Fox to sneak preview weak tracking 'Knight and Day' on Saturday
With pre-release surveys indicating the big-budget Tom Cruise vehicle opening next week could flop, the studio is making a last attempt to get moviegoers excited about "Knight and Day" by showing it to them early.
Fox decided early this week to show "sneak previews" of the action comedy starring Cruise and Cameron Diaz at 494 theaters Saturday night, ahead of its official opening on Wednesday.
It's a risky move. If buzz isn't favorable, it could spread at the speed of Twitter and do even more damage to the picture, which is suffering from a largely ineffective marketing campaign.
Fox executives think it's worth the gambit, however, because audiences responded favorably to the movie in test screenings. As a result, the studio has been spending money on 15-second TV spots that feature positive quotes from Newsweek and other outlets.
It's clear something drastic is needed to jump-start the picture's commercial prospects. Recent polls of potential moviegoers indicate that "Knight and Day" could generate less than $20 million on its opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada, a dismal start for a picture that cost just less than $120 million to produce, and one that would be an embarrassment for marquee talent such as Cruise and Diaz.
In the best-case scenario, positive word-of-mouth from Saturday will lift the movie when it opens on Wednesday and generate momentum going into the following weekend when the Adam Sandler-Chris Rock comedy "Grown Ups," currently more anticipated by audiences in surveys, opens Friday.
"We aren't exactly where we hoped we would be," Fox production president Emma Watts said of the current level of moveigoer interest in "Knight and Day." "But it's a great film. This is the kind of film that needs to be discovered, and I think it will be."
In a summer full of sequels and adaptations of well-known properties such as "Iron Man," "Shrek," "Twilight" and "The Last Airbender," "Knight and Day" stands out as one of the only high-profile original films. Its only built-in marketing hook comes from its stars. At the same time, A-list names are becoming less effective in opening films, and Cruise is viewed warily by some in the public as a result of his widely publcized personal life.
In addition, Cruise and Diaz are not as popular with younger moviegoers who often drive big opening weekends in the summer. Surveys indicate that audiences older than 30 are most interested in "Knight and Day," particularly women. Among teenage and college-aged males, the movie is barely registering, according to people who have seen the survey results.
"Knight and Day" is about a spy, played by Cruise, who meets a woman played by Diaz in an airport and ends up drawing her into a deadly mission.
The complex plot has proven difficult for Fox to communicate in advertising. Some marketing material, such as billboards in which Cruise and Diaz are '60s-style white silhouettes, have focused on the film's light tone while some TV commercials emphasize the action. In addition, there's no indication in ads of what the title, which has to do with Cruise's undercover identity in the picture, means.
"This is not as easy a sell as a sequel or a movie based on an existing property," said Fox domestic distribution president Bruce Snyder. "We feel our best tool is to get word-of-mouth out on it."
Fox executives are hopeful that "Knight and Day" will perform better overseas, particularly in Asia where awareness of Cruise's personal life is low and action movies often perform well. It opens simultaneous with its U.S. release in about a dozen foreign countries, including Russia and South Korea, but won't hit most international markets until mid-July.
If the movie doesn't turn into a worldwide hit -- which usually means a global gross of at least $250 million -- it will be a blow to Fox, which has had a disappointing summer after its winter blockbuster "Avatar." Its last two releases, "The A-Team" and "Marmaduke," have both been weak box office performers.
Perhaps the biggest effect, however, will be on Cruise himself, who last starred in an action movie in 2006 with "Mission: Impossible III." Since then, he has only appeared in the 2008 World War II drama "Valkyrie," which was critically drubbed but performed decently on a worldwide basis, and in a well-reviewed supporting role in 2008's comedy "Tropic Thunder."
However, Fox executives believe that when audiences see "Knight and Day," they'll be reminded of one of Cruise's most successful and beloved starring roles.
"I don't think people have seen this guy since 'Jerry Maguire,' " Watts said. "He's available, charming and funny. He's a movie star for a reason."
-- Claudia Eller and Ben Fritz
Photo: Frank Masi / MCT