There has been scuttlebutt around Hollywood that the real reason Bob Iger is about to chop Miramax into a sliver of its former self is because of his unhappiness with the development and expensive marketing costs. In the long run he intends to have someone else come in and resurrect the mini-major down the road. Daniel Battsek had a pretty impressive track record with the Oscar-winning “No Country For Old Men” and “The Queen,” but the last year found the barely profitable “Doubt,” disappointing bombs such as “Adventureland,” “Extract,” “The Boys are Back” and the mishandled “Cheri.” That underachieving trend won’t end with the new Robert De Niro dramedy “Everybody’s Fine.”
Before tonight’s premiere at Los Angeles’ AFI Film Fest there was hope the tale of a widowed man who travels the country to reconnect with his children could put De Niro back in the Oscar game, but that’s a pipe dream now. The movie is a mess in so many ways that neither the legendary actor or the stars who play his children — Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore and Kate Beckinsale — can save it. In fact, the more the picture goes on you start to wonder “What convinced any of them sign on to this? Let alone, why was it even greenlit?” The storyline is painfully predictable and the subplot regarding the fate of a fourth sibling isn’t just unnecessary, it’s bogs down the entire proceedings. “Fine” feels like an early-90’s road trip comedy that would have done OK in theaters and had a long cable life, but that just doesn’t work in 2009. And released back to back with the Clive Owen melodrama “The Boys Are Back” it paints a bleak portrait of development at the studio Harvey and Bob Weinstein once built their fortunes on.
Miramax has lost Battsek, will close its signature New York office, consolidate in Los Angeles and release only three films a year (or at least in 2010). However, the non-believers ask: If Iger and new studio chief Rich Ross really want to get out of the prestige game, why not sell the label? There are numerous financiers that would come in and scoop up the brand and library which is worth much more than the $1 billion investors and Paramount paid for DreamWorks four years ago. No, this is about cleaning house so a new group can come in and revive the division. So, don’t be surprised if a year (or two) from now a leaner, but hungrier Miramax is once again a player on the awards scene.
Just as sad as the current state of Miramax is De Niro’s career. The icon may have done wonders co-founding the Tribeca Film Festival and directing the underrated “The Good Shepherd,” but as an actor he’s seem lost in the 21st Century. When De Niro’s biggest accomplishments of the past decade include the “Meet the Parents” franchise and one cameo role in “Stardust” that’s not a good thing. It’s seriously hard to believe he hasn’t been offered better projects to appear in. Perhaps its time for a new agent Mr. De Niro?
And in case you’re wondering, Beckinsale, Rockwell and Barrymore are, um, fine given what they are working with, but they won’t sniff a vote of awards season love for these roles.
You’ll be able to judge for yourself when “Everybody’s Fine” opens nationwide on Dec. 4.
For constant updates on awards season and entertainment news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter at Twitter.com/HitFixGregory