Is 'Scott Pilgrim's' Michael Cera still a long way from being a movie star?
Michael Cera's new movie is called "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," but it was really "Scott Pilgrim" vs. two much more worldly films at the box office this weekend. And "Scott Pilgrim" got pummeled, barely doing $10.5 million, which is a pretty woeful opening, especially considering that the movie cost an astronomical $85 million to make. (My colleague, Ben Fritz, has more box-office details here.) It's even more frustrating for Universal, since the studio delivered a movie that did well with both critics -- who gave it an 80% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes -- and with audiences, who gave it an A-minus at CinemaScore, which measures the reactions of rank-and-file moviegoers on opening night.
So the people who saw it liked it. But with "Eat Pray Love" drawing lots of women and "The Expendables" getting nearly all the guys, young and old, not nearly enough people saw "Scott Pilgrim." What does this tell us? In essence, it means that neither the movie's quirky, video game-based humor nor its star, Michael Cera, was able to help propel the film beyond its hard-core teen fan base. My 12-year-old son went to see it with a bunch of his friends, who came back unimpressed. "It was OK," one of them said. "The jokes were only good if you play a lot of video games." (Their older brothers, who apparently play a lot more video games, liked it better.)
The movie's wan box-office reception is bad news for Universal, who will probably end up with another money-loser on its books. But it's also bad news for Cera, who is now starting to look more like a young Andy Samberg (the one-time "Saturday Night Live" star who hasn't cut it as a movie comic) than a young Adam Sandler. After emerging as a critic's darling in supporting roles in "Juno" and "Superbad," Cera has now starred in four straight films that haven't connected with bigger audiences: "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," "Year One," "Youth in Revolt" and "Scott Pilgrim."
Give Cera credit. It's not like he's Adrien Brody. He hasn't made really dreadful choices. In fact, they've all been interesting movies (OK, maybe it would be a stretch to call "Year One" interesting). But that makes it even worse, since if you're looking around to cast blame, and the movies aren't so bad, you have to point the finger at the star, who's supposed to be the drawing card that pulls fans into the theaters. As of now, Cera looks like a really gifted supporting actor who needs to stand at the side of a more conventional star so he can build up a solid body of work instead of having all of the opening-weekend weight on his shoulders.
Cera is only 22, so I'm certainly not going to start writing his career obituary. He's like a young baseball phenom who tears up the minor leagues only to bat .185 when he reaches the majors (in fact, sorta like the Angels' Brandon Wood, who has been riding the pines lately, mired in a horrible slump). Like a good young hitter who's lost his mojo, Cera needs to make some adjustments -- like working with a different kind of director or looking for a different style of material. But the reception for "Scott Pilgrim" is a definite sign that it's time to try something new.
Photo: Michael Cera in a scene from the new film "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." Credit: Universal Pictures /Associated Press