Summer Movie Posse: Movie stars don't cut it with these kids
I’ve heard lots of talk in the past few years that movie stars don’t really matter anymore. But nothing made the point in such dramatic fashion as the reaction I got from 11 teenagers after they watched the trailer for “Total Recall,” Sony’s upcoming remake of Paul Verhoeven’s classic 1990 sci-fi thriller.
This marks the 11th year that I’ve tried to make sense of the summer movies by showing their trailers to a group of teens, known as the Summer Movie Posse. This year’s group, assembled by 15-year-old Mica Nafshun-Bone from friends who attend New Roads School and Santa Monica High, graded and critiqued 14 trailers from the most anticipated summer films, offering both wildly enthusiastic approval and witheringly blunt dismissals of the new crop of films.
It’s no big surprise that they were dazzled by the trailer for “The Dark Knight.” It wasn’t a shock to see them left cold by “Men in Black 3,” whose trailer hasn’t been getting raves among older fans, either. But what was so surprising about their reaction to “Total Recall” was their complete obliviousness to its cast of well-known actors.
The film is populated with prominent names, notably Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel and Bryan Cranston. But of the 11 members of the posse, only two knew anyone who was in the film (both of them pinpointing Farrell). Their perspective is strikingly youth-o-centric. Everyone instantly recognized “Snow White and the Huntsman’s” Kristen Stewart, who was the subject of a lively debate over her bona fides, including why her eyes are brown in the “Twilight” films but appear green in “Snow White.”
But Stewart was really the only dramatic actor whose presence mattered. There was a little buzz for Mila Kunis, who costars in “Ted,” and some genuine respect for “Dark Shadows’” Johnny Depp, whose puckishness makes him a perennial favorite with teens. But even such top-tier stars as Will Smith, Robert Downey Jr. and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson barely registered — and not always in a positive fashion. When discussing “Snow White and the Huntsman,” Max Nath, 16, could characterize Charlize Theron only as “that other woman.”
Andrew Garfield, who stars in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” didn’t make a real impression. Channing Tatum went unnoticed in “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and it even took a long time for the posse to puzzle out that the redhead in “The Avengers” was Scarlett Johansson.
Outside of Stewart, a polarizing figure because of her pivotal role in the “Twilight” series, the only stars who really counted were the comics. That’s probably why four of the five top-graded films were comedies, led, surprisingly, by “The Campaign,” a broad comedy set in the world of politics that costars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. (The latter was recognized as much because of his Funny or Die Web show, “Between Two Ferns,” as for his films.)
The posse’s members are big fans of Ferrell as well as Sacha Baron Cohen, who stars in “The Dictator,” the No. 2-ranked film. They also gave high grades to “Ted,” even though its star, Mark Wahlberg, was so far off their radar that Carrie Grossman, 14, referred to him as “Mark whoever he is.” “Ted’s” cred came from the fact that it was directed by “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, a posse favorite.
After hearing the posse share its views, it was clear that it has a serious case of superhero fatigue. That even includes “The Avengers,” which is already breaking box-office records, but finished in the middle of the pack with the posse. As Isaac Galan, 15, put it: “It really feels a little cartoonish. I mean, is it a movie or a video game?”
The more gimmicky the movie, the more suspicion it raised (even if it’s based on a bestselling novel.) The film that scored the worst, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” was derided for trying to cash in on the success of a certain vampire film. Ariel Astrup, 14, got a big round of laughter when she said: “That’s a really, really bad idea. Like, why not ‘Twilight’ as Abraham Lincoln?”
For the posse, the superhero-style films, from “G.I. Joe” to “Spider Man” and “Men in Black” were simply underwhelming. “The frequency of all those superhero movies makes you think they’re just doing them to get another movie out,” said Jeremy Arnold, 17. “I wish they’d think of something more original. I mean, how many superheroes is too many superheroes?”
Here’s a sampling of comments:
Max Nath: “Zach Galifianakis is really funny, maybe because he has such a strange innocence to him. It’s a great satire of the way politics in America works — that the candidates don’t really stand for anything.”
Elias Richter, 17: “It’s funny because it feels really different. We haven’t seen a comedy about politics in a long time.”
Jeremy Arnold: “I don’t like the premise — that the choice in elections is only between two idiots. But I have to admit it’s really funny.”
Phoebe Kiekhofer, 16: “There’s way too much screaming in the trailer. It gave me a serious headache.”
Ariel Astrup: “The flashing is bad too. I was just getting into it, especially with the weird things crawling on the ceiling, but the flashing was too much like ‘Halo.’ Yuck!”
Jeremy: “It felt like a cross between ‘Alien’ and ‘National Treasure.’ I know there are some big names in the movie, but that’s not gonna get me to see it.”
Jannah Ustaris, 14: “I agree. The screaming was way too much for me.”
‘Snow White and the Huntsman’
Karim Sharif, 15: “I’m not a fan of this trend of taking fairy-tale classics and making them into dark, twisted stories. The plot was way too predictable, but it just didn’t feel like the story was my story anymore.”
Aria Lentini, 15: “I would’ve just blown this off as a cheesy, sappy movie ’cause Kristin Stewart was in it, but the trailer actually looks pretty good.”
Ariel: “I know everyone hates Kristin because of ‘Twilight.’ But if you’d seen her in her other movies, like ‘Panic Room,’ you’d see she can actually act.”
Jeremy: “Seeing her in the trailer was a bad omen. It just feels like they’re using her to get people out to the theaters.”
‘Men in Black 3’
Karim: “It feels really cheesy. I mean, another movie about time travel?”
Carrie Grossman: “This makes me want to go back and see the first one. But not this one.”
Jeremy: “Isn’t it kind of gimmicky to have Josh Brolin play a young Tommy Lee Jones? It’s like a ‘Saturday Night Live’ impression. And anyway, isn’t Tommy Lee Jones 75 or something?”
‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’
Aria: “I don’t know why they make children’s toys into movies. It feels redundant. And was that the Rock? After he’s been in all those kids’ movies, having him in an action movie really doesn’t work.”
Ariel: “And was that Bruce Willis? Man, he’s getting way too old to be running around like that!”
-- Patrick Goldstein
Follow me on Twitter: @patrickbigpix
Photo: A group of teenagers gets a big laugh watching the trailer for "Ted" during our annual meeting of the Summer Movie Posse. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times