Starring: Ashley Olsen, Mary-Kate Olsen, Eugene Levy, Andy Richter, Riley Smith, Jared Padalecki, Darrell Hammond
Director: Dennie Gordon
Writer: Emily Fox, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage
Distributor: Warner Brothers (US 2004)
Rating: Rated PG for mild sensuality and thematic elements


Author: Wheeler Winston Dixon
Publisher: Wallflower Press (US 2003)

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are a clear and present danger to the art of film-making.

In VISIONS OF THE APOCALYPSE: SPECTACLES OF DESTRUCTION IN AMERICAN CINEMA, Wheeler Winston Dixon passionately warns that the world is ending, and that cinema is dead. Dixon is a classic Cassandra -- histrionic-sounding, disbelieved, and, apparently, right.

What does a 93-minute tweenie trifle have to do with "the meltdown of our shared international cultural heritage"? Consider, one by one, the discouraging signs:

Pre-sold material wins out. If Mary-Kate and Ashley were nobodies with an idea for this movie, NEW YORK MINUTE would never have been made. The girls are cultural icons, headliners of a global brand worth approximately $320 billion. Raggedy adaptations, shabby sequels, and star-driven lead balloons are chasing out quality original material, Dixon argues, because of the mounting difficulty and cost of introducing new ideas to a media-saturated world.

Distribution rules. NEW YORK MINUTE, which is not quite as substantial as two-ply tissue paper, opened on 3,006 screens. Dogtown, the year's most discussed foreign film, never opened on more than 70. And that's an English-language foreign film starring Nicole Kidman. Many excellent films get no distribution at all, floating around festivals or languishing, neglected in company vaults. As VISIONS notes, the endless extension of copyright protection leaves uncirculated films to the mercy of the corporations who have abandoned them. The public domain shrinks, while the theaters are flooded with bilge.

Saturation booking. And why open a lousy movie in 3,006 theaters? For one thing, pre-sold material is pretty much critic-proof. What 13 year-old Olsens fan is going to bail on NEW YORK MINUTE just because 76% of Rotten Tomatoes critics gave it a pan? Secondly, the filmmakers get 90% of the ticket sales the first weekend, so a big open can mean profits even if subsequent weeks are lackluster. Third, the money's also in the merchandise -- NEW YORK MINUTE already has a novelization, a prequel book, a sequel book, a doll line (with playsets such as Big Shirl's House of Bling) and God knows what else. The hit-and-run film marketing strategy that Dixon credits to cheapie horror movie studios is now par for the course across the industry. Like Charlie Brown charging to kick the football from Lucy's hands, the movie-going public falls for it over and over again.

Virtual stars. Dixon fears that movie studios aim to replace actors, blotting out the humanity of films. The actor can be unpredictable, headstrong, demanding. She ages and tire. Better by far to produce a "virtual star," a computer construct, immortal, changing only on request, asking for nothing and willing to do anything. Sounds far-fetched until you realize that Angelina Jolie simulated video game heroine Lara Croft, and not the other way around. Most of Disney's stars are virtual, from Mickey Mouse on down. Studios, businesses after all, itch to ratchet down labor costs.

Using Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen is the next best thing to not having human actors. Raised from infancy to perform on cue, the twins were selected for Full House exactly because they were completely interchangeable. NEW YORK MINUTE is a 93-minute screen test, in which they show the world that they can be serviceably plugged into any genre, from broad comedy to action to maudlin family drama, blacksploitationn romance, music videos, and bawdiness not excluded. Mind you, aside from physical comedy, they don't do anything well. But they're young, they'll upgrade!

No hint of personality, real or created, disturbs the glossy surface of this Jane magazine in motion. NYM's tone is wildly inconsistent, and not for any artful reason. Character development is strictly paint-by-numbers.

Audience complicity. What made us care about movies in the first place? Did the packed house see ANY of that up on the screen?

Dixon concludes that movie audiences are increasingly unable to distinguish good movies from bad. Cultural illiteracy, promotional blitzes, the relentless barrage of over-the-top action and special effects, have combined to fog the mind of the moviegoer. There will be no rebellion in the aisles against idiocy on the screens. The average, passive moviegoer only knows about the rich possibilities of film what can be derived from the narrow, stagnant commercial canon pumped into her megaplex and living room by hyperconglomerates.

Would you like to make a movie based on an original idea with a cast of unknowns in this atmosphere? Thank God for the few masochists who do.

Dixon points out that we've already lost 50% of movies made before 1950. Eighty percent of silent films have perished, no known prints in existence. But I worry more, much more, about the number of great films now being aborted because their would-be makers see no future for the art.

NEW YORK MINUTE is a deep incision, part of our ongoing national lobotomy.

--Martin Scribbs

Review text copyright © 2004 Martin Scribbs and Mixed Reviews. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Mixed Reviews or the author is prohibited.

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