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Dundee and Rambo and Dukakis and Bush

June 19, 1988|DAVID FOX

There was jubilation at the Paramount Pictures and Tri-Star victory parties when the results of the national campaigns for candidates Crocodile Dundee and John Rambo were tabulated. There was good reason too, since it was a box office landslide in all 50 states for Dundee and a pretty good tally for Rambo, this time in his third campaign.

Analysts in the media attributed the successes to the "Mr. Nice Guy" image that Dundee had cultivated and the no-nonsense, arms build-up (both military and biceps) platform that Rambo advocated.

But over at the headquarters of Elections Unlimited--the producers of "Campaign '88"--the mood was glum. (Don't worry if you've never heard of Elections Unlimited--it's simply one of those fly-by-night enterprises that come and go every few years, changing directions with the wind.)

Anyway, Elections Unlimited was horrified that "Campaign '88" was rapidly losing whatever steam it started with--which had never been all that much anyway, considering it lacked star power and had a script that promised so much, delivered so little and meandered wildly.

The public, in its uncanny wisdom, reacted with a resounding yawn to Elections Unlimited's latest production.

The execs were perplexed. Some speculated the problem was the use of what is known in the film industry as a "platform release" pattern. Instead of "opening wide" (barnstorming the entire nation like Dundee and Rambo), Elections Unlimited took its product to each state. After exhaustive months of testing, they opened in February in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire, continuing five long months to the sun of California in June.

The reasoning behind "platform releasing" is that some players sell better in certain states and regions. So the thinking at Elections Unlimited was to let their performers have the chance to find their audience. If they didn't, then the would-be stars would be weeded out along the way.

By the time that "Campaign '88" reached the big box-office states of New York, Illinois and California, its cast had been weeded, indeed. And of the three performers remaining, none exhibited the drawing power of a Dundee or Rambo. "Where's the MASS-achussetts appeal?" questioned one critic. Said another: " 'Campaign '88' is bushed."

Well now . . . you can see the grimness of the situation. Here's the spectacle of the public standing in line to pay money to see the likes of Dundee and Rambo, yet there were no lines at the box-office voting booths during California's recent election. Would "Campaign '88" end up flopping?

The Elections Unlimited board of directors reportedly convened for an emergency strategy session.

Agents representing The Rev. Jesse Jackson were optimistic: "Let the actors interact with the detractors, and in doing so, there will be a constructive dialogue."

The Michael Dukakis agents admitted disappointment that so far, "Campaign '88" had not been any "Moonstruck." But they assured the group that whatever course is taken from here on, they would stay true to principles.

The George Bush representatives seemed cheered that all was not yet lost. Said one: "There's popcorn in every theater (if it just wasn't for that nagging butter deficit)."

If the lack of consensus at U. S. Elections wasn't bad enough, there was the drubbing that "Campaign '88" took from most critics (one, however, rated it a 10):

"Why should Iowa get the sneak preview and not Kansas?"

"Five months is too long. . . . They should cut the running time."

"Haven't we seen this before?"

"If someone had made up this plot, no one would believe it."

Finally, Fiscal and Knee-Jerk gave it two thumbs down.

The execs at Paramount and Tri-Star smugly watched the disarray at Elections Unlimited. They knew how to play to the public, alright. When you have a weak plot, you don't stretch it out. You cut to the chase. You advertise your strengths and you never attack the opposition.

Said one exec, "If I were Elections Unlimited, I'd do my primary marketing all at once. Pick one day and just do it. A few months later, I'd open at every box office in the nation and let the public decide."

"Yeah," echoed another. "Open wide and cast a big star."

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