Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hollywood's Most Reliable Comic Actor

Kyle Smith has a problem with Tad Friend's New Yorker piece regarding Steve Carell and improv comedy, namely the following:

At the age of forty-seven, Carell has quietly become Hollywood’s most reliable comedy star. The studio comedies he has starred in—“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Evan Almighty,” “Get Smart,” and “Date Night”—have grossed at least a hundred and fifty million dollars apiece worldwide, and his fee has risen accordingly. It’s now an estimated fifteen million dollars.

Smith decimates the assertion, especially the characterization of 'Evan Almighty' as a success because it 'grossed at least a hundred and fifty million'. I'd agree. The movie had a huge production and marketing budget. $150m would not come close to paying for it. That 'Evan Almighty' took in around $170m doesn't change that.

However, I disagree with Smith when he says:

Steve Carell is not close to being "the most reliable" comedy star. Moreover, if he's an improv genius, then his scripts don't matter, right? So why were "Get Smart" and "Evan Almighty" so bad?

Smith asks: If Carell is an improv genius, why were 'Get Smart' and 'Evan Almighty' so bad?

'Get Smart' and 'Evan Almighty' may not have been blockbusters, but what bearing does that have in regard to Carell's ability as an improvisational artist?

Smith's logic is faulty, to say the least: No movie with an actor who is an improv genius will be bad and fail at the box office. (Therefore, if Carell was in fact an impov genius 'Get Smart' and Evan Almighty' would have made much more money). The obverse doesn't hold either: All movies with an actor who is a genius at improv will be good and succeed at the box office. (Which proves Carell is not an improv genius as the two films did not do so well).

The assertion that 'any movie with an actor who is good at improv does not need a script' is perhaps even more unsound.

As such, the suggestions that Carell is not an improvisational genius because one or two of his movies did not do so well at the box office, or, that the scripts for Carell's movies are superfluous because some scenes contain improvised material are not supported.

Carell is one of the most reliable comedians despite that certain movies by other comedians have had higher grosses. I'd posit Carell can be counted on to deliver a hit (or, in objective terms, a profitable movie), albeit one of more modest scale.

Tad Friend may not have been thinking in the most literal terms when he called Carell 'Hollywood’s most reliable comedy star', but you can't really hold that against him. 'Reliable' is a pretty subjective term. 'Most reliable' is still subjective. Just how do you measure reliability?

Friend's opinion certainly doesn't deserve the sarcastic thrashing Smith leveled, and, if such scrutiny is applied it should be supported by better logic. If Friend's contention had been that Carell's movies have taken more money than those of any other comic actor, perhaps Smith wouldn't look so bad. However, Friend did not say that in the excerpt provided.

Smith does a nice rundown of the box office takes from the movies of the other Kings of Comedy: Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Vince Vaughn, and Jim Carrey. He may have gotten a little sidetracked, but his comparison is a fun read.

I'll get you started:

Carell's 'reliability" thus looks like this:

Date Night: $151 mil worldwide

Get Smart: $231

Dan in Real Life $68

Evan Almighty $173

40-Year-Old Virgin $177


How "reliable" does Carell look against other comedy stars?

Ben Stiller's last five studio movies grossed, worldwide:

Night at the Museum 2 $413 mil

Tropic Thunder $188

Heartbreak Kid $128

Night at the Museum $574

Meet the Fockers $517


That's more than double Carell's take.

NYP for the rest.

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