'War of the Worlds' Gets So-So Reviews

'War of the Worlds' | Michael Jackson

'War of the Worlds' Gets So-So Reviews

Paramount Pictures is hoping it won't need anti-depressants this evening — and not because Tom Cruise thinks they're bad for your health.

"War of the Worlds," the Cruise/Steven Spielberg event film, opens today with a lot on the line — such as about $182 million spent on production and a separate, whopping promotional and travel budget.

There's no fear that "War" won't open big and at No. 1. Its only competition isn't much: "Batman Begins" and "Bewitched."

In other words, a horror film from the '50s is doing battle with two TV shows from the '60s. It's more like a skirmish of the worlds.

But Paramount has a bigger problem this morning: very mixed to poor reviews, and no pre-sold-out shows in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, according to Moviefone.com.

By now, the hope would be for at least a couple of crossed-out times at some major theaters. That would give a slight indication that "War of the Worlds" is going to catch fire.

The only rave review for the movie so far from a major publication is in the trade paper Variety. But the publication is famous for putting a brave face on anything Paramount releases. (Variety's editor-in-chief, Peter Bart, was long ago a key executive at Paramount, and still feels loyal to his old studio.)

But even the Variety review, by Todd McCarthy, adds: "Quiet conclusion may leave some feeling a bit hollow at fadeout."

The most enthusiastic big-city newspaper review of "War of the Worlds" — Kenneth Turan's in The Los Angeles Times — is so tempered that the studio chiefs must be hoping no one reads all the way into it.

Turan writes: "[Cruise's character's] relationship with son Robbie is as much a trial to us as it is to the two of them, an exercise in hackneyed tedium that repeats the clichés of dysfunctional adolescence that have deadened more movies than anyone can count.

"It gets so bad there are moments when it seems the aliens staged the whole invasion just to give sullen Robbie a chance to prove himself to his obdurate dad."

And: "When the aliens finally leave their tripods late in the film, they are sinister and repulsive, but they don't drop-dead terrify us the way the shark did in "Jaws."

Even worse: Because Paramount blocked any published reviews until this morning, only one English-language one is posted on the Internet Movie Database Web site. It reads: "Unfortunately, 'War of the Worlds' is very disappointing and provides only minimal entertainment. The worst of the U.S. summer blockbusters thus far."

To make matters more difficult, the few reviews posted on IMDB.com by "real people" who went to sneak previews on Tuesday are not much better.

If Paramount is counting on the average moviegoer overcoming the press, comments like Jeff Stotler's — "After the screening, some people cheered and clapped, others sat in disgust and laughed. I felt cheated" — must have them reaching for the Prozac.

The whole Cruise situation is not going to help, either. His wacky publicity campaign of proselytizing about Scientology and foisting a suspicious romance with Katie Holmes on the public may now be held accountable, depending on which way the box office goes.

If "War of the Worlds" is a monster hit with so-so reviews, Cruise may be called a public-relations genius. But if the film generates a slowly deteriorating cash flow over the July 4 weekend, watch and see what and who is blamed for the failure. Even Cupid may need some time on the couch.

Unsealed Legal Jacko Papers Reveal More Chaos

If the Santa Maria jury had seen or heard about legal papers filed in a lawsuit against Michael Jackson last April, there might have been a different outcome in the criminal trial.

The papers, which will be unsealed today, are from the February 2005 lawsuit filed by Jackson's former partner and associate Marc Schaffel, who is asking for about $3 million he says he lent to Jackson and which the pop star never repaid.

After Schaffel filed suit, Jackson responded — via attorney Brian Oxman — in a cross-complaint filed on April 21, 2005. That cross-complaint will be pored over today, since it includes some pretty strange statements on Jackson's behalf from his accountant, Allan Whitman, of Bernstein, Fox and Whitman in Los Angeles.

First off, Whitman's statement reveals that, at least in 2001, Jackson's annual royalty income from his MiJac catalog was about $2 million. MiJac includes Jackson's own hits and those of artists like Sly and the Family Stone.

This is not the so-called Beatles catalog, aka Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Since Jackson's spending often equals $2 million a month, this income fact is alarming just on its own.

But Whitman's affidavit, as well as the whole of the cross-complaint, is evidently one more reason why Oxman was fired by Tom Mesereau from the criminal trial four days later.

Most of the assertions in the filing contradict testimony that was being given at that exact moment in the criminal case in Santa Maria concerning Jackson's finances. Mesereau was no doubt livid when he learned what was going on.

In the cross-complaint, Whitman makes at least two bizarre statements.

One that Schaffel took $1 million for Jackson in preparation for concerts in South Korea. But Schaffel — as much as anyone can ascertain — had nothing to do with the South Korean concerts.

Those concerts and the money for them concerned Jackson's former business manager Myung Ho Lee, who successfully sued Jackson in 2001. Schaffel and Lee didn't even know each other.

The other is even stranger: that Schaffel took money from Jackson for FOX TV specials in July 2001. As one insider noted to me last night, that would have been impossible, since the specials weren't proposed until January 2003 and didn't air until the next month.

Each of the specials was in response to the Martin Bashir documentary, which aired in February 2003.

Was Schaffel so prescient that he knew almost two years in advance he would need money to produce rebuttals to Bashir? Unlikely. And if so, he should be running the country.

Mostly what the unsealed documents reveal is that Jackson frequently — as described somewhat in the criminal trial — attempted to buy his loan agreements with Bank of America and borrow money elsewhere with the same collateral.

Then, anticipating cash from the surreptitious lender, he would ask Schaffel to extend him credit until the "secret" money came in.

A typical incident like this came in the fall of 2001, when Jackson simultaneously owed Bank of America a payment on his loans, borrowed money from Schaffel against royalties and spent the same amount from a private lender.

At the same time, Jackson was borrowing money from Schaffel to buy expensive — and I mean over-the-top — automobiles, redirecting cash, a million dollars at a time, around Bank of America and spending money on, as what one insider says, "God knows what."

Personally, I'd like to be a fly on the wall when Schaffel's attorney, Howard King, gets to depose both Jackson and Whitman about these screwy finances.