The notion of what constitutes a movie star keeps evolving in this transitional period in which the adult audience is more or less focusing on home entertainment and the multiplexes are dominated by action pictures and animated fare aimed squarely at the 25 and under demographic.
The big hits of the last six months or so have not been star vehicles.
“Avatar,” “Toy Story 3” and this weekend’s expected blockbuster “Eclipse” are story- and action-driven rather than character pieces that demand charismatic stars.
Even “Alice in Wonderland” which featured a genuine star — Johnny Depp — was not actually a movie star vehicle but an ensemble piece in which the effects and the 3D technology were the drawing cards.
Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are perfectly decent young actors, but the jury is still out on whether or not these “Twilight” leads will be able to sell lots of movie tickets outside of the franchise that has made them well-known.
Hollywood reacted with shock and awe to the abysmal failure of “Knight and Day” to draw audiences last weekend. The movie paired one of the biggest movie stars of the modern era — Tom Cruise — with a very popular actress — Cameron Diaz — who has been attached to many hits since her breakthrough role in “The Mask” (1994).
The reviews were mixed-to-favorable with most critics agreeing the movie was a serviceable summer romp which showcased the two stars well.
The Los Angeles Times ran a long think piece on Monday in which studio executives and marketing people expressed their dismay that a good romantic action comedy with two stars could fail so abjectly. Some people blamed the title, others cited a jazzy neo-1960s poster (below) that didn’t contain pictures of Cruise and Diaz. Another faction said the movie failed because the mass audience has gone cold on Cruise in the wake of that peculiar period a few years back in which he jumped on Oprah’s couch, told off Matt Lauer and generally behaved like a Scientology pod.
The Cruise bashers fail to explain the enormous hit he scored with “War of the Worlds” (2005) smack in the middle of his bad press explosion or how he was able to generate decent grosses for that much reviled Hitler assassination plot drama, “Valkyrie” (2008).
I think the failure of “Knight and Day” is more the result of changes in the summer moviegoing marketplace than any waning of Cruise’s talent or charisma.
I had a ball at the movie but that’s because it reminded me of the sexy and funny thrillers I used to enjoy when I was a kid (frothy fun like “Arabesque” with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren and “Gambit” with Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine). “Knight and Day” carries associations and delves into old movie genres that have no meaning for a kid today.
The commercial movie marketplace was not totally dominated by teens and 20somethings in the 1960s and ’70s and even those of us who were very young then loved to watch the older actors in comedies and action films.
Now the “stars” are roughly the same age as the target audience and their callowness doesn’t have much appeal to people over the age of 30 (It’s laughable to imagine Steve McQueen or Gregory Peck even thinking about developing their chests ala Taylor Lautner — above — of “Eclipse”).
Mature actors have been relegated to specialty films released primarily in the winter for awards consideration (or the occasional sop to the older female audience represented by a film like last summer’s Meryl Streep vehicle “Julie & Julia” or the forthcoming August release “Eat Pray Love” with Julia Roberts).
The resistance to older performers who want to work in big commercial movies will no doubt increase as more pictures are shot in 3D, a technology designed for action and excitement rather than character development.