Fingers point to PR on the Brendan Fraser comedy
Brendan Fraser
Credit: Brendan Fraser: Armando Gallo/Retna

MONKEY BUSINESS How does a $75 million film starring a bankable actor sidle into theaters unnoticed and immediately drop dead? It’s a question the makers of ”Monkeybone,” starring Brendan Fraser and directed by Henry Selick (”The Nightmare Before Christmas”), are trying to answer in the wake of their miserable $2.7 million opening two weeks ago.

Two of the filmmakers admit that ”Monkeybone,” a dark comedy about an animator trapped in the world he created, was a tough sell. But they argue that the movie’s distributor, Twentieth Century Fox, gave up on the project after the June departure of chairman Bill Mechanic, who greenlit the film. (Fox declined to comment for this story.)

According to production sources, Fox took ”Monkeybone” from Selick and recut it after a disastrous screening at which the sound system failed. Executive producer Chris Columbus also did an edit in an attempt to make the movie more mainstream before giving it back to Selick.

”They talked about opening the film in October, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then Martin Luther King’s birthday, then spring break, then Presidents’ weekend, then the weekend after,” says one of the filmmakers. With only two weeks to launch an advertising campaign and a decision to delay previewing the picture for weekly magazine critics, the filmmakers say ”Monkeybone” was doomed. Says one, ”A week and a half before the movie was supposed to come out, the ads were disappearing”; the Sunday before it opened, Fox took out only one print ad, in the L.A. Times.

Fox brass, which couldn’t have guessed that the film would receive favorable reviews from the L.A. Times, The New York Times, and EW (reviews in other parts of the country were mixed, at best), reportedly told the filmmakers, ”It’s going to look bad on Monday. This will make it look less bad.” Adds a source, ”If you do your best [to market the movie] and it bombs, go ahead, blame the film. But this is crazy. I mean, is this worse than ‘Get Carter’ or ‘See Spot Run’?”

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