It looks like Hollywood is desperate for fresh ideas. Since you can’t just do sequels all year long (unless you’re Robert Downey Jr., who’s already signed for Sherlock Holmes 2 and Iron Man 3), the number of 80s TV show is finite and remaking every successful foreign film isn’t yet an option, you have to find another solution.
Resorting to the mix-and-match technique is a common way to solve this problem: Just take two seemingly unrelated genres or themes and mash them together. Killers and Knight & Day are the latest efforts. The results, as you might suspect, vary.
1. Horror + Comedy (+ Romance…?)
Can horror be funny? Of course, ask anyone who’ve watched Shaun of the Dead. The cult film, whose makers called it “Zom-Rom-Com,” suggests that zombies are the best solution for post-breakup blues. The hero (or rather, anti-hero) and his best friend are sent on a race against time to save his ex-girlfriend from those nasty flesh eaters and win her back.
The blood + laughs + romance combo also worked pretty well for Frank Oz in Little Shop of Horrors. In a bizarre love triangle, an evil, obsessed, cannibal plant comes between poor Rick Moranis and the love of his life. Adding some singing and dancing to the mixture didn’t hurt.
The folks at Troma, however, fared less well with The Toxic Avenger. The story about a geeky janitor who accidently turns into a vengeful deadly creature features some bad special effects and even worse acting, yet somehow this goofy gore-fest has developed a cult following. Could it be the lack of romance? Naaaa, it’s a Troma movie.
Zombieland and the Scream franchise, and of course the Scream spoofs—the Scary Movie franchise—are also worth a mention. On the other hand, many many others failed to successfully combine the two genres, some to the extent that they were actually hilarious. Come to think of it, aren’t almost all horror titles a bit funny...?
2. Teenage Life + Superhero
Heroic acts and superhuman powers are usually not associated with people who take the bus to school, but since many of these films are aimed at teens, finding some masked avengers who are still working on their math homework makes sense.
Matthew Vaughn’s Kick Ass is a pretty extreme example of this mix. A teenager’s desire to be a superhero drives him to violent vigilantism, unfazed by his lack of any actual superpowers. He gets unexpected help from a twelve-year-old girl with a purple hair. The combination of coming-of-age themes and comics-style hyper-violence was a success among critics, but sadly, less so commercially.
Sky High was a more innocuous blend of the same themes. It also features a teenager struggling through high school and wishing he had super powers, though in his case, he has a reasonable basis to expect them, since both his parents are world-famous superheroes. Being a Disney production, it has a light, feel-good tone; a nice change from the dark, gloomy superhero films of the last few years.
Following on Sky High’s footsteps was Zoom, with almost exactly the same storyline, only adding some younger kids and a worn out superhero called to mentor them. The result was box office and critical kryptonite.
Although the combo hasn’t proven all that successful, the producers of the new Spiderman decided to reboot the series by taking their hero back to his high school years. On the other hand, in the upcoming Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Hollywood execs decided on some tuning of the combo: The hero is twenty-something Michael Cera (forever looking like a baffled teenager though), sans superpowers, but fighting the seven exes of his new girlfriend, all with seemingly different superpowers. Good luck!
3. Samurai + Almost Anything
Mashing up genres isn’t exclusive to Hollywood. Samurai films can be used as a basic ingredient for many genre blends, mostly because if you need a lone wolf who is also a one-man army, you can rarely go wrong with a Samurai.
You can put Samurais in a western setting, as in Takeshi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django.
Or you can add some Blaxploitation flavor to medieval Japan, as in Afro Samurai, starring Samuel L. Jackson.
There is also Romantic Samurai, as in the beautiful Twilight Samurai.
And unfortunately, even Tom Cruise—the reason we’ve gathered here to begin with—can be mashed with samurais, as in The Last Samurai.
But probably the best and most famous yet is the contemporary New Yorker samurai in Jim Jarmush’s highly original Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.
4. Action + Romantic Comedy
While searching for ways to resuscitate the romantic comedy genre, producers have come up with various ideas—from a love interest with memory loss (50 First Dates) to best friends making a porn film only to find that they’ve always loved each other (Zack and Miri Make a Porno).
But, apparently, the most popular way to spice up couple relations is by adding some chases, races and loads of flying bullets into the equation.
It did well (at least commercially) for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, where they played a pair of assassins on the run who find that shooting bad guys is far better than couples counseling.
It also worked for Steve Carell and Tina Fey, who appeared in the less-serious married-with-children version of the same subject in Date Night, where they play a suburban couple mistaken for a pair of criminals who find themselves on the run from corrupt cops.
It also did very well—box office-wise—for James Cameron, who cast Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies. Similar to Mr. and Mrs. Smith (only a few years earlier), the duo play a husband and wife, only this time keeping their identity as spies a secret, and not turning on one another as with the Smiths.
This month, it seems the formula is getting even more specific (and a maybe a little over-utilized): A young and somewhat clueless blonde woman encounters a handsome and mysterious stranger who happens to be a hitman/secret agent and falls in love with him, preferably while learning what to do in a gunfight.
In the recently released Killers, starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl, the result was pretty dismal: Widely panned, and not exactly breaking box office records.
As for the upcoming Knight & Day with Tom Cruise doing the Kutcher bit and Cameron Diaz in Heigl’s role as the interchangeable screaming leading lady who discovers the joys of violent escapades, we will have to wait and see. Judging by the recent cinematic records of both, don’t set your expectations high…