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Is Chris Brown a problem for 'Takers'?

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
"Takers," which features an ensemble cast, is a heist film about a group of sophisticated criminals.
"Takers," which features an ensemble cast, is a heist film about a group of sophisticated criminals.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Some say new film "Takers" has had an understated promotional campaign
  • Cast includes Zoe Saldana, Matt Dillon and singer Chris Brown
  • Magazine editor says it's difficult to market a film that co-stars Chris Brown
  • Producer says marketing has included grass roots efforts to reach audience
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(CNN) -- With a star cast including Zoe Saldana, Matt Dillon, Hayden Christensen, Idris Elba, rapper T.I., singer Chris Brown and Paul Walker, you would think the publicity machine for the film "Takers" would be working overtime.

Not so much it seems.

"We posted the trailer and that was about it," said Rodney Brazeau, senior editor for The Movie Blog. "Usually blogs like ours get an e-mail from the studio or a marketing company that will say 'Here are some photos or an exclusive clip from the movie' and we pick and choose what we want to put up. But [with 'Takers'] there has been nothing."

The heist film about a group of affluent, sophisticated thieves out for one big score -- which also co-stars Michael Ealy, Jay Hernandez and Marianne Jean-Baptiste -- opens Friday. In addition to the megawatt ensemble cast, the glitzy, glossy $30 million plus production boasts the distinction of being one of the most visible projects Brown has been involved in since his legal woes.

The singer pleaded guilty in an assault case involving his then-girlfriend, singer Rihanna. Bradley Jacobs, senior editor for Us Weekly, said Brown's co-starring role in a film containing plenty of violence could be a tough sell to moviegoers.

"It's been a while since the Chris Brown-Rihanna incident, but it's still fresh enough in people's minds that it's hard to market a movie with him in it," he said. "I don't feel like he's really found redemption with audiences yet."

Blogs and message boards lit up when a version of a "Takers" movie poster without Brown's image started making the rounds on the internet. Fans complained that the studio was clearly distancing itself from the embattled singer.

The movie, which began filming in 2008, has been delayed multiple times. That provided even more fodder for talk that "Takers" was hindered by having Brown as one of its stars.

One of the film's producers, Will Packer, said Brown's legal troubles had absolutely nothing to do with the release date being pushed. Packer said he knows there will be some focus on Brown's past, but the filmmaker believes the audience will look beyond that.

"I think this will give him the opportunity to have the focus on something positive he has done, which are hard work and a great performance," Packer said. "Chris and I have done three movies together [including 'Stomp the Yard' and 'This Christmas'] and the physicality he brought to this role is incredible. He did 95 percent of his own stunts."

Packer said the marketing for "Takers" continues the tradition of his Rainforest Films, with screenings for niche groups such as a recent screening at the convention for the African-American sorority Delta Sigma Theta.

"Our grass roots push on this is pretty heavy and I think that's important," Packer said. "You can't just rely on big Hollywood marketing because that feels stale. We want to connect with people."

Pop culture expert S. Tia Brown said the marketing has been smart in that while the film has a majority African-American cast, it has managed so far to avoid being typecast, while still courting that demographic.

"It was shot in a way which doesn't make you think 'black movie,'" Brown said. "All of the guys are in custom suits and they are classy crooks, not drug dealers or something stereotypical."

Natasha Eubanks, founder of the celebrity blog Young, Black and Fabulous, said sites like hers have featured plenty of buzz about the film -- thanks in part to the mini-media blitz that has been co-star T.I. (who is also an executive producer on the project), who interestingly enough plays a character whose life somewhat mirrors the rapper's in that he was recently released from prison.

"I have a post about 'Takers' almost every single day," Eubanks said. "T.I. has been everywhere promoting the movie and there are a million parties and a million screenings in almost every city it seems like."

Eubanks said Brown has been understandably less visible, though he did recently appear with Elba on BET. Even less present, Eubanks said, has been Saldana, who with her star turns in "Star Trek" and "Avatar" is probably the biggest name in the ensemble.

"It doesn't matter that she's a secondary character in the movie [as one of the leads' girlfriend]," Eubanks said. "There have been films where someone who is a secondary character is out promoting the film so much that you would think they were the star. But she's not been doing anything."

Kevin Carr, a writer/reviewer for the site Film School Rejects, said that like Movie Blog's Brazeau, he hasn't seen much in terms of promotion for "Takers" other than a few posters here and there and some trailer appearances.

Part of the issue, he said, could be that the film is being released in August, which he said has "historically been the month where they dump movies."

"It's not getting a lot of buzz on the blogs," Carr said. "There just hasn't seemed to be a big push for it."