Monday Morning Critic – 8.15.11 – Jerry Bruckheimer and The Lone Ranger

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

The big news this weekend was something that you never thought you would see from a Disney & Jerry Bruckhemer production: the plug was pulled from The Lone Ranger as production was getting underway. You can read Travis’s take here, which goes into some depth.

Coming off a year where Bruckheimer, back against the wall, delivered a billion dollar grossing Pirates of the Caribbean sequel you’d think he’d have gotten some leeway. Consider all it had going for it:

The first is Johnny Depp, catnip for foreign box office grosses. You’d think they wouldn’t pull the plug. Depp might not be Will Smith level consistent domestically but when it comes to foreign markets he packs them in. For however much he gets paid per film, and it has to be a lot considering he’s always listed amongst the top earners in Hollywood, studios know that they can count on their film paying for itself with international box office grosses alone.

Plus you have a long-standing character known by everyone and beloved by generations. Everyone knows the Lone Ranger and Tonto; it was a famous Bill Cosby standup bit for years,

Throw in a young rising star in Armie Hammer and a proven blockbuster director in Gore Verbinski and it seems like there wouldn’t be any hesitation. The two main actors and director are all with recent hits at the box office, particularly with Depp being in a rare air of drawing crowds in, and you’d think Disney wouldn’t bat an eye at the $2-300 million the film would cost. Throw in the Bruckheimer touch and it seems like a license to print money.

It’s got the pedigree of a blockbuster and one of the biggest grossing films of the year, which makes Disney’s decision to stop production all that more intriguing. The fact that they’re pulling a potential franchise from Bruckheimer’s hands says a lot about his status and I think it’s worth exploring the ramifications of it.

5. Disney’s willing to cut losses on a Jerry Bruckheimer project mid-production

If Disney is willing to drop a project in production from a guy who has financed a large portion of their lineup with profits from his various franchises it means a lot. Stopping a production and taking a loss on whatever they’ve already spent, and they’ve obviously spent a significant amount of cash to get the film into production, it shows us that one film isn’t enough to get someone like Jerry Bruckheimer back into good graces.

Think about that for a moment. Bruckheimer has a reputation of always delivering and a recent cold streak has left him without that bulletproof vest he once had. The fact that they did this to Bruckheimer; something unthinkable even a year ago, is something that’s newsworthy. And with the economic downturn still going on, Disney’s not going to lock down a blockbuster project unless it’s 100% committed.

4. Disney didn’t believe 100% in the project

The one thing I’ve learned over the years is that if someone is looking for a reason to get out of doing something they point to the cost of things. Especially when it’s do or die time when it comes to cutting the check, especially one for over $200 million that also includes another $100 million or so in marketing costs. The fact that Disney pulled a power play on the eve of production can only come down to one thing: they ultimately didn’t believe the film could deliver like they though.

It is one thing to cut a smaller check to get things in motion; the fact that they basically went to Bruckheimer and tried to shake him down into lowering their bill says something. It was the “now that you’re in production, we want the same film at half the price” to try and force him into complying because he didn’t want to lose the film project.

Both sides had tons to lose with the film’s cancellation and they were counting on Bruckheimer complying because they had the leverage of the checkbook. They expected Bruckheimer to blink and he didn’t, thus they had to pull the production to save face.

3. Johnny Depp’s asking price on a Pirates sequel just went up

With Depp turning down projects to star as Tonto, and his asking price for one of the year’s biggest films was substantial to begin with, one thing is for sure. If Disney wants him back as Captain Jack Sparrow, after he probably passed on a handful of projects to finally get the ball rolling on a project he’s been attached to since 2008 or so, I get the feeling that he’s going to get a bigger check than he did for On Stranger Tides. He was the focal point of the marketing, et al, and the film crossed $1 billion in worldwide grosses.

Depp delivered for them and now they’re going to have to cut an even bigger check for him this time around. Disney’s next step for Depp is probably to get a fifth Pirates film underway with him attached, since the fourth set him up for another adventure. After pulling the rug out from under him for this franchise, something he just wasn’t hired for but helped bring to the table, expect him to get more to reprise that character because he just lost a ton of cash for this film.

2. Armie Hammer’s stock just went down

I like Hammer and thought he was a great part of The Social Network. This was supposed to be one of the big vehicles that propelled him to superstardom and now it’s gone. The Disney machine is good at making movie stars and Hammer has all the looks, as well as the perk of playing off of Depp, to have made it work out with him coming out in a much better position. Plus the film would’ve probably grossed well at the box office, well enough to boost his profile even more. Now he’s still the guy from the Facebook film for most people and this could’ve given him that big push to the mainstream.

1. Not even Jerry Bruckheimer is studio-proof

Hollywood is about “what have you done for me lately” more than it would like to admit, of course, and a handful of underperforming projects didn’t give the sort of leverage he used to have. With Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice both costing in the $150 to $200 million range in production costs, and barely breaking even (if that) from theatrical box office receipts. Even G-Force, which was profitable, wasn’t as significantly profitable as it was expected to be.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Ip Man

When someone positively, absolutely needs an ass-kicking the only person to call is Donnie Yen. That’s the one thing I’ve learned from kung-fu movies over the years, outside of “If it has bullets Chow Yun-Fat can kill an entire army with it” that also seems to be prevalent. But you know what? I’m ok with that. Why?

Because both Donnie Yen and Chow Yun-Fat rule all.

Ip Man was a blind buy based purely on my enjoyment of Donnie Yen in movies. And it was so worth it because Ip Man was a great film. Yen stars as Ip Man, properly enough, who is most famous for being the man who taught Bruce Lee Wing Chun Kung Fu. This is a biopic in the loosest phrase of the term, as we see Ip Man’s early life but it’s infused with the usual sort of Hong Kong wire work style of kung fu. It’s broken up into two phases.

The first half of the film is before the Japanese invaded China. A prominent man of means, Ip Man is the premier kung fu master in southern China. Establishing his dominance through a series of duels with other masters, Ip Man has a great life. The film’s second half establishes him during the Japanese invasion. Living in a hovel after his mansion was seized, he works as a laborer to put food on the table. Given a chance to fight some Japanese soldiers for a large portion of rice, Ip Man ends up doing more than holding his own. He ends up kicking so much ass that he ends up in the crosshairs of a Japanese general. From there it’s a duel to the death between the two. It’s a fun little film that gives you just enough historical accuracy to make it interesting and a whole lot of kung fu goodness.

Strongly recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Conan the Barbarian – A reboot of the Conan franchise, left for dead since Conan the Destroyer.

Skip It – This looks laughably bad so far and let’s face it. There’s only one guy who can play Conan and that’s Arnold.

Fright Night – Colin Farrell moves next door to Anton Yelchin and his family. He’s a vampire. McLovin shows up for some exposition.

See It –I’m digging a vampire film where they’re not sparkly for once.

One Day – Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess meet up once a year on the same day.

Skip It – I was inclined to say see it … until Hathaway’s god-awful British accent ruined it for me.

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World – Robert Rodriguez really needs a hit to get Sin City 2 financed, I guess.

Skip It – The franchise sucked from the get go. Odds are strongly in favor of this following suit.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!