Hit-hungry Hollywood gambles on litany of 'romaction' flicks

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 6, 2010

In "Killers," which opened on Friday, Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher play newlyweds on the run from hired assassins, their wedded bliss punctuated by car chases, stunts with trucks and sundry shootouts. Which sounds an awful lot like "The Bounty Hunter," in which Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston played ex-spouses dodging bullets and Tasers and bickering their way back to true love. Which calls to mind "Date Night," featuring Tina Fey and Steve Carell as a couple caroming through Manhattan on a super-charged car chase while avoiding a couple of armed hooligans.

And coming soon: "Knight and Day," starring Cameron Diaz, Tom Cruise, a Ducati motorcycle, several cars and even more guns.

When did romantic comedies go ballistic?

Or was it the action movies that went soft?

As the 2010 movie calendar approaches the midyear mark, Hollywood's latest case of you-got-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter has become explosively, and already monotonously, clear. Action and romance are tying the knot, brought together by a movie industry desperate for product that will appeal not just to one demographic group (say, teenage boys) but two (teenage boys and their girlfriends, sisters or even moms).

One wag has even already named the offspring of this shotgun wedding: "Romaction."

As with most trends in Hollywood, this particular spate of action-spiked rom-coms (or romance-infused action flicks) can be traced to the twin impulses of love and fear: the movie industry's love of a sure thing and its equally strong fear of trying something new. In this case, studio executives are trying to re-create the past success of the 1984 hit "Romancing the Stone" and, more recently, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."

"Knight and Day" producer Steve Pink says he first learned of the trend when he began shopping the script around six years ago. Back then, it was a buddy action comedy.

Chip off the old 'Stone'

"It was [co-producer] Todd Garner who said, 'Studios are looking for that "Romancing the Stone" kind of action-romantic comedy.' I sat there and thought, 'What other ones are out there?' And there really were no other ones."

So Pink and screenwriter Patrick O'Neill set out to re-tool "Knight and Day" as "Romancing the Stone" in the world of espionage, Pink says, creating the character of a young woman whose chance meeting with a mysterious stranger sends her on a chase from equally mysterious assassins.

Pink was happy to make the overhaul. "I've always been a fan of trying to have more than one genre in a movie," he says, adding that combining action and romance "enables anybody who wants to make an action movie to expand the interest of women in their movie by adding a strong woman character, which I think is always really smart in general."

Pink has hit on a new truism in the movie business: Girls are the new teenage boys.

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