Monday, April 2, 2012

The Long Belated Sequel

A lot of sequels to successful movies have recently been announced, which is nothing new. However, a lot of these sequels are for comedies that were big hits more than a few years ago. Will Ferrell just announced the sequel to "Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy," which came out in 2004, the Farrelly brothers are reuniting Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey for another "Dumb and Dumber," which you may remember from 1994. And then there's the impending collision of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, and Eddie Murphy for "Triplets," the proposed sequel to the 1988 hit "Twins." If "Triplets" goes ahead in 2013, it'll be the second longest gap between a theatrically released comedy film and sequel since the ill-considered "The Odd Couple II," which was released nearly thirty years after the original.

There's a good chance that some or all of these sequels won't get made in the end, but still, the announcements coming one after the other like this in such quick succession begs the question: what gives? Why are all these comedy sequels suddenly all the rage? In the case of "Anchorman," there's clearly been some reluctance from the studio, Paramount. The film's director and stars were game for a second round as far back as 2008, but the Paramount didn't think it made financial sense. "Anchorman" was a hit, but not a big one, and not big enough to justify the salaries of all the actors like Will Ferrell and Steve Carrell who had gone on to become major stars. The buzz on the internet is that fan campaigning and strong home media sales were responsible for changing Paramount's mind, but I think it's more probable that the financial math changed somewhere along the line. People's salaries probably came down, a sequel looked less risky than original projects with the same talent, and Paramount hasn't had a decent comedy franchise on its slate in a while.

Brand names and franchises have largely replaced star power in the last couple of years, and it's been harder and harder to get original projects off the ground as fewer actors and actresses are able to open a film with their names alone. There's no question that Will Ferrell and Steve Carrell are both popular leading men, but both have had their ups and downs at the box office. For every "The Other Guys," there's been a bomb like "Land of the Lost." A movie with two or more stars is safer than one, and something with a familiar title, like "21 Jump Street" or "Arthur," looks more promising than "Dan in Real Life." The last few years have been rough on Hollywood, which has cultivated stronger urge to fall back on past successes instead of blazing any new trails. Hence the staggering number of reboots and remakes that have come out lately. And older stars, seeking refuge after strings of bombs, have become more willing to revisit old career highlights. Hence, "Dumb and Dumber 2" and "Triplets."

"Dumb and Dumber" was one of those films that its studio, New Line, would have loved to see become a franchise. They released a cartoon series in 1995 and did a prequel in 2003 that flopped. The trouble was that Jim Carrey, with the exception of the second "Ace Ventura" movie, has avoided doing sequels. And unlike with action franchises, it's a lot harder to simply reboot a series and replace your leading man, because so much of a comedy lives or dies by the talent. Even if Jeff Daniels and the Farrelly brothers were game to return, with no Carrey, there was no "Dumb and Dumber." So a "Dumb and Dumber 2" movie had to wait until Jim Carrey was at the "Mr. Popper's Penguins" stage of his career.

The same goes, more or less, for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Eddie Murphy in "Triplets." The idea of these two together in a movie during the 80s or 90s when they were at the heights of their careers would have been unthinkable. Everyone would have loved to see it happen, but it would have cost far, far too much. But these days, Schwarzenegger is still struggling to make a comeback, and his options are few since he can no longer be a credible action star. Murphy's been in decline for years, and his only recent successes have been in ensemble pieces like "Tower Heist." As for Danny DeVito, his directing career was going pretty well for a while, but seems to have stalled. Clearly, the time for "Triplets" is now.

You can see a lot of the same forces at work in many other recent comedies, including the latest in the "American Pie" series, "American Reunion," which is set to be released on Friday. Every major member of the cast is returning, from Jason Biggs to John Cho. Back in 1999, after "American Pie," several cast members seemed to be on the verge fo making it big, and a few like Alyson Hannigan and Seann William Scott went on to some modest success. But here they all are, thirteen years later, right where they started. Considering how rough many of them have had it, (when was the last time you saw Mena Suvari? Or Tara Reid?) and how rough the road ahead looks for everyone, that's not a bad place to be.

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