Moving Pictures
Apr 19, 2010, 08:39AM

Would You Pay to See a Movie Advertised as "Morally Reprehensible"?

Roger Ebert and the missed advertising opportunities of Kick Ass.

The makers of Kick-Ass blew it. Not with the movie itself, a spunky, take-no-prisoners updating of Tarantino for the pubescent comics-geek set, but by failing to capitalize on Roger Ebert’s now-infamous review.

"Will I seem hopelessly square if I find Kick-Ass morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point?” Ebert wondered in his one-star review on April 16. “Let’s say you’re a big fan of the original comic book, and you think the movie does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in.”

The much-hyped (and otherwise generally well-reviewed) Kick-Ass just barely squeaked by the four-week-old How to Train Your Dragon by some $200,000 to end up in first place over the weekend.

How much better might it have performed if distributor Lionsgate had been able to slap “Morally Reprehensible!—Roger Ebert” all over its print and TV ads during the weekend? Maybe not enough to take it to the $30 million opening that many predicted… but I’m betting it would have been enough to pole-vault past Dragon.

Makers of bad movies exploit blurbs from almost-always-positive quote whores like Jim Ferguson and Pete Hammond to pump up any tripe, with the quintessentially quippy Peter Travers not far behind. Why not use Ebert—co-progenitor of the ultimate in dumbed-down critical shorthand, “Two Thumbs Up!”—to help push your flick’s perceived—and, in some ways, very real – subversiveness?

The ploy worked a few years ago for TV’s Gossip Girl, with negative remarks like “A nasty piece of work” and “Mind-blowingly inappropriate” used on posters to help promote the show’s “This ain’t your mother’s soap opera” image. The show’s never been a ratings blockbuster, exactly, but it’s that kind of punk attitude that appeals to its core audience.

Ebert guessed correctly that Kick-Ass wasn’t designed to appeal to a 67-year-old man, but rather to those kids who thrill to Battle Royale bootlegs and are willing to try and sneak into a theater showing asses being kicked in a “the gorier the better” fashion.

“This isn’t comic violence,” Ebert huffs. “These men, and many others in the film, are really stone-cold dead. And the 11-year-old apparently experiences no emotions about this. Many children that age would be, I dunno, affected somehow, don’t you think, after killing eight or 12 men who were trying to kill her?”

What part of “based on a comic book” don’t you understand, Thumby?

Ebert’s full review of Kick-Ass—filled with plenty of plot spoilers, just in case we didn’t fully understand what a sport he’s being over the film—can be found here. It concludes: “[T]he movie moved into dark, dark territory, and I grew sad.”

Another money quote for Lionsgate to use; it’s not too late.


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