‘Blood In, Blood Out’ Gets Mixed Results in Test Run : Movies: The marketing strategy with Taylor Hackford’s new film, set in East Los Angeles, is a first for Hollywood Pictures, Buena Vista.


From the director of “Officer and a Gentleman” and the producer of “La Bamba,” a new film opening for a limited engagement in . . . Tucson,nt Ariz . ?

Taylor Hackford’s new film, “Blood In, Blood Out” marks the first time Hollywood Pictures and Buena Vista Pictures--both subsidiaries of Disney--have released a drama about the lives of East Los Angeles Latinos, and the studio is handling its distribution with care. The film and its marketing campaign were given a recent weeklong test run in three cities: Rochester, N.Y., Tucson, and Las Vegas, the first time the studio has made such a move.

Before the brief release, the studio launched a full publicity campaign in each city, complete with TV and newspaper advertising and a visit from Hackford, writer-executive producer Jimmy Santiago Baca and the film’s stars. The campaigns started about 10 days before the Jan. 20 opening, and the movie played at two or three theaters in each city.

Hollywood Pictures not only wanted to see how many people came to see “Blood In, Blood Out,” but who came to see it. The cities represent different ethnic mixes, with Las Vegas most closely resembling Los Angeles, where the story is set. Rochester is predominantly Anglo while Tucson has a large proportion of Latinos.


The story, written by Baca and Jeremy Iacone, follows the different lives of three cousins from East Los Angeles: a gifted painter who turns to narcotics after a brutal beating, a short-tempered boxer who becomes an undercover cop in his old neighborhood, and a half-Chicano gang member who goes to San Quentin and gets caught up in an interracial prison gang war.

Carol Cling, film critic for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, said that Disney representatives initially told her that the test run would determine if “Blood In, Blood Out” would get a wide release.

Hackford was quoted in the Rochester Times-Union/Democrat and Chronicle that the run was to check the success of the marketing materials, not the film itself. Hackford could not be reached for comment.

Dick Cook, president of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, said “Blood In, Blood Out” will get a wide release, but a firm release date has not been set. The studio is “still coming up with an evaluation of the campaign and how it worked,” he said.

“Any time you’re dealing with an epic-type movie that deals with so many emotions and family values and all . . . (the campaign) takes on so many aspects of it that you want to convey,” he said. “Trying to put anything of substance into a 30-second TV spot is difficult.”

Buena Vista ran about half a dozen different TV ads at various times of the day, as well as print advertising. Cook said the experiment went very well and that audiences “that we’ve (polled) during that week (and earlier test-screening audiences) have loved the movie.”

Box-office figures for the screenings were not released.

The movie’s 2-hour, 54-minute length and lack of recognizable stars mean that its advertising is critical. Violent social dramas are not typical of Hollywood Pictures, where recent productions include Eddie Murphy’s comedy “The Distinguished Gentlemen,” the animated feature “Aladdin” and the sentimental comedy “The Cemetery Club.”

The film has also been frequently compared to Edward James Olmos’ “American Me,” which came out in March 1992. Both films were shooting on the streets of East Los Angeles in the summer of 1991 and involved writer Floyd Mutrux at different stages of script development. “American Me” is about Santana (Olmos), a kingpin in the Mexican Mafia within the California penitentiary system. “Blood In, Blood Out” spends the most time with Miklo (Damian Chapa), the character who winds up in a prison gang in San Quentin. “American Me” made $13-million for Universal in the United States and Canada.

As with other films depicting urban violence, Hollywood Pictures executives are concerned about the possibility for violent incidents at theaters. In the mid-1970s, such outbreaks contributed to the box-office failures of “Boulevard Nights” and “Walk Proud,” both about Latino gangs. More recently, violence at “Boyz N the Hood” and “Juice” have caused concern.

There was only one notable instance of violence during the pre-release release. Theater managers in eastern Las Vegas, where the city’s Latino population is centered, called in police to break up a crowd after they canceled a weekend late show, but no one was hurt.

But violence may only be a concern if people go to the theaters. Critical reception in the cities where “Blood In, Blood Out” opened was mixed.

John Jennings, film critic at the Tucson Citizen, wrote that the film treats the Latino community with respect, but “at times wanders through fields already plowed by ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Colors.’ ”

Jack Garner, critic at the Rochester Times-Union/Democrat and Chronicle, commented that “Blood In, Blood Out” felt about 30 to 40 minutes too long. “With no larger-than-life character or single, overpowering dramatic thread, it plays a bit like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ without a Lawrence,” he wrote in his review.

Arizona Daily Star critic Robert Cauthorn also criticized the length: “The idea that someone made “Blood In, Blood Out” is wonderful; the reality of sitting through it is another matter altogether.”

In Las Vegas, the movie fared passably on the more Anglo west side of the city, the Review-Journal’s Cling said, but did better on the east side. Cling gave the film four stars out of five, largely because of the important topics the story dealt with, she said.