In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
The deadly road games between motorists Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson should propel Changing Lanes straight to the top of this weekend's box office.
The dark psychological drama, representing a change of pace for Notting Hill director Roger Michell, should fend off a serious challenge from Cameron Diaz's romantic comedy, The Sweetest Thing.
In Changing Lanes, a fender bender results in attorney Affleck losing an important court document and Jackson missing a golden opportunity to win back his estranged wife and kids. The two lock horns when Affleck resorts to desperate measures to retrieve the document from Jackson.
The spectacle of an indignant Jackson exchanging blows with a fraught Affleck should allow Changing Lanes to overcome a couple of a bad plot turns and a slew of traffic-halting speeches about the law. Accordingly, Changing Lanes should debut somewhere between the openings of Jackson's Rules of Engagement ($15 million) and Deep Blue Sea ($18.6 million).
Changing Lanes also kicks off what could be a banner year for Jackson, who will be seen this summer in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, XXX and Formula 51. Is Jackson trying to replace Gene Hackman as the hardest-working man in Hollywood?
Cameron Diaz showed a willingness to do anything and everything for a laugh--especially when it came to certain bodily fluids--in the unexpected comedy smash There's Something About Mary. She returns to similar bawdy comic territory with The Sweetest Thing, in which she plays a party girl who flounders at the prospect of wooing the man of her dreams (Thomas Jane).
The Sweetest Thing marks Diaz's first solo opportunity to capitalize on the recent success of her ensemble and supporting contributions to Shrek ($267.6 million), Charlie's Angels ($125.3 million), Vanilla Sky ($100.3 million) and Any Given Sunday ($75.5 million).
Sony must have great faith in Diaz, who pocketed a reported $15 million for The Sweetest Thing. The sight of a carefree Diaz dancing the night away helped turn Charlie's Angels into a hit, so The Sweetest Thing should have no problem earning back that $15 million in its opening weekend. That would best the $13.7 million debut of There's Something About Mary, but the Bobby and Peter Farrelly farce had such long legs that it made a total of $176.4 million. The Sweetest Thing should charm its way to $50 million.
After many years of toiling in one James Cameron blockbuster after another, actor Bill Paxton finally tries his hand at calling the shots.
Paxton's gothic horror tale Frailty features his U-571 comrade Matthew McConaughey as a man who assists the FBI in the search for a serial killer. Paxton, seen in flashbacks, plays McConaughey's character's murderous father.
Lions Gate didn't have much luck getting audiences to sample the grisly, but satirical, American Psycho ($15 million), which may explain why the distributor has played around with Frailty's release date. Also, Lions Gate is putting Frailty into a modest 1,800 theaters, which could result in a $5 million to $6 million debut. Its long-term prospects seem to hinge more on its excellent reviews than McConaughey's questionable box office stature.
Not much can be expected of New Best Friend, which sneaks into about 100 theaters this weekend after spending two years on the shelf. Once known as Mary Jane's Last Dance, this teen-oriented thriller will doubtless endure the same fate as last year's woeful Soul Survivors: a don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it theatrical run followed by a quick video release. Still, its cast--Taye Diggs, Dominique Swain, Mia Kirshner and Rachel True--might lure a few people to this tale of a deadly university clique.
Human Nature also debuts this weekend in limited release. The latest warped satire from Being John Malkovich screenwriter Charlie Kaufman features Tim Robbins as a behaviorist who abandons studying mice in favor of civilizing the feral Rhys Ifans.
Like Frailty, Human Nature must rely on critical support if it is to overcome its offbeat premise and become an art-house sensation a la Being John Malkovich ($22.8 million).
Two tough women struggled last weekend for box office supremacy, with both emerging victorious.
With $61.8 million through Wednesday, Panic Room is certain to be Jodie Foster's first $100 million hit since 1997's Contact ($100.9 million). The claustrophobic thriller--with Foster thwarting a home invasion--also surpassed the box office totals for Alien 3 ($54.9 million) and The Game ($48.2 million) to become director David Fincher's biggest hit bar Seven ($100.1 million). After dropping an acceptable 39 percent in its second weekend, from $30 million to $18.2 million, Panic Room should amass between $11 million and $12 million this weekend.
Ashley Judd's High Crimes managed an impressive $14 million opening without the benefit of much pre-release fanfare and has $16.7 million through Wednesday. That's better than the $13.2 million opening for Kiss the Girls, which first paired Judd with High Crimes co-star Morgan Freeman. However, lousy reviews for this nonsensical courtroom thriller should result in a 50 percent plunge this weekend. High Crimes doesn't have the smarts or endurance to surpass Kiss the Girls' $60.5 million total.
The laughter seemed to stop last weekend despite the arrival of two comedies.
National Lampoon's Van Wilder--the first theatrical release to bear the comic institution's moniker since 1995's disastrous Senior Trip--collected a puny $7.3 million in its first weekend. National Lampoon clearly made the wrong choice in attaching its name to what was once known as Van Wilder: Party Planner.
With only $8.8 million through Wednesday, National Lampoon's Van Wilder once again proves that no one cares about Tara Reid unless she's serving up American Pie.
Tim Allen and Rene Russo wanted Big Trouble, and they sure got it in the form of a less-than-explosive $3.5 million debut.
Get Shorty director Barry Sonnenfeld's latest crime caper opened last weekend after being postponed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Seven months later, audiences still aren't ready to laugh at a plot that involves a stolen nuclear bomb and the possible military downing of a passenger airplane. Big Trouble has $4.1 million total through Wednesday, with $10 million a possible total.
Big Trouble's failure--expected or otherwise--comes as bad news for Allen and Russo. Allen's ignored Joe Somebody ($22.7 million) seems like a blockbuster in comparison. Russo now has three flops in a row following last month's Showtime ($36.3 million) and 2000's The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle ($26 million).
A plot to kill a beloved children's TV entertainer didn't need much help from Robin Williams. Death to Smoochy dropped out of the Top 10 after just one week. Director Danny DeVito's children's TV satire tumbled 62 percent in its second weekend, going from $4.2 million to $1.6 million. Its total through Sunday: $7.2 million.
Ice Age isn't cooling off, though. The CGI-animated adventure enjoyed a fourth weekend of $13.5 million, down a mere 25 percent from its third weekend haul of $18.1 million. With $142.4 million through Wednesday, Ice Age continues on its merry path to $180 million.
The Rookie threw a strong second inning, dropping 25 percent from its $16 million debut to $11.7 million. Baseball might not have recovered from the 1994 strike, but the game's sure reviving Dennis Quaid's career.
This stirring biography of Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher Jim Morris could become Quaid's biggest solo effort. With $36.6 million through Wednesday, The Rookie will outscore Frequency ($44.9 million) this weekend and may eventually exceed The Parent Trap's $66.3 million total. Quaid's biggest hits: the ensemble dramas Traffic ($124.1 million) and Any Given Sunday ($75.5 million).
Clockstoppers registered a strong second weekend, eroding by a mere 28 percent, from $10.1 million to $7.2 million. Jonathan Frakes' time-bending teen adventure has $23.1 million through Wednesday. Its final destination: $35 million.
Blade 2 will surpass its predecessor's $70.1 million total on Friday, but it continues to hemorrhage beyond control. Wesley Snipes' vampire saga lost 43 percent of its audience in its third weekend, dropping to $7.4 million from $16 million. With $69.2 million through Wednesday, Blade 2 will retreat into the darkness with about $80 million.
The end is near for Mel Gibson's We Were Soldiers ($72.2 million through Wednesday), Best Picture Oscar winner A Beautiful Mind ($165.5 million through Wednesday), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring ($304.4 million through Tuesday), The Time Machine ($54.7 million through Sunday) and John Q ($70.1 million through Sunday).
Seems the 20th anniversary of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial isn't too much of a cause for celebration. Steven Spielberg's 1982 classic has phoned home $31 million through Tuesday. That's better than Grease's 1998 reissue ($28.3 million), but unimpressive compared with the 2000 return of The Exorcist ($39 million). Let's not even bring up the 1997 re-release of the Star Wars trilogy.
Still, with a total $430.8 million through Tuesday, Spielberg can take comfort knowing that E.T. will earn enough money this week to supplant Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace ($431 million) as the third high-grossing film domestically. At least, that is, until Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones storms theaters this summer.