The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Audiences agree with critics on 'Last Airbender': It's a stinker

July 2, 2010 |  1:17 pm

Night_shyamalan The good news for Paramount going into this wonderful holiday weekend is that its M. Night Shyamalan-directed "The Last Airbender" has received a huge upsurge in critical enthusiasm. Well, maybe huge would be putting it a little too strongly. The film, which on Thursday was mired at an unbelievably lowly 6 rating on Rotten Tomatoes, has managed to creep up to a 9 on the critic aggregation site. At this rate, the film could hit double figures by the end of the weekend.

The bad news for Paramount is that unlike a film such as "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," which was drubbed by the critics but embraced by the public, "Last Airbender" is getting the same lousy reviews from rank-and-file moviegoers as from the critical mandarins. According to CinemaScore, the company that tracks opening-night reaction from moviegoers in dozens of cities across the country, first-night moviegoers -- the people most excited about seeing "Last Airbender" -- gave the film a woeful C.

According to studio marketers, a C grade from CinemaScore is a portend of gloom and doom, since it's a clear signal that even a movie's most loyal audience thought the film was a stinker, an opinion they are bound to share with their friends and family before the weekend is out. So while box office prognosticators such as my colleague Ben Fritz have predicted that "Airbender" could make as much as $50 million over the weekend, the C grade is a pretty reliable indicator that the movie will have a steep dropoff in its grosses in the weeks to come.

In the run-up to the film's opening, Shyamalan has been talking about quickly getting to work on a sequel, but if I were him, I'd be keeping my options open. This movie, to quote one of my father's favorite expressions, looks like a dog that won't hunt.

Photo: Director M. Night Shyamalan with actor Noah Ringer in New York after the world premiere of "The Last Airbender." Credit: Dave Allocca / Associated Press / StarPix