This week at the moves, we’ve got America’s favorite family in their long-awaited big-screen debut (The Simpsons Movie); a tale of two chefs (No Reservations, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart); a rumble in the jungle (Rescue Dawn, starring Christian Bale), a kidnapping mystery (I Know Who Killed Me, starring Lindsay Lohan); and wacky golf gags (Who’s Your Caddy? Starring Lil Wayne and Big Boi). What do the critics have to say?

The wait is finally over: The Simpsons have migrated from the confines of television to the silver (or is that yellow?) screen. The result? Well, maybe not the “best…. movie… ever,” but pundits say it’s still pretty exxxxx-cellent. Homer, responsible for an eco-disaster, piles Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie into the car and leaves Springfield for Alaska (you were expecting Capital City?). Ah, but who cares about the plot? The critics say The Simpsons Movie is essentially an extra-long episode of the show, but one that contains plenty of the S-M-R-T jokes, killer slapstick, and poignancy that fans have come to expect. At 84 percent on the Tomatometer, The Simpsons Movie is Certified Fresh. Release the hounds.


Mmmmm, Flaming Homer!


No Reservations joins a list of movies (Eat Drink Man Woman, Like Water for Chocolate, Sideways) about the intersection between the taste buds and the heartstrings; unfortunately, the pundits say this one is bland, under-nourishing, and a bunch of other food metaphors. Catherine Zeta-Jones stares as Kate, a master chef who is at first threatened, then inspired, by the presence of rising culinary star Nick (Aaron Eckhart) in the kitchen of an upscale New York restaurant. Critics say No Reservations is appealingly presented, but its combination of predictability and melancholy make it hard to swallow. At 38 percent on the Tomatometer, critics have some Reservations about this one.


“I told you not to do a Zorro sequel!”


When it comes to making movies about the struggle between man and nature, German director Werner Herzog is one of the greats, with such masterpieces as Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, and Grizzly Man to his credit. Add Rescue Dawn to that list. Rescue Dawn stars Christian Bale as Dieter Dengler, a Navy pilot who, after crash-landing in the jungles of Laos, must escape imprisonment and navigate the treacherous depths of the jungle. Critics say Dawn is the closest that Herzog has made to an inspiring popcorn flick, albeit one that challenges viewers’ expectations and doesn’t shortchange the horror or despair of the situation. At 89 percent on the Tomatometer, this is one emotional Rescue. (Check out RT’s take here.)


Crowd surfing on two broken legs is not recommended.


Two of this week’s wide releases contain mysteries unlikely to be solved before they hit theaters. The makers of I Know Who Killed Me aren’t letting critics in on their little secret. Nor will we learn the identity of your caddy, as Who’s Your Caddy? was also withheld from scribes. Killed features troubled starlet Lindsay Lohan as a college student who escapes abduction and torture. Caddy stars Big Boi and Lil Wayne in a film that features the most golf course antics this side of Dorf. Kids, tee up and Guess those Tomatometers!


“No seriously, I really would like to know who will be caddying for you.”


Also opening this week in limited release: Punk’s Not Dead, a zippy doc about punk rock from the beginning to its place in Hot Topic, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer; No End in Sight, which chronicles the missteps in the Iraq war, is at 95 percent (check out RT’s interview with director Charles Ferguson here); The Devil Came on Horseback, a harrowing look at genocide in Darfur, is at 94 percent; The Camden 28, a doc about resistance to the Vietnam War, is at 92 percent; Moliere, a biopic of the great satirist, is at 87 percent; This is England, a skinhead coming-of-age story, is at 87 percent; The Sugar Curtain, a doc about an elegiac trip to Cuba, is at 86 percent; and Arctic Tale, a nature film featuring polar bears and walruses, is at 53 percent.


“I love it when you call me Big Papa.”

Recent Catherine Zeta-Jones Movies:
———————————————
26% — The Legend of Zorro (2005)
55% — Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
61% — The Terminal (2004)
71% — Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
46% — Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)

Recent Werner Herzog Movies:
————————————–
66% — The Wild Blue Yonder: A Science Fiction Fantasy (2006)
94% — The White Diamond (2005)
94% — Wheel of Time (2005)
93% — Grizzly Man (2005)
53% — Invincible (2002)

Wrestler-turned-actor The Rock suffered the worst opening of his career with the football drama Gridiron Gang, but thanks to weak competition, it was still enough to capture the number one position at the North American box office.

The new murder mystery The Black Dahlia bowed in second place with moderate results, but fellow freshmen Everyone’s Hero and The Last Kiss both failed to excite moviegoers. For the first time in over a year, only three movies were able to gross more than $5M during the frame. Overall ticket sales rose slightly from last weekend’s dismal showing, but still managed to post the second worst performance of 2006 giving the fall season a worrisome start.

For the third time in the last four weekends, football ruled the box office as Gridiron Gang topped the charts with an estimated $15M kickoff. Playing extremely wide in 3,504 theaters, the PG-13 drama averaged a decent $4,281 per site and gave The Rock the fifth number one opener of his career, but also his smallest debut ever. The action star continued to see diminishing returns on opening weekend with Gang which followed last fall’s Doom ($15.5M), 2004’s remake of Walking Tall ($15.5M), The Rundown ($18.5M) in 2003, and 2002’s The Scorpion King ($36.1M). The Rock also saw a $23.5M bow for 2005’s John Travolta flick Be Cool, but his comedic turn was only a supporting role.

In Gridiron Gang, the charismatic actor plays a juvenile detention camp counselor who inspires delinquent kids by coaching them in football. Budgeted at about $30M, the pic played to a younger and more male audience, as expected. Studio research showed that 52% of the crowd consisted of guys and 55% was under the age of 25. Reviews were not very good.

For Sony, Gang’s top spot bow marked the tenth number one opening of the year for the studio setting a new industry record. Having already banked over $1 billion in box office this year, Sony aims to extend its record performance with promising sequels like The Grudge 2 and Casino Royale which debut in October and November, respectively. The studio has opened a whopping 18 films so far in 2006, the most of any distributor. It has placed films in the top ten in all but two weekends this year.

September is often the worst month of the year at the box office as people shift their attention to other distractions like a new school year, a new television season, and the return of NFL football. But this year, the late summer and early fall have been especially slow at theaters. Over the past two months, only one film (Talladega Nights) has managed to open north of $30M. Four films did the deed during the same period in each of the last two years while five surpassed that mark in 2003.

Universal debuted its new crime thriller The Black Dahlia in second place with an estimated $10.4M. Playing in about 1,300 fewer theaters than Gridiron Gang, the Brian De Palma-directed pic averaged a moderate $4,655 per location giving it the best average among all the weekend’s wide releases. Starring Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, and Hilary Swank, Dahlia played to a mature adult audience with its tale of the investigation behind the brutal murder of a Hollywood starlet in the 1940s. The $60M film needed strong reviews to score with its target audience, but was met with little support from critics. In fact, the film scored only a 30% rating on RottenTomatoes.com’s critic scale which was even lower than Gridiron Gang’s 43%.

The weekend’s two other new national releases were mostly ignored by moviegoers. Fox opened its animated baseball kidpic Everyone’s Hero to an estimated $6.2M from a very wide 2,896 theaters. Co-directed by the late Christopher Reeve, the G-rated film averaged a soft $2,124 per site. 2006 has seen nearly a dozen toons invade the multiplexes. Hero’s opening ranks as the second worst of the year for an animated pic trailing only Doogal‘s $3.6M launch in February.

Paramount quietly opened its DreamWorks romantic comedy The Last Kiss in fourth place with only $4.7M, according to estimates. Landing in a mere 1,357 theaters, the R-rated film starring Zach Braff as a soon-to-be-dad with jitters averaged a mild $3,465 per location. Reviews were mixed.

Falling from first place was the supernatural teen thriller The Covenant which grossed an estimated $4.7M as well, off 47% from its debut. With $15.7M collected in ten days, Sony’s $20M pic could end its run with $24-26M. Another former number one, Buena Vista’s football drama Invincible, placed sixth with an estimated $3.9M, down only 31%, lifting the total to $50.9M.

A pair of solid word-of-mouth hits from smaller distributors followed. Yari Film Group’s period mystery The Illusionist slipped just 17% to an estimated $3.8M in its third weekend of wide release and upped its cume to $23.3M. Fox Searchlight’s indie hit Little Miss Sunshine became the company’s second-biggest grosser of all-time this weekend taking in an estimated $3.4M, down just 22%, raising the sum to $46.4M. The distributor’s only bigger hit has been 2004’s Sideways with $71.5M thanks to a prolonged Oscar run.

The George Reeves murder mystery Hollywoodland fell sharply in its second weekend tumbling 54% to an estimated $2.7M. Suffering the worst decline in the top ten, the Focus release has taken in a disappointing $10.5M in ten days and looks headed for a quick finish with only $15-17M. Rounding out the top ten was the Jason Statham actioner Crank with an estimated $2.7M as well, down 45%, giving Lionsgate $24.4M to date.

Buena Vista offered sneak previews in 800 theaters on Saturday for its upcoming marine adventure The Guardian and drew a well-balanced audience with males slightly edging out the women with 51% of the crowd. The Ashton KutcherKevin Costner pic played to 70% capacity and will officially open on September 29 opposite Sony’s animal toon Open Season and MGM’s comedy School for Scoundrels.

Arthouses were flooded with new product this weekend as a number of films platformed in hopes of generating strong indie buzz. Lionsgate got off to a good start with its documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon which debuted in only six theaters and grossed an estimated $72,000 for a solid $12,000 average. The film expands on September 29 into more than ten additional markets.

Proving once again that he is not much of a box office draw without pirates or Hobbits around, Orlando Bloom‘s new revenge thriller Haven flopped in its debut grossing an estimated $38,000 from 24 sites for a dismal $1,588 average for Yari Film Group. Fox Searchlight also struggled with its new wedding mockumentary Confetti which debuted to an estimated $20,000 from a dozen sites for a poor $1,701 average. Both films still plan to expand this Friday with Haven widening to about 75 theaters and Confetti falling into over 130 playdates.

Four films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. The Thai action pic The Protector grossed an estimated $2.5M in its sophomore frame falling 51% from its opening. The Weinstein Co. has kicked up $9M in ten days and should end up with only $13-15M. Nicolas Cage‘s suspense thriller The Wicker Man dropped 48% to an estimated $2.1M pushing the cume to a lukewarm $20.7M. The Warner Bros. title looks to complete its run with around $25M.

The summer’s top-grossing comedy, Tallageda Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, slipped 34% to an estimated $2M in its seventh lap and boosted its stellar total to $145M. Sony’s Will Ferrell smash could cross the $150M line before calling it quits. Paramount’s Barnyard, another late-summer hit, grossed an estimated $1.6M while also in its seventh weekend. Down 40%, the animated entry has laughed up $69.1M thus far and is headed for $72-74M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $57.4M which was down 14% from last year when Just Like Heaven debuted at number one with $16.4M; and down 4% from 2004 when Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow opened in the top spot with $15.6M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Will Smith has signed on to play a suicidal guy who finds his plans ruined when love rears its head in Sony’s "Seven Pounds." Sounds … fun.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Will Smith has weighed in on one of his next projects. The multihyphenate is attached to star in "Seven Pounds" for Columbia Pictures and Escape Artists and is in negotiations to produce the film alongside his Overbrook Entertainment partner James Lassiter. Penned by Grant Nieporte, the story centers on a man who inadvertently falls in love with a woman while attempting to kill himself."