Maybe it was the 3-D glasses that helped, but the game went into overtime this weekend for Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.The third installment in the franchise about a family of super spies took the top spot with a healthy $32.5 million*, making it the highest opener of the three. The first Spy Kids opened 2001 with $26.5 million, while the second, Spy Kids: Island of Lost Dreams, opened 2002 with $18.7 million. The ghostly swashbuckler Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl held on to second place with $22.4 million while the naughty actioner Bad Boys II dropped from the top of the heap last week to third with $22 million, barely slipping under Pirates .Not as many people, however, cared to see Angelina Jolie strut her stuff again. The outrageously stunt-laden sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life opened at No. 4 with $21.7 million, making less than half of what the original 2001 smash hit Lara Croft: Tomb Raider did when it opened at $47.7 million. The heart-tugging Depression drama Seabiscuit rounded out the top five's home stretch with $21.5 million, though it managed to take the highest per average screening award; opening in 1,989 theaters, its $10,809 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this weekend.Other notable indies opening this week included the Bob Dylan starrer Masked and Anonymous, which debuted at $32,167, and the controversial Buffalo Soldiers at $29,000.Overall, box office numbers were up this week, nearly 10 percent from the same weekend last year and nearly 6 percent from last weekend. THE TOP TENDimension Films' PG-rated Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over premiered at the top of the box office with an ESTIMATED $32.5 million in 3,344 theaters ($9,719 per theater).In this third installment, junior agents Juni and Carmen Cortez have to go into a video game and shut it down before it and its creator can take over the world.Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, it stars Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Sylvester Stallone, Salma Hayek and Ricardo Montalban.Buena Vista Pictures' PG-13 rated fantasy actioner Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl held on to second in its third week with an ESTIMATED $22.4 million (-34%) at 3,416 theaters (+57 theaters; $6,557 per theater). Its cume is $176.1 million.Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.Sony Picture's R rated buddy actioner Bad Boys II dropped from its first place perch to third with an ESTIMATED $22 million (-53%) at 3,202 theaters (+16 theaters; $6,871 per theater). This high-octane sequel, which follows narcotics detectives Mike Lowry and Marcus Burnett in another case, has made $88.4 million so far.Directed by Michael Bay, it stars Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jordi Molla, Gabrielle Union and Peter Stormare.Paramount Pictures' PG-13-rated action-packed Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life debuted at a disappointing fourth place with an ESTIMATED $21.7 million in 3,222 theaters ($6,754 per theater).In her latest adventure pic, Lara Croft journeys to an underwater temple in search of lost treasures. During her expedition, she stumbles upon a sphere that contains the key to Pandora's box.Directed by Jan De Bont, it stars Angelina Jolie, Gerald Butler, Chris Barrie, Ciaran Hinds and Noah Taylor.Universal Pictures' PG-13-rated tear-jerker Seabiscuit opened with an ESTIMATED $21.5 million in 1,989 theaters. Its $10,809 per theater was the highest average of any film playing wide this week.Set in the 1930s, this is a true story about a down-and-out racehorse named Seabiscuit pulled out of obscurity by three men and turned into a national hero.Directed by Gary Ross, it stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper. *Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.As the box office numbers dropped off considerably, Warner Bros.' R rated sci-fi actioner Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines fell two places to No. 6 in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $5 million (-46%) at 2,689 theaters (-744; $1,895 per theater). Its cume is approximately $137.4 million.Directed by Jonathan Mostow, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes and Kristanna Loken.Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated period thriller The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen crashed four places to come in seventh place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $4.8 million (-52%) at 2,532 theaters (-470; $1,919 per theater). Its cume is approximately $52.7 million.Directed by Stephen Norrington, it stars Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West and Jason Flemyng.Universal Pictures' PG rated spy spoof Johnny English slipped three places to No. 8 in its second week with an ESTIMATED $4.3 million (53%) at 2,236 theaters ($1,923 per theater). Its cume is 18.4 million.In the film, the British Secret Service calls upon bumbling secret agent Johnny English when a plan to filch the monarchy's Crown Jewels comes to their attention.Directed by Peter Howitt, it stars Rowan Atkinson, Natalie Imbruglia, Ben Miller and John Malkovich.Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios' G rated computer-animated feature Finding Nemo fell three spots in its ninth week to No. 9 with an ESTIMATED $4 million (-45%) at 2,025 theaters (-455 theaters; $1,975 per theater). Its cume is approximately $312.6 million.Directed and co-written by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton, it features the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe and Brad Garrett.MGM's PG-13 rated Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde rounded out the top ten in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.6 million (-57%) at 2,120 theaters (-1,085 theaters; $1,250 per theater). Its cume is approximately $82.1 million. Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it stars Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Regina King, Bob Newhart and Jennifer Coolidge. OTHER OPENINGSSony Pictures Classics' PG-13-rated Masked and Anonymous debuted with an ESTIMATED $32,167 in 4 theaters ($8,042 per theater). Set somewhere, sometime in an unnamed country torn by civil war, concert promoter Uncle Sweetheart is scheming to find a headliner for a benefit show--benefitting himself, that is. Veteran TV producer Nina Veronica is put on the job to make sure the concert is an international spectacle. The clincher? Uncle Sweetheart manages to get the iconic cult star Jack Fate, just released from prison, to perform.Directed by Larry Charles, it stars John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Jeff Bridges, Angela Bassett and Bob Dylan, in his screen debut.Miramax Film's R-rated Buffalo Soldiers opened with an ESTIMATED $29,000 in 6 theaters ($4,833 per theater).In Stuttgart, West Germany in 1989, just as the Berlin Wall is about to fall, Ray Elwood of the 317th Supply Battalion has turned his military servitude into a blossoming network of black market deals--more out of boredom than ambition. When a new top sergeant arrives with the avowed intention of cleaning up the base, Elwood thinks can handle the new blood. If he could only find out what to do with the $5 million in stolen arms that just landed in his lap…Directed by Gregor Jordan, it stars Joaquin Phoenix, Scott Glenn, Anna Paquin and Ed Harris.WEEKEND COMPARISONThe Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $145.5 million, up 9.91 percent from last year's take of $132.4 million. The Top 12 films were also up 5.20 percent from last weekend when they grossed $138.3 million.Last year's top three included: New Line Cinema's PG-13-rated Austin Powers in Goldmember debuted on top with $73 million in 3,613 theaters ($20,225 per theater); DreamWorks' R rated drama Road to Perdition came in second in its third week of release with $11.1 million at 2,250 theaters (+91 theaters; $4,936 per theater average), Sony's G rated Stuart Little 2 dropped to third in its second week with $10.6 million at 3,282 theaters (+ 27; $3,233 per theater).
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Playing second fiddle to a more famous sibling can be rough. Just ask Fred Claus (Vaughn) a regular guy who has had to grow up under the shadow of his little brother Nicholas Claus (Paul Giamatti) aka Santa. That’s a big shadow to say the least both figuratively and literally. As an adult Fred has pretty much steered clear of his family but when he finds himself in dire need of some fast cash he calls his brother. Pleased as punch to hear from him Nicholas nonetheless makes him a deal: If he comes up to the North Pole for a visit and to help out the few days before Christmas then Fred can have the money. Fred reluctantly agrees and soon he’s being whisked off in Santa’s sleigh by head elf Willie (John Michael Higgins). But once Fred gets to the North Pole nothing seems to go right and soon he is the cause of much chaos--which unbeknownst to Fred causes Nicholas even more stress since his North Pole operation is one step away from being shut down by a cold-hearted efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey). Can Fred quit being bitter in time to save his brother’s livelihood? Of course he can. Hmmm Vince Vaughn minus the R-rated Wedding Crashers/Old School irreverence? It’s a stretch. Seeing the comic actor playing it PG is a little weird but you might enjoy how Vaughn infuses his unique energy into Fred Claus. From getting all the elves to boogie down in Santa’s workshop to going on one rant after another (on his brother: “He’s a clown a megalomaniac a fame junkie!”) to pilfering money on the street and then being chased by Salvation Army Santas it’s all good. Giamatti too seems a little out of his comfort zone as the saintly St. Nick. The actor who usually plays such endearing sad sacks has already played against type to great effect this year as the maniacal bad guy in Shoot ‘Em Up but he isn't nearly as successful in doing the flipside of that in Fred Claus. And what the hell is Kevin Spacey doing in this? As the villain of the film he fills the shoes nicely but he is almost too good at it (natch) for such a feel-good family film. Even Higgins--a character actor who is usually so hilarious in films such as The Break Up and all of Christopher Guest’s movies—has to shed the cheekiness and sugar himself up for Fred Claus. There’s also Rachel Weisz as Fred’s beleaguered girlfriend (you heard right) and Kathy Bates as the Claus boys’ mother who always sees Fred as inferior to her other son to fill out a cast of big names doing family fare. Director David Dobkin is a Vince Vaughn favorite having directed him in Wedding Crashers and Clay Pigeons but like his muse Dobkin seems a little out of place guiding this material. Granted Dobkin creates a pretty magical North Pole complete with an entire city of little dwellings a Frosty Tavern and a huge domed Santa’s Workshop. The montage of Fred delivering presents on Christmas Eve—falling down chimneys stuffing cookies in his face zooming around in the sleigh—is also well done. But overall Fred Claus is a Vaughn vehicle—even as sugary sweet and family-friendly as it is--and all Dobkin really does is turn the camera on and let the man do his stuff. Dan Fogelman's script is also so very bland full of any number of holes and only picks up once Vaughn starts to improvise. Bottom line: If you’re looking to take the kids to a sweet Christmas movie and are a Vince Vaughn fan then Fred Claus is for you.
Based on a series of six Marvel Comics created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in 1962 The Hulk revolves around a scientist named Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) who following a laboratory snafu absorbs a normally deadly dose of gamma radiation. Bruce thinks he has escaped unscathed--until he gets mad ... real mad which causes him to turn into a huge rampaging green monster known as the Hulk. In order to make this 40-year-old gamma theory somewhat more believable for today's science-savvy moviegoers screenwriter James Schamus and his team decided to arm the script with a somewhat more convincing scientific rationale. The story follows Bruce's father David Banner (Nick Nolte) who as a young scientist conducted prohibited genetic experiments on himself thus changing his son's life before he was even out of the womb. While modernizing the scientific reasoning behind Bruce's transformation makes sense it's a pity it had to be done in such a heavy-handed way. By adding such an elaborate layer to the story The Hulk becomes more about Bruce and David's tormented past and any semblance of a plot is buried in melodramatic dialogue between the characters. The result is a comic book adaptation that is much too serious for its own genre.
Despite the theatrical discourse don't expect complex characters to emerge from The Hulk. Although Bana (Black Hawk Down) is a good choice for the lead of the nerdy scientist and reluctant hero his character is so busy pretending he doesn't have any problems that the audience never gets to see his emotional side. Bana's character grimaces convincingly as he represses his anger for example but he fails ever to open up on a personal level to his love interest in the film his co-worker Betty played by Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind). Betty is Bruce's old flame but the two are obviously still in love: she is obsessed with fixing whatever is broken about him. As the Hulk Bruce need only look at Betty once for his anger to subside and allow him to morph back into human form. They have weighty discussions about the significance of their dreams and Bruce's past yet they never seem to connect on any level. One of the film's best performances comes from Nolte (The Good Thief) in the role of Bruce's mad scientist father David. Almost Shakespearean at times Nolte--scraggly hair and all-- completely immerses himself in the role. The cast's performances however are muted by the general heaviness of this would-be actioner. Look for quick cameo appearances by Lou Ferrigno (from the 1970s TV series The Incredible Hulk) and Marvel legend Stan Lee.
For his follow-up to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Ang Lee has turned to bigger greener matters. The Hulk the director's visual effects-intense picture (with a little help from Industrial Light & Magic) is stunning and startlingly well done. The green beast's computer generated movements from his heaving chest to the single leaps that spring him well into a different zip code are convincingly real. Not only does the ground shake when this goliath lands but his momentum even throws him off balance at times sending his lumbering arms flailing. But while the CGI Hulk has been meticulously honed Lee's homage to the world of print comic books--using multiple screens to present concurrent storylines and alternate angles of the same scene--is off-putting: Rival researcher Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) suspiciously walks out of the lab Betty reacts in one panel Bruce sits back in another. The simultaneous screens don't necessarily show anything pertinent going on making the far and wide close and medium shots of the character's reactions a distraction rather than a helpful storytelling technique. But the most disconcerting thing about the film is that in its leap from the four-color paneled pages to the big screen it lost its wit.