AMC is hoping for a comeback

Film Column

July 01, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

When a movie has barely made back half its cost - especially when it's a big-budget film that was supposed to be one of the so-called tent poles of the summer schedule - drastic measures are called for.

The AMC theater chain, faced with an under-performing film that its top brass think deserves better, is offering a money-back guarantee on Cinderella Man, director Ron Howard's take on the underdog career of Depression-era boxer James J. Braddock. Come see the film at our theaters, newspaper ads promise, and if you don't like it, we'll give you your money back.

Released June 3, the film - which cost an estimated $88 million to make - made only $18.3 million its first week, good for only fourth place. Through last weekend, the film had earned $49.8 million, making it unlikely Cinderella Man will recoup its costs during its domestic theatrical release.

"Our CEO and other officers thought [the movie] was just phenomenal, and that it would be up for awards," says AMC spokeswoman Pamela Blase. "They were scratching their heads, saying, `What can we do? We've seen this movie. We think this is an amazing film that moviegoers will love. What can we do to promote this film in our theaters?'"

Blase said officials at Universal, which is distributing Cinderella Man, approved the plan. She also said AMC officials believe the risk they are taking is minimal, so confident are they that audiences will like the film. Through yesterday, she said, the chain has made only 50 refunds. AMC is the country's second-largest theater chain. Cinderella Man is playing in 150 of its theaters nationwide.

Locally, managers of both the AMC Columbia 14 and the AMC Owings Mills 17, where the movie is still playing, say they have received no refund requests. The newspaper ads began running last Friday.

Blase said AMC has offered refunds only once before, and then only in selected theaters. That was in 1988, for Mystic Pizza, Julia Roberts' first major film.

A second chain, Cinemark Inc., is starting a similar refund program in some of its theaters. Cinemark does not operate any theaters in the Baltimore area.

AMC's offer and Cinderella Man's underwhelming performance come as Hollywood endures a record slump at the box office. Weekend box-office receipts have been down 18 straight weeks when compared with last year, while total attendance is down 10 percent over last year.

While the film's revenues were down only 38.2 percent last weekend, the smallest drop from the previous weekend among any of the 10 highest-grossing films, Blase said it's too early to call the refund offer a success. "You don't know if you can take credit for that," she said. "Time will tell."

At the Charles

J. Lee Thompson's Cape Fear (1962), with Robert Mitchum as a murderous psychopath out for revenge on the witness who put him in jail, is this weekend's offering in the Charles' revival series.

Mitchum is at his threatening best as Max Cady, out to terrorize lawyer Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) and his family. Bowden first tries to protect his family through legal means, urging the sheriff to harass Cady out of town. But when that fails, and Cady oozes insidiously closer to his family, Bowden resorts to extraordinary measures.

Cape Fear was remade by Martin Scorsese in 1991, with Robert De Niro subbing for Mitchum and Nick Nolte for Peck. Though more overtly violent, including a menacingly erotic scene between De Niro and Juliette Lewis as Nolte's daughter, the film didn't come near to matching the terror quotient of its predecessor.

Showtime for Cape Fear is noon tomorrow, 7 p.m. Monday and 9 p.m. Thursday at the Charles, 1711 N. Charles St. Information: 410-727-FILM or www.thecharles.com.

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