FLYPAPER (2011): A PLEASANT SURPRISE

A while ago, Garry and I watched what is I am sure among the lowest grossing movies of all time. I don’t say this lightly. In its theatrical run, it grossed exactly (according to both Wikipedia and IMDB) $1100, which even in our world is not a huge amount of money. No, there aren’t any zeroes missing. That’s the real number.

This is not the lowest grossing movie ever. The 2012 movie  Playback cost $7.5 million to film but only grossed $264 – the lowest-grossing film of 2012. And 2006’s Zyzzx Road, starring Katherine Heigl grossed $30

Flypaper only cost $5,000,000 to make, so they only lost $4,998,900 which, for a Hollywood bomb, is small potatoes. The movie was universally panned, opened in just one movie house (where?) on two screens, then disappeared, never to be heard from again until it popped up the other night on one of our cable movie channels.

Garry didn’t recognize it, so he recorded it on the bedroom DVR. A couple of nights ago, while I was reading in bed (my favorite indulgence), I noticed the bed was shaking. He was laughing. Really laughing. Garry doesn’t normally lay in bed laughing. He told me that he was going to save this one because he thought I’d like it. As a rule, there are a lot of things I find funny that he doesn’t think are amusing, but never has the reverse been true. If he thinks its funny, it’s funny.

Flypaper  is actually a good little comedy. It’s a spoof and a farce, a parody of bank heist movies plus a good deal of slapstick, technobabble, and a few good explosions. The dialogue is rather witty.

The cast features Ashley Judd and Patrick Dempsey. It’s directed by Rob Minkoff. The writers were the same guys who created the characters from The Hangover. Rob Minkoff is known for co-directing The Lion King. So they’ve got their bona fides in order.

My first thought, as the credits were rolling, was that it reminded me of the credits for the Pink Panther. And, it turns out, the movie reminded me of the Pink Panther too, minus Inspector Clouseau. The same sort of “What else could go wrong” humor. It’s not a great movie, but it is fun. I would normally not write about it, but it’s gotten a bum rap: horrible reviews and no support from the studio. Showing it for one week in one movie theater on two screens, with no advertising or PR is not exactly a big opening. It deserved better.

The writeups in both IMDB and Wikipedia demonstrate that whoever wrote them never watched the movie. The descriptions are wildly inaccurate. Shame on whoever wrote them. I guess anonymity is not always a bad thing. I wouldn’t sign my name to that drivel either. Then again, I wouldn’t write about something I’d never watched. Call me old-fashioned, but it bothers me.

When I read movie reviews, I frequently wonder if the reviewer watched the same movie I did. Or watched any movie at all. They heap praise on movies that are boring and sometimes much worse than that. They pan movies that are creative, unique and interesting. They apparently take special pleasure in negative reviews, the more vicious the better. Meanwhile, they glorify obscure movies in which no one could possibly be interested.

Back in 1999, Garry and I were visiting friends in Michigan. Our group consisted of a lawyer, an engineer, a TV journalist, and a writer. We decided to rent the latest movie on which critics were heaping praise. It was the must-see  movie of the year: American Beauty.

Touted as a masterpiece, there were barely enough adjectives in the English language to say how wonderful it was. It was beloved of critics and grossed more than $350 million, won Best PictureBest DirectorBest Actor (for Spacey), Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

It stunk. It was affectedartsy, pretentious and incoherent. Did I forget annoying and dull?

Take this “interpretation” from Wikipedia as an example of just how thrilling it was:

Academics have offered many possible readings of American Beauty; film critics are similarly divided, not so much about the quality of the film as their interpretations of it. Described by many as about “the meaning of life” or “gender identification” or “the hollow existence of the American suburbs”, the film has defied categorization by even the filmmakers. Mendes is indecisive, saying the script seemed to be about something different each time he read it: “a mystery story, a kaleidoscopic journey through American suburbia, a series of love stories … it was about imprisonment … loneliness [and] beauty. It was funny; it was angry, sad.” (Translation: Mendes, the director, didn’t have a clue what the script was about.)

In essence, no one knew what, if anything, the movie was about, but it was so “au courant” no one was would admit they didn’t get it. After the fad ended, the movie disappeared. No one shows it on cable, no one rents it. It’s out of print. Because it was crap. Like in the story of the Emperor’s new clothing, no one wanted to be the first to point out the king was bare-ass naked.

About half an hour into the movie, our little group of well-read individualists looked at each other and briefly conferred. Was anyone enjoying it? No? Then why were we watching it?  We promptly popped the movie out of the machine and moved on with our evening. Pop corn goes well with conversation, too.

It reminds me of the Woody Allen movie Hollywood Ending. In it, a formerly prestigious director is broke and desperate for a movie project. He gets an offer to direct a big movie in New York. Because the offer comes from his former wife (Téa Leoni) and her current boyfriend (Treat Williams), he is reluctant to take the assignment, even though he needs the money and something to get his career on track.

He finally agrees to do it and is immediately struck blind by some kind of psychosomatic ailment probably induced by anxiety. The production hasn’t even started yet, but he decides to fake it.  It costs $60 million and flops. But, there is a “Hollywood ending.” The movie becomes a huge hit in France. He happily proclaims, “Thank God the French exist.” He knows the movie is awful, the worst thing he’s ever done. He had no idea what he was doing, but the French read all kinds of deep meaning into it. There will always be people to love things that don’t make sense because they figure it must be full of secret meaning. I went to school with these people. Didn’t we all?

My point is simple: Unless we are utterly lacking in critical judgment, I doubt the critics actually watched Flypaper. Maybe one guy watched it, didn’t like it, told the others who all followed his leader.

Flypaper is funny. We enjoyed it. It’s up there with some of the Zucker brothers nuttier comedies and a few of Mel Brooks’ later efforts. It’s as good as I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) and the same genre.

We laughed. A comedy should make you laugh. This does.

Flypaper is every bank heist movie you’ve seen with Murphy’s Law running rampant. Absolutely everything that can go wrong does so in the most spectacular way. Parts of the film remind me of Wily Coyote cartoons. You know something’s going to happen, but it doesn’t spoil the joke. The bomb is going to blow everyone to kingdom come. The fancy electronic computer gadgets won’t work. The money in the vault will be drachma, not dollars. You don’t care. The pacing is appropriately frantic, the actors manage to keep straight faces. The dialogue is funny and well-delivered. You have to listen because good lines are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention.

Our favorite bit of dialogue is between two of the older bank robbers complaining that they miss the good old days when all you needed was a gun and a brown paper bag. This in the midst of what could only be called the most catastrophically unsuccessful bank heist ever attempted.

The ending is predictable … or maybe not. It depends how your mind works. If you bump into it on cable or somewhere, give it a look. It’s pretty good. Really. I’m not kidding. I did watch it, including the credits.

Available from Amazon on DVD, Blu-ray, and download, most people who actually watched it liked it. I’m still trying to figure out why the critics were so negative.

The more time I spend writing about movies, the less I understand critics.

16 comments

  1. It sounds like the producers wanted a tax break on this one. Poorly publicised, marketed, and distributed; yup smells like a tax dodge. It’s jumped to the top of my list and I’ve re-blogged and reddit-ed this. Let me know if you get any referrals from reddit. Cheers mate!! Great, great post!

    1. There are a lot more of these lost movies than I imagined. I always had assumed they were just bad. But maybe other reasons were in play. Because many worse films than this were distributed and promoted. Makes you wonder who insulted who?

  2. I am a real fan of Ashley Judd, ever since Double Jeopardy. She’s a peach! I’m gonna check this one out.

  3. First time i watched “Three Amigos” I thought it was terrible. Second time – because I was trapped into watching it by my son, I think – it was hilarious, and has remained so ever sine. It’s a really funny movie. F’rinstance, the meanest, awfullest Mexican bandit chief’s men give him a present for his birthday. Is it a naked girl? A new Gatling gun? Nope, “It’s a sweater,” he gushes. In the Sonoran Desert, in the summer. Funny movie. And then, there’s always Ishtar.

    1. This is a funny movie that’s supposed to be funny and IS. There are, I grant you, more than a few accidentally funny movies … some of them downright hilarious … but this is a comedy and a pretty good one. Oscar level? Hey, comedies don’t win Oscars anyhow. But it’s fun and if you run across it, it’s worth an hour an a half.

  4. Of course, you have stirred up curiosity and it actually doesn’t sound THAT bad. I have seen some so-called “high” rated movies that weren’t worth watching beyond the first 30 minutes if even that far! Rave reviews does not always mean a rave movie:>)

    1. Well, life is hard and I figure anything that makes us laugh is a good thing. It’s interesting that most “user” reviews are favorable, completely different than those of the professional reviewers.

  5. “Flypaper” shows you CAN find decent stuff if you take time to surf through the channels, check plot, director and cast. You don’t always strike gold but sometimes you get lucky as we did in this case. Interestingly, I watched the film the night before last — in bed — without my hearing aids and went with just the closed caption. I found myself laughing out loud and then told Marilyn — who was reading and not paying any attention to the TV that we needed to watch again WITH sound just to make sure it wasn’t my sleeping meds playing tricks on me. So, we watched again last night WITH sound and, VOILA!!, “Flypaper” IS a funny, little movie!!

    1. And this is why I so distrust “professional” critics. I frequently wonder who is paying them to say what they say …Maybe if they don’t get ther payoff, they automatically pan the movie. At this point, I would believe anything.

  6. Went to Amazon to check it out for possible purchase and found that the DVR-buying reviewers gave it high marks – one of them insisting that, as you say, the critics were wrong. Not sure I’ll buy the DVD, but will watch for it on Dish Network.

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