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COLUMN

Come One, Come Apart

Philip Burrowes

Wish those women on The Real World would just get naked already, but feel guilty watching Girls Gone Wild? Then New Line Cinema has the movie for you. Yes, you, males 18-25, can go see The Real Cancun this Friday, because reality TV just isn't real enough. If you're too young to get an R-rated ticket, or too old to ogle the barely post-pubescent (in public), then sorry. Besides, you had your respective turns with Agent Cody Banks and Old School; it’s somebody else’s turn to have the vicarious fun.

No ad campaign would be that targeted that openly, but the effect will be the same. Don't expect any significant crossover with the Confidence crowd. That's the way it should be, right? Better something for everybody than one thing for a few.

Some of the material that comes out of niche marketing may be not only worthwhile, but blessed with crossover appeal. British hit Bend it Like Beckham, for example, seemed doomed financially in the U.S. for being about another country, starring a novice South Asian-Anglo actress, and centering around (Association) football, so Fox Searchlight sat on distributing it here for months. Eventually, Fox had the faith to actually push up the film's release, and it has since posted the best per-theater averages by far, and its weekend take has increased.

MTV didn't take nearly as long to distribute its own “Asian” film, but circumstances there were very different. Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow is an American film through-and-through, and thus at least had hopes of appealing to the mythical Asian-American audience. Paramount Classics did the actual distributing, as it’s too artsy for MTV, but some spots for what is essentially a Sundance film have promoted the MTV angle. Better Luck Tomorrow, already given critical acclaim, has thus generated financial heat, and it's poised for performance similar to -- if not better than -- Bend it Like Beckham.

Given the extent to which Asians in the U.S. are stereotyped within and without of the media, it’s nice to see two films about Asians that don’t use the same tired roles, let alone successful ones. There is a flip side, however, to public awareness of greater dramatic potential for Asians. Yes, something worse than another American Jet Li movie.

Look no further than the travesty which has befallen Latinos since the mid-nineties, when the rest of America realized that if you pretend they were an actual coherent group, they would be very large. To America, you can look at some one and tell that the person is Latino. Furthermore, in an ignorant resurrection of the pre-Castro Latin Lover stereotypes, those people will be “hot.” While the days of George P. Bush or Ricky Martin may be behind us, the days of Shakira and J-Lo are not. So why not make a movie about “hot” Latinas?

Chasing Papi was thus born. Not because the mythical Latino ethnolinguistic group was clamoring for a Puerto Rican/Chicana/ Colombian ensemble piece, or because Eduardo VerÁstegui thought he was making an adaptation of Tres Mujeres. It was because, quite frankly, FOX hoped Anglos would want to see Sofia Vergara's breasts. The film didn’t even crack the box office top ten after premiering last weekend, but it also opened in relatively few theaters. Perhaps Hollywood will learn its lesson, and Latinas will be relegated to roles as attractive but superficial sidekicks in action movies, where they belong.

If a “Latino” film is an economic failure, despite the small-scale success of any Asian films, the chances of big-budget domestic productions along the same vein are small. Big, targeted movies, after all, aren’t made for the target audience itself (not counting Chris Rock's Head of State because, let us all remember, he's rich). The biggest grossers of the year have so far remained those that have offered something for “everyone,” from the cross-cultural conflict of Bringing Down the House to once inconceivable screen duo of Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler in Anger Management. We will see in the summer if Balkanization is truly the way to go, or if the mass-appeal movies will still rule.

For this summer (which starts May 2nd with X-Men 2, as far as Hollywood is concerned) will have its own share of targeted fare. Will throwing more women into The Matrix or Terminator emasculate the franchises like it did Star Wars? Can Disney and Dreamworks still pull off animation for everybody? Does ILM feel ashamed about working on The Hulk? Or will it be more age-distinguished flicks like The Lizzie McGuire Movie or Rugrats Gone Wild (not another spring break movie) that pull off a surprise? Either way, most of it will probably be exploitative garbage that we'll faithfully lap up.