The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Gasp! Right-wing media bashes 'American Carol'!

October 6, 2008 | 12:47 pm

Zucker David Zucker, the funny man behind the not-so-funny "An American Carol," can't blame liberal film critics for the lackluster opening weekend for his conservative satire of Michael Moore, gays, Muslims and a variety of other favorite conservative targets. As I reported last Friday, Zucker and Vivendi Entertainment, the new distributor that released his movie, made the boneheaded move of refusing to screen the film for critics, under the paranoid delusion that liberal critics wouldn't give the film a fair shake because it made fun of Michael Moore and other lefty icons. But even without any reviews poisoning the well, the film, which opened on 1,640 screens, only managed to take in $3.8 million over the weekend, giving it an underwhelming $2,325 per-screen average.

How bad is that? Even such recent losers as Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna" and "Disaster Movie" all had better per-screen averages in their opening weekends. Zucker can't pin the blame on the film not being able to compete with bigger studio releases, which presumably had heftier marketing support. "Fireproof," the faith-based firefighter drama, had double "Carol's" per-screen average in its second weekend of release, even though it is being distributed by the tiny Samuel Goldwyn Co.

To add insult to injury, "An American Carol" even got bad reviews from--gasp!--the New York Post and the Washington Times, two bastions of the conservative revolution. The New York Post's Lou Lumenick railed against the film's toilet humor and fat jokes, blasted a "spectacularly tasteless scene" in which George Washington (played by Jon Voight) gives Moore a tour of the World Trade Center rubble, and concludes that even Moore's "Sicko" is "far funnier than anything in this desperately laughless farce." The Washington Times wasn't much better, saying that "we're asked to chuckle at routine slapstick far beneath Zucker's best work" that is "all handled with the subtlety of an Ann Coulter column."

What's the lesson here? I'd be the first to agree that there are lots of liberal sacred cows. But Zucker &  Co. bought into the conservative myth that the country is so split by a partisan divide that liberal critics couldn't possibly appreciate a funny conservative movie. Trust me, critics see so few funny movies that they are always dying for a good comedy to champion. This wasn't the one. By refusing the show the movie to the general media before hand, Zucker and Universal lost the chance to get a lot of free exposure for the film, especially with the politically themed film opening a month before a hotly contested presidential election.

Vivendi should study the shrewd marketing plan Lionsgate had for "Religulous," the Bill Maher religious satire that opened last week. It made almost as much money as "Carol," even though it was only on one-third as many screens. Lionsgate screened the movie everywhere before it opened, embracing its controversial topic. What "American Carol" needed more than good reviews was free publicity, but by refusing to show the movie to the press ahead of time, Zucker and Vivendi didn't get either.

Here's a funny promotional trailer for "American Carol," with the one person who doesn't like the movie being--a film critic!

Photo of David Zucker by Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times