This week at the movies, we’ve got wacky cops ("Reno 911!: Miami"), numerological tension ("The Number 23," starring Jim Carrey), a rocket man ("The Astronaut Farmer," starring Billy Bob Thornton), and a haunted house ("The Abandoned"). What do the critics have to say?

On the small screen, the "COPS" parody "Reno 911," with its incompetent lawmen, zany situations, and absurd fashions, is good for its share of laughs. In the multiplex? Critics say "Reno 911!: Miami" is a slightly less arresting proposition. The gang heads to Miami to break up a terrorist plot on spring break; hilarity ensues. Sketch comedy is often on shaky ground when moved from the tube to the big screen, and a few of the critics say "Reno 911" is no exception; they feel the film has some good laughs but ultimately runs out of steam. Others say that fans of the show will get exactly what they want. At 55 percent on the Tomatometer, "911" is a call you have to make for yourself. (Check out an interview with "Reno 911" cast members by RT’s own Jen Yamato.)


"Reno 911!: Miami," invoking the spirit of "Baywatch Nights."

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the number 23, visions of Michael Jordan dance in my head. (Or perhaps former Red Sox first baseman Brian Daubach.) Director Joel Schumacher and star Jim Carrey want the titular figure to be synonymous with psychological intrigue, but the critics say it’s more like the law of diminishing returns. Carrey stars as a man whose wife (Virginia Madsen) has given him a pulp novel that appears to be about his life, and he subsequently becomes fixated on the number 23, which seems to turn up everywhere he goes. The pundits say "The Number 23" is incomprehensible and overly busy, draining the film of suspense. At 11 percent on the Tomatometer, you may want to subtract "The Number 23" from your list.


The tomatometer of "Pet Detective" minus the tomatometer of "When Nature Calls" equals …23!

Here’s a high concept for you: "Field of Dreams" in orbit. Sound ridiculous? Well, cynics be darned; critics say "The Astronaut Farmer" is a heartwarming fairytale, an inspirational family film that seems out of place in contemporary Hollywood. The movie tells the tale of a former astronaut (Billy Bob Thornton) who, facing foreclosure on his farm, dreams of building his own rocket against all odds. The pundits say "The Astronaut Farmer" is a heartwarming ride, featuring a strong sense of its Midwestern locale helmed with an unpretentious, pleasant directorial touch by the Polish brothers. At 78 percent on the Tomatometer, "The Astronaut Farmer" may be worth a ride.


"I sure do like them french fried potaters, mmm hmmm."

It appears that the people behind "The Abandoned" have, ahem, abandoned it, since it wasn’t screened for critics. The film tells the story of a woman who returns to the house where she was born in a remote part of Russia; horrifying events ensue. Get a search party together and Guess that Tomatometer.

Also opening this week in limited release: "Starter for 10," a Britcom about a working class kid at a posh university, is at 86 percent; "Glastonbury," a rockumentary about England’s most venerable music festival, is at 73 percent; "Cocaine Angel," a harrowing no-budget indie about a few days in the lives of Florida addicts, is at 60 percent; "Amazing Grace," about William Wilberforce’s 20 year struggle to end slavery in the British Empire, is at 55 percent; and "Gray Matters," a rom-com about a brother and sister expanding their romantic horizons starring Heather Graham, is at 20 percent.


Morrissey waxes poetic about his comatose girlfriend in "Glastonbury."

Finally, props to FernandoDANTE and alwaysforevernow for coming the closest to guessing "Ghost Rider"’s Tomatometer of 27 percent. Get your respective motors running, and then, subsequently, head out on the highway.

Recent Jim Carrey Movies:
———————————-
27% — Fun With Dick and Jane (2005)
71% — Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
93% — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
49% — Bruce Almighty (2003)
42% — The Majestic (2001)

Recent Billy Bob Thornton Movies:
——————————————-
27% — School for Scoundrels (2006)
46% — The Ice Harvest (2005)
45% — The Bad News Bears (2005)
79% — Chrystal (2004)
82% — Friday Night Lights (2004)

Ashton Kutcher fans get two chances to see (or hear) their favorite star this weekend as the Hollywood prankster takes on reigning box office champ "Jackass: Number Two" by voicing a mule deer in the animated comedy "Open Season" and going up against Kevin Costner in the action drama "The Guardian."

Also opening nationally is the Billy Bob ThorntonJon Heder comedy "School For Scoundrels" while some potential Oscar contenders debut in the arthouses.

Hollywood’s umpteenth computer-animated feature film of the year hits multiplexes on Friday in the form of "Open Season." The PG-rated pic features the voices of Martin Lawrence and Kutcher and finds a domesticated grizzly bear being dropped into the wilderness right before the start of hunting season. Young kids usually eat up these fish-out-of-water comedy toons and this Sony release should play to the same family audience. The target demographic has had an endless line of movies this year featuring talking animals getting into wacky situations, but since the current marketplace is lacking any major offering for children, "Open Season" should score as the first animated hit of the new school year. The studio is saturating the market with screens giving the film the fourth widest bow ever for a non-DreamWorks toon, and the second widest in Sony history for any film after 2004’s webslinger sequel. With no competition and solid funnyman starpower behind the mics, a strong number one bow could result. "Open Season" makes its way into 3,833 theaters and may debut with around $24M this weekend.


Ashton Kutcher, in his other film, "Open Season."

For those who would rather see the "Punk’d" star’s face, Buena Vista sets sail with its Coast Guard thriller "The Guardian" which finds Kutcher playing a young and cocky swimming champ who butts heads with his unorthodox teacher played by Kevin Costner. Directed by Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive," "Collateral Damage"), the PG-13 film has broad appeal with each star pulling in his respective generation. Cross-gender appeal is also present with the military-like storyline doing the job for males and the hunky actors attracting the ladies. Disney offered successful sneak previews two weeks ago to get some word-of-mouth spreading before the official debut. The studio will try to lure in the same audience that spent a solid $22.1M on the John TravoltaJoaquin Phoenix firefighter drama "Ladder 49" two autumns ago. Launching in over 3,000 theaters, "The Guardian" might debut with about $18M.


Kevin Costner to the rescue in "The Guardian."

Following his commercial success with the male-driven comedy hits "Road Trip," "Old School," and "Starsky & Hutch," Todd Phillips returns to theaters with "School for Scoundrels" which finds Billy Bob Thornton squaring off against "Napoleon Dynamite"’s Jon Heder for the affection of a young gal. MGM’s PG-13 film about an awkward young misfit who enlists the help of an expert on getting the ladies should aim for an audience of teens and young adults, plus fans of the "Bad Santa" star’s rogue ways. Starpower is not very high here. Films anchored by the former Mr. Jolie usually don’t explode on opening weekend as evidenced by the recent debuts of "The Bad News Bears" ($11.4M), "The Ice Harvest" ($3.7M), and "The Alamo" ($9.1M). Competition for young males will be tough, but if "School" can connect with teen girls as a funny romantic comedy, then it has a chance of doing some respectable numbers. Opening in over 3,000 theaters, "School for Scoundrels" might debut with about $12M.


Thornton, Heder, and that Real World chick again in "School For Scoundrels."

Some high profile indies pop into limited release this weekend. Fox Searchlight launched its Idi Amin pic "The Last King of Scotland" in four theaters on Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles and has already been receiving early Oscar buzz for Forest Whitaker‘s portrayal of the Ugandan dictator. Coincidentally, a year ago this same weekend, "Capote" debuted and fueled its own Best Actor buzz which sustained itself throughout awards season leading to a trophy for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Reviews for "Scotland" have been good and for Whitaker, have been electric.


Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland."

Miramax gets its Oscar campaign going, but for the Best Actress prize, with its Helen Mirren film "The Queen" which opens in New York City on Saturday after it officially opens the New York Film Festival on Friday evening. Mirren has already taken home the top actress prize at the Venice Film Festival for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in the dark days after the death of Princess Diana. The PG-13 film is directed by Stephen Frears ("Mrs. Henderson Presents," "Dangerous Liaisons") and has ranked number two at the U.K. box office for the last two weeks.

First Look Studios takes audiences back to Queens in 1986 with its coming-of-age drama "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" which stars Robert Downey Jr., Chazz Palminteri, Shia LaBeouf, Dianne Wiest, Channing Tatum, and Rosario Dawson. The R-rated film won awards for Best Director and Best Ensemble at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and bows in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

Last weekend, "Jackass: Number Two" flexed its muscles at the box office with a better-than-expected $29M launch. The Paramount film’s predecessor dropped 44% in its second weekend in the fall of 2002, but the sequel may drop harder. A 50% decline would still give the Johnny Knoxville flick about $15M for the weekend and a strong ten-day cume of $51M.

Jet Li‘s "Fearless" also drew upon a built-in audience of young men last weekend setting itself up for a sizable sophomore drop. The Focus title might also lose half of its business and take in roughly $5M. That would give the martial arts saga $18M after ten days. Sony’s "Gridiron Gang" held up well last weekend despite tough competition. Another 35% fall could be in order giving The Rock a $6M frame and a $34M total after 17 days.

LAST YEAR: For the second straight weekend, Jodie Foster‘s airline thriller "Flightplan" topped the box office with $14.8M dropping only 40% from its bow. Opening in second place was the sci-fi actioner "Serenity" which grossed $10.1M on its way to $25.4M for Universal. Warner Bros. followed close behind with $10M for its animated comedy "Corpse Bride." The revenge thriller "A History of Violence" expanded nationally and placed fourth with $8.1M and a solid $6,047 average which was the best in the whole Top 20. Opening in fifth was the Jessica-Alba-in-a-bikini pic "Into the Blue" with only $7.1M leading to a weak $18.5M final for Sony. Disney debuted its historical golf drama "The Greatest Game Ever Played" to the tune of $3.7M. A $15.3M final gross resulted.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

This week at the movies, we’ve got jive talking woodland creatures ("Open Season," with Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher). We’ve got a school for Coast Guard rescue swimmers ("The Guardian," starring Kevin Coster and Kutcher again). And we’ve got a school…for scoundrels ("School for Scoundrels," starring Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder). Which of these flicks will get a passing grade from critics?

"Open Season," Sony Pictures Animation’s first picture, features the voices of Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher as a grizzly bear and a deer, respectively, who must team up after getting stranded in the woods at the start of hunting season. Critics say that despite some impressive visuals and funny sequences, "Open Season" does little to distinguish itself from the recent glut of CG kiddie films. At 43 percent on the Tomatometer, you should turn, turn, turn away from this middling "Season."


Martin Bear: "Say it, Ashton. Say I was funny on Martin!"
Ashton Deer: "I’m Ashton Kutcher! I was on That 70’s Show!"

Kevin Costner makes a hopeful return to the action genre in "The Guardian," in which he plays a veteran U.S. Coast Guard officer who must mentor a cocky young upstart played by Ashton Kutcher. The film features intense training sequences, dramatic rescue scenes, and the requisite love story. Sound familiar? Critics seem to think so, calling it a cliched mix of "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Top Gun," with a predictable storyline. At 40 percent on the Tomatometer, "The Guardian" needs rescuing.


"Oh, man… Finally, a funny ‘Waterworld‘ joke!"

Director Todd Phillips brings us his latest comedy "School for Scoundrels," about a nerdy meter maid (Jon Heder) who takes confidence building classes from a smarmy instructor (Billy Bob Thornton). When the student gains the confidence to ask out his longtime crush, he discovers he must compete with the teacher for her affections. Most critics are in agreement that the real scoundrels are the screenwriters who couldn’t devise a script worthy of the considerable acting talent involved. At 21 percent on the Tomatometer, "School for Scoundrels" receives a failing grade.


Jon Heder’s got to worry about more than just talons these days.

Also opening this week in limited release: "The Queen," a speculative drama about the reaction of Britain’s royal family after the death of Princess Di starring Helen Mirren, is at 95 percent on the Tomatometer; "The Last King of Scotland," which features an electrifying performance from Forrest Whitaker as the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, is at 86 percent; "Be With Me," a three part meditation on love, hope, and destiny, is at 80 percent; "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," a coming-of-age story starring Robert Downey Jr., is at 77 percent; and "loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies," which chronicles the triumphant reunion tour of the influential cult band, is at 60 percent.

Recent Ashton Kutcher Movies:
—————————————-
80% — Bobby (2006)
39% — A Lot Like Love (2005)
44% — Guess Who (2005)
33% — The Butterfly Effect (2004)
19% — Just Married (2003)

Recent Billy Bob Thornton Movies:
——————————————
46% — The Ice Harvest (2005)
46% — The Bad News Bears (2005)
79% — Chrystal (2004)
82% — Friday Night Lights (2004)
30% — The Alamo (2004)

Recent Kevin Costner Movies:
————————————–
18% — Rumor Has It… (2005)
73% — The Upside of Anger (2004)
79% — Open Range (2003)
8% — Dragonfly (2002)
13% — 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)

Recent Jon Heder Movies:
———————————-
73% — Monster House (2006)
11% — The Benchwarmers (2006)
56% — Just Like Heaven (2005)
71% — Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Directors take center stage this weekend providing starpower to four new films opening in North American theaters all hoping to take down reigning box office king Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

M. Night Shyamalan leads the way with his latest creepy tale Lady in the Water while fellow east coast helmer Kevin Smith lets the expletives fly in the comedy Clerks II. Oscar winners Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis serve as producers on the animated film Monster House which is aiming for kids, and Ivan Reitman provides a different type of super hero film in My Super Ex-Girlfriend. With four interesting new films and Johnny Depp still firing off his cannons, the overall marketplace should expand as it moves into the late July period.

Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan returns to theaters with his fantasy chiller Lady in the Water which marks his departure from the Disney family. The Warner Bros. release tells the story of a superintendent who discovers a mysterious creature in his building’s pool that must be sent back to her world. Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffrey Wright, and Bob Balaban star in the PG-13 pic. Known for his small cameos in previous pics, Shyamalan the actor has been promoted this time around and gets a meaningful supporting role. As they say, it pays to know the director. Could he be preparing himself for playing the lead role in a future film? Only time will tell.

The Philadelphia-based director has been seeing diminishing returns at the box office over the last few years. In 2002, his alien drama Signs with Mel Gibson opened to a sturdy $60.1M on its way to a robust $228M. Two years later, The Village tested Shyamalan’s brand name since it lacked any A-listers and the opening was still strong with $50.7M. But poor word-of-mouth quickly set in with the film plunging 68% in its second frame on its way to $114.2M overall. This time around, the director is once again the biggest name attached to the project. Giamatti won plenty of acclaim with Sideways, but he’s still not a star who drives in audiences on opening weekend. Shyamalan’s starpower will be put to the test once again, and some who left The Village with a bad taste might just pass on Lady. The new film should also open weaker than Village because it will debut in 500 fewer theaters.

Many elements to the film and its marketing are new this time around. With a different studio in charge, a notable difference is the female voiceover on the television commercials where a little girl whispers to viewers in a creepy way. This reinforces the new angle where the picture is being sold as a bedtime story. Shyamalan also became very visible this year with his American Express commercial. Instead of relying again on a twist, Lady instead plays out like a fantasy arthouse film that offers more comedy than all of Shyamalan’s past films combined. Audiences may end up once again dividing themselves into the love and hate camps after coming out of theaters. But in a world where people complain about the lack of originality coming out of Hollywood, the filmmaker does deserve credit for offering moviegoers something new and different.

The summer has not seen too many scary movies yet so Lady in the Water will stand out to audiences who like a good fright. With a story that is really out there, the film may find more fans with the fantasy and sci-fi crowds than with mainstream moviegoers. That will hurt ticket sales in the long term. Still, like with other Shyamalan movies, there is a mystery to them which draws in fans. That magic will work its charm again as the film will try to attract enough moviegoers to knock the popular Pirates out of first place. Emerging in 3,235 locations, Lady in the Water might find itself with around $33M this weekend.

The late-summer cartoon wars begin with Sony launching the first attack with its computer-animated entry Monster House. The PG-rated film tells the story of some teenage kids who believe that a neighborhood house is actually a ferocious beast. Although directing duties fell on newcomer Gil Kenan, it’s executive producers Spielberg and Zemeckis whose names are used most prominently in the marketing materials. Many families are sure to be fooled into thinking these brilliant filmmakers were behind the camera. The studio reported encouraging results for the sneak previews it offered last weekend to help spread advance buzz.

And advance buzz will be essential to box office success since rival studios will be unleashing their big toons in each of the next two weekends with Warner Bros. opening The Ant Bully on July 28 and Paramount tossing in Barnyard on August 4. There might not be room for all three to thrive so Sony’s early jump on the competition gives it a major leg up. The Disney/Pixar hit Cars has raced past the $220M mark, but is aging so young kids will be looking for something new to rally behind. Direct competition should not be too fierce for Monster this weekend since even the PG-13 Pirates is a bit too scary for smaller children. Sony is going all out with their push of Monster House which debuts in 3,553 sites on Friday. An opening of about $25M could result.

Mixing the date movie formula of The Break-Up with the comic book antics of X-Men, Fox unleashes its new comedy My Super Ex-Girlfriend. The PG-13 film stars Luke Wilson as a man who dumps his squeeze only to learn that she is secretly a famous super hero who now will use her powers to exact revenge. The plot has ample appeal to both men and women so interest from the date crowd will be solid. But the marketplace has been flooded with comedies over the last several weeks so those looking for a laugh can easily go elsewhere. The concept does, however, offer a unique what-if scenario that is sure to attract business. A slight female skew is likely.

Starpower is also an important component here. Uma Thurman has had many hits and though Wilson is not much of a leading man, he does offer value when playing second fiddle to a bigger star, like in this case. Trailers in front of the studio’s recent mutant sequel have raised awareness with the comic book crowd. But Wilson’s brother Owen, coming off of a $21.5M bow for You, Me and Dupree, won’t help any and Super probably has the most direct competition in its way among the weekend’s four freshmen. Flying into 2,702 theaters, My Super Ex-Girlfriend could take off with around $13M this weekend.

Kevin Smith leaves the Jersey girls behind and revisits the boys in Clerks II, a sequel to the 1994 indie hit that launched his career. The R-rated film finds his Garden State slackers in their thirties and working at a fast-food restaurant where colorful customers make their way in and out each day. Released by The Weinstein Company and MGM, Clerks II has a very specific audience of Smith fans it will appeal to. Others will be hard to reach as there is little starpower on the screen. The director’s 2001 summer comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back opened to $11M from 2,765 theaters for a $3,985 average while 1999’s Dogma starring Matt Damon and a pre-J. Lo Ben Affleck bowed to $8.7M from 1,269 theaters for a $6,832 average.

Clerks II will debut in a level of theaters that is in between those two pics. Males in their twenties and thirties will make up the core crowd and there will be other options competing for their attention like Pirates and Lady. The marketing push has been good, but multiplexes will be crowded this weekend so getting in the undecided vote will be difficult. Opening in over 2,100 sites, Clerks II might bow to roughly $12M this weekend.

After two weeks of sailing ahead of the rest of the box office fleet, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest will face a serious challenge for its number one position this weekend. The Johnny Depp megahit dropped 54% in its second frame, but should suffer a smaller decline this time around. A number of new enemies will invade its waters so audiences will be scattered and competition should be formidable. Pirates may fall by 45% this weekend giving Disney about $34M for the frame. That would push the adventure sequel past the triple-century mark in a record 16 days and up to a staggering $321M by the end of the weekend.

Last weekend, the competing comedies Little Man and You, Me and Dupree battled it out for the distinction of being the biggest non-pirate movie in the country. Man inched ahead of Dupree by less than $100,000, but this weekend, the Wayans Brothers could see the larger decline losing about half of its business. That would give Sony around $11M for the frame and a ten-day cume of $40M. Dupree won’t have it easy though. My Super Ex-Girlfriend will offer direct competition for its core audience. A 45% drop could occur leaving Universal with roughly $12M for the frame and a stronger $44M after ten days.

Superman Returns
has been chugging away trying to get itself to the $200M mark. But the Man of Steel’s third weekend gross of $12.3M was weaker than the corresponding takes of some of last summer’s big action offerings like Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Batman Begins, War of the Worlds, and even Fantastic Four. Pirates has been taking its toll on Superman and this weekend, the Clark Kent flick will no longer be in a massive 3,700+ theaters. Warner Bros could see a 45% decline to about $6.5M which would push the cume to $178M.

LAST YEAR: Johnny Depp spent his second weekend atop the charts with his cooky comedy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which fell 50% to $28.3M fending off competition from a quartet of new releases plus some solid holdovers. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn spent another week in the runnerup spot with Wedding Crashers which held up remarkably well in its sophomore date slipping only 24% to $25.7M. The super hero flick Fantastic Four remained in third with $12.6M in its third mission. Among new movies, the highest gross came from the action thriller The Island which bowed to $12.4M. Given its enormous budget, it was a big disappointment for DreamWorks which found its way to just $35.8M. Paramount did not fare much better with the remake Bad News Bears which debuted in fifth with $11.4M. The Billy Bob Thornton pic scored just $32.9M overall, but at least it didn’t have a huge production cost. Opening in fewer theaters, but with an impressive average, was the pimp drama Hustle and Flow which bowed to $8M and a $7,915 average. The horror film The Devil’s Rejects followed with a $7.1M opening. Final tallies reached $22.2M for the Paramount Classics hip hop pic and $17M for the Lionsgate gorefest.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

This week at the movies, we’ve got pirates back for more box office bounty (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest“) and a journey to the center of the mind (“A Scanner Darkly“). What do the critics have to say?

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was a delightful left field surprise: a funny, rollicking, swashbuckling adventure (as well as the greatest film ever based on an amusement park ride). So what does director Gore Verbinski do for an encore? According to critics, more, more, more. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. In “Dead Man’s Chest,” Johnny Depp is back as the scoundrel Jack Sparrow, with Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom along for the ride, this time aboard a craft containing the cephalopodan Davy Jones and his crew. The scribes say that while there are plenty of interesting effects and exciting set pieces, there’s just too much in this “Chest,” and it lacks the easygoing, organic charm of the original. At 55 percent on the Tomatometer, this “Pirates'” life may or may not be for you. And it’s well below the high watermark set by the original (at 79 percent).


“Dead Man’s Chest”: Rated ARRRGH!

The writings of Philip K. Dick have inspired a bunch of good-to-great movies (“Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,” “Minority Report“) and it’s easy to see why: Dick spun futuristic, Orwellian sci-fi tales that are chock full of paranoia and multilayered plot points. With “A Scanner Darkly,” Richard Linklater adapts Dick’s novel with the rotoscoping techniques he applied to “Waking Life.” The story involves a cop (Keanu Reeves) who is so far undercover in a drug investigation that it’s unclear he’ll ever find his way out. The critics say this one’s a visually arresting head trip, but some say it’s not quite as compelling as it wants to be. At 63 percent on the Tomatometer, this one may be worth a “Scan.”


“You’re sayin’ the FBI’s gonna pay me to learn to surf?”

Also in theaters, albeit in limited release: “Once in a Lifetime,” a documentary about the New York Cosmos soccer team of the 1970s, is at 90 percent on the Tomatometer, and “Heading South,” starring Charlotte Rampling, is at 62 percent.

Recent Johnny Depp Movies:
————————————
31% — The Libertine (2005)
83% — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
83% — Corpse Bride (2005)
84% — Finding Neverland (2004)
47% — Secret Window (2004)

Recent Richard Linklater Movies:
—————————————-
47% — The Bad News Bears (2005)
94% — Before Sunset (2004)
90% — School of Rock (2003)
75% — Tape (2001)
79% — Waking Life (2001)

Fending off a handful of newcomers this past weekend was "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and the family-friendly confection proved to have some serious staying power at the box office. The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration pulled in an estimated $28.3 million in its sophomore session, thereby snagging the #1 spot for two consecutive weekends.

The #2 position also went to a second-weekend hanger-on: New Line’s "Wedding Crashers," with an additional $26.2 million in the coffers. And in a rather surprising turn of events, "Fantastic Four" also beat out the newcomers, landing in 3rd place with a third weekend tally of $12.3 million.

The highest newcomers on the list? Michael Bay‘s "The Island," which came in fourth with a disappointing $12.1 million, and Richard Linklater‘s "Bad News Bears," which closed out the top 5 with $11.5 million.

Debuting on considerably fewer screens were Craig Brewer‘s "Hustle & Flow" (7th place, $8.1 million) and Rob Zombie‘s "The Devil’s Rejects" (8th place, $7 million). So ultimately it was a weekend for people to go see what they wanted to see, and not necessarily what was newest — and next weekend looks like it could be more of the same.

In wide release comes the romantic comedy "Must Love Dogs," the high-tech arial thriller "Stealth," and the super-hero family flick "Sky High." And in limited release is "The Aristocrats," which might be the next indie (after the surpisingly potent "March of the Penguins") to hit it big on the word-of-mouth circuit.

For a closer look at all the weekend numbers (and more!), please do stop by the Rotten Tomatoes Box Office Page.

Michael Bay haters (I’m not one of them) can cherish this weekend. His newest explosion-fest, The Island, bombed at the box office with an estimated $4.4M on Friday, according to Showbizdata. It took the third spot behind last Friday’s chart toppers, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Wedding Crashers. For the weekend, The Island will likely gross $12-14M, making it the worst debut for a Michael Bay film. His average opening for his last five films is an explosive $36M. His last five films also have a spectacular average gross of $147M; The Island, which has a production budget of $120M, will be lucky to make a third of that.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory again took the top spot this Friday with an estimated $9M, a 57% dropoff from the previous Friday. It will likely finish the weekend with $27-29M. Wedding Crashers held up very well with an estimated $7.7M, a 27% dropoff. For the weekend, it will gross between $23-25M.

The other wide debuts this weekend – Bad News Bears, Devil’s Rejects, and Hustle & Flow – did $4.2M, $3.1M, and $2.7M respectively. Bad News Bears will likely finish the weekend with $13-15M, Devil’s Rejects with $12-13M, and Hustle & Flow with $8-9M.

This week’s wide releases share a theme of Escape. Escape from The Game, escape from the bottom of the Little League standings, escape from a futuristic Philip K. Dick-esque dystopian island, and escape from a family of murderous weirdos. Which of these films will escape the wrath of the critics?

Although he’s never (and I mean never) been a critics’ darling, give Michael Bay some credit: when he’s on, in films like "The Rock," he creates unabashed, gloriously exciting spectacles. And he’s filled his casts with interesting actors who have more than a little indie cred, from Billy Bob Thornton to Owen Wilson to Steve Buscemi, and now, Scarlett Johansson. "The Island," which also stars Ewan McGregor, tells the story of a futuristic utopian colony with a dark secret. But while some critics have lauded the film as Bay’s most thoughtful and intriguing, others say it’s just another big, loud summer flick. At 44 percent on the Tomatometer, this "Island" may not be worth a visit. Still, it’s his best-reviewed film in a decade, as 1996’s "The Rock" (which featured another notable island, Alcatraz) scored 61 percent.

Speaking of Mr. Thornton, he’s got a new flick of his own, although "new" isn’t the best way to describe "Bad News Bears." It’s a remake, and the source material has been cribbed with stunning regularity (see "Rebound" and "Kicking and Screaming" for this year’s examples). Critics say that while director Richard Linklater has maintained some of the cheerful crassness of the original, he hasn’t generated enough freshness to let it stand on its own. At 55 percent on the Tomatometer, these "Bears" are in a serious slump. The original, at 93 percent, is still the MVP.

Like "Blackboard Jungle" with rock ‘n’ roll and "The Harder They Come" for reggae, "Hustle & Flow" features an emerging musical form (crunk), and puts it into a dramatic sociopolitical context. To paraphrase Jay-Z, critics say you can’t knock this "Hustle." The writers say this tale of a pimp trying to escape the game by laying down rhymes over crunk beats is redemptive and powerful, and the gritty Memphis locations give new meaning to the term "The Dirty South." Star Terrence Howard, who was singled out for praise in such ensemble pieces as "Ray" and "Crash," makes a very compelling and morally complex hustler. Howard’s combined Tomatometer rating, currently at 50 percent, should be helped by this one, which is currently at 78 percent.

Rob Zombie rubs noses in a basic concept that many slasher films beat around: that murderous backwoods villains are much more compelling than the so-called heroes who fall into their clutches. His latest, "The Devil’s Rejects," tells the story of a family of psychopaths with bloodlust, and critics say it captures the elemental dread that made movies like "Deliverance" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" resonate. At 65 percent on the Tomatometer, Zombie’s movie is being called brutal, perverse, and brutally perversely fun. It also beats Mr. Zombie’s previous directorial effort, "House of 1,000 Corpses," with a rusty shovel, as "House" scored a scary 16 percent on the Tomatometer.

Other Recent Michael Bay-Directed Films:
——————————————————–
23% – Bad Boys II (2003)
25% – Pearl Harbor (2001)
42% – Armageddon (1998)
61% – The Rock (1996)
46% – Bad Boys (1995)

Other Recent Richard Linklater Films:
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94% – Before Sunset (2004)
90% – School of Rock (2003)
78% – Waking Life (2001)
75% – Tape (2001)
58% – The Newton Boys (1998)

Another summer weekend, another massive opening. Knocking "Fantastic Four" out of the number one spot, Tim Burton‘s "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" pulled in just over $55 million during its first three days of release. Pretty impressive numbers, especially considering how many kiddies were at home with their noses joyously stuck in the brand-new "Harry Potter" book!

Also debuting in exceedingly fine form was the Owen Wilson / Vince Vaughn comedy "Wedding Crashers," which handily surpassed the expectations of its own studio and hauled in just over $32 million in its opening weekend. New Line marketing chief Russell Schwartz would like to thank the critics: "We were looking for a minimum of $25 million. The reviews jumped the older audience and probably accounted for the additional box office."

Down nearly 60% from its opening weekend was "Fantastic Four," which tallied about $22.5 million in its sophomore frame, but also managed to pass the $100m mark in pretty speedy fashion. Rounding out the top five were "War of the Worlds," with $15 million ($192m total), and "Batman Begins," with $5.6 million ($182m total).

Next Friday sees the release of four new wide releases: the indie rap drama "Hustle & Flow," Rob Zombie‘s "The Devil’s Rejects," Paramount’s "Bad News Bears" remake, and Michael Bay‘s sci-fi actioner "The Island."

For a closer look at the weekend numbers, you’re more than welcome to visit the Rotten Tomatoes box office page.

This week’s wide releases are both tales of people looking adversity square in the face, and becoming better for it. The adversity in question comes in the form of alien invaders and bad junior high round-ballers. Will "War of the Worlds" impress critics enough for them to forget, at least for awhile, Tom Cruise‘s relationship with Katie Holmes? Will "Rebound" hit the last-second shot?

With the possible exception of Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg is responsible for more iconographic images than virtually any other director. And his skills for realizing the fantastic have not diminished in his latest, "War of the Worlds," currently at 72 percent on the Tomatometer. Critics have praised his take on H.G. Wells‘ classic tale of alien invasion for its astonishing special effects, and Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins have received kudos for their performances. But some have said the film loses some of its potency with a pat ending.
Here’s a brain teaser for all you movie lovers out there: can a ragtag, ragamuffin, seemingly inept bunch, led by someone seeking personal redemption, overcome the odds to triumph over adversity and learn something about themselves in the process? I didn’t think so either, until I saw "The Dirty Dozen," "The Bad News Bears," "Dodgeball," "The Mighty Ducks," and pretty much every other movie ever made. Now comes "Rebound," which the critics are enjoying about as much as a flying elbow from Charles Oakley. Although the film is family-friendly, and should go over passably well with the lil’ hoopsters in your family, the rest of the population will likely find it more predictable than Shaq missing his free throws. "Rebound" is currently at 14 percent on the Tomatometer.

Steven Spielberg’s Tomatometer (as director, producer, and featured): 77 percent
Martin Lawrence‘s Tomatometer: 32 percent

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