BEVERLY HILLS, California — "Well, there've been some great ones, obviously," Ben Affleck said recently on the subject of classic Christmas comedies. " 'A Christmas Story' is a great movie. 'Scrooged.' 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.' They're all really good, funny movies. It's a high bar. And, of course, there's 'Reindeer Games.' "
That's Affleck, always able to joke about his movie misses. Unfortunately, it looks like he'll be doing the same with "Surviving Christmas," which opened to a disappointing $4.5 million take (barely edging out the $3.7 million "Gigli" opening) over the weekend (see "Sharks Taken Down In Box-Office 'Grudge' Match").
Releasing a Christmas movie before Halloween probably had something to do with the box-office figures, although the film wasn't exactly well-reviewed either. Regardless, because of his current cold streak ("Jersey Girl," "Paycheck," "Gigli"), Affleck will likely take the fall, a frustrating setback considering that "Surviving Christmas" was supposed to mark a new start for the actor.
"One of the reasons why I really wanted to do this [is] I had so much fun on 'SNL,' " said Affleck, who hosted "Saturday Night Live" in February 2000 and twice this year. "I felt like I was working a part of me that I never got to use, and it was so much more fun than the other stuff I was doing. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if I could have a career doing comedies?' So I set about trying to do it, and this is the end result."
In an interview with USA Today, Affleck elaborated further. "I don't want to hold a gun in a movie or blow anything up ever again," he said. "I'm bored of those other kinds of movies."
And while "Surviving Christmas" earned only a third as much money as "Paycheck" did in its opening weekend, Affleck is sticking with his plan. Up next he's shooting "Man About Town," written and directed by Mike Binder, the creator and star of HBO's "The Mind of a Married Man" and low-budget comedies like "The Sex Monster."
"It's sort of a comedy, but sort of serious," Affleck said. "It's about a guy, a literary agent, who discovers his wife is cheating on him. And it's about whether or not he can forgive her. It's kind of weird."
Affleck is also staying busy as a producer, working on the third installment of "Project Greenlight." The series, which follows the making of a film, will debut on Bravo in January, and the film will hit theaters in the spring.
"This year we're doing the studio version [as opposed to the indie-minded previous movies]," Affleck said. "We're working with Dimension [the more mainstream movie division of Miramax], so they're trying to make money this year. They made us pick this horror script, this weird movie with, like, dudes in animal suits, creatures and monsters and stuff. It's going to be a trip, I'm sure — definitely a learning experience for me."
As for "Surviving Christmas," there's always hope it could find an audience closer to the holidays.
"I think everybody in the world knows that Christmas is stressful," Affleck said. "It's a sacred holiday for me, and I'm a believer in the spiritual aspect of the holiday as well, but it doesn't mean that it's not also hectic and manic and crazy — how to get your in-laws together and travel and buy presents and cook. That's why half the people just get drunk."
Aside from being able to relate to the movie's outlook on Christmas, Affleck was also attracted to the characters.
"I really liked the script. Obviously the jokes themselves were funny, but I also thought there was a good kind of comic tension throughout," he explained. "This crazy, eccentric rich guy who is really earnest and pumped up and enthusiastic about Christmas, and this kind of cynical but imposing father figure [played by James Gandolfini] who is sort of forced into doing these silly rituals. I felt like there was a lot there."
Check out everything we've got on "Surviving Christmas."
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