`Wonder Boys' Gets Rare Second Shot

Tuesday, November 7th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — There are few second chances in unforgiving Hollywood. So it's no small wonder that ``Wonder Boys,'' an acclaimed film that died quickly at the box office early this year, is making its way back to theaters.

Paramount is reissuing the movie in eight cities Wednesday, hoping to gradually boost the movie's commercial prospects and also remind Oscar voters about it.

The studio has substituted a more thoughtful marketing campaign for one that drew scorn from critics when the movie came out last February. That earlier campaign included a nebulous movie trailer and a poster featuring a goofy portrait of star Michael Douglas, an image one critic compared to Elmer Fudd and another to large-headed character actor Michael J. Pollard.

Playing in fairly wide release, ``Wonder Boys'' took in just $18.7 million the first time around.

The new ads play up the strong ensemble cast of the dark, convoluted comedy, which centers on a scruffy college professor (Douglas) with a ponderous, never-ending manuscript for a novel, and a spate of messy personal entanglements. Besides Douglas' engaging performance, ``Wonder Boys'' features good turns by Frances McDormand, Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey Jr. and Katie Holmes.

The new marketing approach draws heavily on comments from critics who liked the movie for its smarts and eccentric characterizations. And the new trailer highlights the soundtrack, which includes Bob Dylan's ``Things Have Changed,'' an Oscar contender for best song.

McDormand said it was gratifying that Paramount decided to take a second crack at the movie.

``What I like politically about it is that a studio is maybe acknowledging the fact that they had a certain lack of ingenuity when it came to the promotion of the film,'' McDormand said. ``Because I don't think they made the right choices then, and they have a chance to redeem themselves.''

Director Curtis Hanson, who also made ``L.A. Confidential,'' said the first ad campaign made ``Wonder Boys'' look like a lighthearted comedy.

``I understand it's not the easiest movie to sell,'' Hanson said. ``It's not a movie that lends itself to an easy TV spot or trailer where a large section of the audience will go, yeah, an action movie, or oh, yeah, a teen comedy. This one is more complicated than that.''

``Wonder Boys'' might have done better with a late-summer or fall release, Hanson said. Coming out a month before the Oscars, it may have gotten lost among ``American Beauty,'' ``The Cider House Rules'' and other films contending for awards and the adult audience.

Rob Friedman, vice chairman of Paramount's motion-picture group, would not concede that the studio dropped the ball on the initial marketing.

``I think we all believed we produced the best campaign and gave the movie the best launch that was appropriate at the time,'' Friedman said. ``Sometimes, they just don't work, but we felt it deserved a second chance. We believe it's one of the pictures deserving of significant awards recognition.''

Friedman said it was a longshot that the re-release would catch fire.

But with Hollywood's focus on big opening weekends, it was a longshot that ``Wonder Boys'' would even get another shot, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc., which tracks the box office. He could not remember a similar case.

``It's rare in Hollywood that you get a second chance for anything, unless you're George Lucas and you get to go back and retool your movie,'' Dergarabedian said. ``This is certainly a testament to Paramount's faith in this film.''

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