Sony's new movie "Aloha" has plenty of buzz, but not the kind studio executives hope for.
The poor publicity for the island-set rom-com has been loud and three-pronged: It has earned the worst reviews of director Cameron Crowe's career, questions over its handling of Hawaiian heritage, and even trash-talk from studio higher-ups exposed in hacked emails.
So Sony, bracing for a soft opening weekend, decided to try swerving around the pileup of criticism with an unusual marketing tactic -- putting the first eight minutes on YouTube.
The Culver City company hopes audiences will see "Aloha's" bevy of attractive stars in amusing roles, ignore the reviews and give the flick a chance.
After all, the movie boasts an appealing cast. Bradley Cooper plays a defense contractor who falls for an Air Force pilot played by Emma Stone, both quickly introduced in the clip. Likable cast members Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski and Danny McBride show up too.
Bill Murray and Alec Baldwin also star in the film.
The opening sets up a romantic comedy-type situation, with clear early tension between McAdams, Cooper and Stone.
So will the move work, or is it a sign of desperation?
Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst with box office data firm Rentrak, says such online previews (or "free-views") can get audiences interested in movies they never would have cared to see at the theater.
"They have an uphill battle in terms of the PR," he said of the studio. "Sony wants the movie to speak for itself rather than everybody else speaking for it."
The response in the YouTube comments has been mixed, reflecting both interest and total confusion. A sampling of the comments: "After 8 minutes, I still have no idea what this movie is about"; "Awesome! wanted to see this"; "Lots of stars, lots of boring."
And the movie has a lot of baggage to overcome, despite the involvement of Crowe, a rock journalist-turned filmmaker known for beloved films such as "Say Anything," "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous."
"Aloha" has a 14% positive rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, putting it more in line with Crowe's bomb "Elizabethtown."
The movie appeared troubled well before takeoff. In an email published after the Sony Pictures cyberattack from last year, then studio co-chair Amy Pascal complained about the picture after test screenings.
"There is no more to do. Cameron never really changed anything," she said. "I'm never starting a movie again when the script is ridiculous."
But even without the internal wrangling, "Aloha" needs all the help it can get. It's expected to pull in $15 million or less this weekend.
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