‘Red,’ ‘RIPD’ end up in a game of chicken

Jeff Bridges, left, and Ryan Reynolds in a scene from
Jeff Bridges, left, and Ryan Reynolds in a scene from "R.I.P.D."

NEW YORK — Scheduling the release of a summer movie isn’t exactly a science. It clearly isn’t an art, either. It’s more akin to a contact sport:

Seize the advantageous position, sustain as little damage as possible, and score.

All of which makes this weekend’s opening of both Red 2 and R.I.P.D. a little like sacking your own quarterback. Both films are action-thrillers. Both are about over-age law enforcers (in R.I.P.D., some are so old, they’re dead). And both make a virtue of their, shall we say, mature stars.

Those stars include Bruce Willis (58), Anthony Hopkins (75), John Malkovich (59), and Helen Mirren (67) in Red 2; and Jeff Bridges (63) and Kevin Bacon (55) in R.I.P.D., which, by the way, stands for “Rest in Peace Department.”

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It may not make a huge difference at the box office, but both films also feature the less-than-prolific Mary-Louise Parker, who has a solid base among discriminating male viewers but is better known for her work in cable TV’s Weeds.

Add to all this the fact that Robert Schwentke, the director of Universal’s R.I.P.D., had directed the original Red of 2010 from Summit Entertainment and for whatever reason (Schwentke didn’t want to talk about it) lost the sequel to director Dean Parisot.

True, R.I.P.D. pairs Bridges with 36-year-old former Sexiest Man Alive Ryan Reynolds, but as summer films go, the movies share notable audience overlap — and on two fronts, says box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

“These films skew older due to the presence of Jeff Bridges in R.I.P.D. and the older cast of Red 2, he said. “And the bigger similarity is that they are both action crime comedies.”

Assuming there’s no ill will involved, a lot of coincidences are in play here, said distribution consultant Richard Abramowitz, who teaches film production at New York University and runs the film company Abramorama. “It seems like too big a mistake to be a mistake.”

But the Red 2/R.I.P.D. collision may simply be a symptom of the state of Hollywood. There have been very few weekends since May that haven’t been dominated by a big-budget, major-studio release — a so-called “tent-pole” picture. There was Iron Man 3 on May 2, The Great Gatsby on May 10, Star Trek Into Darkness on May 15, Fast & Furious 6 on May 24, After Earth on May 31, and so on.

Tellingly, when studios chose to expand a debut weekend with a weekday opening — Iron Man 3 was on a Thursday; Star Trek was on a Wednesday — a rash of movies seemed to rush in to fill the Friday void. In fact, the Fridays following IM3 and STID were among the more crowded of the summer, with 15 and 11 openings, respectively.

But the idea that studios have that kind of flexibility in picking a release date is really a fallacy: Releases are set as early as possible, sometimes even during pre-production, and when a film of a certain stature grabs a date, everyone else starts jockeying for position.

And there are only so many positions.

“Where were they going to go?” asked Greg Laemmle, of the eponymous Los Angeles-based theater chain, referring to Red 2 and R.I.P.D.

“You’ve got Pacific Rim on July 11, Wolverine on July 26. It may well be there was no place else to go."