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Here's a Critic-Proof 'Proposal' : Movies: The reviews panned 'Indecent Proposal,' but the box office generated $24 million in five days. Star power didn't hurt.

April 13, 1993|JEFFREY WELLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's not unusual when audiences embrace a film that's been critically trashed, but the case of Paramount Pictures' "Indecent Proposal" is one of notable extremes. A good number of critics really hated it, their knives drawn and razor-sharp. But the public really liked it--or at least went to see it in droves to the tune of $18.3 million over the Friday-to-Sunday weekend. The amount was the biggest for any opening weekend so far this year.

Since its Wednesday debut, director Adrian Lyne's film, with an estimated $32-million production budget, had grossed about $24 million as of Sunday night.

Part of the appeal is clearly the film's star power--Robert Redford, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson. And part has been attributed to the emotions stirred up by Amy Holden Jones' screenplay, which has filmgoers asking the question: Would you (or your spouse or significant other) spend the night with Redford for $1 million?

The signs are that "Indecent Proposal's" success isn't just a five-day fluke.

"You don't see movies continue to build, as this one did over the weekend, if you don't have favorable word-of-mouth," said Paramount motion picture group president Barry London.

"We're very optimistic about the long-term prospects."

Others, however, were more guarded. A source close to Paramount revealed last week that the studio's own tracking poll had found that approximately 75% of those who had seen the film would recommend it to their friends. "That's OK, but it's not great," said Ed Mintz, president of Las Vegas-based CinemaScore, which reported a similar 73% approval rating for the film, as gathered over the five-day weekend.

"If a film is really a hit, it'll score at least in the 85% to 90% range," Mintz explained. 'You're probably looking at a 30% to 35% drop next weekend, which reflects some disappointment."

Still, "Indecent Proposal's" drawing power was able to buck some of the worst reviews of the year.

The Boston Herald's Jim Verniere said the film was "so head-smackingly dumb, it's often unintentionally entertaining."

The Times' Kenneth Turan called "Indecent" "so unintentionally silly, so thoroughly implausible that all you can do is bow your head in bemused astonishment."

Newsweek's David Ansen, in a review titled 'Hook, Lyne and Stinker," wrote: 'Not once in the whole silly exercise does Lyne manufacture a genuine emotion. Unable to dramatize marital love, he sells it as if he were pitching perfume."

Mark Kane, a Los Angeles law student, saw the film on Friday and said it was "a letdown. But I knew it was going to be a hit when, on three different TV stations, the critic panned it, but then the newscasters said they didn't care, they would see it anyway."

The star power of the cast attracted Orange County dentist Joseph DiCaprio, 35, and his wife, Jana, 28, who hit the movie the first night it opened at the Cinemopolis megaplex in Anaheim Hills. "It wasn't the plot, it was the actors in it," he said.

Beth Mullins, a 30-year-old receptionist for an Irvine-based architectural firm, said she loved the film because she found herself relating to Demi Moore's character "even though the whole idea wasn't something I would want to participate in."

"When things happened to her, my heart would stop," Mullins said.

Asked about the gap between critics and average moviegoers, London said: "You can obviously conclude that their taste levels are different."

What was behind "Indecent Proposal's" critic-proof shield? Critics and marketing executives point to the following: the moral-issue hook. ("What would you do?" repeated over and over, on one-sheets and in the trailers); the feeling that the film was a must-see event; Redford and Moore, certainly, and the fact that it was the only "date" movie around.

The coordination of these elements by Paramount's marketing campaign was described by Ansen as "brilliant."

"The film has a great concept," said TV critic Gene Siskel, who panned "Indecent Proposal." "If I weren't a critic, I would go see it based on that and the casting. But that doesn't make it a good movie."

Before the opening, it had been assumed by some in the film industry that the film's commerciality could be jeopardized by the fact that last summer's comical "Honeymoon in Vegas" used almost exactly the same plot.

On Monday, director Lyne ("Flashdance," "Fatal Attraction") described last week's press screenings: "The reaction was one of scorn, and when you have 200-odd jaundiced critics sitting together, out-clevering each other . . . I don't think this is a suitable framework with which to judge a film.

"I love 'Reservoir Dogs.' I loved 'Glengarry Glen Ross.' But there should also be room for a romantic fairy tale as well. . . ," Lyne said. "I feel, to a certain extent, vindicated (by the box-office results). The critics seem to be considerably out of step with the audience."

Speaking one day before the film opened last week, screenwriter Amy Jones said that the female audience "is where I put my faith. Whenever I'd go to a meeting at a producer's office, the secretaries would always tell me they'd read the script and really liked it. It meant something to them. This is basically a women's emotional movie."

Reached the following day, Jones described Turan's thumbs-down review as "mean, spiteful, rancid. You have to keep in mind that there are no easy emotions in this film, and some men have a tremendous discomfort with that--they prefer their cynical, world- weary way of looking at things."

Times staff writers David J. Fox and Bryan Mingle contributed to this report.

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