit. Entourage movie was phenomenal to the fans of the show. As someone who was lucky enough to get to attend the Premier in Hollywood as well as 4 additional theater viewings of Entourage, it was awesome to see and hear all the enthusiasm, cheers, claps, laughter, etc. from so many in attendance. All you critics try to be clever with your analysis saying “It’s just an extension of the TV show”. Well yeah…it is….and that’s what makes it great. The show was awesome, the characters are awesome and what we fans love. Doug Ellin could have made an Entourage movie of just the 5 guys hanging at a pool and bullshitting the entire movie and we the fans would have loved it.

  2. I am so dumb and I guess my friend is as well. We both really enjoyed Tomorrowland. Ah, well, not a great film but fun. Which is more than a good many movies are.
    We had a good time watching it and recommend it.

  3. Peter Makowski says:

    I really enjoyed Brainstorm and saw a couple of times.I’m going to make a point of watching it again.
    But I don’t know how people in the biz are deluded enough to think that Cooper or Clooney are saviours and start material as they have produced some true turkeys in recent years and don’t have a molecule of charisma between them.
    The machine is breaking down.People want a great original storyline,some good performances and honesty.We are more savvy now with the glut of great TV and foreign films etc…

  4. To quote Peter Bart: “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.”

    And to paraphrase screenwriter William Goldman: Nobody in Hollywood knows anything.

    Amateurs “getting lucky” is how most so-called major films are generally made, and more specifically for this generation of film studio executives. Independent movies with bare-bone budgets do not have the luxury of “fixing” a film in post-production; they actually do need an beginning, middle and (most importantly) an end before filming in order to muster the financing from a half dozen sources.

    True filmmakers will not start a movie without a workable script (with a workable ending); only people with a “green light” looking to make bank — before that light turns yellow (development hell) or red (turnaround).

    There are no more “tent-pole” films, only blockbusters and independent movies; eventually movies with too much money and those with too little; the “quality” of filmmaking is living on the difference.

  5. David says:

    Entourage ended its TV run with two terrible seasons. It’s a bit of a shock that Doug Ellin hasn’t learned in anything in the four years since but ah well, at least the early seasons of the show were excellent.

    • It’s either the context of television for viewers or the medium itself for writing characters (especially having a series of episodes to develop them) which distinguishes television and motion pictures. Rarely, does a movie become a success TV show, as well; or either one a Broadway hit. And so it goes.

  6. EK says:

    You know the one about a camel being a thoroughbred designed by committee? Well, that’s what happens all the time in dreamsville where the egoists say “I can fix this” and where reality isn’t treated as real. Some are indeed saved like “Fatal Attraction” but most cannot be salvaged even after endless focus groups and late night editing room huddles. If it looks like a turd and smells like a turd it is most likely … a turd.

    • “Fatal Attraction” wasn’t saved; it was given a “Hollywood-ending” so Americans who give it a good work-of-mouth. Bottom-line was the…bottom-line: It made money and gave everyone involved a track record. That generation of filmmakers yield to market pressures; this generation is simply incompetent.

  7. Les says:

    Yeah, Tomorrowland was awful. So much money wasted for nothing. George Clooney wasted. So obvious Brad Bird wanted to make an animation out of a live action movie.

  8. Mike says:

    I enjoyed this article – interesting behind the scenes look without a heavy negative slant. Thanks Mr. Bart.

  9. Why not throw good money after bad? I mean, when you have SO MUCH good money to throw.

  10. Barbie says:

    Entourage was a great movie, I would watch it again! In fact, I just restarted watching the Entourage season again.

    • Spoken like a true fan. Some television shows…should remain television show. For example, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is coming to theaters, soon. Watch the trailer: for a fan, it’s boon; for other moviegoers, it’s a boondoggle.

  11. Jake says:

    the best scene in aloha was that subtitle scene– don’t think that was added to save the film

  12. Maenadery says:

    Where Aloha went wrong? How about casting a completely white woman in an Asian role? Can she even pronounce her character’s surname accurately?

    • The character is 1/4th Hawaiian and her heritage is explained in the movie. Did you even see the movie?

    • This question of character-race vs. race of actor shouldn’t even be a question nowadays, as the film-going culture has become increasing (exponentially) ecumenical given the world growing smaller with Social Media. An insult becomes injustice to all Asians who have shown their mettle as performers and movie-making craftsman.

      Casting outside the race has become unapologetically outré which only an isolated, old-school outliner would do. Cameron Crowe — time to retire or retread.

  13. Orson Welles says:

    Wait a second, the only idiot who ever thought the original Italian Job didn’t have a great ending was the idiot supervising the movie? Thank God he didn’t come up with an idea to “save” it.

  14. Jeremy says:

    As the other two commenters have indicated, there is a clear demand for a director’s cut of ALOHA, and I sincerely hope Cameron Crowe’s original vision is allowed to be made public for his audience. There is no doubt that many of the criticisms of the film would be fixed by the reinstatement of missing scenes. I was one of the few who loved the film, but obviously considered the cut released into cinemas to be a huge disappointment. Reading the Sony hack emails was hugely instructive into how continuous tinkering on a film can do it no favors, and certainly not make it more palatable for an audience. Sony (i.e. Pascal) basically ordered Crowe to remove the set-up of the film and its protagonist’s journey, and it shows. There was also much mention in the emails of the gate – a plot point that has all been deleted from the released film.

  15. Jonathan says:

    Personally I liked Entourage. I think it’s a case of if you enjoyed the characters, you’ll enjoy the movie. The movie was just like the TV show but longer. I highly enjoyed it as it gave me more time with Ari and the boys….and the lifestyle.

    • Laura says:

      I am with Jonathan: as a fan of the show: our theatre (in Singapore) was packed; and the audience fully engaged. It was totally a longer version of the TV show: more high jinks, more ‘drama’, more A-list lifestyle. And if you take point blank; it hit all the right notes; several story arcs; satisfying beginning, middle and end. I certainly wouldn’t juxtapose against Tomorrowland or Aloha. As for it not performing as well as SATC; was Entourage as mainstream? It probably did as well as it was supposed to; I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

    • This precisely what a TV adapted to the screen…as a LONGER version of the TV show…is designed for: a fan of the television program, and not (necessarily) a movie audience due to the fundamental differences in presenting characters in a certain media.

      Studio executives (if not critics) understand this contrast or just hoping they’ll get lucky outside the margins.

  16. harry georgatos says:

    I would love to see the directors cut of ALOHA as the theatrical version had elements of promise. Even though the film wasn’t as well developed due to tinkering by the studio there was an interesting movie there nevertheless. Critics dumped on Crowe’s VANILLA SKY with damaging reviews but that film found an audience, probably due to Tom Cruise star power. I liked VANILLA SKY regardless of what the critics had to say and it would be good see the directors cut of ALOHA on the Blu-ray release. With the directors cut on the Blu-ray can only work in Sony’s favour as an option in purchasing the movie on home entertainment and give the film a second life.

    • “Vanilla Sky” is a wonder, and one that Crowe will always have in the canon to be proud of. Unfortunately, a blunder in casting “Aloha” cannot be fixed with deleted scenes. Like…casting a white person with a painted face to portray a person of color; or, worse, casting a blond-haired, blue-eyed actor. It’s a question of what other mea culpa the filmmaker/studio committed.

  17. jhs39 says:

    Aloha may have been a bad movie when Cameron Crowe first showed it to Sony Pictures brass but it’s a very safe bet that it was also a far more coherent one minus all the attempted fixes that make the movie feel like such a bizarre mess. It would be nice if Sony could release a director’s cut on home video to go with the theatrical version so people can judge for themselves whether the theatrical version turned out better or not.

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