Fierce Anticipation: May 29 – 31


a blogumn by Ryan Dixon



upSeemingly every review and article about Pixar’s Up mentions the fact that this new movie gives the Emeryville, CA studio a perfect 10 for 10 streak of critical and box office success for their films. In fact, many refer to this streak as some kind of record.

So, if this is a weekend where we celebrate the most impressive run of a movie studio in modern times, shouldn’t we also memorialize the worst financial and critical streak a movie studio has ever had?

Before I reveal the studio to which I refer, let me first say that in doing my research to find the dream factory that will forever lurk at the bottom of Hollywood’s dark belly, my focus was restricted to major commercial studios. For example while Roger Corman’s New Horizons Pictures (which has given the world Carnosaur and Cheerleader Massacre 2) would surely be a top candidate for such a list, that studio’s goal was not to make quality hits, but fast and cheap movies that turned a quick profit and often only as appeared straight-to-video titles. I’ve also excluded specific franchises or genres that a single studio produced. Thus, 20th Century Fox’s seemingly never ending streak of crappy movies based on Marvel Comics characters (Wolverine, The Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, Daredevil, et al) was removed from consideration.

And the winner is?

Savoy Pictures

savoyUnder the direction of Victor A. Kaufman, who had been the founding CEO and Chairman of Tri-Star Pictures, Savoy Pictures (which featured a herd of Buffalo as their logo) was an independent studio founded in 1992 with the expressed intention of competing head-to-head against the major studios like Warner Brothers, Paramount and Universal. Their goal was to develop a varied slate of commercial and specialty films.

In hindsight, Savoy was to the mid-90’s what Orion was to the 80’s and DreamWorks was to the late 90’s and early 00’s; a studio that got too big, too fast. Except that unlike those two other ill-fated studios, which managed to win Best Picture statues and make several genuine blockbusters, almost all of Savoy’s movies were terrible.

Yet in 1993, its first year releasing movies, the future looked bright as Savoy garnered acclaim, Oscar nods and modest box office success with Robert De Niro’s directorial debut A Bronx Tale and Shadowlands, a Richard Attenborough film in which Anthony Hopkins portrayed C.S. Lewis. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

In selecting Savoy Pictures as the studio responsible for the longest consecutive “worst” streak, I have taken two factors into account: box office gross and critical response. For example, the nine feature films Pixar has released (not including Up) have averaged a domestic box office gross of $236.9 million and accumulated a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (anything over 60% is considered fresh).

Savoy’s numbers are just as equally jaw dropping, if not quite so inspiring. Of the fifteen major movies Savoy released theatrically after A Bronx Tale and Shadowlands, the average box office gross was a meager $7.8 million and the accumulated critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes a very un-fresh 21.5%. Even if you include the two aforementioned films, the box office average increases only to $9.46 million dollars while the Rotten Tomatoes critical rating remains a fairly stinky 31.5%. Quite simply, the critical reception and box office grosses for the movies made under the banner of Savoy Pictures forms a cinematic Mendoza Line that will probably never be lowered.

Savoy’s historic run of flops mercifully ended in 1997 (Although according to Wikipedia, by 1995 Kaufman had already announced that he was no longer going to invest in movies and was going to make the company a TV station holding company—whatever that is). And while you can rent many of their films, most of the output is now largely forgotten due to the fact that, well, most of the movies sucked so bad that even SpikeTV won’t show them.

However, if after seeing Up (and, of course, Drag Me to Hell), you wish to spend of the rest of the weekend swimming about in sterile pond of (mostly) movie muck, here are the seventeen major features that were produced and distributed by Savoy Pictures, making up the longest streak of studio ignominy in Hollywood history:

Author’s Note: The synopses below are courtesy of Netflix. My historical commentary is in bold.


A Bronx Tale

A Bronx boy (Lillo Brancato) grows to adulthood worshipping disparate heroes: his hardworking father (Robert De Niro), who drives a city bus, and the neighborhood mob boss (Chazz Palminteri), who becomes a kind of surrogate dad. Adapted from Palminteri’s funny and touching play, A Bronx Tale marks De Niro’s directorial debut and is a great showcase for everyone involved.

Poor Lillo Brancato. In any other year, his great performance as Robert De Niro’s son in this film would have led to stardom. Unfortunately, in this particular year, Robert De Niro starred as a father in not one, but two coming-of-age stories, the second being This Boy’s Life. And in a cruel twist of fate for Lillo, the role of De Niro’s scene-stealing son in that movie was played by a little-known actor by the name of Leonardo DiCaprio.

A Bronx Tale Box Office: $17.3 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 96%


A divorced New York woman (Debra Winger) and well-known children’s author CS Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) become romantically entwined in this story about their ill-fated May-December love affair.

Much like Robert De Niro playing dual dads in two coming-of-age stories, the highest grossing film in Savoy Pictures history featured Anthony Hopkins during his magical year of repression.

Within a period of two months at the end of 1993 Hopkins appeared as both the sexually repressed British butler Stevens in Merchant and Ivory’s The Remains of the Day and as the sexually repressed British author C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands. The only difference being that in The Remains of the Day he only got to hold hands with Emma Thompson while in this film he actually has sex with Debra Winger.

And speaking of both streaks and Debra Winger, by appearing in Shadowlands she went 2 for 2 in receiving Oscar Nominations for films where she played an annoying American who dies of cancer.

Shadowlands Box Office: $25.9 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 96%


Lightning Jack

In the Wild West, bored, mute shopkeeper Ben Doyle (Cuba Gooding Jr.) seeks a life of rootin’-tootin’ adventure when he teams with dimwitted gunslinger “Lightning” Jack Kane (Paul Hogan). Together, the desperados court infamy with a string of bank robberies, jailbreaks, visits to bordellos and bar brawls.

For audiences in 1994, this film proved once and for all that, rather than being taken seriously as an actor, Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan’s rightful place was as a dated 80’s Pop Culture icon along the lines of Max Headroom and New Coke.

Of course, this film’s true legacy is much darker. Like the many warnings no one paid attention to before the tragedies of 9/11 and Columbine, Lightning Jack served as a Cassandra-like foreshadowing as to the sugarcoated dreck we would endure if the “actor” known as Cuba Gooding, Jr. ever became a star. Sadly, we did not heed the signs; two years later Mr. Gooding, Jr. won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Jerry Maguire and has subsequently forced the world to endure such works as Instinct, Chill Factor, Snow Dogs, Boat Trip and Radio.

Lightning Jack Box Office: $16.8 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 7%

Serial Mom

Kathleen Turner plays Beverly Sutphin, the suburban-mom-turned-serial killer who slays those who fail to uphold her idea of suburban perfection — for instance, women who dare to wear white shoes after Labor Day!

Sadly, this film marked the last time we would ever think of Kathleen Turner as a sex symbol. Her recent appearance in Marley & Me was more traumatic for many kids than the death of the dog itself and instantly made Ms. Turner a top candidate to take over the role of Freddy Krueger in the upcoming Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Unfortunately, she was deemed too scary looking and lost out to Jackie Earle Haley.

Serial Mom Box Office: $7.8 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 14%

No Escape

It’s 2022, and Capt. Robbins (Ray Liotta) is sent to prison for murdering his commander. When he clashes with the hard-nosed warden (Michael Lerner), he’s moved to Absalom, a penal colony divided into good and evil. On the peaceful side of the fence are the Insiders, led by The Father (Lance Henriksen); on the unruly side are the Outsiders, who live for violence. Robbins scraps with the Outsiders and joins the Insiders to plot his escape.

In a rare reversal of the fate of almost everyone else who worked on a Savoy film, No Escape’s director, Martin Campbell, actually went on to have a successful career, helming such films as GoldenEye, The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale and next year’s Mel Gibson thriller, The Edge of Darkness.

No Escape Box Office: $15.3 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 56%

Exit to Eden

When Elliot (Paul Mercurio) goes to a sex resort on the island of Eden to live out his submissive fantasies, he falls in love with dominatrix Lisa (Dana Delany), the headmistress of the island — who, much to her own surprise, returns his affections. Meanwhile, diamond smugglers and two detectives (Rosie O’Donnell and Dan Aykroyd) are after Elliot because he possesses the only existing photographs of the smugglers at work. Based on the novel by Anne Rice and directed by Gary Marshall.

Throughout its brief history, Savoy developed a pattern of casting stars and hiring directors who had just come off the biggest hits of their career. Once under contract, Savoy then eagerly provided these artists with a newly built brick wall to smash their career against. Let’s call it the Savoy Pictures Brick Wall Club.

Case in point: Rosie O’Donnell was fresh off an acclaimed, scene-stealing performance in A League of Their Own, Sleepless in Seattle, and The Flintstones when she got her first starring role in Exit to Eden. After the film was released and bombed, she never again had a leading role in a movie and was forced instead to enter the tumultuous life of a talk show host where her most memorable co-star became Elmo.

Exit to Eden Box Office: $6.8 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 7%


The Walking Dead

In 1972, Vietnam, Marines are sent in to rescue some POW officers. The landing zone is hot and after a short fight, only four are left alive. The platoon they are to meet the next day is wiped out except for one nut-case. They conclude that they are expendable decoys. Between the walking, talking, arguing and assaulting, there are flashbacks to a contrite life before the Marines.

Meet the movie that napalmed the Vietnam War genre. After The Walking Dead was released D.O.A., there wasn’t another major Vietnam-set movie until Mel Gibson came charging into the theaters with 2002’s We Were Soldiers. (I’m sorry, but Disney’s Operation Dumbo Drop simply does not count.)

The Walking Dead Box Office: $6.0 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 00%

Circle of Friends

Based on the popular novel by Maeve Binchy, Circle of Friends follows three girlhood friends — modest Benny (Minnie Driver, in a breakthrough performance), loyal Eve (Geraldine O’Rawe) and socially and sexually precocious Nan (Saffron Burrows) — as they experience first love, first kisses and first betrayals. Chris O’Donnell co-stars as Jack, the object of Benny’s shy affection.

Circle of Friends was the only film in the Savoy cannon (aside from A Bronx Tale and Shadowlands) to gross more $17 million and have an average critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes of at least 70%.

Fortunately, Savoy brass smartly cast Chris O’Donnell – the human rice cake of cinema – to ensure that Circle of Friends wasn’t too good of a movie (they didn’t want to totally break their streak of mediocrity, after all). As my friend Zac recently pointed out when I asked him if he thought Chris O’Donnell was a good actor:

“He sucks. But not even in the way Keanu Reeves sucks. At least Keanu Reeves is good at playing a stoner. Chris O’Donnell makes Keanu Reeves look like a combination of Lawrence Oliver and Marlon Brando. Chris O’Donnell has been bad in everything he’s ever done.”

(At this point Zac became so emotionally distraught by talking about his hatred for Chris O’Donnell that he took a Zoloft, Ambien and a chaser of Xanax, passed out and slept straight through the rest of the day.)

Circle of Friends Box Office: $23.4 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 70%

Destiny Turns on the Radio*

Johnny Destiny (Quentin Tarantino) burns into Las Vegas in his hot Dodge RoadRunner, stopping only to pick up a stranger stranded in the desert. But then, things aren’t always as they seem. Anything can happen in that town of many possibilities…especially since there have been some weird electrical disturbances. As the stranger, fresh out of prison, tries to put his life back together–to recover his money from an old bank heist and the girl he lost in doing the job–something keeps interfering with his plans. Is it fate…or just Destiny?

This film did to Quentin Tarantino’s fledgling acting career what Tom Cruise couldn’t do to Hitler: kill it. While he’s made a few other appearances in movies and somehow managed to grace (defile?) a Broadway stage, one can only imagine what mimetic horrors would have awaited moviegoers if this film had been a hit and Tarantino had decided to focus on acting rather than directing.

Destiny Turns on the Radio Box Office: $1.1 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 13%

Tales From the Hood

In an experience more frightening than their worst nightmares, three friends tour a funeral home with a creepy mortician (Clarence Williams III) in this Spike Lee-produced horror anthology. Along the way, they hear a story about each of the corpses. From cops turned bad to a child with uncanny powers, a bigoted politician tormented by voodoo dolls and a drug dealer who undergoes sensory rehab, all of the spooky tales have racial implications.

Has there ever been an anthology of any kind that has actually made money? While Hollywood has a quick trigger finger when it comes to genres it deems as being box office poison (see the musical and western throughout the 80’s and 90’s), studios keep cranking out anthologies by seemingly repeating the mantra, “This time it will be different.” Memo to Hollywood: Doing the same thing again and again, but hoping for a different result isn’t smart business. It’s the definition of insanity.

Tales From the Hood Box Office: $11.9 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 29%

Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde

Dr. Richard Jacks (Timothy Daly) is a perfume maker who spends his life formulating new pleasant-smelling scents and concoctions. Although he’s an accomplished scientist, it comes as a surprise when he discovers that his great-grandfather was Dr. Jekyll — a brilliant scientist whose findings were groundbreaking. Desperate to be as successful as Jekyll, Jacks creates a stunning woman named Helen (Sean Young), with dire consequences.

While it seems absurd that even in 1995 someone would greenlight a film headlined by Tim Daly and Sean Young, there were two good things that came from this debacle:

1. Tim Daly, tail between his legs, left the feature film world for good, starred in two more seasons of Wings and has spent the past decade and a half strolling through one series after another, earning the title of TV’s “Most Charming, Yet Generic Leading Man.”

2. After engaging in a bizarre and ill-gotten campaign to play Catwoman in Batman Returns, Sean Young finally got to indulge in her more feral instincts in this film and was thankfully never really heard from again.

Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde Box Office: $2.7 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 14%

Last of the Dogmen

When Montana bounty hunter Lewis Gates (Tom Berenger) is hired to track three escaped convicts in the wilderness, he uncovers an arrow shaft that leads to a century-old secret. He then enlists the help of Native American history professor Lillian Sloan (Barbara Hershey), who reluctantly accompanies him on a search for a surviving Cheyenne tribe from the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre — even though she doubts it exists.

Does it come as a surprise to anyone that a film with a title reminiscent of a Hallmark Hall-of-Fame TV movie (Fox Fire and To Dance With the White Dog come to mind) which starred two actors—Tom Berenger and Barbara Hershey—who were, at the time, basically appearing in nothing but TV movies, failed to cross the $10 million mark at the box office?

Last of the Dogmen Box Office: $7 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 69%

Steal Big Steal Little

Two brothers (Andy Garcia in both roles) who were separated in early childhood take wildly divergent paths in life. One single-mindedly pursues money and the power that accrues from it, while the other adopts a more languid “share the wealth” mentality.

This film provides us with another example of the Savoy Pictures Brick Wall Club: After helming the critical and box office blockbusters The Fugitive and Under Siege, Andrew Davis walked into the offices of Savoy, signed the contract to direct this film and selflessly relinquished his newly minted position on the A-list to other directors seemingly less eager to ruin their careers.

Steal Big Steal Little Box Office: $3.1 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 14%

White Man’s Burden

Factory worker Louis Pinnock (John Travolta) is an honest man with a chip on his shoulder. But his life is destroyed when he’s unexpectedly fired from his job, beaten by police and evicted from his home. He calls on the company’s CEO (Harry Belafonte) to help fight the injustice. But when the boss won’t listen, Pinnock takes matters into his own hands. Desmond Nakano directs this unique film that shakes up traditional definitions of racism.

After making his vaunted comeback the previous year in Pulp Fiction, John Travolta jumped at the chance to rejoin the ranks of has-beens by following up that Oscar nominated performance with a starring role in this heavy-handed allegory.

White Man’s Burden Box Office: $3.7 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 26%

Three Wishes

A mysterious drifter (Patrick Swayze) and his dog move in with a struggling single mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) whose husband died in the Korean War. Does the stranger really have magical powers, or is he just a tall-tale spinner?

Couldn’t someone have figured out a way that Patrick Swayze could have starred in a sequel to Point Break or Roadhouse rather than in this film where he’s upstaged by a dog?

Three Wishes Box Office: $7 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 14%


Getting Away with Murder

Jack Lambert (Dan Aykroyd) is convinced that his neighbor Max Mueller (Jack Lemmon) is a Nazi who inflicted pain on many people during the Holocaust. Sure of Mueller’s identity, Jack concocts a scheme to poison the old man to make him pay for his horrible deeds. Before he carries out his plan, however, he discovers that Max isn’t a criminal after all and marries Max’s daughter out of guilt. But can he really be so sure that Max is innocent?

While researching this blogumn I added Getting Away With Murder to my Netflix queue, at which point Netflix helpfully provided me with a menu of “Movies Most like Getting Away With Murder”.

They might as well have just written: “If you liked this crappy movie. Here are some more crappy movies you may like.” On my computer screen was a Murderer’s Row of bad 90’s comedies, many of which proved to be a “jump the shark” moment for those involved. Here’s a selection of the movies:

Cops & Robbersons (He Who Jumped the Shark: Chevy Chase)

Father’s Day (He Who Jumped the Shark: Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and director Ivan Reitman)

The Distinguished Gentleman (He Who Jumped the Shark: Non-fat suit funny Eddie Murphy)

Jury Duty (He Who Jumped the Shark: Pauly Shore—Just to be clear, in this case, I think “Jumping the Shark” was a good thing.)

Bulletproof (He Who Jumped the Shark: Damon Wayans –Isn’t it strange to think that there was a time not too long ago when Damon Wayans was top-billed over Adam Sandler?)

Getting Away With Murder Box Office: $.02 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 00%

Heaven’s Prisoners

In this twisty thriller based on the crime novels of James Lee Burke, former New Orleans cop Dave Robicheaux (Alec Baldwin) is forced to return to the violence of the streets after his family is victimized. When Robicheaux saves the life of a young girl, he and his wife (Kelly Lynch) get caught between rampaging federal agents and a drug-running former friend (Eric Roberts).

While the buzz during the film’s release surrounded the fact that Terri Hatcher (still the G-rated Lois in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) appeared topless in one scene, little did anyone suspect that the real historic legacy of this film would be that it not only marked the end of Savoy Pictures, but also brought Alec Baldwin’s career as an A-list leading man to a screeching and bloody halt, making him the final victim to join the Savoy Brick Wall Club.

In hindsight, this was probably a good thing.  If this movie had been anything close to a hit, he probably would have continued to star in mediocre thrillers and wouldn’t have gained the 75lbs and second chin needed to allow him to seamlessly segue into becoming one of our great character actors.

Heaven’s Prisoners Box Office: $5 million / Rotten Tomatoes Average Rating: 11%

Author’s Note: As you might have noticed, I figured that several thousand words about Up and Savoy Pictures would satiate your desire to read my blogumn. If, however, you are disappointed about the lack of the other two weekly categories that usually follow “Fiercely Anticipating”, please include Shadowlands and A Bronx Tale as movies that you should “Kinda Wanna See” and place all other Savoy Pictures releases as those that you “Shouldn’t Watch Even If They Paid You.”


*Destiny Turns On the Radio synopsis written by Tad Dibbern