The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Avi Lerner goes to the movies

August 4, 2008 | 12:56 pm

Blog_photos_006 The way to see movies is in a movie theater with real people. If everyone in Hollywood turned off their plasma TVs and experienced films this way, we could probably be spared 70% of the dreck that gets greenlighted by studio executives woefully out of touch with what stories actually resonate with rank-and-file moviegoers. That's why I've been checking in with producer Avi Lerner every few weeks to get his take on the current summer movies. He's made more than 200 films in the past 20 years, most of them low-low budget action-adventure vehicles, but always with a close eye on what moviegoers want to see. As he puts it: "It's always more wonderful to watch a movie with a real audience than with all those so-called film geniuses."

Just back from a trip to his native Israel, Lerner went to see four movies over the weekend, three of them at the Grove, his neighborhood complex, one at the ArcLight. One of the movies turned out to be a picture he almost financed himself. Here are his reviews:

"Step Brothers."  Oh, I hated it. I hated its guts. It's just so stupid. The jokes didn't work. It was embarrassing. I must tell you. I care about the audience and what they think, and the audience I saw it with--a young audience--even they were laughing in very few places. I think only a really loyal Will Ferrell fan would like that movie. Comedies aren't that complicated. They have to be funny.

"Swing Vote." You know, we had the script and we decided against making it. From a commercial point of view, I think we were right. It's not a movie you could sell a lot of tickets for in the foreign market. It's just OK. There's a good relationship between the father and the daughter. But I don't believe the situation--that this one guy, one individual, could make the decision that would decide who would be president. Kevin Costner is good, but I wish he wouldn't play so much of the movie as a drunk and acting stupid. People want to see him as a more positive guy.

"Mamma Mia!"  I loved it. It's fantastic. I'm an ABBA fan. To me, they're the second-best group in the world, after the Beatles. You have to love the relationship between the mother and daughter. And how can you complain about a movie with Meryl Streep, the best actress in the world.

"The Dark Knight." I heard so much about it when I was away that I guess it got built up a little too much. I mean, Batman is Batman. You're not disappointed, but you just get what you expected. Heath Ledger is fantastic. I only was a little worried that you don't see enough of the hero. You only see him as Batman, not as his real character. He's always wearing the mask. But Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman are all great, so overall it's a good movie. I mean, who am I to criticize? It's what the public wanted. When everyone in the world wants to see a movie, I for one am impressed.

Photo of Avi Lerner by Patrick Goldstein / Los Angeles Times