Movie star romances used to be the thing that made box office numbers soar. Think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” or Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn in “The Break-Up.”
Another great example: Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz in “Vanilla Sky.”
These movies weren't Oscar-quality films, but the idea that the stars were fooling around off-camera made ticket sales pop.
Publicists have been using this gambit forever, often inventing relationships where there weren’t any just to get publicity.
Alas, the old formula ain’t workin’ for Gavin Hood’s thriller, “Rendition.” A rumored romance between stars Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal surfaced months ago. Everyone involved denied it. Indeed, it seemed from afar that maybe Reese and Jake were just part of a PR machine.
In any case, that should have raised the profile of "Rendition." It didn’t. With a strange title and a complicated plot, "Rendition" was hard to explain even to those who wanted to know more about it.
Then the movie opened on Oct. 19. The first weekend take was an anemic $4 million from 2,250 theaters. Ten days later, “Rendition” has $8 million in ticket sales.
It’s dead, and a total write-off for New Line, which not only has top money earners in Witherspoon and Gyllenhaal, but a pricey supporting cast in previous Oscar-winners Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin and in Gyllenhaal’s much admired actor brother-in-law, Peter Saarsgard.
Now here’s the rub: Reese and Jake are for real. As "Rendition" sinks into red ink, the couple is everywhere. They’re in all the supermarket tabloids as a confirmed couple. They’re photographed strolling amorously around Rome.
They’ve let the cat out of the bag. But it’s too late -- "Rendition" is over. By Thanksgiving, in three weeks, its theatrical run will end to make room for new movies. If it grosses $15 million, New Line execs will pop champagne to go with their Xanax.
So what went wrong? "Rendition" is about the CIA and torture, two things audiences don’t really want to know much about anyway unless there’s a big romantic subplot. If there isn’t one in the film, then there has to be off-screen.
But without confirmation, the Reese-Jake story lost momentum before the film opened. The irony of its veracity now is a good Hollywood laugh, except, of course, to the people who put up the money for “Rendition.”
Michael Jackson is still in default on his $23.2 million loan secured by the Neverland Ranch. Today makes 12 days, with 78 left before Fortress Investments can foreclose and take the property.
A spokeswoman for Fortress said Tuesday, “No comment.”
And Wednesday is the day Jackson owes Fortress a $5 million interest payment on $300 million. By Wednesday, Jackson was to have refinanced all his loans with Fortress. But judging by the issuing of the default notice on Neverland, Fortress may not be interested in negotiating.
Jackson’s lawyer, Greg Cross, of Venable LLP in Washington, D.C., who specializes in bankruptcy, didn’t return our call Tuesday. Jackson is still in our nation’s capital, renting a house from Glenn Golonka of Riverdale International Properties.
There’s some speculation — although it doesn’t make sense — that Jackson may just walk away from Neverland rather than come up with the money. The reasoning is that he hasn’t lived there in 18 months, refuses to return and the place is shut down. Jackson says he has bad memories of the ranch after all the police raids concerning his possible molestation of underage boys (he was acquitted of those charges.)
If Jackson did walk away, former partner Marc Schaffel could invoke his lien. Neverland would probably be sold at auction. What would happen to all the objects and memorabilia in the house is unclear, although if Jackson walks away those could go to auction too.
The Jackson family is no stranger to that type of auction. Memorabilia and personal items they previously abandoned wound up in a New Jersey warehouse and then were sold to strangers in Las Vegas.
Britney Spears’ advisers — certainly not Britney herself — may have learned a lesson Tuesday. More custody of Spears’ children for the wayward mom means more CD sales.
To wit: before Britney regained some visitation rights Tuesday, her new album “Blackout” was No. 5 on Amazon.com. After it was announced that she’d be seeing the kids with supervision, "Blackout" went up to No. 3.
Imagine what full custody could do for "Blackout"!
Over on iTunes, the same thing happened. After not being there at all when the day began, "Blackout" hit the iTunes album chart at Np. 3. It remained there until the announcement, then jumped to No. 1.
Is there a correlation? Possibly. Fans, especially young ones, may be fretting for Britney but also hoping that their teen pop idol isn’t as bad as everyone says.
When Family Court Commissioner Scott Gordon finally threw Britney a bone, it looked like fans who were hesitant gave in and started ordering up “Blackout.”
Will Spears stay at No. 1 on any chart for long? Probably not. "Blackout" is mostly a novelty, whereas "American Idol" and country star Carrie Underwood is the real thing with a huge fan base. Most likely, Underwood’s new “Carnival Ride” will be back in top position in a couple of days.
Tuesday’s proclamation from NBC that Jay Leno was definitely passing "The Tonight Show" baton to Conan O'Brien in 2009 struck some as odd. This announcement has been made before, and it’s three years old.
But Leno has balked at leaving, and this was NBC’s way of saying adios in public.
What will happen? NBC wants Leno to stick around, but my sources say it’s more likely he’ll head to ABC or Fox for a new late night show and take O’Brien on.
I agree. Leno is too young to retire, and has a sizeable following. So get ready for a late night brawl.
Meanwhile, O’Brien’s successor looks more and more to be Jimmy Fallon. There couldn’t be a better choice…