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Hollywood bets on ‘Romaction’

india Updated: Jun 13, 2010 00:28 IST
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In Killers, which opened on Friday, Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher play newlyweds on the run from hired assassins, their wedded bliss punctuated by car chases, stunts with trucks and sundry shootouts. Which sounds an awful lot like The Bounty Hunter, in which Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston played ex-spouses dodging bullets and Tasers and bickering their way back to true love. Which calls to mind Date Night, featuring Tina Fey and Steve Carell as a couple caroming through Manhattan on a super-charged car chase while avoiding a couple of armed hooligans. And coming soon: Knight and Day, starring Cameron Diaz, Tom Cruise, a Ducati motorcycle, several cars and even more guns.

When did romantic comedies go ballistic? Or was it the action movies that went soft?

As the 2010 movie calendar approaches the midyear mark, Hollywood’s latest case of you-got-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter has become explosively, and already monotonously, clear. Action and romance are tying the knot, brought together by a movie industry desperate for product that will appeal not just to one demographic group (say, teen-age boys) but two (teen-age boys and their girlfriends, sisters or even moms).

One wag has even already named the offspring of this shotgun wedding: “Romaction.”

As with most trends in Hollywood, this particular spate of action-spiked rom-coms (or romance-infused action flicks) can be traced to the twin impulses of love and fear: the movie industry’s love of a sure thing and its equally strong fear of trying something new. In this case, studio executives are trying to re-create the past success of the 1984 hit Romancing the Stone and, more recently, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Knight and Day producer Steve Pink says he first learned of the trend when he began shopping the script around six years ago. Back then, it was a buddy action comedy. “It was (co-producer) Todd Garner who said, ‘Studios are looking for that Romancing the Stone kind of action-romantic comedy.’ ”

Pink and screenwriter Patrick O'Neill set out to re-tool Knight and Day as Romancing the Stone in the world of espionage, Pink says, creating the character of a woman whose chance meeting with a mysterious stranger sends her on a chase from equally mysterious assassins. Pink was happy to make the overhaul. “I’ve always been a fan of trying to have more than one genre in a movie,” he says, adding that combining action and romance “enables anybody who wants to make an action movie to expand the interest of women in their movie by adding a strong woman character.”

A new truism in the movie business: Girls are the new teen-age boys.

With the success of Twilight and its sequels, a business model based on comic books and toys for boys now must make room for less testosterone-heavy mega-hits. “If you’re ignoring the female audience you're making a humungus mistake right now,” says analyst Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office division at Hollywood.com.

Still, guys under 25 continue to wield disproportionate power in the movie marketplace, according to producer J.C. Spink (The Hangover). “What’s driving the film business is teen-age boys,” he says flatly. “Not that they’re the only audience, but I think everything is getting tailored more and more to them.”

Rom-coms once thought of as “chick flicks” have become increasingly guy-friendly (more porn jokes, fewer makeover scenes), especially with the success of such Judd Apatow movies as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up.

Cinema has become fragmented, a function of niche interests and micro-managed audience research.

Thus, not only Killers opens this weekend but also Marmaduke (a talking-dog movie geared toward kids), Get Him to the Greek (a comedy starring Jonah Hill and Russell Brand that will presumably appeal to both teen-age boys and girls) and Splice (a science fiction drama aimed at sci fi and horror fans).

Movies increasingly look as if they’ve been stamped from the same mold on studio assembly lines.

Whether filmmakers are trying to snag guys, girls, both or everyone else, it looks like filmgoers who simply want to watch two people fall in love without first falling 20 stories, re-loading an Uzi and dodging an incoming fireball may be in for a long wait.

The good news? It will only take one improbable hit to bring the romance back. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that movies about pirates, vampires and wizards would never sell. Until they did.