Bond and Gagged

Bond vs. Birds

Does anybody really give a shit about James Bond, or, in this case, James Bourne, anymore? Does anybody give a crap if a flock of singin’ and hoofin’ penguins flip off 007 at the box office? (I’m so sick of all the hype that I’d rather see Bond vs. Birds: The Gory Horror Flick.) These are the questions that spilled studio-flop sweat as Sony/MGM’s Casino Royale and Warner Bros.’ Happy Feet kept track of decimals so both sides could lay claim to the immense PR value of declaring their movie No. 1 in the U.S. When the counting was completed, Happy Feet had the higher tally at $41.5 million to Casino Royale’s $40.8, but the spy scored the better per-screen average ($11,823 to $10,778). Why the penguins waddled over the finish line first came down to running time and number of theaters. Plus, Happy Feet enjoyed huge kiddie matinees all weekend long. Doesn’t matter: The showdown marks the first time dueling movies both made more than $40 mil for a three-day weekend. Overseas, 007 finished the weekend No. 1 in all 27 countries where it opened, earning $42.2 mil from the U.K., Russia, India and small territories in the Middle East and Asia. That’s a 70 percent higher worldwide opening than the previous Bond outing, Die Another Day, and by far the biggest Bond debut ever. It was also the biggest Bond opening ever in the U.K. and the No. 9 all-time opening there. Worldwide, Casino Royale took in $82.8 million total over the weekend.

But the question still nags: Is Craig a better Bond than Brosnan? Here in the U.S., Casino Royale won the start of the weekend helped by dames curious to see buff Daniel. Dudes warmed up to Craig’s incarnation of a more stripped down and stark 007 who relies more on brute force than cool gadgets, big-boy toys and phallic guns. One thing is clear, though: The studio is thrilled with Daniel’s debut. (Though I’m told the one-time BBC actor himself was incredibly nervous before the grosses started coming in.) When pretty-boy Pierce first started his run in 1995, his GoldenEye debut made far less moola — just $26 mil — even factoring in inflation, ticket prices, etc. But, by November 2002, his Die Another Day’s $47 mil three-day opening beat Casino Royale’stake. True, ticket prices were 12 percent lower back then, but the Brosnan pic had a much shorter running time (two hours, compared to Casino’s two hours and 24 minutes) and the much bigger lure of Halle Berry looking sexy as all hell. Plus, Die Another Day didn’t go up against cute critters!

Expect a rematch for No. 1 next weekend because nothing huge is opening, despite decent awareness for Buena Vista’s Déjà Vu starring Denzel in the usual Bruckheimer action fest (yawn .?.?.). In Bond parlance, this battle will have to Die Another Day.

Sick Comedy

In my opinion, the real news behind Seinfeld’sMichael Richards spewing “n”-word racial epithets after being heckled during a recent standup routine at the Laugh Factory is this: Many of today’s comedy clubs have become cesspools of hatred. Inside them, racism, ethnic prejudice, religious bigotry, homophobia and sexism all masquerade as humor. Anyone who’s been to the clubs and heard the acts knows this to be true. This isn’t Lenny Bruce’s let’s-make-a-First-Amendment point, either. This is just garbage. Yet, in most cases, the audiences or the club owners and managers rarely intervene to take out the trash. (Though at a news conference, Laugh Factory club owner Jamie Masada claimed, “This is one thing we don’t tolerate,” and banned Richards until he expressed remorse, which he did on Letterman Monday night.) Creepily, this crap sells. And not just in the clubs: MTV’s Yo Momma gets good ratings though it celebrates jokes about how “yo momma” is so fat, so stupid, so poor, so ugly, so nasty, so lazy and whatever other disgusting stuff its contestants can conjure.

I’m not saying humor in the clubs should be as sanitized as the pablum by Leno or Letterman or Kimmel. (That’s why Dane Cook is popular: He’s got nothing to say, and especially nothing to say that’s offensive.) But we’re now in an atmosphere where, because of the proliferation of profanity-peppered acts with distasteful subject matter, some clubs outside L.A. and N.Y. are rating their shows G, PG and R as a marketing tool. (There’s also Christian comedy, but let’s not go there.) Still, in the top clubs, an atmosphere exists where anything goes, so no one should feign surprise that those comedians could cross the line between what’s acceptable and what’s offensive.

I’m told Jerry Seinfeld personally arranged for Michael Richards’ satellite-feed appearance on Letterman, but not before politically correctly proclaiming himself “sick over this horrible, horrible mistake.” When it comes to the comedy clubs, too many of them are just sick, period. Heal thyself.

No Faking Bad PR

When I first heard about bad blood between two major show-biz flackeries, Sitrick and Company’s entertainment division and BWR, I was intrigued enough to look into it. Turns out it had to do with BWR bringing in crisis specialist Sitrick et al. to handle Ryan Phillippe, who’s Reese Witherspoon’s soon-to-be ex. BWR called in Sitrick because it had a conflict of interest: They represented both actors in their recently announced divorce. So, to avoid any problems, BWR was supposed to stick by Reese’s side, and Sitrick was supposed to handle Ryan’s. Now there’s no love lost between Sitrick and BWR because of a screwup.

Talk about miscommunication: Sitrick didn’t know that BWR had arranged an exclusive with People mag on the Reese-Ryan divorce, and BWR didn’t know that Sitrick was not only giving Ryan’s quotes to In Touch mag but also was about to give them to People’s arch rival, Us Weekly. “That could have, and should have, been handled better,” Mike Sitrick candidly told me. And a BWR source huffed, “We would never have approved giving quotes to In Touch even if we had not made the arrangement with People.”

Well, thanks to the Britney–K-FED split, and then the TomKat wedding, the Reese-Ryan divorce was a one-day story. Since there was no crisis, BWR didn’t need Sitrick working on Ryan’s behalf anymore. But then the New York Post got involved. Guess the paper still bears a grudge for Mike Sitrick’s personal role in the Jared Paul Stern–Ron Burkle scandal — because Page Six really stuck it to his firm big time over this. A gossip item last week claimed someone from Sitrick and Company made up quotes and/or planted a fake story during its representation of Ryan, and that the firm was hired and fired over it within a few hours. Both Sitrick and BWR tell me this is wrong.

According to Sitrick, one of his minions, David Bloom, had several phone calls with Ryan about media inquiries coming in. “David told Ryan he believed it was necessary to release a statement to the media. At the end of the discussion, David read the quotes back to Ryan for approval. Ryan approved the quotes and the release of those quotes to the media, though no specific publication was identified by David.” BWR confirmed to me that Sitrick’s office did talk to Ryan and agreed no fakery was involved.

So the moral of this tale is that there’s no faking bad PR.

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