Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

February 18, 2014

CALLERI: Be cautious about the film that isn't screened, and two new entries to consider

Niagara Gazette — Most movies roll into theaters on a wave of pre-opening publicity and hype. More often than not, the films are shown in advance to critics nationwide, either at daytime press screenings, special evening showings, or on DVD press screeners, which are marked with secret codes to prevent piracy and often reveal the critic’s name, which pops up every now and then as you watch.

Some movies not shown to reviewers beforehand are considered critic-proof, and most of those are aimed at teenagers, entries such as the “Twilight” or “Hunger Games” series, or stylized horror pictures that cost little to make and are expected to reap a box office bonanza their first weekend.

Then there are major studio releases that arrive with a blitz of television advertising, but few, if any, opportunities for reviewers to see the film before opening day. Sometimes, “The New York Times,” “The Los Angeles Times,” the Associated Press, a handful of syndicated critics, perhaps a major magazine writer or two, and the main show business newspapers, “The Hollywood Reporter” and “Variety” will get to see a picture in advance, but few others will.

When these movies go unseen by most of the country’s reviewers, the message is clear: the studio has little faith in it. In essence, it’s probably not good. A mediocre film might receive a release date simply to satisfy its star with whom the studio has an ongoing relationship. The binge of TV advertising is, more often than not, the result of an agreement between the star and the studio that some publicity must be delivered.

Two big motion pictures are opening Friday, but you won’t see very many, if any, reviews. The action spectacular “Pompeii” and the thriller “3 Days To Kill” are riding into communities on a rush of televised promotion, but without the benefit of screenings. The former features Kiefer Sutherland, and the latter stars Academy Award-winner Kevin Costner, a mega-movie star to be sure, but not even he can rescue the film from an aura of impending failure. The seemingly limitless TV commercials for both movies are a vain attempt to try and recoup at least some measure of the cost to produce them. The studios hope you’ll see the films before word-of-mouth advises you that you might want to save your money.

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