Studios Finding It Harder To Slip A Long-Delayed Stinker Past A Better Informed Public

Today's NY Times uses buried-in-2005-and-grudgingly-unearthed-in-2006 film All the King's Men and its "humiliating box office returns" to illustrate how difficult it's become for studios to Febreze away the lingering stink of bad buzz in the Age of Too Much Information. In the case of ATKM, nearly every possible warning sign of eventual multiplex stillbirth was there, from a sneak preview of a regrettable Sean Penn period hairstyle, to the transparent, time-honored "this film needs an additional year of editing—hey, we're perfectionists!" excuse, to its interment in the September Oscar Hopes Burial Ground. Says the Times:

Desperately trying to spin viewers with higher expectations, "All the King's Men" set itself up for failure because it is impossible to forget a year's worth of factoids. When Sean Penn first appears on screen in the film, as the self-described hick and soon-to-be-political-savant Willie Stark, his short-sided period haircut may jog your memory: that's the funny haircut he had at the Oscars two years ago.
And when the idealistic Stark becomes Louisiana's governor and, overnight it seems, is accused of graft and threatened with impeachment, it's easy to speculate that the scenes charting his moral fall must have vanished during the months of heavy-duty editing. True or not, every flaw plays into the sense that there was big trouble behind the scenes.

And in the end, the studio sent another message of no confidence by opening "All the King's Men" in September rather than during the prime Oscar-bait holiday season. Oscar-ready films that have opened in September, like "Mystic River" and "Good Night, and Good Luck," have come out of the prestigious New York Film Festival. "All the King's Men" went to the nonexclusive Toronto film festival, and the word there was that the movie was mediocre at best. Mr. Penn appeared on "Larry King Live" a week before the film's opening, but a picture is really troubled if its best resource is the Larry-loves-everything school of buzz.

So troubled was the film's pre-release word-of-mouth that even King's lips, which have famously grazed the hindquarters of two centuries' worth of movie stars, chapped at the task assigned to him, with the partially mummified host momentarily snapping under the pressure of the promotional subterfuge to ask Penn, "So what's the deal with the movie? It sucks pretty bad, doesn't it?" before quickly recovering and inquiring about co-star Jude Law's favorite craft service meal.