A time for DVD: Grisham's Mickey to hit the shelves

You probably never thought you'd hear "feel good hit of the summer" and "John Grisham" in the same sentence.

Unfortunately, you're right.

The saga of Mickey, the film shot in Albemarle three years ago by director Hugh Wilson under author and screenplay writer Grisham's watchful eye, has finally come to an end– or to a store shelf near you.

As recently as this spring, the home-town, Hollywood-educated duo was justifiably hopeful that the film might be picked up for mainstream release. They had a pop culture icon in the spotlight, an up-and-coming adolescent hotshot for the teenybopper demographic, and a warm fuzzy father-and-son storyline playing out against a backdrop of America's pastime– not to mention a release date which would drop the film in the spring, during the height of baseball fever.

No major studio was biting, though. Citing problems ranging from the dubious choice of Harry Connick Jr. for the lead, or the schizophrenic Sopranos-meet-sandlot storyline, the big dogs all decided to pass.

So Wilson and Grisham did what any advertising firm staffed by workaholic lunatics would have done– they promoted the film the old fashioned way, harking back to the days when marketing expenditures didn't obscenely exceed production costs.

"We did that ourselves, which I wouldn't recommend," sighs Wilson.

At first, things seemed to be going well. By sitting down with little more than a telephone and a bucket of gumption between them, Wilson and Grisham had been able to nail down more than twice as many markets as they had hoped to secure for the opening weekend, scoring openings in Dallas, Nashville, Houston, Memphis, Charlotte, and Tampa among others. Two theaters in Charlottesville played the picture.

"We tried to do it without Hollywood," Wilson says.

That's when their Spider senses should have started tingling.

"John and I got Mickey into the theaters in about 15 markets in the South, and it did pretty darn good," he continues, "...except we got blown off the screen by the big summer releases."

Indeed. Figures posted on the Internet Movie Data Base indicate a total gross under $300,000. Wilson has said the picture cost about $6 million to shoot and promote.

Mickey seems to fall between several stools. For starters, it's a children's sports movie with a suspenseful, adult-oriented subtext. It tells the story of a father on the lam who fraudulently signs his son up for Little League after the two commit identity theft– equal parts The Firm and The Mighty Ducks.

"As an author who has carved out a niche in an adult's world, it's interesting to see that Grisham is compelled to revisit the innocence of baseball," film student Patrick Beach says of the thematic dichotomy.

It's also independent without being inaccessible.

"We were in some film festivals, and we won some family and children awards," says Wilson. "The problem is, the thing that John and I finally found out in the end, is that independent films tend to be art-house films– R-rated, edgy kinds of things– and here we are with a G-rated film. So we couldn't go to the art houses.

"And we had a hard time going to the regular theaters," he laughs, "because they had Shrek 2 coming out."

Now that Shrek 2 and Spider Man 2 have come and gone, having firmly established their respective places in the canon of successful sequels, what will become of the picture they so effortlessly eclipsed? More than likely, it's off to the retail shelves.

"We made a wonderful deal with a company called Anchor Bay," says Wilson, "and we'll be selling DVDs in Wal-Mart and those types of stores." It's still unclear just when the DVD will come out, but over 1,500 pre-orders have already been logged from the film's website.

"I think that they'll be selling it to TV and to foreign markets," predicts Wilson. "Although we think that we don't have much of a chance in foreign markets except for Japan and South and Central America, where baseball is still a popular thing. American sports movies don't tend to do too well overseas."

With the lifespan of Mickey dwindling, what's next for this dynamic duo?

Yet another adaptation of a Grisham novel for the silver screen is already under way at Sony Pictures. Starring Tim Allen, Dan Ackroyd, and Jamie Lee Curtis, Christmas with The Kranks, based on Grisham's Skipping Christmas, is currently slated for a Thanksgiving release. Wilson, on the other hand, is chugging away on the eighth installment of the classic Police Academy series he fathered in 1984.

Batter up!

Mickey trading cards


Wilson on the set in the summer of 2001

Grisham on the set in the summer of 2001