The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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CBS Films' big-screen debut is anything but 'Extraordinary'

January 25, 2010 | 12:50 pm

Extraordinary Measures

"Extraordinary Measures" opened with a thud this weekend, barely earning an anemic $7 million, according to my colleague Ben Fritz, an especially poor showing for the debut release from CBS' new film division. Although the syrupy Harrison Ford-starring medical drama garnered an A-minus from CinemaScore, the reviews were withering, with the film scoring a paltry 29% at Rotten Tomatoes. When you get panned by Susan Granger, who rarely sees a movie that she can't breathlessly blurb, you know you're in trouble. In fact, if I had a dollar from every critic who dubbed the film a formulaic made-for-TV-style tearjerker, I could almost afford to match Conan O'Brien's NBC exit package.

So what went wrong? Was it the marketing, which never really told us what the movie was about? Always a bad sign. Or was it the movie, which, even adorned with two big-screen actors, was still viewed as the kind of 'Can we save this kid?' tearjerker that has been a staple of free TV for eons? Or was it Ford himself, who at age 67, hasn't had a big hit in a decade (outside the Indy Jones franchise) and has done especially poorly in dramas in recent years? Ford certainly didn't get any help from costar Brendan Fraser, who barely registered with audiences.

When I was talking to CBS chief Les Moonves last week, I thought it was a bad sign when I brought up the issue of Ford's poor track record in dramas -- and Moonves responded by saying, "What about 'Witness?' It performed pretty well, didn't it?" I had to remind Moonves that "Witness" was made 25 years ago, which I did by graciously joking, "Les, that movie came out so long ago I don't think any of the other people involved are even still alive."

Moonves stuck to his guns, saying that while "Extraordinary Measures" may be a "tough sell," it's downside was small (the film cost roughly $30 million to make) and he was proud to put the company's logo on it. Moonves has a point. It could 've been worse. When Revolution launched its much-ballyhooed new film company in 2001, its first release was "Tomcats," which made $13 million, but aimed so low and was so reviled by critics for its raunchy humor that Revolution's reputation never quite recovered. On the other hand, Summit Entertainment's debut film, "Penelope," was also pretty forgettable, but after the runaway success of "Twlight," you don't hear anyone talking about Summit's early duds anymore.

CBS can recover too. But launching a new film company in today's environment will be a considerable challenge, especially for one that doesn't seem to have an especially clear mandate, outside of making mid-budget films that aspire to delivering quality storytelling. It's a model that Elizabeth Gabler has pulled off at Fox 2000 with such hits as "Marley and Me" and "The Devil Wears Prada," but it's also a model that has failed virtually everywhere else in the business. That means that everyone at CBS Films had better have very steady hands because they've got a very delicate needle to thread.

Photo: Harrison Ford and Brendan Frasier in "Extraordinary Measures." Credit: CBS Films.