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Ready, set, love, failure

On-set romance almost never sells tickets

By Todd Leopold
CNN

Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith."
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Eye on Entertainment
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Brad Pitt
Angelina Jolie

(CNN) -- Sometimes, when it comes to movies, no publicity is better than too much -- especially when it comes to any affairs that sparked on the set.

After all, consider the grosses of some recent movies that became known as much for on-set romantic fireworks as for ... well, they pretty much all became known for their on-set romantic fireworks. And they all flopped, despite all the publicity the affairs created.

There was "Gigli," of course, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez's 2003 movie. "The Marrying Man," with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. "Proof of Life," with Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe. "Alfie," with Jude Law and Sienna Miller. "Two Much," with Melanie Griffiths and Antonio Banderas. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb.

You can even look back at the big daddy of them all, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in 1963's "Cleopatra," a film that blew apart both of their marriages, nearly killed director Joseph L. Mankiewicz -- and almost sank its studio, 20th Century Fox, because it needed to be an all-time blockbuster to make back its rumored $44 million investment (equal to many times that in today's dollars).

In a recent articleexternal link in Sydney, Australia's, Morning Herald (registration required), writer Kevin Airs quotes a psychologist on the reasons such romances bloom. Simply, it's the hothouse atmosphere, says the good doctor, Kerry Hempenstall.

"These people are working and living closely together 24/7," Hempenstall said. "You get a truncation effect where the development of a relationship is squeezed into a short space of time. Everything is exaggerated and it is just as likely to end in distress and animosity as it is romance and intimacy."

So you can't blame Brad Pitt for trying to keep his personal life personal. He's doing exactly the right thing -- even if the story's out of his hands now.

Pitt, as too many news stories have trumpeted (we are, of course, not immune), allegedly struck up some kind of relationship with his "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" co-star, Angelina Jolie, on the set of the film. He and Jolie have both denied being anything more than "just friends," despite the best-laid plans of supermarket tabloids to find them doing more than walking on a beach in East Africa.

Besides, Pitt's been here before, though not under this kind of spotlight. He and Gwyneth Paltrow, then relatively unknown, met on the set of "Seven" and started a romance that eventually led to a broken engagement.

"Seven" is one of only a handful of movies have benefited from off-screen love affairs, and it probably wasn't the Pitt-Paltrow chemistry that carried that film. Similarly, Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw's "The Getaway" was a hit, though that may have been due as much to McQueen's drawing power as the publicity. "Days of Thunder," with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, did OK, though it still ranks near the bottom among Cruise hits.

Speaking of Cruise, he's been appearing all over the place swooning over Katie Holmes, who is not his co-star in "War of the Worlds." (She's starring in another summer film, "Batman Begins.") But given the divorce that ended his marriage with Kidman, and the disappointing returns of "Vanilla Sky" (which created a romance between him and co-star Penelope Cruz, although after filming), he may want to watch his back anyway. Love do cost a thing.

Eye on Entertainment goes undercover.

Eye-opener

"Mr. & Mrs. Smith" concerns a married couple, John and Jane Smith (Pitt and Jolie), who have lost the spark in their marriage after a few years together. They're seeing a marriage counselor and trying to patch things up, but it doesn't look good.

Then they find out each other's secret: They're both hired killers, and they're supposed to kill each other. It's a high-tech "Prizzi's Honor."

A number of explosions ensue, but so do some good wisecracks and top-notch chemistry. Vince Vaughn drops by for comic relief.

If "Mr. & Mrs. Smith's" box office measures up to many of the advance reviews, Pitt can rest easy about publicity wrecking his movie. Though some critics have deplored the casual violence, more are willing to write it off as typical Hollywood summer fare.

It's Pitt and Jolie who keep the movie going.

"It's preposterous, but [director Doug] Liman gives it such a seductive, playfully hip texture that you happily embrace the fantasy," writes Newsweek's David Ansen. "... Brad and Angelina are the whole show here. They bring out the best in each other."

"Mr. & Mrs. Smith" comes out Friday.

On screen

  • Robert Rodriguez has gotten his ideas from graphic novels, spaghetti Westerns and film noir. Now he's using something proposed by his young son Racer. "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D" opens Friday. Racer Rodriguez also wrote the screenplay. Obviously, Charlie Kaufman and Steven Zaillian weren't available.
  • Cedric the Entertainer is Ralph Kramden in "The Honeymooners," based on the old Jackie Gleason series. Opens Friday.
  • In "High Tension," a French horror film, two girls staying at a secluded house face a villain who kidnaps one of the girls. And then the trouble starts. Opens Friday.
  • "Howl's Moving Castle" is the latest work by Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki, a sort-of fairy tale about a young woman in an old woman's body, a wizard, and other magical happenings. Opens Friday.
  • On the tube

  • "The Cut," a reality show that pits fashion designers against one another in an attempt to meet Tommy Hilfiger's approval, debuts at 9 p.m. Thursday on CBS.
  • Sound waves

  • Dwight Yoakam's new CD, "Blame the Vain" (New West), releases Tuesday.
  • The Backstreet Boys' new record, "Never Gone" (Jive), drops Tuesday.
  • "In Your Honor" (RCA), a double CD by the Foo Fighters, comes out Tuesday.
  • Paging readers

  • "My Friend Leonard" (Riverhead), James Frey's follow-up to "A Million Little Pieces," comes out Tuesday.
  • Video center

  • "Hitch," which was the highest-grossing film of the year until that "Star Wars" thing came along, comes out on DVD Tuesday.

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