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Hollywood’s Leading Man? Richard Troncone, of Course

Times Staff Writer

The average American goes to the movie theater fewer than six times a year, which makes Richard Troncone way, way above average.

In his West Los Angeles home, the 54-year-old computer tech keeps a careful list of every film he’s seen during the last 40 years. Since 1988, he’s watched 2,445 movies, averaging more than 135 films a year -- all of them in a theater.

But this year Troncone decided to go for a personal best by trying to top his record of 176 movies set in 1972 (and confirmed by nobody but him). He knew he’d have to sit through some duds.

“I don’t want to come across as a nut case,” he said when asked what drove him to take in such lackluster offerings this year as the sequel “Miss Congeniality 2 -- Armed and Fabulous” (No. 18) and the futuristic muddle “The Island” (No. 78). “I just love movies. I guess that’s an understatement.”

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If there were ever a year that Hollywood executives would pay to clone Troncone, 2005 would be it. With domestic box-office receipts down 5% from 2004, some in the movie industry fear that Americans young and old are permanently altering the way they consume entertainment.

Whether or not such a sea change is underway, one thing is clear: For many, the lure of Milk Duds and the big screen is no longer enough.

That’s where Troncone could teach Hollywood a thing or two. Of the 400 or so movies released this year, he has watched more than a third of them, supplementing his total with classics such as “Goldfinger” and “Klute.” Not counting Twizzlers, his snack of choice, Troncone has spent about $1,700 this year at first-run and revival theaters.

“Movies are supposed to be larger than life,” he said, calling going to a theater not just a communal experience but “an event.”

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Asked to name his top 10 films, however, he scrunched up his face and wrung his hands, embarrassed, before giving up. “It’s like having 10 kids and asking me to choose my favorite.”

Troncone is no critic. He’s a moviegoing everyman -- a former Army specialist who has been married for 30 years, drives a 2004 Saturn and has a particular weakness for “slash-and-stab” horror flicks. The client-services technician at AIG SunAmerica Asset Management Corp. reads film reviews but doesn’t let them dictate his viewing.

“I like to make up my own mind,” he says.

To that end, he sees almost everything, and what he likes and dislikes doesn’t always jibe with commonly held ideas about which movies appeal to different genders and generations.

For example, despite being four decades older than the movie’s targeted demographic, he admired how faithful “Sin City” (No. 22) was to Frank Miller’s graphic novel by the same name. The political thriller “Syriana” (No. 162) -- which marketers aimed squarely at college-educated adults like Troncone -- was enjoyable, he said, “but I didn’t know what the hell was going on.”

He thought “Good Night, and Good Luck” (No. 126) was “fabulous” and predicted that the film, which chronicles Edward R. Murrow’s confrontation with Sen. Joseph McCarthy, would win an Academy Award nomination for best picture and a best actor nod for David Strathairn, who portrayed the legendary CBS newsman.

Or so Troncone thought before he was blown away by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s spot-on portrayal of Truman Capote in “Capote” (No. 129).

“You felt his character’s charisma causing the killers to open up to him,” Troncone said, “yet you could see through to his manipulation of them as well.”

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But he was also over the moon about the kind of movie many people might think appeals mostly to women: “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” (No. 169), a low-low-budget period piece starring Joan Plowright as an elderly widow who befriends a much younger man.

“It would be nice if studio heads took one of those $100-million budgets and split it into $2-million and $5-million movies. Then maybe we’d have more gems like that,” he said, lamenting the glut of big-budget “copycat” movies that are knockoffs of prior hits.

Troncone first fell in love with the movies at the drive-in near his boyhood home in Hawthorne, N.J. Sometimes on hot summer nights “when we had nothing to do,” his parents would take him and his brother out. He remembers the experience vividly, right down to “the cute little commercials for hot dogs.”

His favorite movies when he was growing up were Tarzan and Jules Verne adventures, along with stop-motion fantasy films from producer Ray Harryhausen. (This helps to explain Troncone’s affection for the stop-motion animated movie “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” No. 130, which he calls “the funniest movie of the year.”)

An Army stint during the 1970s cemented Troncone’s theater-going habit. Tickets were 50 cents at the base theater in Arlington, Va., where he was posted. A different movie played nearly every night and Troncone went as often as he could.

Sometimes after the base theater let out, Troncone would hop a bus to Georgetown to take in yet another movie. By the time he’d get back to the base, it would be 3 or 4 in the morning. He’d sleep a couple of hours, then head to work.

It was during this period that Troncone started a correspondence with a woman he’d known in high school. She was into movies too. They married in 1975.

“I’m not the romance-novel type,” Karen Troncone, a docent at the Los Angeles Zoo and an avid horror fan, said recently. “I like adventure.”

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Over more than three decades, movies have threaded through their relationship like celluloid through a projector. Karen Troncone remembers standing in line with her husband for hours to see “Star Wars” (1977), “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979) and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982). For the first run of “The Exorcist,” two years before they wed, “we went to New York City and stood in the freezing rain.”

So when Troncone told his wife he was going to try to break the record he’d set the year “The Godfather” and “The Poseidon Adventure” debuted, she was supportive.

“I understand how much he enjoys them,” she said.

He began his quest in January with the John Travolta-Scarlett Johansson drama “A Love Song for Bobby Long.” Things would get worse before they got better. The biopic “Kinsey” (No. 7) was only “halfway decent.” But then he saw “Sahara” (No. 11) and, despite bad reviews and worse box-office returns, he found it to be one of the best action movies of the year.

Among the low points: No. 25, “The Interpreter” (“Nicole Kidman must have needed the money”); No. 95, the Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn comedy “The Wedding Crashers” (“I was ready to take a nap”); and No. 134, “Fun With Dick and Jane” (“All the jokes were in the trailer”).

A few weeks ago, on Dec. 14, Troncone settled into a seat toward the back of the Royal Theater in West Los Angeles, opened his jacket, clasped his hands over his chest and sighed.

“Mrs. Henderson Presents,” No. 177 -- the film that would put him over the top -- was about to begin. For the next 103 minutes, he entered the world of an upper-crust British widow (Judi Dench) in late 1930s London. When she set out to revive a shuttered theater with a burlesque review, he smiled. When she tried to win the attention of Bob Hoskins, the theater manager she’d hired, by auditioning for a role in a bear suit, Troncone sat up and laughed out loud.

When the lights came on, Troncone had the satisfied look of a man who had run a marathon.

“Well, that was it,” he said, smiling, hands softly patting his knees. “It took 33 years to break my record. I’m glad it was a really great film.”

In the weeks since, he’s seen 10 more films -- Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” on Thursday night was No. 187. On Friday night he was trying to decide between the romantic romp “Casanova” and the French thriller “Cache.”

Asked whether he’ll try to beat his new record in 2006, Troncone demurred.

“No. It took up too much time,” he said. “I have no intention of trying again.”

A beat.

Then he added, “Unless Guinness calls.”


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