If watching an Academy Awards ceremony is enough to fill every decent American with a dull sense of embarrassment, how are we to treat the exquisite, burning sensation of shame that accompanies the act of watching trailers in a darkened movie house? After all, the Oscars are just a show that happens to be on your TV. Movie trailers are amped-up, painstakingly crafted proofs of your own stupidity, insistent reminders that you actually paid money to put yourself at the mercy of America's entertainment industry. That sense of humiliation you feel when watching a movie trailer is more than just empathetic embarrassment for all of humanity. It's a specific, personal type of chagrin which comes from realizing that this is entertainment people think you might be interested in, and that your purchase of a nine-dollar ticket for Heartbreakers has given them good reason to believe that. No tenth-year viewer of Cats has ever known such shame.
But look on the bright side. If the trailers more often than not make you hate the very art form they're advertising, can that be a bad thing? Isn't there some Consumer Reports-style value in being able to read the movie tropes that will encourage you to stay home? If you haven't already made a resolution not to see any movie where people run along walls, don't worry a few trailers from now you'll have changed your mind. What's a more useful tip to avoid a movie than a wide-eyed Matthew Perry doubletake or a "We're not in Kansas anymore" pullquote in the trailer? You should feel relief when the appearance in a trailer of Ben Affleck or Bill Paxton (the poor man's Bill Pullman by even the most generous measure) all but announces that you will be able to save a few more bucks.
As a public service, here are ten warning signs that will spare you from having to pay tribute to Hollywood. If you see any of these in a trailer, you can safely avoid the movie. You are of course, more than invited to return the favor by adding some warning signs of your own :
1. The Impassioned Genuflection
If anybody in the trailer falls to his or her knees, and the camera simultaneously swoops upward and over that character, you are officially spared from falling in line for that particular movie.
2. The Singalong
Is there anything more painful than seeing characters in a film sing along with some Motown chestnut of pop hit of yore, perhaps bopping merrily and pointing at each other, to let us know they're bonding? Is there any more phony-baloney way of developing character in a movie? Any reason "I Will Survive" or "Say a Little Prayer" should ever be heard again? Any better indication that you can skip the movie? No, no, no, and again no.
3. Outrunning the Fireball
An oldy but a goody. If any character in a trailer jumps toward the camera, with a fireball or explosion in the background, you should jump away from anyplace where this particular film is scheduled to detonate.
4. Suburban Wankst
If the trailer offers a wry take on beauty pageants, or a wry take on suburban conformity, or a wry take on any other form of shamesploitation, the only wry take will be on you. You already saw this movie, only that time it was called Drop Dead Spice or SuBurBia or American Ice Storm or something like that. Do our smug, tract-housed, overconsuming culture a service and spend no money on these products.
5. The Romeo Spill
If a trailer features a scene in which the doofus hero is seen mooning over some beautiful starlet, and becomes so smitten that just as she notices him he takes a pratfall, spills a drink on himself or otherwise loses his cool, there is: 1) A 50% chance that the actor playing the part is Brendan Fraser, and 2) a 100% chance that the movie sucks out loud. Stay away!
6. The Blank Uzi
If the hero of the film is shown getting shot at by thugs wielding machine guns, but the hero runs, slides, leaps and ducks, most likely in slow motion, you can be sure that he will not be killed or even hit by any of the bullets. Windows, walls, tables and chairs, bags of cocaine and other props all around the hero will explode from the force of the automatic weapons fire, but the hero will not be injured. So since you know all that, you don't have to see the movie. We don't believe movies should be bound by unimaginative realism, but neither should they be marred by unimaginative unrealism. Like the fiery explosion (see Number 3), the machine gun is a terrifying weapon precisely because it is nearly impossible to avoid being hurt when it's used against you. The non-lethal machine gun is the bane of contemporary cinema, and you should run, slide, leap and duck to avoid any film that features this baleful effect.
Special corollary: Any movie where a character glances around the edge of a doorway, then pulls his head back just as bullets tear into the doorjamb, you should similarly avert your eyes from the advertised film.
7. The "Star" Treatment
Even allowing for the fact that the movie industry's purpose is to kiss the pampered patoots of big-ticket stars, there's nothing more depressing than the buildup-and-payoff star introduction. During the buildup period, you are assured that something really big is coming. For a few moments of foreplay, your curiosity is brought almost to climax, as consternated supporting players get flummoxed about some offscreen figure. "Who the hell would be crazy enough to do this job?" "We've got to get this guy!" "There's nobody who could infiltrate that terrorist cell!" The one man who can do the job, the trailer's narrator may assure us, is the one man nobody is expecting. Which is all well and good, but when you finally get to the payoff, that one man will inevitably turn out to be some smirking Will Smith or Ben Affleck or worse, if the film is a comedy, some mugging Wayans brother or Jim Carrey. It's as embarrassing as the audience cheer that used to greet the Fonz every time he walked through the Cunninghams' back door. It's also a perfectly characteristic movie moment one that insists that you as an audience particle high-five the coolness of a monumentally uncool person or thing.
8. The Wistful Whimper
If the trailer features a closeup of the hero Nicholas Cage, most likely with closed eyes, remembering his dead wife or girlfriend while "I Will Remember You" or some similar maudlin hit soars from the soundtrack, you should close your eyes and ignore the rest of the trailer. This is especially useful as the employment of such hit songs almost invariably occurs a few minutes into the trailer, and is a good tipoff that it will go on a few minutes longer, revealing the entire plot of the movie in numbing detail. For its contribution to trailer bloat alone, this effect is grounds for you to boycott the movie.
9. The Ominous Ominousness of Ominosity
Frequently used in tandem with Number 8, this is the one where you see the hero in various happy-family scenes enjoying a long kiss with the wife, playing with the kids. You know exactly what's going to happen to that wife and those kids. So why see the movie? In addition to providing a nearly flawless "Do Not Enter" indicator, the Triple-O effect provides support for the theory that Death Wish is the most influential film in history. So perhaps it's not completely without value.
10. "He thought..."
"He thought she was gone forever."
"She thought her family was crazy!"
"They thought it was the perfect home."
You should not give it a second thought. Wherever there's thinking, there's zero movie value.
Special Bonus: Post-Pulp Zanies
For a while there it seemed like Go was the last time you'd have to suffer through the wacky characters and herniated multiplot zaniness of a third-generation Tarantino ripoff. Then Guy Ritchie came along. Then Madonna married him. Now it appears that Quentinian hackwork, like the poor, will be with us always only now with British accents adding an extra layer of lameness. The First Amendment may mean you have to suffer having it in a theater near you. But you don't have to support it with your movie dollars.
Or perhaps we've got it wrong. Maybe we should be insisting that all movies contain all the elements named above, demanding our money back whenever one fails to supply them because by current definitions any movie that doesn't have a character leaping away from an explosion isn't a real movie!
Whatever the truth may be, we hope you will do your duty for your fellow consumers.
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