Friday, April 17, 2009

Lame of name

State of Play has not even come out yet, and I've already forgotten it.

Could it have something to do with that title? You tell me.

As far as the ads tell me, State of Play is about murder, political intrigue, cover-ups and journalistic ethics. All the makings of a pretty standard thriller.

And what more does the title itself tell me?


Oh, I shouldn't blame State of Play in particular for having an uninspired title. In fact, it joins a shameful tradition in Hollywood, a tradition of naming films (especially thrillers) with the maximum possible bland interchangeability. Here, I've culled together a list, drawn mostly from movies that I've seen. (Hey, I had to narrow down my search criteria somehow.)

Addicted to Love
Basic Instinct
Before and After

Big Trouble
Body of Evidence
Body of Lies
Chances Are
Color of Night

Courage Under Fire
Crimes of Passion

Desperate Measures
Dream Lover
Endless Love
Enduring Love
Fatal Attraction
Fatal Instinct
The Forgotten
Hide and Seek
House of Games

The Invisible
Laws of Attraction
Lost & Found
Made of Honor

Marked for Death
Nick of Time
One False Move
Out for Justice
Out of Sight
Over the Edge
Point of No Return
Point Break
Primal Fear
Return to Me

The Rules of Attraction

Running on Empty
Secrets and Lies
Separate Lies
The Shape of Things
She's So Lovely
She's the One
Shoot to Kill
Sleeping With the Enemy
Something's Gotta Give

Stand and Deliver
The Sweetest Thing
Taking Care of Business
Til' There Was You
A Time to Kill

To Die For
Trial and Error
True Romance

Under Siege
View from the Top

What Lies Beneath

When a Man Loves a Woman

Wishful Thinking

Without Limits

Wrongfully Accused

How many of those films do you remember?

Okay, it's not as few as I'd have you believe. Some of them are in fact memorable, their titles' best (or worst) efforts notwithstanding. We remember Basic Instinct because Sharon Stone wielded an ice pick and flashed her beaver. We remember Point Break because Keanu Reeves yelled "I am special agent Johnny Utah!" We remember Fatal Attraction because of Glenn Close boiling bunnies.

Moments like these make a film -- and by extension, its title -- immediately memorable. But most films don't have indelible moments that instantly become part of our cinematic zeitgeist. And without even a memorable title to distinguish them, these films endure no better than half-remembered trailer fragments. Two years after they've left theaters, they're totally gone from even the bear-trap minds of the hardcore cinephiles.

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain? Now there's a film I can remember. Even if I haven't seen it. (I probably should -- this is one of my favorite titles to bust out during moments of levity at parties).

I'm not saying that every film has to go for maximum eccentricity in its title. If every film title were Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we'd all have a big headache.

But is it too much to ask for your title to have something to do with what's in the movie? That lone ingredient can make an otherwise bland title seem more meaningful. Let's take something superficially generic, like Stuck on You. That movie could be about anything, right? Find out it's about conjoined twins, and voila! Titular relevance.

Okay, so maybe "state of play" actually means something within the context of State of Play. But the problem is, most of us will never find out. Liking Russell Crowe or Ben Affleck may put some asses in the seats, but not as many as in the past. The rest of us will just write it off as the latest forgettable thriller to quietly plop off the assembly line.

The irony is, a title like State of Play is actually chosen specifically for its marketability. It's like an amalgam of thriller buzzwords, jammed together specifically because it reminds your average viewer of other films they half-remember. (Maybe they're trying to get the same crowd that saw Crowe's most recent, Body of Lies). That title has been market-tested to within an inch of its life, and for what? They're not going to get me.

Then again, they were never going to get a viewer like me. If they wanted the Eternal Sunshine crowd, they'd have come at it differently. But they want the "of" crowd. They want the people who are soothed by a title with a well-placed preposition. They want people who will forget about this movie right afterward, because that's all it's supposed to be -- temporary disposable escapism.

As long as the money leaves the pockets that one time, that's the only "state of play" that matters.

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