This second trailer for Sony’s Kasi Lemmons-directed Whitney Houston biopic “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is almost entirely scored to Houston’s blockbuster cover of “I Will Always Love You.” That is a valid choice, especially as “The Bodyguard” turns 30 on Nov. 25.
That Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston romantic thriller earned $121 million domestic (around $282 million when adjusted for inflation) and $411 million worldwide in 1992/1993. That made it the third-biggest R-rated global grosser ever behind “Pretty Woman” ($463 million in 1990) and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” ($519 million in 1991). So reminding audiences of the film for which “I Will Always Love You” was reappropriated makes sense.
It’s also a curious choice considering the film is called “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” which is arguably polar opposite in terms of tempo and emotional impact. It would be like, offhand, setting a trailer for a Michael Jackson biopic to “Ben” and then revealing the title to be “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.”
This 153-second preview, sure to play this weekend before many theatrical showings of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” emphasizes scale and packed stadium concerts, which makes the implicit case that at least part of the film will resemble seeing the late Houston in a concert. That’s not unlike what worked in late 2018 for Bryan Singer’s Rami Malek-starring Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The latter shares a screenwriter, Anthony McCarten, with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Online discourse notwithstanding, the controversial rock-and-roll biopic won four Oscars and grossed $905 million worldwide, a record then and now for a straight-up, action-free drama. While the trailer doesn’t entirely shy away from the darker aspects of its true-life tale (its brief glimpse of Bobby Brown almost plays like a horror villain reveal), the marketing is clearly selling empowerment, inspiration and nostalgia.
Opening Dec. 23, Sony is hoping that the musically-inclined biopic (“Straight Outta Compton”) or musically-inclined melodrama (“A Star Is Born”) is still a viable theatrical sub-genre. The implicit (“Pitch Perfect 2”) and explicit (“The Greatest Showman”) musical was viable right up until COVID, even if a slew of 2021 underperformers (“In the Heights,” “West Side Story,” “Dear Evan Hanson,” “Respect,” even Disney’s “Encanto”) left that in doubt heading into 2022.
No one is expecting earnings on par with Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” ($151 million domestic and $286 million global on a $85 million budget), but “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” will hopefully make for an appealing offering amid a less-crowded-than-usual Christmas season. It will hopefully stand out both by virtue of Whitney Houston qualifying as a marquee character (as was, relatively speaking, Elvis, Freddy Mercury and Lady Gaga playing a fictionalized version of herself) and as counterprogramming to “Avatar: The Way Of Water” alongside “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” and “Babylon.”
Of course, for those who consider themselves Whitney Houston fans, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” will be the main event.