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'Tomcats': An Unlikely Bit of Studio History

Upstart Revolution has A-list stars in its stable, but its first release is a raunchy sex comedy.

April 02, 2001|ROBERT W. WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Early last year, Joe Roth set off seismic tremors throughout the movie industry when he bolted his post as studio chief at Disney to form his own production company, called Revolution Studios. In the months that followed, the media traced every twist and turn in the Roth saga, as he forged a distribution deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment and production deals with three box-office mega-stars: Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis and Adam Sandler.

Revolution also mapped out aggressive plans to make high-profile projects, including Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down" and "America's Sweethearts," directed by Roth and starring Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack.

So, with all Hollywood watching, what is the first movie out of the gate at Revolution? Would you believe a raunchy, R-rated comedy? The film is called "Tomcats," a sex romp full of crude humor starring relative unknowns Jerry O'Connell, Shannon Elizabeth and Jake Busey.

If you're wondering why Roth and his partners at Revolution, who include former Fox executive Tom Sherak, chose this film as their debut, and not a splashier movie like "America's Sweethearts," the folks at Revolution say it just makes sense to go with what you've got. "Tomcats," with a modest $11-million budget, carries none of the risks of a big-budget film, they point out, and it doesn't have to make a lot of money to show a profit.

And that may be the best spin Revolution can put on "Tomcats' " opening weekend; the film took in a lackluster $6.5 million, good for only No. 4 on the box office top 10.

Roth noted that the company will have six films coming out this year, so why not go with a movie that doesn't take a lot of time to make? "We've been in business now for a year," Roth said. "It takes a little time to develop higher-end projects. . . . This sends a signal out to the industry so they don't have to contemplate what my next move is."

The competition would also be rough during midsummer, when rival studios are scheduled to roll out such films appealing to young males as "Planet of the Apes," "Rush Hour 2" and "American Pie 2."

"I wanted to go early," he said. "I felt comfortable. I felt spring break was a good time for this movie. Even though I can see critically mixed reviews, as [they] always are [for movies] like this, it's silly to wait for summer to put this out."

He was right on that score. The reviews have been mixed.

Though The Times noted in its review that the film contains "an abundance of gleeful tastelessness that actually is pretty funny," the Associated Press found the plot rather boring and noted that while "Tomcats" tries to be funny and bawdy like "American Pie," it falls short. "This cat has been fixed," it cracked. The Washington Post, meanwhile, called it "repugnant" to women, "who are largely depicted as walking, talking (OK, scratch the talking part) sex organs and mammary glands."

Indeed, one of the striking aspects about "Tomcats" is that although Sony is marketing the movie as though it pushes the envelope of raunchy humor, it actually pales in comparison with the antics of Jim Carrey in last year's comedy "Me, Myself & Irene." In that film, Carrey not only defecated on a lawn, but he also drank mother's milk from the source and pumped bullets into an injured cow.

Nevertheless, Sony is certainly positioning the film as the must-see spring-break comedy principally aimed at males ages 18 to 24.

"I think we always had a feeling to make ["Tomcats"] sexy and fun and a bit outrageous," said Jeff Blake, who heads marketing and distribution at Sony.

As for the aggressive advertising and publicity campaign for "Tomcats" targeting the college-age crowd, Blake added, "We really did go for it, no question about it. We really put it in spots that were appropriate to an R-rated audience."

The outdoor advertising campaign depicts a sexy woman pictured from the waist down in shorts with the provocative line: "The last man standing gets the kitty."

That line proved too objectionable in Boston, where the local transit authority banned it from buses and bus stations.

But twentysomethings certainly have been bombarded with commercials. Sony aggressively went after sports programming on Turner Sports and Fox Sports as well as late-night talk shows hosted by David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Craig Kilborn.

MTV, with its young demographic, was also earmarked, but because the film carries a restrictive R-rating, Sony ran ads only after 7 p.m. on the music cable network. The film also had a strong presence on such MTV programs as spring-break coverage, "Hot Zone" and "Rock 'n' Jock."

Meanwhile, the stars of "Tomcats" also taped spots for E! Entertainment's "Wild on E!," and the studio made sure they had a presence on college-oriented Internet sites.

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