Monday, May 22, 2006

So much for the “other-cott.”

A number of Christian groups hoping to derail “The Da Vinci Code” by recommending fans buy tickets for the weekend’s “other” big film “Over the Hedge” got a rude awakening yesterday. Ron Howard’s “Code,” based on the madly popular novel by Dan Brown, earned $77 million domestically and conquered box offices across the globe.

Generally tepid reviews, including a spanking at the Cannes Film Festival, didn’t dampen audience enthusiasm a whit.

“Hedge” didn’t make out badly, drawing roughly $38.4 million in the U.S. in its first weekend.

Both figures came in near industry expectations, meaning the other-cott, if it impacted the numbers, figured only marginally in the outcome, if at all.

“Code,” starring Tom Hanks and French star Audrey Tautou as scholars on a quest for the Holy Grail, didn’t topple “Spider-Man” for biggest opening weekend ever. But given the film’s content, aimed more at adults seeking a sophisticated thriller, the results impress — especially in the face of critical derision.

The other-cott’s origins made some sense. Boycotts in the movie world too often yield free publicity for the movie in question, so why not try a different approach to get the public’s attention?

A call and e-mail to Barbara Nicolosi, a Catholic screenwriter who supported the other-cott, were not returned yesterday.

But if the other-cott supporters hoped to display the market power of Christianity, the weekend was still a success, even if not in precisely the way intended. Moviegoers seem to have taken Mr. Brown’s story as food for theological thought, even if they dismissed the story as piffle.

Some cited the church’s handling of the recent pedophile scandals as an example of a modern-day cover-up. Others questioned why, if marriage is such a sacred institution, Jesus Christ couldn’t have thrived within it.

For better or worse, people of faith are talking about their faith, and that kind of discussion can have positive dividends.

The other-cott approach may still prove effective for other, similarly incendiary films down the road. For now, it’s safe to say 40 million or so viewers will translate into a smash every time, no matter what the church or movie critics say.

It remains to be seen if “Code” can hold off “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which opens Friday. Imagine a battle between the razor clawed Wolverine and Tom Hanks’s puffy scholar — it’s hardly a fair fight.

Then again, who would have thought a book featuring two brainiacs trying to outrun an albino monk would make a dent in the best-seller list?

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