A terrorist attack is played out through multiple perspectives in the high-octane political thriller Vantage Point which leads the four-pack of new openers which also includes three small comedies. Sony will score its first number one hit since October with this star-driven actioner which boasts a cast that features Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, Matthew Fox, and William Hurt. The PG-13 pic has the biggest marketing and distribution push of any new release this weekend so a comfortable lead over its competitors should be expected. None of the actors are guaranteed box office sensations, but together they equal one big bankable A-lister.

Adults will make up the primary age group and appeal seems strong to both males and females. The intriguing style of the film will make it stand out from the crowd, although fellow action options Jumper and Fool’s Gold will provide some competition. Plus many adults will be preoccupied with their last chance to see the Oscar nominees before Sunday night’s big show. The five Best Picture candidates banked $14M over Presidents’ Day weekend. Vantage Point should play to the same folks that came out for other star-driven non-special effects action and suspense pics from this time of year like Sahara ($18.1M), The Interpreter ($22.8M) and Premonition ($17.6M). Attacking over 3,000 locations, Vantage Point could open to about $21M this weekend.


Vantage Point

Jack Black and Mos Def star in the video store comedy Be Kind Rewind playing two men who recreate top Hollywood movies after their tapes get damaged. The PG-13 film from New Line comes from acclaimed French director Michel Gondry who after Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep has built up his share of fans on this side of the Atlantic. A marketplace full of new comedies will split that crowd so Rewind will have to rely on fans of the director and stars to come out. Jumper and Vantage Point will also take mainstream moviegoers out of the picture. Breaking into roughly 800 theaters, Be Kind Rewind could bow to about $3M.


Mos Def and Jack Black in Driving Miss Daisy, er, Be Kind Rewind

Larry the Cable Guy returns for more blue collar humor in the Lionsgate comedy Witless Protection opening on Friday. The standup comedian plays a small town sheriff that kidnaps a woman in FBI custody for a road trip to solve a case. Rated PG-13, the pic has the goal of establishing the funnyman as a box office draw, but if the grosses of his last two films are any indication, this one will be gunned down quickly. Two years ago, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector debuted to $6.9M while last year’s Delta Farce slumped by half to a $3.4M bow. Diminishing returns could again be in order especially since Witless will not be released as wide. Opening in 1,333 locations, Witless Protection might collect about $3M this weekend.


Larry the Cable Guy and Jenny McCarthy in Witless Protection

After many delays, MGM releases the comedy Charlie Bartlett which stars that iron guy Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis, and Anton Yelchin as the title character. The R-rated film tells of a private school kid who becomes an underground shrink and pill pusher in public school. Teens are a core component of the target audience, but the restrictive rating will keep many of them out. The marketing push has not been strong and a lack of starpower and excitement will keep the grosses low. Juno‘s brand of high school fun in its 12th weekend could see a bigger audience. Entering about 1,000 theaters, Charlie Bartlett may debut to around $2M.


Anton Yelchin and Robert Downey, Jr. in Charlie Bartlett

Fox’s sci-fi actioner Jumper should take a big jump down this weekend. Word-of-mouth is not all that great and Vantage Point will steal away much of the action crowd. Look for a 50% drop to about $13.5M which would give the Hayden Christensen flick $57M in eleven days.

The Spiderwick Chronicles got off to a solid start last weekend as the only major offering for families and with no new kidpics entering the scene, a smaller decline is assured. Sophomore drops for Disney’s own Presidents’ Day weekend films from the past two years were 37% for Bridge to Terabithia and 21% for 2006’s Eight Below. Spiderwick could fall in between with a 30% fall giving Paramount $13M for the frame and $44M after eleven days.

Following a potent debut, Step Up 2 The Streets will suffer a sizable drop. The dance sequel may lose 45% of its take and gross $10M pushing the eleven-day cume to $42M. Warner Bros. should see its comedy adventure Fool’s Gold drop by 35% to around $8M. Total would climb to $54M.

LAST YEAR: Spending its second weekend on top, Sony’s Ghost Rider starring Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage fell hard but still pulled in $20.1M to top the box office over Oscar weekend. Jim Carrey gave horror a chance with The Number 23 and debuted in second with a solid $14.6M bow. The New Line release eventually grossed $35.2M and was the first of many thrillers in 2007 that marked major Hollywood stars doing their first scary movies. Disney’s Bridge to Terabithia slipped one spot to third with $14.2M in its sophomore frame. Fox’s comedy Reno 911!: Miami debuted in fourth with $10.3M representing half of its eventual $20.3M final tally. Fellow comedy Norbit rounded out the top five with $9.8M in its third session. Opening at the lower rungs of the top ten were the Billy Bob Thornton drama The Astronaut Farmer with $4.5M and the slave trade drama Amazing Grace with $4.1M from a more limited release. Totals reached $11M for Warner Bros. and $21.3M for Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

A half-dozen new soldiers enter the marketplace this weekend trying to topple the kingdom of "300" which has reigned supreme at the box office for the past two weeks.

Mark Wahlberg toplines the sniper thriller "Shooter," animated ninja turtles fight crime in "TMNT," and mutated zombies attack in "The Hills Have Eyes 2." In addition, moviegoers will get to choose from the kids adventure "The Last Mimzy," the sports saga "Pride," and the Adam Sandler drama "Reign Over Me." Holdovers should witness some large declines as these new pics all fight over the time and attention of ticket buyers. The box office may not have room for all to survive.

Seventeen years after shocking the film industry with a record March opening, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back but in animated form in "TMNT." The Warner Bros. toon features the voices of Patrick Stewart, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Ziyi Zhang and carries a PG rating that is friendly for kids. Given the violence, "TMNT" should skew more to boys and might even pull in those who grew up with the characters in the late 1980s and early 1990s. With all the R-rated films recently, there have not been too many choices for kids this spring. "The Last Mimzy" is the only new release that will provide direct competition for that audience. Bringing its turtle power to 3,110 theaters, "TMNT" may generate a bow of roughly $16M this weekend.


They’re back.

Hot off his recent Oscar nomination, Mark Wahlberg hits the big screen in the action thriller "Shooter" playing a former Marine sniper trying to clear his name after being wrongly accused of trying to assassinate the U.S. President. The R-rated film comes from "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua and co-stars Danny Glover and Michael Peña. The film is banking on the starpower of Wahlberg who has been able to anchor hits in recent years. Late summer pics like last year’s "Invincible" and 2005’s "Four Brothers" opened to $17M and $21.2M, respectively, and brought in solid sales overall. "Shooter" is targeting the adult action crowd with appeal that will reach both men and women. Certainly "300" will play to much of the same audience and be a factor. Though no Damon or Cruise, Wahlberg has indeed become a believable action hero and is in a role that audiences will buy him in. Plus his Academy nod for "The Departed" has only increased audience respect for the former rapper. Opening in 2,600 theaters, "Shooter" might take in about $16M for the weekend.


Mark Wahlberg, playing a guy named Swagger, in a movie called "Shooter."

Last March, Fox Searchlight hit gold with the horror remake "The Hills Have Eyes" which bowed to $15.7M and grossed $41.8M overall. A year later, the sequel is born this time coming out through Fox Atomic, the studio’s new division geared towards young adult audiences with genre fare. "Eyes 2" once again is targeting the horror crowd with slick marketing hoping to lure in those seeking R-rated gore and violence. Plus the distributor is premiering the trailer to the upcoming fright sequel "28 Weeks Later" with the new "Hills" installment to help give moviegoers more for their money. Much of the audience for the first pic will probably return, although the sequel will face more competition as "300" and "Shooter" will both be drawing in young men. Attacking 2,500 theaters, "The Hills Have Eyes 2" could open to around $13M this weekend.


"The Hills Have Eyes, Too."

New Line studio chief Bob Shaye steps back into the director’s chair with the family adventure "The Last Mimzy" based on a popular short story. The "E.T."-like film about a boy and a girl who find a mysterious animal with mystical powers hopes to attract an audience of kids and parents, but will have to face some stiff competition from its studio’s former heroes, the Ninja Turtles. That toon should take away more boys than girls so "Mimzy" may end up skewing a bit more female. New Line hopes that much of the crowd that spent $75M and counting on "Bridge to Terabithia" will take a spin with this new effects-filled fantasy so sneak previews were held to help raise awareness and get buzz spreading. Still, a competitive environment will probably cut into its potential. Landing in over 3,000 sites, "The Last Mimzy" might gross about $12M this weekend.


"The Last Mimzy."

Targeting the African American audience this weekend is Lionsgate with its swim team drama "Pride" starring Terrence Howard. The PG-rated film will try to appeal to males with the sports saga and females with its human drama and half-nude muscular men. But Howard has not yet proven that he can open a picture on his own and "Pride" may not be the one to increase his future salary demands. "Remember the Titans" and "Coach Carter" both opened north of $20M and much of that was due to starpower. Plus Chris Rock found out last week that African Americans will not just show up for any film with a predominantly black cast. Diving into 1,518 theaters, "Pride" could swim to a weekend gross of about $7M.


Terrence Howard in "Pride."

Adam Sandler goes back to serious territory with the R-rated drama "Reign Over Me" playing a man whose life fell apart after his wife and kids were killed on 9/11. It’s no surprise Sony is releasing the film given all the cash the comedian has made for the studio over the years. Don Cheadle and Jada Pinkett Smith co-star. Given the subject matter, the rating, and Sandler’s Bob Dylan haircut, the actor’s core audience of immature young males will not be lining up this time. Remember "Spanglish‘"s $8.8M bow? Well, it could get worse for "Reign." After "United 93" and "World Trade Center," demand isn’t very high for yet another look at September 11. Given all the choices in the marketplace, adult audiences will be divided between many films so only a small slice might go this way. Debuting in 1,671 venues, "Reign Over Me" could open with about $6M.


Sandler and Cheadle in "Reign Over Me."

The mighty King Leonidas barely broke a sweat over the last two weeks in his box office victories. But the invading armies this weekend will pose a great threat to "300"’s rule. "Shooter" and "Hills" will provide the most direct competition. A 50% drop may be in order which would leave the Warner Bros. epic with roughly $16.5M for the frame and an impressive $157M in 17 days.

"Wild Hogs" may finally see a normal drop and slide by 40% to $11M giving Buena Vista $121M to date. "Premonition" should lose half of its audience and fall to $9M for a ten-day cume of $30M.

LAST YEAR: Spike Lee and Denzel Washington joined forces for the heist thriller "Inside Man" and found themselves at number one with a potent $29M opening. Universal went on to collect $88.5M domestically and $183M worldwide. The competing actioner "V for Vendetta" dropped from first to second with $12.3M falling 52% in its second weekend. Debuting in third was the horror flick "Stay Alive" with $10.7M on its way to $23.1M for Buena Vista. Rounding out the top five were "Failure to Launch" with $10.5M and "The Shaggy Dog" with $9M, both in their third weekends. Bowing in seventh place was the blue collar comedy "Larry the Cable Guy" with $6.9M leading to a $15.7M final.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

The studios have been hiding movies from those pesky scribes all year long, but this time they’ve outdone themselves. This week, three movies won’t be screened before getting tossed into the theaters: Neil LaBute‘s remake of "The Wicker Man," starring Nicolas Cage; "Crank," another high-octane actioner starring Jason Statham; and Mike Judge‘s "Idiocracy," a "Futurama"-esque comedy starring Luke Wilson.

What’s odd about this batch of unscreened films is that two of them are directed by established helmers. They include the generally blameless Judge, the man behind such beloved creations as "Beavis and Butthead" and "Office Space," and LaBute, whose filmography is a bit darker ("In the Company of Men," "Your Friends and Neighbors") but has never been uninteresting. Even stranger, "Idiocracy" is opening in limited release, but is bypassing the normal release pattern by playing outside of New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area.


No, these aren’t the sad movie critics waiting in vain to see "The Wicker Man"….

So we’re going to play that increasingly popular party game: Guess the Tomatometer! (If the studios continue to stop screening movies beforehand, GTT may replace the NFL and Nascar as one of the most popular games in America.) But we’ll make it easier for you with some super unscientific calculations. The average Tomatometer of the movies not screened for critics is just under 15 percent; Basically, we’ve taken the average Tomatometer of unscreened films plus the average Tomatometer of the key participants’ films divided by two. By factoring in the combined Tomatometers of LaBute, and stars Cage and Ellen Burstyn, we’re guessing "The Wicker Man" will wind up around 42 percent. Utilizing Judge’s and Wilson‘s Tomatometers, "Idiocracy" may wind up in the area of 38 percent. And since the directors of "Crank" are relative newcomers, we’ll use Statham, Amy Smart, and Dwight Yoakam to guesstimate that "Crank" will end up around 32 percent. Feel free to knock as many points off as you feel is necessary.


…and no, this is not a metaphor for what the studios think those mean ol’ critics will do to the opening weekend grosses.

Films Not Screened For Critics In 2006 (Best To Worst Tomatometer Score):
————————————————
69% — Snakes on a Plane
28% — Silent Hill
27% — Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion
23% — Phat Girlz
16% — Grandma’s Boy
15% — Underworld: Evolution
11% — The Benchwarmers
10% — Ultraviolet
10% — When a Stranger Calls
7% — Date Movie
7% — Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector
6% — Material Girls
6% — See No Evil
5% — Doogal
5% — BloodRayne
5% — Stay Alive
0% — Zoom

This week at the movies, we’ve got Oliver Stone paying tribute to the heroes of 9/11 ("World Trade Center," starring Nicolas Cage); two youngsters trying to start a dance dance revolution ("Step Up," starring Jenna Dewan and Channing Tatum); a school for young superheroes ("Zoom," starring Tim Allen and Courteney Cox); and an evil website ("Pulse," starring Kristen Bell). What do the critics have to say?

Oliver Stone has never been the subtlest of directors, nor has he shied away from controversy or conspiracy-mongering. So it’s something of a surprise to critics that with his latest, "World Trade Center," he has tackled a subject (the 9/11 attacks) rife with talk of dark machinations and created a straightforward, apolitical tale of heroism. Based on a true story, "World Trade Center" stars Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena as a pair of Port Authority police officers who became trapped in the ruins of the World Trade Center while attempting to rescue others. Critics say the narrow human focus is one of the strengths of the film, along with its stunning visuals and an old-fashioned sense of resilience and heroism. At 70 percent on the Tomatometer, "World Trade Center" may be a cut below Paul Greengrass‘ 9/11 film "United 93" (90 percent), but it’s a worthy examination of a day that will live in infamy. It’s also Stone’s best-reviewed film since "Nixon."


Nicolas Cage as real-life officer John McLoughlin in "World Trade Center"

"Step Up" tells the story of a hip-hop dancer from the wrong side of the tracks (Channing Tatum) and a privileged ballerina (Jenna Dewan) who overcome their differences to make beautiful music together on the dance floor. Sound familiar? It should, if you’ve seen "Saturday Night Fever," "Save the Last Dance," or "Dirty Dancing." Perhaps the Bee Gees presciently spoke for the critics of "Step Up" when they sang, "You should be dancing," for the scribes say the film is at its best in its electrifying dance sequences, but dramatically flat otherwise. At 21 percent on the Tomatometer, the critics are putting this baby in a corner.


"Step Up": Do fries come with that shake?

The studios apparently believe "Pulse" is pretty lifeless, and that "Zoom" is full of cinematic gloom. What else could explain the fact that the Kristen Bell J-horror remake and the Tim Allen superhero comedy, respectively, were not screened for critics? It’s time to bust out those crystal balls and guess those Tomatometers, people.


"Sometimes when we touch/ the horror’s just too much"

Also in theaters this week, in limited release: "Half Nelson," starring Ryan Gosling as a troubled inner city teacher, is at a whopping 95 percent on the Tomatometer; the Czech surrealist horror film "Lunacy" is at 80 percent; "House of Sand," a visually remarkable Brazilian epic, is at 80 percent; "Conversations With Other Women," a tale of a romantic reunion starring Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart, is at 70 percent; "The Trouble With Men and Women," a low-budget Brit relationship drama, is at 50 percent; "Poster Boy," a drama about the gay son of a senator, is at 43 percent; and "The Ordeal," a dark Belgian horror import, is at 43 percent.

Recent Oliver Stone Movies:
———————————–
16% — Alexander (2004)
50% — Comandante (2003)
48% — Any Given Sunday (1999)
51% — U-Turn (1997)
74% — Nixon (1995)

Recent Nicolas Cage Movies:
————————————
61% — Lord of War (2005)
59% — The Weather Man (2005)
42% — National Treasure (2004)
82% — Matchstick Men (2003)
90% — Adaptation (2002)

Films Not Screened For Critics In 2006 (Best To Worst Tomatometer Score):
————————————————
28% — Silent Hill
27% — Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion
24% — Phat Girlz
16% — Grandma’s Boy
15% — Underworld: Evolution
11% — The Benchwarmers
10% — Ultraviolet
10% — When a Stranger Calls
7% — Date Movie
7% — Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector
6% — See No Evil
5% — Doogal
5% — BloodRayne
5% — Stay Alive

After some furious debate over David Germain‘s discussion of films "not screened for critics," RT takes a look at the Tomatometers and respective B.O. performances of the flicks withheld from critics so far this year.

Films Not Screened For Critics In 2006:
————————————————
29% — Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion (Feb. 24)
17% — Grandma’s Boy (Jan. 6)
16% — Underworld: Evolution (Jan. 20)
10% — When a Stranger Calls (Feb. 3)
9% — Ultraviolet (Mar. 3)
8% — Date Movie (Feb. 17)
7% — BloodRayne (Jan. 6)
6% — Stay Alive (Mar. 24)
5% — Doogal (Feb 24)
4% — Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (Mar. 24)
Average Tomatometer not screened for critics: 11%

As Germain noted, this is becoming a common trend; in 2006, 10 films have already been withheld from those mean old scribes, with "The Benchwarmers" and "Phat Girlz" joining that illustrious list this week. Apparently, the whole of the studio system is terrified that the following exchange will take place within the coveted teen and young adult demographic:

Teen No. 1: "Man, am I ever stoked to be first in line to see ("Date Movie"/ "Underworld: Evolution"/ "The Benchwarmers," etc.)! This film will certainly be off the chain! Oh look, there’s my friend!"

Teen No. 2 (running, looking frantic): "Bad news, homie. David Denby, Andrew Sarris, AND Stephanie Zacharek all dissed ("Date Movie"/ "Underworld: Evolution"/ "The Benchwarmers," etc.). They say it’s really stupid."

Teen No. 1: "Curses! I’m getting out of the line for this movie, and I shall not be seeing it on its opening weekend. Dear fellow, perchance is ‘The Best of Youth‘ still playing in the local arthouse?"

The phrase "critic-proof" has entered the lexicon for a reason: it perfectly sums up a certain type of move, one that the studios still feel is necessary not to screen.

And what do the critics have to say about these films? Unsurprisingly, the average is an 11 percent on the Tomatometer. Of the twenty worst reviewed wide releases of the year so far, these ten films occupy the top slots. Still, that doesn’t mean too much; "Big Momma’s House 2" was screened for critics, got a six percent on the Tomatometer, and still made a lot of money. So while the films that aren’t screened are by no means cinematic gems, there’s an excellent chance they will make lots of money regardless.

When the staff of Rotten Tomatoes is not meticulously analyzing the films of Bergman, Ozu, and Bresson, we’ve been known to watch (and unironically enjoy) such critically drubbed flicks as "Stealth," "Black Knight," and the collected works of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Some movies aren’t "good" per se, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have potential audiences. Studios should know this better than anyone; they made the movies.

See Also:
"Not Screened For Press" Trend Growing in 2006

This week at the movies, we’ve got a pair of sequels that will appeal to widely disparate demographics ("Ice Age 2: The Meltdown," "Basic Instinct 2"), a slimy mix of comedy and horror ("Slither"), and a tale of young ATL-liens coming of age ("ATL"). What do the critics say?

For those of you who like a healthy dose of laughs between scares, there’s a gleefully nasty little piece of business in theaters this week. "Slither," a tale of creepy crawly little beasts that invade Smalltown, USA, is a B-movie through and through. But critics say it’s one of the most enjoyable of its type in years — if you’ve got the stomach for this sort of thing. At 86 percent on the Tomatometer, the Certified Fresh "Slither" may make you squirm — when you’re not busting a gut laughing. And it’s the third best-reviewed film of the year, behind only Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (at 93 percent) and last week’s Inside Man (at 88 percent).

The first "Ice Age" was warmly received. The second? It’s getting a chillier reception. In "Ice Age 2: The Meltdown," Manny the woolly mammoth, Sid the sloth, Diego the saber-toothed tiger, and the cross-species wiseguy Scrat are back, and they confront two major issues: The end of the ice age, and mating. The critics say while "Ice Age 2" may not be red-hot, it’s moderately entertaining. It’s at 59 percent on the Tomatometer, a bit behind its predecessor (78 percent and Certified Fresh).

"ATL" is a movie about the last summer before a group of African American high school students go off into the real world and attempt to navigate potential pratfalls. And critics say the film is at its most involving when it sticks to a smart, laid-back vibe and affectionate portrayals of its young leads; the scribes say that the film is less successful when it starts follow the mechanics of its plot. It’s currently at 61 percent on the Tomatometer.

"Basic Instinct" is something of a recent cinematic touchstone – albeit one many are a bit embarrassed to say they actually enjoy. According to critics, moviegoers may be in an even deeper quandary with the sequel. In "Basic Instinct 2," Sharon Stone is back to play deadly games of cat-and-mouse with spellbound guys. The scribes note that while the original was subversively trashy (and, at 63 percent on the Tomatometer, fresh), this sequel is more in the so-bad-it’s-good category — or perhaps, so-bad-it’s-bad. At 6 percent on the Tomatometer, trust your instincts on this one.

Also, props to lovelykeira, who correctly guessed that the Tomatometer for "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector" would be 4 percent, and to mizzoucritic, who came the closest to "Stay Alive"’s 6 percent.

Top Five Best-Reviewed Wide Releases of 2006 (So Far):
——————————————————
93% — Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
89% — Inside Man
86% — Slither
75% — Nanny McPhee
75% — V For Vendetta

Recent Sharon Stone Movies
———————————–
86% — Broken Flowers (2005)
9% — Catwoman (2004)
12% — Cold Creek Manor (2003)
50% — Beautiful Joe (2000)
53% — The Muse (1999)

Denzel Washington‘s bank heist thriller "Inside Man" snagged the #1 spot at the weekend box office derby, pulling in an estimated $29 million from about 2,800 theaters — which is good news, because if the big-budget, big-actor flick had debuted behind a Disney horror movie or a Larry the Cable Guy comedy, Universal would have been pretty darn angry.

Last week’s #1 title, WB’s "V for Vendetta," plunged more than 50% and raked in an additional $12.3 million, giving it a grand (domestic) total of about $46.2 million. Third place went to Disney’s PG-13 "horror" movie "Stay Alive," which made $11.2 million from 2,000 screens, while fourth and fifth place went to the rom-com "Failure to Launch" ($10.8 million, $63.9m total) and the kiddie flick "The Shaggy Dog" ($9.1 million, $47.9m total).

Debuting in 7th place was Lionsgate’s "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector," which earned about $7 million from 1,700 theaters.

Next week’s big releases are Warner’s urban drama "ATL," Sony’s long-arriving "Basic Instinct 2," Fox’s animated sequel "Ice Age: The Meltdown," and Universal’s tongue-in-cheek splatter-fest "Slither."

For a closer look at the weekend numbers, pop on over to the Rotten Tomatoes Box Office Page!

Tension: it’s the key to many a film, and this week’s wide releases bring three variants on that theme. We’ve got a hostage situation ("Inside Man"), class conflict ("Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector"), and a video game that becomes real ("Stay Alive"). What will the critics say? Well, for one, "Inside Man" is one of the year’s best.

Spike Lee is a director whose work has always been wonderfully unpredictable. With "Inside Man," he may have pulled off his weirdest foray yet: a heist picture. With a terrific cast that includes Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, "Inside Man" puts a spin on the "Dog Day Afternoon" scenario, with a group of sharp bank robbers who stay one step ahead of the police. Critics say this is a sharp genre film that is not only rewarding on its own terms, but manages to subvert its pulpy trappings with wit and skill. At 89 percent on the Tomatometer, this one’s pretty excellent, "Inside" and out. And it’s Lee’s best reviewed film since the brilliant documentary "4 Little Girls," which scored 100 percent on the Tomatometer. "Inside Man" is Certified Fresh, and it’s the second-best reviewed wide release of 2006 (trailing only "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party," at 93 percent).

Well, you can tell by the way it wasn’t screened for critics that "Stay Alive" may not be alright, and it may not be okay, so you might want to look the other way. And "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector" wasn’t screened for critics either, which means it may be hazardous to your health. So let’s play everyone’s favorite game: Guess the Tomatometer!

Top Five Best-Reviewed Wide Releases of 2006 (So Far):
——————————————————
93% — Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
89% — Inside Man
75% — Nanny McPhee
75% — V For Vendetta
73% — Eight Below

Recent Spike Lee Joints:
—————————–
20% — She Hate Me (2004)
64% — Jim Brown: All American (2002)
77% — 25th Hour (2002)
84% — The Original Kings of Comedy (2000)
53% — Bamboozled (2000)

Recent Denzel Washington Movies:
——————————–
80% — The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
39% — Man on Fire (2004)
66% — Out of Time (2003)
24% — John Q (2002)
79% — Antwone Fisher (2002)

Not even remotely surprising is the fact that the new Natalie Portman action epic "V for Vendetta" was #1 at the weekend box office, as it’s a title that’s been talked up and touted for about half a year now. The $50+ million project opened a few months later than expected, but it still did so in fairly impressive fashion. The Wachowski/WB production hauled in an estimated $26.1 million from 3,300 theaters, giving "Vendetta" the #1 spot by more than 10 million bucks.

Clocking in at second place was Paramount’s rom-com "Failure to Launch," which added an extra $15.8 million to its $48.4 million total. Third place went to another hanger-on, the Disney remake "The Shaggy Dog." The mutt made another $13.6 million, putting its total right around $35.8 million.

A first-weekend newcomer hit the scene in fourth place: DreamWorks’ gender-switch teen-com "She’s the Man" made about $11 million from 2,600 theaters. Rounding out the top 5 was Searchlight’s "The Hills Have Eyes," which tumbled nearly 50% from last week. ($8m weekend; $28.7m total)

Limited releasers saw some good news and some bad news. Fox Searchlight’s "Thank You for Smoking" debuted in five theaters and earned $52,000 per, while Sidney Lumet‘s "Find Me Guilty" showed up in 439 theaters and made only $1,430 per. Yowch.

Next weekend’s big releases include Universal’s crime thriller "Inside Man," Lionsgate’s "Larry the Cable Guy" movie, and Disney’s PG-13 horror flick "Stay Alive."

As always, the Rotten Tomatoes Box Office Page is open and awaiting your perusal.

Yep, Larry the Cable Guy got his own movie. And here’s a unique and clever twist: Instead of playing a cable guy, he gets to be a harried health inspector who wreaks havoc at various restaurants. And no, this isn’t a direct-to-video title. Check out the trailer for "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector" here.

"Irreverent as ever, Larry plays a big city health inspector who’s happy with his usual beat of greasy spoon diners and low-rent ethnic restaurants. But his easygoing life is turned upside-down when he’s saddled with a straight-arrow rookie partner and assigned the biggest case of his career: investigating an outbreak of mysterious food poisonings at the city’s swankiest restaurants. Infuriating restaurateurs with his bad manners, Larry still manages to charm a sweet, shy waitress into a budding romance. But when his unorthodox methods cost him his job, Larry has to go undercover to bring the conspirators to justice and ‘Git-R-Done!’"

Co-starring Iris Bahr, Megyn Price, Bruce Bruce, Tony Hale, Lisa Lampanelli, David Koechner, Joe Pantoliano, and Joanna Cassidy, "Health Inspector" hits theaters on March 24th.

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