Hey dude, gross-out flicks are a turn-off

Except that is exactly what is happening now, as a string of bad taste teenage “gross-out” movies bomb at the box office.

Not so long ago, the runaway success of American Pie, Road Trip and the slasher spoof Scary Movie seemed to show the more moronic a movie could be, the more money it made.

Teenagers, who make up nearly half of all cinema audiences, could not get enough toilet humour or the kind of wince-inducing visual jokes in which a sperm sample is mistaken for hair gel.

There seemed to be no end to the trend - which spawned such purposefully sick shows as MTV’s Jackass - until the past few weeks, when American adolescents have suddenly grown tired of politically incorrect comic gore, bouncing breasts and single entendres about Viagra that President George Bush has admitted he finds so amusing.

Tomcats, the most heavily promoted teenage film ever - which made great play of its homage to Hannibal over its sad-lad hero eating a testicle - crashed when it opened a fortnight ago in the US, with an opening weekend take of a little over $8m (£5.5m), a fraction of its advertising budget.

Get Over It, starring Kirsten Dunst, and the teenage horror flick Valentine also died, while the slightly more restrained Sugar & Spice sank without trace, too.

Even the kings of the genre, the Farrelly brothers, the self-confessed “warped minds” behind Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, seem to have lost the knack of turning smut into brass.

Say It Isn’t So, a boy-meets-girl story of accidental incest - all done in the worst possible taste, of course - which they produced took a catastrophic $2.9m in its first weekend, hardly enough to pay for the premiere.

But the brothers - who have been trying to make a comedy about conjoined twins called Stuck on You - refused to be cowed by the disaster and have managed to sign up Gwyneth Paltrow for their next film.

This all might have been dismissed as a few isolated flops had the studios not been banking on the relatively cheap and fairly star-free teenage flicks to get them over a summer of threatened strikes by actors and writers. As it turned out, only the below-the-radar release of the small-budget See Spot Run - about a genius police dog with embarrassingly loose bowels - has done better than expected.

The general malaise has even struck some of the young stars who emerged from the late 1990s vogue for slasher flicks and teen romances. Heart-throbs Scott Wolf and James Van Der Beek of Varsity Blues fame have found their careers becalmed, while even the “scream queen” herself, Neve Campbell, is struggling to find a decent role in grown-up films.

Bruce Snyder of 20th Century Fox refuses to see it as a calamity and claims more stringent age guidelines on films have made them harder to sell to teenagers, who have traditionally found sneaking into films made for slightly older audiences part of the fun of going to the cinema.

But Robert Mitchell, of Screen International, regards it more as poetic justice for studios whose cynicism and hunger to cash in on the likes of American Pie has rebounded.

“It is always the way that the second wave of these type of films have to be cruder than the first and often the joke begins to wear thin,” he said. “We could be on the verge of the backlash, or it could be that audiences just don’t want to see inferior films trying to ape what went before.

“These sort of films have a great attraction for the studios. They are relatively cheap and are aimed squarely at the biggest group who go to films.”

Few of the gross-out films that have gone down in flames over the past month are likely to get the big release in Britain they might have been guaranteed last year.

But Mr Mitchell said the real test of the genre would come this summer with the release of American Pie II and the Scary Movie sequel: “If they don’t work out like the studios hoped, it could be the beginning of the end of the gross-out movie.”

Whether the world would mourn its passing remains a moot point.

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