It's no secret that many films released in the dog days of July and August are...ummm, dogs. In those cases, the challenge for studio marketing people shifts from promotion to damage control. One tactic is not to screen films for the press. Warner Bros. and Columbia, for example, opened Mom and Dad Save the World and Mo' Money, respectively, without giving most critics a look-see. Paramount's Cool World and Twentieth Century Fox's Man Trouble also snuck into theaters virtually unseen by reviewers. The strategy is pragmatic. ''When they think critics will help, they invite them,'' says Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel. ''When they think they'll only hurt, they exclude them.''
Fox marketing chief Andrea Jaffe counters that the audience for a film like Mo' Money pays little attention to reviews. ''The written word has been lost on younger audiences,'' she says. ''They get their information through sound bites.''
Mo' Money enjoyed a solid opening weekend ($12.3 million), but others haven't been so lucky: Cool World, Man Trouble, and Mom and Dad have performed miserably at the box office. Then there's the wild card factor. Los Angeles Reader critic Andy Klein says the bad buzz that preceeded Man Trouble may have actually softened critics. ''After hearing it was a disaster, they were pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be only medium bad,'' he says. Siskel takes a less generous view. ''I think studios poison the well by not screening films,'' he says. ''Their job is to squeeze a buck out of this or that movie. The job of a critic is to squeeze the art out of it.''