film reporter

Robbins feathers nest by defying film critics

Brian Robbins is having the best month of his career. As the director of DreamWorks' "Norbit" and the producer along with partner Michael Tollin of Walt Disney Studios' "Wild Hogs," he has been responsible for bringing in more than $120 million to the North American boxoffice during the past month — with more sure to come. The two comedies alone have been a significant factor in helping the 2007 boxoffice move ahead of last year's levels.

But if the critics had their way, his star-driven, high-concept movies would be playing to empty theaters.

"How does a movie score in the 90s with an audience and get a 9% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes?" Robbins says, referring to "Norbit's" onslaught of negative reviews as summarized on the review compilation site. "How do you figure that? Is the audience that stupid? Is America's taste that bad? I don't think so."

While the jury might still be out on America's intelligence, Robbins has given up making movies for critics.

"If you read reviews on a consistent basis on all films, you realize that the majority of films just get murdered," Robbins says. "The only films that get good reviews are the ones that nobody sees. I just don't think you can make movies for critics."

What Robbins has proved is he can make movies for the masses. "Hogs" brought in audiences of all shapes and sizes, from older white males who never go to the movies to young black kids who wanted something funny. Even better for Robbins, the success of "Hogs" did little to throw "Norbit" off its game even though that PG-13 film was in its fourth weekend of release. Business for "Norbit" fell by just a scant 35%, proving that audiences were interested in both comedies.

As far as Robbins is concerned, "Hogs' " success was achieved through casting. Disney took a leap of faith by hiring four fairly expensive, middle-age actors in Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy.

"This would have been an entirely different movie if it was Tim Allen and three character actors," Robbins says. "A lot of studios today are afraid to take those chances of hiring. Disney wasn't afraid, and it paid off."

In the case of "Norbit," Robbins attributes the film's success — it has made $83.2 million — to Eddie Murphy doing what he does best.

"Eddie was doing what people love to see Eddie do, playing multiple characters in an edgier comedy like 'Nutty Professor' and 'Coming to America,' " Robbins says.

"Norbit" was skewered by critics for exactly what Robbins lauded Murphy for — his multiple characters, which some critics deemed stereotyped and offensive.

"You can't review 'Norbit' like you're reviewing 'The Departed.' What are you going to talk about, subtleties in performance?" says Robbins, who now follows Murphy's advice and doesn't read the reviews of the movies on which he's involved. "Eddie Murphy plays three amazingly different characters brilliantly. How could you not praise that? No offense to Alan Arkin, but he couldn't do what Eddie did in 'Norbit.' "

Robbins, a former child actor, is in preproduction on Murphy's next project, "Starship Dave," for 20th Century Fox. The longtime producer and director, with such credits as Buena Vista's "The Shaggy Dog" and Paramount Pictures' "Varsity Blues," has learned much from his recent spate of success.

"Don't pay attention to tracking, and don't read the reviews," Robbins says. "Funny trumps. Work with movie stars."
comments powered by Disqus