In Commentary Tracks Of The Damned, we look to the commentary track to glean further insight on a failed film, be it a financial flop, a critical disappointment, or both.
Cougars, Inc. (2011)
- “Subverting” the ’80s-style campus sex comedy by never mixing the two and rarely having scenes that are either sexy or funny.
- Running with the completely impossible premise that a bunch of rich, bored, glamorous “Real Housewives” would pay dorky, inexperienced high-school boys $500 to show them a good time.
- Casting Denise Richards as one of the housewives. Casting Jim Belushi as a human being who walks, talks, has feelings, and says the words “Bukowski” and “capisce.” Casting a dog because it would increase DVD sales.
- Being released under the title Cougars, Inc. (See also: Cougar Town.)
Defenders: Writer-director K. Asher Levin, actors Kyle Gallner and Kathryn Morris
Tone of commentary: Friendly and process-oriented, with Levin telling behind-the-scenes stories and Gallner and Morris complimenting Levin, the other performers, and each other in the way that actors do. Neither Gallner nor Morris have seen the latest cut of the film, so Levin takes them through edits meant to tighten up the early section and extensions of scenes, including a Gallner-Morris tryst, that add more skin. What stands out the most is Morris’ effusive praise of the first-time filmmaker, which far exceeds what he was actually able to accomplish. Of a forgettable one-liner, she says, “I hope it has a Fast Times At Ridgemont High kind of staying power to it.” Of a shot of Gallner walking through a dark alleyway, she makes comparisons to Last Tango In Paris. Of a bit player cast as Gallner’s girlfriend’s girlfriend, she says the young woman reminds her of Ava Gardner. Little did Morris suspect at the time that Cougars, Inc. would go straight to DVD, with a cover that implies that Denise Richards is the lead actress and a dog figures prominently in the shenanigans.
What went wrong: The commentary accentuates the positive, as most do, but it doesn’t entirely eliminate the negative. The new cut is one sign of trouble, as are cut scenes that were added back into the script in order to secure Belushi’s services. Levin’s script also lent itself to improvisation (read: hasty last-minute rewrites in the makeup trailer) when the words on the page weren’t natural for the actors to say. (“I like to throw out the script the moment we get on set,” Levin adds.) Between Morris coming to set after 16-hour days on the CBS show Cold Case and Richards up all night with her flu-ridden kid, the low energy both brought to their first scene together is chalked up as a positive. Although it didn’t affect the final product, there’s a lot of talk about Gallner’s pants ripping open from behind as the shoot went on, and at least three scenes he did without underwear, even though it wasn’t necessary, including one where he’s riding through the cold on the back of Belushi’s motorcycle.
Comments on the cast: Gallner and Morris have nice things to say about each other: “It was like a beautiful romance,” Morris says about their final scene together. Meanwhile, Levin’s comments are of a randier sort: “This is my favorite shot because I can see Kathryn’s ass there.” There’s also upbeat talk about Richards’ humor and sass, though Levin concedes that her inability to look convincing smoking a cigarette on screen is a distraction. Levin used Richards as an enticement to get Ryan Pinkston, cast as Gallner’s most enthusiastic friend, to expose his entire backside: “Look, Ryan, you’re going to be able to have sex with Denise Richards on camera, but you have to be completely naked in another shot before we even do that. So I put the carrot out there and he said, ‘Okay, let me shave my back.’”
Inevitable dash of pretension: Talking about his process, Gallner makes note of a minor gesture he made in a scene with Belushi: “That little thumb thing, which wasn’t caught very well, was my throw out to Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under The Influence.”
Commentary in a nutshell: Levin, fishing for compliments: “If you guys could talk about this scene, because it’s all done in one shot, and how it felt to be acting without a net, that would be awesome.”