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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Straight A's are hard to find when the Summer Movie Posse grades the summer flicks

May 3, 2010 |  4:57 pm
Inception

Every year as the summer movie season looms on the horizon, promising a steady stream of movies punctuated with loud explosions, visual-effects-studded superhero exploits and unbelievably bad dialogue, I ask a group of teenagers to offer their assessment of the summer films' trailers, which are, after all, the key ingredient in their multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns.

This year marks the 10th year that a new assortment of kids, known as the Summer Movie Posse, have offered a wealth of acerbic, insightful and often surprising thoughts on the current crop of films.

In fact, I've been doing this DIY-version of a focus group for so long that when I took a filmmaker to lunch last week at a nice restaurant in my neighborhood, the eatery's chef turned out to be Gabe Feuer, who organized my first posse as a young teenager a decade ago.

In the past, studio marketers have complained -- usually after their trailer received a crummy score -- that the posse members, who were often private school kids who live on the Westside of L.A., were not representative of typical American teenagers. So this year I found a group of teens who attend public school and live in the heart of Orange County. They were organized by Arya Zarifi, who attends Northwood High School in Irvine and, at 17, has already made a number of short films and has an encyclopedic knowledge of recent film history without being a Harry Knowles-style moonstruck geek.

And guess what? This year's posse sounded just like their Westside brethren, preferring fresh-looking original films to sequels, giving the thumbs down to films they felt appealed to their younger brothers or sisters and panning films that appeared formulaic (like "The Prince of Persia"), starred actors they had no interest in (like "Knight and Day") or felt like unnecessary remakes (like "The A-Team," of which Jacob Perry, 17, said: "I don't think anyone can ever replace Mr. T").

When it comes to actors, the posse was full of love for Michael Cera, Robert Downey Jr., Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, but had mixed emotions about Russell Crowe and Jake Gyllenhaal, who they thought was laughably miscast in "Prince of Persia." They were also growing increasingly tired of seeing Angelina Jolie in the same action movie role and underwhelmed by the idea of having Tom Cruise teamed up with Cameron Diaz in "Knight and Day." "It just felt like they cast them together solely for the box office," said Shaine Meulmester, 17. "I guess they thought all they had to do was throw two big stars together and they'd have a movie."

The posse's favorite movie trailer, by far, was a new trailer Warners has cut for Chris Nolan's upcoming "Inception," which the kids thought made the movie feel intriguing and strikingly original. "You know there's some sort of corporate dream espionage going on," said Rajiv Rao, 17. "But the trailer is great because even though you feel a little lost, it leaves you wanting more, whereas with most trailers, you feel lost and you don't even care."

The posse, like previous participants, were big fans of the summer comedies. We only watched three comedy trailers, yet they all ended up in the Top 5 of the rankings. The movies that scored the worst were ones that skewed to a younger audience, which surprisingly -- at least for me -- included "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," which got the lowest score of all 14 movies, not only because the posse felt that they were too old for the film, but because they thought the series had become way too, shall we say, down-market.

As Shaine, one of three girls on the panel put it: "The whole mass hysteria around the series really turns me off. It feels like 'Harry Potter' for the pre-teen set." Noting that the new trailer is loaded with vampire-army action sequences, Alexia Rosenfield, 18, observed: "It looks like they've added a lot more action scenes to broaden the audience, almost the same way they did with 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' which had a lot more action scenes in it as the series went along."

It turns out that it this was hardly the first time the posse had seen some of these trailers. They spend an extraordinary amount of time on the Web, where they often watch trailers and send their favorite ones along to their friends. Although I showed the posse the green-band trailer of "Get Him to the Greek," which is approved for all audiences, Universal Pictures has a red-band trailer up online that is far raunchier than the all-audience version. 

"The red-band trailer is much funnier," said Arya. "Well, it's probably funnier because it has some restricted content in it," Rajiv responded. Arya laughed. "Some?" he said. "A lot more than some." Here's a sampling of their comments, followed by their scores for the 14 trailers they watched:

Persia_prince

"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"

Yalda Chalabi, 17: "No offense to Jake Gyllenhaal, but he's not Persian and he doesn't even look Persian."

Rajiv: "He's miscast. It doesn't seem like his kind of role. He's just not your action type of guy."

Shaine: "He's better in the quiet, more sensitive roles."

Rajiv: "In terms of plot, you have to think that it's either really complicated or really superficial. Watching the trailer, it's hard to say which. It doesn't help that its made by the same people who did 'Pirates of the Caribbean.' Let's face it, after the first one, those movies got progressively worse and worse."

"Robin Hood"

Schyler Simon, 17: "When someone says Robin Hood, I think of the Disney movie -- of the cartoon. But when I saw this, it looks a lot more like 'Gladiator,' which I really liked."

Yalda: "When I think of Robin Hood, I still think of the tights. This isn't the Robin Hood I grew up with, the gangly guy who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. That's definitely what's happening here."

Rajiv: "It gives it a whole new perspective that it's made by Ridley Scott, who's one of the few directors who could make an exciting movie just with arrows. Well, and a lot of swords. But isn't Russell Crowe a little old to be Robin Hood anyway? What about Jude Law?"

Jacob: "I don't see him in it either. How about Michael Cera?"

"Grown Ups"

Yalda: "I want to see this movie. Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James -- they've all been in movies I like. And it's not even a remake."

Jacob: "My only worry is that with every comedy, all the best stuff is in the trailer. I mean, it looks like it's funny, but you never know. Look at 'Date Night.' All the good lines were in the trailer."

"The A-Team"

Shaine: "Wow, it's such a guy movie. It feels like every movie we see is so peppered with special effects, people jumping out of buildings and random special effects."

Arya: "Welcome to the summer. I bet the only reason they put Bradley Cooper in the movie was to attract a female audience. All the girls I know get excited by the idea of him taking off his shirt. And well, he takes his shirt off in this movie too."

"The Last Airbender"

Schyler: "It feels like every other trailer out there. You hear this guy say [in fake deep voice] 'And now....' And then you see a huge burst of fire."

Rajiv: "After Night Shyamalan's last couple of movies, I'm pretty skeptical. He's really fallen from grace."

Arya: "And it's a 3-D conversion, so I don't know how good it's going to turn out to be."

"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World"

Arya: "It looks amazing. I read reviews online that say it's like the most geek-tastic movie of the summer."

Rajiv: "I think Kevin Smith liked it a lot too."

Arya: "Ever since 'Superbad,' you kind of know the Michael Cera character. As soon as he says his first line, you go -- oh, it's that guy again."

"The Twilight Saga: Eclipse"

Schyler: "I don't have anything against 'Twilight.' I'm not one of those guys who says, 'Oh my God, it's so stupid. But still, this looks really bad."

Arya: "I actually read the book out of boredom once and it wasn't so bad. But the first movie was really atrocious. I mean, the acting was so awful."

"Salt"

Jacob: "I like Angelina Jolie, but I'd have to hear that the movie is good before I'd go see it."

Arya: "I think she's a great actress."

Schyler: "Come on, she's just really hot. That's all there is to it."

To find out which movies got the highest scores from the posse, keep reading:

     
THE SCORECARD:

This year's Summer Movie Posse rated trailers for 14 of the season's most anticipated new films. Each trailer was graded on a 1-to-10 scale by the posse's six voting members; 60 was the highest score possible.

1) "Inception" .....................................................55

2) "Iron Man 2" ...................................................47

3) "Get Him to the Greek" ...................................46

4) "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World ............................43

5) "Grown Ups" ..................................................36

6) "Robin Hood" .................................................35

7) "Splice" .........................................................34

8) "Salt" ............................................................33

9) "The Last Airbender" ......................................32

10) "The A-Team" ..............................................31

11) "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" ............25

12) "Karate Kid" .................................................23

13) "Knight and Day" ..........................................19

14) "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" ..........................16

Recent and related:

HERE"S WHAT THE 2009 SUMMER MOVIE POSSE HAD TO SAY ABOUT LAST YEAR'S FILMS

Photos, from top: Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a spinning corridor in a scene from "Inception." Credit: Stephen Vaughan / Warner Bros. Films. Jake Gyllenhaal in  "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time." Credit: Andrew Cooper / Disney Enterprises and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc.

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