UWE BOLL is a German-accented party crasher at the gates of legit Hollywood product. His movies are reviled on the Internet by video-gamers and genre movie mavens -- people incensed that Boll is tarnishing the movie-making art with titles such as "BloodRayne," "House of the Dead," "Alone in the Dark" and "In the Name of the King," movies whose ancillary purpose, Boll will tell you, is to offer a tax benefit to his high-end German investors.
Weeks before the release of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," the 42-year-old German purveyor of video game-based genre flicks had made a bold pronouncement: He would send out his latest movie, "Postal," an R-rated screwball comedy with lots of gross-out humor and war-on-terrorism gags, to go head-to-head with Indy, where everyone else feared to tread.
Boll funds his movies in Germany and makes them in Canada, then tracks their returns in every market of the world (Turkey, Bulgaria). Never mind the big studio theatrical release -- he exists outside that system now, saying it involves too prohibitive a cost for his investors.
Thus his plan to wrestle Indy appears to have hit a snag. "Postal," which opens today at the Laemmle in Santa Monica and the Culver Plaza Theater in Culver City, failed to attract a crumb on the multiplex schedules of the giant AMC and Regal cinema chains, forcing Boll to do what he has sometimes done in the past -- cobble together a release himself, a hodgepodge of bookings and/or screen rentals.
"I said, Look, now 'Iron Man' is blowing everything to pieces," Boll said of his pitch to Ted Cooper, the head film buyer for Regal Entertainment Group, the week that "Iron Man" had come out. "Now next week is 'Speed Racer' coming up, and then 'Narnia,' and then 'Indiana Jones.' 'Iron Man' goes down to $50 million next weekend. One week later 'Iron Man' is $25 million, and on our weekend, 'Iron Man' is history, basically. 'Speed Racer' is supposed to be crap from the beginning on. So it will not open like 'Iron Man.' On our weekend, it's down to 5, 6 million bucks."
The business of show
He was sitting at a Beverly Hills cafe on a recent afternoon. When Boll gets on a roll like this, he becomes more, not less, endearing. Never mind the oeuvre of Fassbinder; of more relevance to him is the oeuvre of German tax regulators, and how they affect movie financing.
"Everyone invests to make profit, but they cannot lose more than 50% of their money," said Boll of his investors, noting that changes in German tax laws have restricted the number of investors he can bundle to 20 or fewer.
The first time I met Boll, who lives in Vancouver and Germany, was at Nate 'n Al's Delicatessen some months ago; he told of his struggles to get domestic distribution for "Postal," whose biggest star is Dave Foley, of the sitcom "NewsRadio" and the comedy group Kids in the Hall.
The second time I met him was in New York, at a screening for "Postal" as part of the New York City Horror Festival; Randy Jones, the cowboy from the disco-era Village People, circulated during the cocktail hour. Boll, boyishly handsome if unpolished and typically dressed down, moved around the gathering wearing a sheepish grin, as if in on his own private joke.
"I don't think he cares that much about the movies for the most part, really," Foley said by phone, speaking with admiration. "He's much more interested in the back and forth with the people who hate him.
"It's almost like he's feeding a petri dish and watching what happens," Foley said. "There is a bit of a scientific quality to it."
Boll's passion and ingenuity seems to lie in seeing to what extent he can jam his genre flicks into the American multiplex (though he once drew his critics into the boxing ring). He loves to point to the latest box office disappointment and force the money men to fess up to their numbers game -- so many time slots, so little product to fill the seats.
He has a point. Though it's not as star-studded as previous efforts (Sir Ben Kingsley played a vampire in "BloodRayne"), "Postal" is new product, and it has topless chicks, and shoot-'em-ups, and the Soup Nazi from "Seinfeld" (Larry Thomas) playing Osama bin Laden.
Boll, who said even his German investors were "80% upset with him when they saw it," claimed "Postal" was too much of a political hot potato for AMC or Regal to touch (its opening sequence has two 9/11 hijackers arguing about the virgins coming their way and a simulated explosion on impact).
Regal's Cooper did not return calls for comment. A spokesperson for AMC said only: "We did carefully evaluate the movie, like we do with all films, and we made the business decision not to play it."
Boll is coming off a flop, the tacky sword-and-sorcerers movie "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale," which was shot in the wilds of Vancouver and based on the video game "Dungeon Siege."
It was his most ambitious shoot -- 60 days, at a cost of $60 million, Boll said. The movie -- with a cattle-call cast that included Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds and Claire Forlani -- opened in Eastern Europe before playing the January graveyard shift in the U.S.
Statham, Boll said, backed out of doing talk-show promotion, as did Christian Slater on "Alone in the Dark." "Dungeon Siege" stands to lose around $20 million, Boll said, though he sends out e-mails that track the movie's progression on the DVD rental charts.
"The question I'm asked most often is, 'How do people continue to finance his movies?' " said Shawn Williamson of Vancouver-based Brightlight Pictures. But Williamson, Boll's longtime producer, said he has returned profits to investors in the past.
"He does not make intentionally bad movies," Williamson said. "As he raised more and more funds in Germany, he became more focused on producing. But he's still passionate about directing."
For "Postal," Boll has promotional help from 42West, the boutique PR firm whose more established clients include Martin Scorsese and "Sopranos" creator David Chase. (Was that why Kinglsey, playing himself, turned up in an episode of "The Sopranos" in which he is wooed to star in a mob-funded slasher movie called "Cleaver"?)
"I got a letter last week from PETA, the animal organization, that I abused the monkey in 'Postal,' and I should not use any animals in movies," Boll said at the Beverly Hills cafe. "And I said, 'Verne Troyer got abused.' "
He giggled; probably, he was delighted at the review. Currently, he is at war with an online petition asking him to cease and desist with his movie career. Boll offered to do so if 1 million signatures were produced. But he's dubious: The same people, he says, are voting multiple times.