Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Screen Gems, 'No Good Deed' and the big lie

For the first time in my 27 years as a movie critic at The Observer, a distributor has cancelled every advance screening in North America of a movie that was supposed to be shown to critics that night. This is the trailer for "No Good Dead," the film in question:

The official excuse from Screen Gems -- hold your nose -- is this:

"Screen Gems has decided to cancel the advance screenings of NO GOOD DEED. There is a plot twist in the film that they do not want to reveal, as it will affect the audiences' experience when they see the film in theaters. They apologize for any inconvenience."

Now, if this were true, it would be insulting. It implies that critics are so stupid, careless or mean-spirited that they're likely to give the plot twist away, accidentally or otherwise, and readers have to be protected from them. But movies with plot twists get shown week after week, and that doesn't happen: "The Sixth Sense," a masterpiece with a devastating final scene, got reviewed everywhere with no revelations about the ending.

No, it's fair to assume this movie simply stinks. Screen Gems must suddenly have realized that and decided negative response would be so great that the film is better off with no advance publicity. Poor suckers determined to see it will still spend their money on opening weekend; by the time word of mouth spreads, Screen Gems may have recouped its cost.

Studios sometimes decide not to schedule any screening at all, because they don't need reviews (usually, in the case of a huge action movie or a sequel), because the target audience for that film seldom reads reviews, or because the movie is trash. Screenings can even be set and cancelled because the film isn't opening here, after all, or the studio later decides to screen only in North America's top 10 markets. (We're about number 20.)

But I've never been invited before and been told on the day of the screening not to go. The only reasonable conclusion is that "No Good Deed" must be one bad dud.