Call it the Jerry Lewis Effect: While American critics deplored the 1996 gangster-film spoof “Mad Dog Time,” foreign reviewers loved it. That’s why Dreyfuss/James Productions, owned by “Mad Dog” star Richard Dreyfuss and producer Judith James, paid $4,500 – or 4% of the film’s paltry $105,000 domestic gross – to place a full-page ad in Variety to tout the film’s broadcast on the Movie Channel (Sat., Feb. 28, at 12:20 a.m.). “The movie was questionably reviewed in this country,” says James. “It’s been getting rave notices everywhere else, so we let people know. Why not?”
According to the Variety ad’s pull quotes, the film – with its all-star cast that includes Jeff Goldblum, Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin – was named one of Premiere Magazine France’s top ten films of 1997. The Sunday London Times called it “an exquisite little gem.” Melbourne’s Herald Sun and France’s Le Parisien also gave it their blessing.
Contrast this to America, where the film landed on some critics’ ten-worst lists, including Gene Siskel’s. Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker called it “jaw-droppingly incoherent” and gave it a “D” grade. When released on video here, the movie was retitled “Trigger Happy,” reportedly to help it elude its own bad press.
Some say that by placing the upbeat ad in Variety, Dreyfuss, James and writer/director Larry Bishop may be trying to burnish their reputations. After all, explains one long-time industry insider, Hollywood execs may not know who the foreign critics are or what their tastes mean. But they do understand one thing: Good press abroad can lead to foreign box-office success. “I’d be intrigued by an ad like that,” says the insider. “When that person came in to hustle me again, I might be a little more interested than I would be if I thought they did nothing but total bombs.”