May 31, 2012

The greatest bet of all time.

It was going to be the finest meal of my young life. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, it all fell apart.

This is the story of our generation's greatest wager.

John Carter, the first live-action movie from Wall-E director Andrew Stanton and the first starring role for "Friday Night Lights" heartthrob Taylor Kitsch, was set to open in thousands of theaters on March 9.

I thought it was going to bomb at the box office. Hard. In fact, I was so certain that I bet a burrito on it.

You couldn't convince me otherwise; John Carter was destined for disaster. I would launch into lengthy rants at the drop of a hat, complaining about the stupid-looking alien world or noting the complete lack of interest in such an unknown property (it was based on a book published in 1917).

Who was Taylor Kitsch? For that matter, who the hell was John Carter? So why would anyone pay $10 to see a guy they don't know playing a character they've never heard of?

I felt it was quite persuasive, but my good friend and roommate, known to many as the Sultan of Swole, disagreed. He believed in John Carter, or at least felt I was being far too harsh.

He started to form a John Carter defense. It had the Disney marketing machine humming behind it at full force. It had the coveted "From the director of Wall-E" proclamation stamped all over every TV ad and billboard. Kitsch was pretty darn handsome. It was about space and adventure, and people like space and adventure, right?

It wasn't the worst argument I'd ever heard. Still, to me, believing in John Carter was a fool's errand. The real winner this summer movie season was sure to be Battleship.

Yes, it starred the same unknown Taylor Kitsch. And yes, it was being mocked mercilessly on the Internet, mostly because a movie studio had the sheer audacity to spend $200 million on a movie based on a board game.

But that sounded like a classic example of "there's no such thing as bad publicity." Hell, the Transformers movies have made what, a billion dollars? And they're based on a bunch of action figures. This is what big-budget movies are nowadays: A comfortable, well-known premise surrounded by splashy special effects and handsome stars.

To me, Battleship was the known commodity. John Carter was the vague, unfamiliar shot in the dark.

So it became Battleship versus John Carter, friend versus friend, with the reward for victory being a delicious dinner at the Qdoba or Chipotle of your choice. Some of our other pals started to join in the conversation, picking sides and awaiting a chance to analyze the earliest box-office returns. It became more than a bet; it became a showdown, a test of our mettle and pop-culture acumen.

Finally, to what seemed (to us) like the world's great excitement, John Carter was released into the wild.

It tanked. Reviews were not flattering. The first week gross in America (our bet was domestic only) came in at just about $40 million; only $17 million was added on in week two. The final take? A shade over $72 million.

I began to mock my friend mercilessly. This was exactly what I'd expected. Our bet was all but decided. I could already taste the burrito in my mouth, in my belly, slowly digesting, providing my body with useful energy.

But what I didn't count on, what may up end screwing me in the end, was the public's complete and utter disdain for Battleship.

I thought that Battleship would be an entertaining romp that poked fun at its silly origins. I figured Middle America would see it because it was a big movie with explosions and bombs, and that's what they're into. I calculated that Liam Neeson, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker and the sexy guy from "True Blood" would bring in a relatively diverse crowd on the coasts.

Wrong. Or maybe just far too optimistic. It didn't matter. The time for predicting and analyzing was over; now all that mattered was results.

The reviews have been worse than John Carter's. The box office returns have been miniscule. Suddenly, the Sultan is the one with the taste of burrito in his mouth. He's the one who's already thinking about which restaurant to choose, who gets to taunt me about how much he'll enjoy the first bite of his deliciously hard-fought-for, chicken-packed tortilla.

My only solace is that it's not over yet. Prometheus doesn't come out until next weekend. Battleship is only roughly $24 million behind John Carter. One more solid weekend and the dream is in sight.

As one of the leaders of the Battleship army, it's time to do my part. I'll go to the movies tonight and offer up my $12. I'll do my best to enjoy the spectacle that Peter Berg and company have so lovingly crafted for me, and I'll hope that others out there are doing the same.

But I fear it's too late. Barring a miracle, my chances of winning this bet are probably as dead as Taylor Kitsch's dreams of being a leading man after appearing in these two hideous stinkers.

Burritos may never again taste as sweet.

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