Men leading the way into fall

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ale stars are running Hollywood these days-especially now that the fall is in full swing and more mature-skewing films try to make their mark.

Cop-dramas, mysteries and mystery/comedies will try to rule in the next couple of weeks with films starring Tim Allen, Michael Douglas, Ben Stiller and Denzel Washington. Their respective movies: "Big Trouble," "Don't Say a Word," "Zoolander" and "Training Day."

"It feels like fall fare," said John Jacobs, a movie-marketing consultant. "Fall is the time for movies when it's sometimes undetermined where the audience is. You don't have the benefit of a huge box office [you have] in the summer with the wide releases that get everyone."

Mr. Jacobs believes the best chance of succeeding could be "Zoolander," in which Mr. Stiller plays a self-obsessed male model who is recruited by a rogue CIA agent and brainwashed into assassinating the president of Malaysia.

"That should play funny," said Mr. Jacobs. "The wild card with `Zoolander' is that a lot of these `dumb' comedies, gross-out comedies, have fallen on their faces. Is it another `Austin Powers,' or some of these dumber comedies? It should play to a college audience. Of the four it has biggest surprise upside."

"Big Trouble" is a "Get Shorty" type of comedy of how a mysterious suitcase brings together a divorced dad, an unhappy housewife, two hitmen, a pair of street thugs, two lovestruck teens and two FBI men. Billboards feature Mr. Allen and the ensemble cast fanned out under the title of the movie. They are dressed mostly in black or black leather jackets-just like the dress code theme of "Get Shorty" some years ago, which starred John Travolta.

"It looks like a TV ad," said one marketing executive. "It doesn't make it look like a movie. I don't think it's clear." The only indication that it is a movie is from the copy line at the bottom of the ad, which reads, "from the director of "Get Shorty," who is Barry Sonnenfeld.

"Don't Say A Word" features Michael Douglas in a familiar role. He plays a psychiatrist racing to free his kidnapped daughter. But he must first glean information from a violent 18-year-old girl. It has standard thriller marketing materials-in particular, a movie trailer and outdoor campaign-which is typical subject matter for Mr. Douglas. "It looks like a formula adult situational thriller," said Mr. Jacobs. "But that kind of movie is a good staple of fall business. Michael Douglas has had hits of these type in the fall."

Still, other marketing executives have trouble with the film. "It's a terrible title," said another movie marketing consultant. "It's telling you not to do something. On a subtextual level you say, `I won't.' "

In "Training Day," Denzel Washington stars as a corrupt renegade cop who is putting a rookie, Ethan Hawke, through his paces on the first day of the job. The outdoor campaign features a dark-gray city background, with Mr. Washington and Mr. Hawke. "The outdoor [campaign] looks dark and moody," said one marketing executive. The executive added the movie's audience is tracking well with older moviegoers, according to research company National Research Group, just like past films featuring Mr. Washington.

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