'Van Helsing': NBC's First $200 Million Bust?

'Van Helsing' | Ron Galotti

'Van Helsing': NBC's First $200 Million Bust?

This Friday, the folks at NBC will finally get to see what it's like to own a movie studio. I hope they're ready.

Since the TV network essentially bought Universal Pictures from Vivendi, they've been waiting for a big release. Stephen Sommers' "Van Helsing," which cost $200 million, more or less, should send the peacock patrol its first lesson about being in the big leagues.

The good news for "Van Helsing" star Hugh Jackman is that he'll win the Tony Award for "The Boy From Oz." The bad news is that first, he will have to endure watching this crazy vampire flick join "The Alamo" in 2004's Hall of Shame.

Watching "Van Helsing" last night was like absorbing "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" without the irony. Sommers, who had a big hit remaking "The Mummy," has turned the battle between monster hunter Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing and Count Dracula into a camp farce without any fun.

You'd almost rather see George Hamilton in "Love at First Bite" than to have to sit through this grim, extremely loud two-hour calamity.

We were asked at the start of last night's screening not to give away the "surprises" at the end, so I won't. But I will tell you that to get to these plot twists the audience has to do a lot of work.

"Van Helsing" is tedious at best, static at worst. Not much happens. There's very little character development and Sommers is stingy with dialogue.

Jackman is fine, giving a performance similar to his "X-Men" role, one that involves authoritative strides, a full mane of hair and looking good in long, leather coats.

The scene-stealers, for better or worse, are David Wenham as Van Helsing's sidekick (a real 180-degree turn from his leading-man role in "Lord of the Rings") and Richard Roxburgh as the campy, vampy Count Dracula.

Kate Beckinsale — the lesser Kate in a world already well populated with Cate Blanchett, Kate Bosworth, Kate Hudson and even Kate Jackson — has maybe the whitest teeth on the big screen since Tom Cruise.

The official word on "Van Helsing," with its enormous amount of special effects, is that it cost $170 million to make and another $40 million to market. Can it possibly earn this money back and turn a profit?

Only if 12-year-olds flock to it over and over again, because I rather doubt most adults will be able to take it. There is no story here, and the loudness of the ceaseless soundtrack, cranked up in a big suburban theatre, should send most people running for the exits.

There's always Asia, of course, where language should not be an obstacle.

Six Degrees of Jay McInerney

Here's a historical footnote to Jay McInerney's profile of "Mr. Big" Ron Galotti this week in New York magazine.

(McInerney, famous for his 20-year-old novel "Bright Lights Big City," I thought was an odd choice for the piece since he and Galotti's ex, "Sex and the City" creator Candace Bushnell, are such good friends. But I digress.)

McInerney notes that Galotti launched Condé Nast Traveler magazine in 1987 with Harold Evans as editor-in-chief. What McInerney may not realize is that he himself was connected to Traveler's birth and, thus, Galotti's career trajectory.

The magazine would have not existed had Evans not been fired from his position as editor-in-chief of the Atlantic Monthly Press book-publishing company in May 1986. I should know because I was there toiling as publicity director.

Evans's departure from AMP came about because Mort Zuckerman, who'd bought the book company in a package with the Atlantic Monthly magazine, didn't care to publish books, since they don't make a lot of money.

For a year, AMP struggled without funds to buy new books until finally, after much wrangling, Zuckerman sold the company to the Chattanooga born-and-bred heir to a Coca-Cola bottling fortune, one Carl Navarre.

Navarre had been brought in by then-unemployed but nevertheless "hot" book editor Morgan Entrekin and Random House's king of original paperback fiction, Gary Fisketjon. Their goal was to publish "hip" books and not the square, literary tomes for which the AMP had won many Pulitzers and other prizes — books such as "Drums Along the Mohawk" and Robert Coles' "Children of Crisis."

Navarre told me on the day he took Evans' chair: "I bought this company to publish books by Jay McInerney." Before he was done whittling the 70-year-old AMP into a shell of its former self, Navarre would indeed publish one novella by McInerney called "Story of My Life" about a fictitious fashion model.

Evans moved swiftly to the editorship of Weidenfeld and Nicolson, the short-lived New York branch of a London publisher. But within months he had convinced Condé Nast's Si Newhouse to start Traveler. It was Evans' idea.

Evans needed a publisher, and Condé Nast veteran Galotti, who was then heavy into pinky rings and barking, was his man. This was before he was "Mr. Big," but he was in training for the role, I guess.

McInerney describes Evans in his New York piece as "legendary," but that certainly wasn't the way he and his cohorts who'd taken over the AMP viewed the former editor of the Sunday Times of London. Partying nightly in a corner office, the newly installed triumvirate of Entrekin, Fisketjon and McInerney routinely mocked Evans.

They had little use for the high-end projects they'd inherited from him, including a book by Zbigniew Brzezinski on foreign policy, Picasso's never-before-seen sketchbooks, a children's book by Pulitzer Prize winner William Kennedy, a treatise on Miami as the future city by Vanity Fair/New Yorker/Harper's writer T.D. Allman, and so on.

I still remember McInerney wandering around the offices after hours holding a martini glass by the stem while the publicity department stuffed envelopes.

In the end, Navarre wound up selling the company to Entrekin, who merged it with Grove Books, but not before also selling off the well-regarded children's book division to Little, Brown and letting go of most of the AMP's authors.

Fisketjon left for Knopf, where he took McInerney, who has since become a wine columnist for House and Garden.

Condé Nast Traveler became an instant hit under Evans and Galotti, and continued to do well after both of them moved on — Evans to Random House, where he became editor-in-chief, and Galotti to Vanity Fair, Vogue and, ultimately, to Talk, run by Tina Brown, Evans' even-more-famous wife.