The movie that kept bringing them back

by Brad Russo | 10/30/98 6:00am

How can you explain why "There's Something About Mary" became one of the summer's few standout movies and one of the biggest sleeper hits of all time, while other low-brow comedies like "BASEketball" fail to make the basket ... or is it score a run?

The answer comes from many areas. While the "boy's locker room" humor is the same for all those movies, the audience draw for "Mary" has cut across all demographics.

Old couples, high school teenagers, mothers and little kids all trekked to the theater. These added age and gender groups eventually allowed the comparatively low-budget movie to reach number one at the box office.

I still remember being shocked when one day my grandfather asked me why I wasn't going to see "Mary" instead of "Saving Private Ryan." "The clips look so funny," he said.

The romantic plot, however twisted, drew many female viewers typically uninterested in gross comedies, and Cameron Diaz made the movie even more appealing to many male viewers.

The broadbased story combined with a marketing campaign which emphasized fun, with disgusting humor as a complement rather than the other way around, created a substantial initial audience -- and that's where "Mary's" biggest asset lay.

"Mary" commotion spread like wildfire. Those who had seen the movie told others to see it. Then those people, even if they hadn't seen it themselves, talked about it to other people and so on. How often did you hear this summer, "Everyone I've talked to has loved it?"

I couldn't go anywhere without people asking me if I had seen "There's Something About Mary." It wasn't just my grandfather -- it was my boss, my friends, my neighbor.

And with all the talk, how could you not see it? And see it again. And again. The "Titanic" effect was in full motion with "Mary" -- adolescent teenagers going to the Cineplex multiple times in large groups.

Radio ads encouraged this rare, but precious phenomenon with warnings that audiences may have missed some of the funniest lines because of all the laughter in the theater. The producer's solution: see it again!

But in the end, I guess it comes down to one basic ideal: quality, and that was what ultimately brought people back.