In today’s Criticwire installment, Matt Singer posed this question to his roster of critics: What is your favorite movie theater experience? I’m not among the the critics that is asked such things (although, the more esteemed Daniel Carlson is), but it did inspire me to offer for your Schadenfreudtastic reading pleasures one of my more embarrassing movie theater experiences (and no, not the traumatic one).
A little background first: As many of you know, neither myself nor TK attend official critics’ screenings. However, in some cases, we have found a way to work around this and, on occasion, see films even in advance of or along with the press. We keep a lookout for giveaways and contests to free screenings, and TK Is particularly adept at getting into them. Because we’re not attending as “press,” we’re therefore not beholden to the terms of a press embargo. On rare occasions, this allows us to post reviews well in advance of other critics bound by embargoes. It’s a fun, mostly harmless way to cheat a system that heavily favors the movie studios.
However, it also entails quite a bit of hassle, particularly for me because most of these screenings are located in Boston and the surrounding areas (that’s a two hour drive south for me). More often than not, I will eschew these give-away opportunities and simply drive 90 minutes south to a podunk suburban town in northern Massachusetts, which is the closest city for me in Portland, Maine to regular midnight screenings. The logistics of doing so are typically a nightmare that doesn’t return me to my bed until 3:30 in the morning, which allows me maybe three hours of sleep before I have to get up and deal with the obligations required of parents and then write a review that I hope to post by noon to help you folks with your weekend movie-going decisions. The trade-off, of course, is that the sleep deprivation makes me particularly good with take-down reviews, although often at the expense of grammar (in my sleep deprived state, noun-verb agreement is the first thing to go. Apologies).
Anyway, in this particular instance, I managed to snag tickets to a preview screening of Abduction, that heinous Taylor Lautner action film released last year. I was awarded the tickets in a manner not unlike all the other times I’ve been awarded tickets, and I never anticipated that the experience would differ much from the other screenings.
I was terribly wrong.
It didn’t occur to me until the day of the screening that the movie was actually located in a city nearly four hours away in a Mass Pike town in central Massachusetts that I’d never heard of. But, because this was what I thought would be a big-ticket film being screened a month before any other critics were able to see it, I quickly made some calls and lined up childcare to make it happen. I left my house around 4 p.m. and arrived just in time for an 8 p.m. screening. For a movie featuring one of the stars of Twilight, I expected a line out the door and a crowd big enough that I could simply disappear into the mass of bodies.
What I discovered, however, was that this was a “special” red-carpet screening. In fact, there was a large red carpet in the theater meant to simulate the look and feel of a real-life Los Angeles premiere. Lined along and in front of the red carpet was a smattering of ushers and publicists, a reporter, and some other accoutrements to enliven the fake experience.
But here was the catch: There were no more than 15, maybe 20 people lined up for a theater that seated at least 600 people. Clearly, someone had overestimated the enthusiasm level for the film. In fact, the number of ushers, publicists, and security members far outnumbered the attendants, so much so that I actually began to feel sorry for the publicists who were obviously expecting a bigger turnout. More detrimentally, I was not going to be able to screen Abduction unnoticed.
In fact, to better simulate the experience of a red-carpet premiere, the publicists lined us up — all 15 of us, which amounted to me and about a dozen giggly teenage girls in Twilight t-shirts — in front of a table full of Abduction goody bags. One by one, the publicists handed us these bags containing an Abduction T-shirt, mouse pad, and a bumper sticker. This was the first of many instances in which I was given a glare that said, “What the fuck, dude? Creepy much?” In fact, it turns out that the majority of the attendees had paid upwards of a $100 for the red-carpet experience, and the publicists had no way of knowing whether I’d been the 10th caller on a morning radio show or if I’d ponied up $100 to be one of the first to see an action film starring Dumpy-Butt-and-Biceps.
The publicist looked at me sheepishly, and like she had with the girls before me, asked, “What are you looking forward to the most about Abduction?” Here I am, a guy in his 30s, alone, standing with a bunch of teenage girls being asked what I was most excited about for an action movie starring Taylor f***king Lautner. My first thought was to say that I’m most excited about leaving, but I eventually stuttered a few monosyllables, waved my hand, and timidly walked to the next station in my night of hell.
Then, as if to compound the humiliation, they made us — individually — stand in front of a giant cutout of Taylor Lautner and pose for a picture. DO YOU HEAR ME? I had to stand in front of a giant cardboard dipshit and grin like an idiot so that some woman could take my picture for the website. The thought that that image exists somewhere in the Internet absolutely terrifies me to my core.
But wait: It gets worse. Once we were seated, I fully expected that the embarrassing portion of the evening had ended, and that I could quietly duck behind a seat until the movie started. I would simply bide my time and hide in the darkness. But what I didn’t realize until the very moment that it happened was that, in order to fully immerse ALL 15 OF US into the experience, we were forced to watch the ENTIRE Los Angeles red-carpet premiere, which was being telecast live into our theater.
Indeed, some wannabe Seacrest and a fake plastic woman stood at the entrance of the Los Angeles premiere and asked vapid questions of all the jackasses that entered. Meanwhile, faux-Seacrest in Los Angeles and the publicists in podunk were encouraging those of us in suburban Boston to text questions that he could then ask all the people that walked down the red carpet, which ranged from a dipshit producer I’ve never heard of to bratty teenage musician whose claim to fame was an appearance on “The Today Show.”
This went on for two hours, two interminable hours in which I was held captive in an overlarge movie theater with 20 ushers, security members, and publicists glancing over at me and wondering what the hell an old guy sitting by himself was doing in a screening of Abduction, did he have a windowless van, and at what point should the police be called in. It was as though I had a huge sandwich board on my person that said, “HAVE YOUR RAPE WHISTLES AT THE READY.”
After 120-minutes of sideways glances and teenage girls screaming at the screen in the vain hope that Taylor Lautner could actually hear them, the film eventually would start. Unfortunately, the 10:30 start time again meant that I wouldn’t return home until nearly 4 a.m. the next day with little to show for my humiliation other than a Abduction T-shirt. But I will say this: The eight-hour round trip and the humiliating four hours in between did provide for one of my more scathing reviews, and given the circumstances, I thought I was quite magnanimous in my praise for the “round-house kicking dildo” who is “about as versatile as a blood clot and as charming as a yeast infection.”