Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An open response to Bill Simmons on something that has almost nothing to do with sports...

Every once in awhile, I like to go off-topic. For instance, when Mitch Albom saw fit to grace us with his reasons why all movies suck unless they're saccharine melodramas, I took great pleasure in ripping the shit out of him. This is because if there's one thing I love more than sports, it's movies, which was probably evidenced by the truly heroic amount of YouTube clips I embed. You see, I love all sorts of movies, like Eastern Promises and...um...I'm going to go with the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Jim Belushi buddy cop classic Red Heat. Basically, if a movie involves people pretending to be Russian, I'm on board with it. Needless to say, the more hilariously terrible, the better:

Another sports blogger (yeah, fuck it, I'm calling him a blogger) who loves him some movies is Bill Simmons, a guy I previously haven't seen fit to deal with. I'm not really sure why; certainly, the FireJay guys do such an excellent job ripping him a new one that I generally feel I've got nothing of value to add. Indeed, there have been a couple times when I felt like mocking Simmons, but I trusted them to do a better job, and I haven't been disappointed. Either way, this piece by Simmons isn't really about sports but instead about sports movies, and I'd like to grapple with it. I'm not saying he's necessarily completely wrong, but I think he's started the first half of a dialogue, and so now allow me to retort...

I love Will Ferrell. I love hoops. I loved the ABA. I love laughing. On paper, Semi-Pro should have been right in my wheelhouse.

"I love laughing"? What is this guy, a banal personal ad? Otherwise known as every personal ad ever written? Sorry, that wasn't fair. I'm trying to actually engage with him here. Old habits die hard and all that.


I chuckled four times, if that. To tell you the truth, I spent most of its 90 minutes depressed—not just that Ferrell made such a predictable farce that ripped off three of his previous movies (Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory), but that Hollywood has managed to transform the sports-movie genre into such a shameless, formulaic machine.

Is it really only three? I could have sworn he'll pulled this shit more often than that. What about Kicking & Screaming? Nah, that's kinda different. Also, for the record, I think part of the reason why Anchorman worked as well as it did is that it isn't a sports movie. I mean, it follows the formula, but outside the occasional knife fight, there really isn't any, you know, sports in there. I actually think part of the reason why Talladega Nights worked way less well is that the sports formula is way less interesting when actually applied to sports. Oh, and also that it never gelled into a cohesive whole and a ton of really funny supporting performances were wasted. Especially John C. Reilly, although I also thought Gary Cole was pretty brilliant. Point is, Talladega Nights came across as really lazy and disorganized.

Just find a star for the movie poster and ads, follow the underdog formula, decide on a direction (inspirational or funny), rehash a plot we've seen 45 times already, and you're good to go.

That's true enough, although if Hot Rod's Andy Samberg is now a "star", then I'm a "respected blogger."

In a review of Gridiron Gang two years ago, I wrote that sports movies had become a high-stakes game of Mad Libs: Any studio exec could buy 300 index cards, write one word or phrase on each (either a sport, plot, scenario, famous star or another movie to rip off), stick the cards in a jar, shake it, pull out four cards and—presto!—instant sports movie. In fact, I'm convinced this is how Semi-Pro got made. Ferrell … hoops … slapstick … '70s.

Then they're really lucky they actually pulled out one with an actor on it. You'd think with 300 cards they'd pull out a ton of instant movies without cast members, what with there only being about twenty or so familiar faces you see in these films. Although that might explain Paramount's Footballs Fighting with Women's Rights on a Rainbow. And I thought they were trying to be artistic! Once again, silly me...

Green light.

That's an entire paragraph. C'mon Simmons, don't go Plaschke on us now.

The good news: Despite a big marketing campaign, smart casting and a surprisingly big budget of $57 million, Semi-Pro tanked at the box office, making just $15 million its opening weekend. The bad news: By the time its international run ends, its soundtrack stops selling, its cable rights are sold and its DVDs and Blu-rays have hit stores ("With two hours of deleted scenes and an alternate ending!"), Semi-Pro will have made New Line boatloads of money. Even though it kinda sucked.

I want to break this down a little more carefully, because I'm almost certain Bill did no research when he made any of these claims, which pisses me off because his basic point is essentially valid. Let's dig a little deeper.

a surprisingly big budget of $57 million

Anchorman: $26 million
Talladega Nights: $72.5 million
Blades of Glory: $61 million

I'm being really charitable by even including Anchorman, which was budgeted before it was established Will Ferrell was a box office draw. Semi-Pro was actually cheaper than either of his two other follow-ups. So I'm not sure where Bill is pulling "surprisingly big" from. It sounds about right, maybe even a slight reduction.

By the time its international run ends

Comedies historically perform very weakly overseas, and Will Ferrell movies are no exception. Of the $163,213,377 Talladega Nights made, all but $15 million of that was domestic. Only a little over $5 million of Anchorman's's $89,366,354 gross was outside the United States. Blades of Glory was the most robust internationally (something to do with figure skating?), making $26 million of the film's $144,803,273 total. So yeah, if Semi-Pro couldn't gain traction in the US, there's no fucking way Belgium is bailing it out.

its soundtrack stops selling

Current Amazon sales rank: #10,416 among CDs. Maybe if we were talking Across the Universe, Once, or even August fucking Rush this might be a legitimate point, but I don't think so. Also, I realize the Semi-Pro CD hasn't been out for very long, but if you think that baby is climbing over 10,000 spots in the next week or so...well, sir, you and I have a slight disagreement, I guess.

its DVDs and Blu-rays have hit stores ("With two hours of deleted scenes and an alternate ending!")

OK, this is a more legit point. Those certainly do make a ton of money, but judging by Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory, only about half the overall gross. So unless Semi-Pro is destined for Mike Judge level cult status (Idiocracy, anyone?), this also isn't going to much help a film that has already dropped out of the top 10 at the box office and has barely passed 30 million.

Semi-Pro will have made New Line boatloads of money. Even though it kinda sucked.

From what I've heard, it straight up sucked. But more importantly, I totally disagree that it's going to make "boatloads of money." I'm not sure what the advertising budget actually was, but if it's even $10 million I'm honestly not sure Semi-Pro will even be able to break even. At most, it's going to net five, maybe ten million. At most. I say that based on some research. Not great research, maybe, but this isn't a fucking term paper. Although if you want me to cite my sources, here you go.

There's more to this article, but my legal counsel (Fire Everybody's resident law student Djmmm) has advised me to shorten my posts so that people don't have to commit half an hour to reading them. Which I guess is fair enough...I guess. In any case, this presents a natural stopping point, as that pretty much concludes the "Bill Simmons is terrible at analyzing the box office" portion of the article. The next part is the "Bill has weird opinions about sports movies which he irritatingly treats as gospel truth", which I will deal with tomorrow.

To be concluded...

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