Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
There is no question about which film will be No. 1 at America’s multiplexes this weekend. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros) is posting unprecedented weekday grosses with $24.5M on Monday and $20.9M Tuesday, and it will easily win the upcoming three-day. The question is, “How much of a drop will the Christopher Nolan-directed crime thriller/superhero hybrid suffer on its second weekend?”
To answer the question, let’s look at the second weekend drops for the other 11 movies that have grossed $100M so far in 2008.
PERCENTAGE DROPS FOR 2008’S 11 $100M GROSSING MOVIES
1. Kung Fu Panda – 44%
2. Horton Hears A Who – 45%
3. Iron Man – 48%
4. Get Smart – 48%
5. Hancock – 49%
6. WALL-E – 49%
7. Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull – 55%
8. Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – 59%
9. The Incredible Hulk – 60%
10. Wanted – 61%
11. Sex and the City – 62%
Can it manage a drop of just 50 percent? That would give it a spectacular $79M weekend, and it would soar past the $300M mark in just 10 days, easily topping the previous all-time best 10-day performance of $258.36M for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. I am predicting $70M-$80M as the box office records continue to fall.
Two new films roll out this Friday. The Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly R-rated comedy Step Brothers (Sony) has improved dramatically in industry tracking, and I am revising my prediction from $17M-$22M to $27M-$32M.
That would be Will Ferrell’s best R-rated opening surpassing Old School ($17.45M) and this year’s pro hoops-inspired comedy Semi-Pro ($15M). That would also best Ferrell’s previous teaming with director Adam McKay, 2004’s Anchorman, which opened to $28.41M. In fact, Step Brothers could become the second best opening of Ferrell’s career trailing only Talladega Nights ($47M).
Meanwhile, it is likely to be another tough weekend for Fox. Following up on Meet Dave’s $5.25M opening (reported $60M budget) and Space Chimps’ $7.2M opening, the studio is making a bet on a big budget sequel for the long dormant The X-Files.
I was a huge fan of the TV show, which enjoyed its ratings peak in 1998. The feature film The X-Files: Fight The Future managed an opening just over $30M in 1998 on its way to about $84M domestic. The film seemed to take some “steam” out of the TV series, and, by the time it left the airwaves in 2002, its two-hour finale finished only third in its time-slot.
How many core Under 25 moviegoers remember or even know who Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) are? According to industry tracking, not enough to make I Want To Believe a hit of any significance. The best case scenario for this re-boot of The X-Files seems to be $15M-$20M on opening weekend. That would be a real disappointment.
FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE WEEKEND OF JULY 25
1. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros) - $75M
2. Step Brothers (Sony) - $31M
3. The X-Files (Fox) - $17M
4. Mamma Mia! (Universal) - $16.7M
5. Journey to the Center of the Earth (Warner Bros) - $7.7M
6. Hancock (Sony) - $7.5M
7. WALL-E (Disney) - $5.7M
8. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Universal) - $5.5M
9. Space Chimps (Fox) - $4.3M
10. Wanted (Universal) - $2.5M
July 1 marks the halfway point of the movie year, and there is a clear winner among the major Hollywood studios. With the top 3 grossing movies of 2008, Paramount is riding high with both Marvel’s Iron Man and Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull topping $300M and DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda at $181M now and a cinch for $200M+. The Melrose gang will be the first studio in history with back-to-back-to-back $200M+ grossing movies.
With an estimated $1.054 billion in domestic box office, it will be impossible for anyone to catch Paramount in the market share race for 2008, especially when the studio has 2 sure bets for $100M+ due in the next 6 months. First comes the much buzzed-about DreamWorks comedy Tropic Thunder in August, featuring another standout Robert Downey Jr. performance and a scene-stealing turn by Tom Cruise. Then comes Madagascar 2, also from DreamWorks, in November, which I am hearing very positive reports about.
Paramount is likely to exceed the $1.49 billion in domestic box office it generated last year, and they have an outside shot at surpassing the all-time record $1.71 billion generated by Sony in 2006. To do it, the studio would need Madagascar 2 to be huge and to get help from DreamWorks’ DJ Caruso/Shia LaBeouf re-teaming for Eagle Eye in September, David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in December and perhaps Joe Wright’s follow-up to Atonement, The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. (again), Jamie Foxx and Catherine Keener, which is expected sometime this fall with plenty of Oscar buzz.
The battle is on for the year’s #2 spot, which Fox now holds with almost $650M domestic. Horton Hears a Who ($154M domestic) has led the way for Fox, and the rest of the studio’s year has been comprised of good solid hits like 27 Dresses, starring Katherine Heigl ($76.8M), Doug Liman’s Jumper ($80.15M) and the Ashton Kutcher-Cameron Diaz vehicle What Happens in Vegas ($79M). The always smartly run Fox even managed to wring about $60M out of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening so far.
Meet Dave, starring Eddie Murphy, is Fox’s next release with director Brian Robbins trying to recapture the box office glory of Norbit ($95.6M domestic). If Murphy scores, Fox will have a leg-up on the competition for the year-end 2nd-best market share, although they follow with the animated Space Chimps on July 18 and the long-awaited X-Files sequel on July 25, both of which are viewed as less-than-sure things. The studio’s late year breakout hit candidates include Bill Murray and Tim Robbins in the futuristic City of Ember in October, Baz Luhrman’s highly anticipated Australia at Thanksgiving, a remake of 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (featuring Keanu Reeves as Klaatu) in December and Marley & Me, based on John Grogan’s bestselling memoir and starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, at Christmas.
The surest blockbuster in the second half of 2008 is, without question, The Dark Knight. With $200M all-but-assured for the Christopher Nolan sequel and Get Smart a safe bet to exceed $100M, Warner Bros will have three $100M grossing films (Sex and the City is the 3rd) and one near-miss with Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 B.C., which topped out at $95M domestic. The studio is currently #3 in market share with an estimated $505M in U.S. theaters.
When you consider that Warner Bros still has Star Wars: The Clone Wars due in August, the re-teaming of Diane Lane and Richard Gere in Nights in Rodanthe in September, Ridley Scott’s House of Lies, based on the excellent David Ignatius CIA thriller Body of Lies and starring Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio, in October, and the next Harry Potter installment set for Thanksgiving, Warner Bros is probably the betting favorite to be 2008’s #2 studio.
With $472M banked so far in 2008, you cannot count Sony out of the battle for 2nd place. Although Hancock will be the studio’s first $100M+ hit of 2008, it certainly will not be their last. The year has featured 3 good, solid box office successes with You Don't Mess with the Zohan ($91.67M so far), 21 ($81.15M) and Vantage Point ($72.26M), and the Will Smith superhero film, which opened last night, is a can’t-miss.
Four major blockbusters loom for Sony starting with Step Brothers, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, on July 25, followed by Judd Apatow’s The Pineapple Express, which will compete with Tropic Thunder for the biggest late-summer hit. (James Franco, who plays a hilarious stoner, could be one of the breakout stars of the year.) The studio will finish the year with the newest James Bond film Quantum of Solace and Will Smith in the Oscar-friendly-but-still-commercial 7 Pounds.
Universal is currently #6 with $447M domestic, but the year is heating up for them. Although the Marvel-financed and -produced Incredible Hulk appears to have stalled out and will finish its domestic run with less than Ang Lee’s version 5 years ago, it still should reach about $130M. Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, is just beginning what should be a healthy run well above $100M. The studio follows next Friday with Hellboy II, a Guillermo Del Toro sequel to his wildly original 2004 movie Hellboy. The franchise-starter generated a domestic gross of only $59.62M, but the movie found new fans on DVD and cable and Del Toro had a few more dollars to play with this time. If Universal connects with Hellboy II, a streak of five $100M+ grossing films is not out of the question because both Mamma Mia! and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor are good bets to pass that magical threshold.
The end of the year for Universal features a few Oscar contenders, including Flash of Genius and Frost/Nixon, an important prestige film with both Oscar pedigree and some box office upside, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, and the animated Tale of Despereaux.
Disney's biggest 2008 hit to-date is The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian with an underwhelming $138M, but Wall-E, after a $60M+ opening weekend, is a game-changer with $250M domestic not out of the question. Disney has generated a total of $475M domestic so far, but its only remaining titles that show blockbuster potential are High School Musical 3 in October, the animated Bolt in November and Adam Sandler's Christmas comedy Bedtime Stories. Because of its strictly limited number of releases, Disney is unlikely to compete for the #2 market share in '08.
Among the 5 studios above, I consider Warner Bros to be the favorite to finish the year with the 2nd-best market share with odds of 5/2. Sony is the next best bet at 7/2 followed by Fox at 6/1, Universal a live underdog at 8/1 and Disney 15/1.