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Bon Cop, Bad Cop
...translating the pros and cons


I wanted to do a piece about the new Canadian action-comedy, Bon Cop, Bad Cop -- yes, I did just use the phrase "action-comedy" and "Canadian" in the same sentence. But every time I sat down to write, some new angle presented itself. So I'll try and cover what I can and see how it goes.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop stars Patrick Huard and Colm Feore as mismatched Francophone and Anglophone cops investigating a series of murders. It's not a "French language" movie, per se. There's plenty of English in it, with anglophone actors like Feore, and everyone agrees you don't need to know a lick of French to understand it.

I haven't seen it yet, but the buzz has been quite good. The reviews I've read have been favourable and the word of mouth, at least glancing at the Internet Movie Database, has been quite enthusiastic. Oh, no one is saying it'll cure Cancer, but as a popcorn action movie, the general view seems to be that Bon Cop, Bad Cop really doesn't suck.

And it's been number three at the box office for an impressive three weeks!

"What?" you say, hastily opening your local paper to the box office rankings. "That's not what it says here," you insist -- "Bon Cop, Bad Cop isn't listed at all!"

And therein lies a tale. A while back I wrote an essay bemoaning how box office numbers are gauged going by the "North American" box office. Canada is such a small market, that when the Canadian box office is rolled into the American box office, to total the North American box office...the end figure will basically reflect the American box office, even if the Canadian reality is something else.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop hasn't opened in America, nor is it really intended to. And it's number three at the Canadian box office. How can I rephrase that to put it as delicately, and succinctly, as possible? Oh, I know:

Bon Cop, Bad Cop has KICKED THE ASS of 80 percent of the alleged "top ten" American movies at the Canadian box office.

Is that important? Heck -- yes! If box office numbers weren't considered important, newspapers wouldn't report them every week and studios wouldn't pull little tricks (like adding an extra midnight screening) to boost the numbers. Box office success is as much a marketing tool as MacDonald's slurpy cups. A perception of success (ie: a good opening week-end) it is hoped will encourage prospective viewers to try a movie on the theory that, if it's doing well, there must be something to it.

So in a country that produces box office successes only slightly more frequently than it produces outbreaks of leprosy, the fact that Bon Cop, Bad Cop is doing better than all but two movies out there is a good thing.

So I say again, it's important that the Canadian media stops lazily repeating whatever numbers they get from American wire services. By reporting a list of "top ten" movies that doesn't include Bon Cop, Bad Cop, they are doing that movie a disservice, they are doing the industry a disservice and, more to the point, THEY ARE LYING. Period. And a newspaper that lies isn't much of a paper, is it?

Ideally, the Bon Cop, Bad Cop producers should cash in this little statistic in their marketing. Unfortunately, I guess proclaiming "the number three" movie maybe doesn't look that great on a poster -- you'd need to be aware of the usual poor showings of Canadian movies to realize how impressive that really is. Still, Bon Cop, Bad Cop could hype itself as the "number one action-comedy" in Canada.

But the story doesn't end there. It would be nice if it did, but it doesn't.

You see, although Bon Cop, Bad Cop is playing nation wide, and is number three at the box office (WHACK! - what was that? - Oh, Johnny Depp just got his ass kicked by Patrick Huard) and number three is pretty good (WHACK! - what was that? - Oh, Will Ferrell just got his ass kicked by Colm Feore) most of that moola is still accruing in Quebec, with its English-Canada take more modest. Already people are quick to proclaim the movie has "bombed" in English-speaking Canada. 'Cause if there's one thing Canadians do best, it's looking at the glass as half empty (actually, what Canadians do best is horking into the glass...then complain it has a gob of spit in it!)

And therein lies the danger -- yes, danger. A movie that was happily selling itself as the movie to bridge the "two solitudes" might now be used by the unscrupulous as a wedge to further divide them. Already I can imagine separatistes racing to their blogs and message boards: "English Canada didn't like Bon Cop, Bad Cop -- damn them to Hell! We must separate!"

But the fact is: it's too early to say how well the movie is going to do. Let's wait till its theatrical run is over before we start picking out a suitable wreath (it's still number 3, after all) -- heck, let's wait till after the DVD release (a lot -- no, a lot -- of American movies make their real money in DVD sales). Heck, the fact that it's playing across the country, and selling tickets everywhere (even if it's selling more in one province) is applaudable. I read the claim that it made close to $300 000 in the English-speaking provinces in its opening week-end -- that is: 30 000 non-Quebecers lined up to see it in a single week-end. A lot of Canadian movies would kill for that kind of "failure".

Bon Cop, Bad Cop hasn't "bombed" (number 3 at the box office -- WHACK! Oliver Stone ain't gonna be sitting down too soon - Why? - 'cause he just got his ASS KICKED! -- is hardly a bomb). But accepting that it's not doing as well as was hoped for in the English-speaking provinces, let's ask why?

Is it a dark conspiracy? Or did someone simply screw up the marketing?

Me, I'm thinking someone screwed up the marketing.

The first I knew about Bon Cop, Bad Cop was a TV commercial on the CBC -- and I try to pay (vague) attention to what's going on in the Canadian film biz. So if that was my first inkling of it, you can bet that was the first inkling most English-Canadians had of it. It wasn't exactly being promoted to the gills.

And the commercial, frankly, sucked. I began this essay saying I had tried writing different pieces about Bon Cop, Bad Cop -- and one of them I was going to devote entirely to explaining why that commercial didn't work. Here's the Reader's Digest version.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop is apparently a comedy.

The TV commercial wasn't funny.

There weren't any funny jokes, any witty lines. I don't just mean it failed to be funny...I mean, watching that commercial I wasn't sure the movie was supposed to be funny. It had sinister, brooding music, and a close up of a guy looking real scared. I half thought it was supposed to be Silence of the Lambs more than a buddy comedy.

The commercial showed lots of things blow up and people leaping...but gave no indication what the plot was; what distinguished this from all the other movies where things blow up and people leap. All it told us was that it was about mismatched cops: one crude, the other...well, not.

In short, the commercial looked boringly generic. Add to that that neither Huard nor Feore are exactly stars in English Canada (Feore is bordering on well known, but not really a "star"), nor did the commercial even try to sell them (neither were named in the commercial) and, honestly, the question isn't why hasn't it done better...with that commercial it's amazing it's done as well as it has! If this was an American movie, it's unlikely anyone would've remembered the commercial ten seconds after it aired, let alone rushed out to see it at the theatre. (Having seen more extensive clips of the movie, I can say there were funny scenes that could've been used for a commercial).

For that matter, Rick Mercer has a part in it -- Mercer being a reasonably high profile and popular English Canada TV personality. Don't you think showing him in the commercial might've made a certain amount of marketing sense?

And this was before it opened nationwide -- since it's opened, I'm not sure I've seen any commercial, even a sucky one.

Even the focus of the marketing that there has been is questionable, much of it emphasizing the movie's Canadianess. In Quebec, maybe that sells well, but English Canadians have been burned too many times by their movies. They feel there are better ways to show love of country than by going to the movies. I'm not saying when Feore and Huard hit the press junkets they should've ignored the Canadianess. But first and foremost, sell it for what it is: an action-comedy. Sell the characters, sell the plot. Mention it's Canadian, definitely, but don't expect that alone to bring people into the theatre.

There was some claim Men With Brooms did as well as it did by riding a patriotic wave -- but that was at a specific time (I think the Olympics had just taken place and Canadians were feeling a nationalistic high). Bon Cop, Bad Cop's marketing wasn't as off-kilter as the marketing for, say, Foolproof, which somehow thought articles detailing policy shifts at film funding agencies made better publicity than interviews with, say, the stars! ("Oh, quick, Martha, let's run out and see the movie that is a product of a mid-quarter reallocation of fiscal incentives spearheaded by the new chair at...oh, heck, let's not!") But I do think the "look! we're Canadian!" focus was too narrow -- particularly as the emphasis on the Queebec-Ontario/Two Solitudes might not excite viewers in, say, Vancouver, to whom Two Solitudes might refer to the Chinese-Canadian and Indo-Canadian communities more than French and English.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop isn't the first attempt by Quebec filmmakers (long more successful than their English-Canadian peers) to try and capture the entire Canadian market. Earlier this year a high profile Quebec biopic, The Rocket, about hockey great Maurice Richard was released nationwide and performed poorly in English Canada. But I can't say I'm entirely surprised. I was hoping it would do well, but I didn't hold my breath. Why? Well, I won't get into questioning the whole cultural myth about Canadians and their love of hockey. But I will say this: hockey-themed dramatizations rarely do well in English-Canada, from TV series like Power Play, to He Shoots, He Scores, to The Tournament, to TV movies like The Net -- all have registered tepid ratings. And though I don't know what the numbers were for last year's CBC docudrama, Canada-Russia '72, the fact that I don't know, that the CBC wasn't trumpeting the ratings for its "jewel in the crown" TV event, suggests the ratings were nothing to brag about. English Canadians may or may not enjoy watching hockey...but they don't necessarily seem to want to watch dramas about hockey.

Above all: movies are capricious. Snakes on a Plane received a million times more publicity than Bon Cop, Bad Cop...and studio executives have publicly admitted being disappointed by its box office. Miami Vice -- the other buddy cop movie in the theatres -- has also underperformed at the box office.

Already there's talk the Quebec box office for Bon Cop, Bad Cop has been promising enough that a sequel might be in order -- but whether it will just open in Quebec, or in the entire country, is still to be decided.

If a sequel is made, I hope the producers have the courage and vision to open it in the entire country. Why? Because Bon Cop, Bad Cop, regardless of how well it ultimately does in the next few weeks, has now poked its head through into English Canada and said "look at me!" It's got some publicity and good word of mouth. Tens of thousands of anglophones have now seen and enjoyed Patrick Huard who, previously, had never even heard of him. When the DVD comes along, it'll score more viewers who weren't curious enough to pay 10 bucks. You can think of Bon Cop, Bad Cop as a great big marketing campaign for...Bon Cop, Bad Cop II. That's no guarantee a sequel would do better, but lots of American sequels do better than their originals because they build up momentum in the interim (I think the second Austin Powers movie made more in its opening weekend than the first made in its entire theatrical run).

Maybe a sequel could expand the premise and have Huard and Feore's characters go to another region and team up with a third cop, gently spoofing regional cliches (a cowboy cop in Alberta, a hippy cop in B.C.)

But above all the reason they should open any sequel across the country is simply for this reason: producers have to keep trying. They can't just try once, throw a movie out there (with a weak commercial) and then retreat into their turtle shell when it fails to make them a billion dollars. That's the problem in Canada -- no follow through.

I'm reminded of the joke in Monty Python and the Holy Grail of a character explaining how he built a castle...and it fell into the swamp; so he built another castle...and it fell into the swamp; so he built another, and another...and eventually, one didn't fall into the swamp (because it was resting on all the castles that had sunk).

The problem is the English-Canadian audience is a bit like a puppy that's been beaten by its owner; they've seen so many mediocre Canadian movies, they whimper and back away from any that comes along. Trust has to be built up -- and it won't happen overnight.

Everytime a Canadian movie comes along that, rarity of rarities, gets decent reviews, is a commercial, mainstream film (as opposed to an Art movie) and can boast some solid box office (no. 3!) it's helping to fill in that swamp of audience disillusionment, and makes it just that more likely the next film won't sink, because it's built on sturdier foundations.

That's all for now,
The Masked Movie Critic

August 28, 2006

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