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Bomb Squad: Why Did “Admission” Tank?

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Welcome to “Bomb Squad,” a recurring column that takes a closer look at a movie that tanked at the box office and tries to figure out what happened.

Most everybody likes Tina Fey. Most everybody likes Paul Rudd. Put ‘em together in a comedy and you should have some success. Unfortunately, their first onscreen pairing turned out to be “Admission,” which barely managed $6 million in its first weekend. No one was expecting the film to launch a franchise, but, still, why didn’t audiences turn out? Let’s take a look at some possible theories and then come up with our verdict…

Theory No. 1: You know, Tina Fey really isn’t that big of a movie star.

Fey has had commercial success in movies like “Mean Girls” (which she adapted from a book by Rosalind Wiseman) and “Date Night,” but it’s just as likely that people went to those movies because of her costars: Lindsay Lohan and Steve Carell, respectively. Her biggest hit where she was the clear star was “Baby Mama,” which grossed about $60 million, a solid but by no means stellar showing. There’s no questioning Fey’s talent: She’s a bestselling writer thanks to her memoir “Bossypants” and a multi-Emmy winner from her work on “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.” But do enough people want to see a movie just because she’s in it? That’s still a little uncertain. (Honestly, if she ever wanted to do a Sarah Palin movie, that might be something a lot of folks would pay good money to see.)

Theory No. 2: You know, Paul Rudd really isn’t that big of a movie star.

For most of his film career, Rudd has been the buddy, the sidekick, or part of an ensemble. It’s only recently that he’s become an above-the-title star, such as on “Dinner for Schmucks,” “How Do You Know,” “Wanderlust” and “This Is 40.” His biggest hit in that group is “Dinner for Schmucks,” which brought in about $73 million, but, like with Fey, that turnout was as much about his costar, Steve Carell, as it was about him. Like a great utility player in baseball or an invaluable sixth man in basketball, Rudd is somebody you want on your comedy team, but he may not be enough of a draw simply on his own.

Theory No. 3: Nobody knew what “Admission” was even about.

Focus Features was always going to have a difficult task in advertising “Admission.” Less a romantic comedy than a comedy-drama about a woman (Fey) who gets a second chance to be a mother to the long-lost son (Nat Wolff) she gave up for adoption at birth, the film didn’t have a clear high-concept hook. But the TV commercials were especially problematic, selling “Admission” as a fish-out-of-water comedy — it’s Tina Fey with a cow! — and resorting to having the two stars actually sit across from each other in 30-second spots and try to explain what the movie was about. (And the poster was even worse: Clearly, Focus was hoping date-night crowds would flock if the marketing went as generic rom-com as possible.) An emotionally nuanced movie needs a sharp, sophisticated campaign; “Admission” never had a chance.

Theory No. 4: It looked like a rental.

Romantic comedies — or, as in the case of “Admission,” romantic comedy-dramas — become big hits thanks to star power and word-of-mouth. Without those, audiences might choose to skip the movie’s theatrical run and catch up with it on DVD or cable. (It’s not as if, say, “The Lucky One” or “Safe Haven” is so visually stunning that you have to see it in a theater.) And whether it was the lukewarm reviews or the generally lackluster buzz around the film, “Admission” simply seemed imminently skippable.

The Verdict

Looks like it’s “all of the above.” Although I actually liked the film, “Admission” is the sort of under-the-radar commercial prospect that needs some kind of selling point to really fire up an audience: great reviews, a big star, something. That never happened here. Not all bombs are created equal, of course, and since “Admission” had a pretty small budget — supposedly around $13 million — its weak box office showing is hardly cause for massive embarrassment. But it is a reminder that just because lots of people love Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, that doesn’t mean that alone will be enough to guarantee a hit.

You can follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.