Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
There is a certain level of enjoyment you are guaranteed when signing on for a movie that boasts a cast of George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, and Bill Murray. And that's the precise level of enjoyment you'll get from The Monuments Men — that bare minimum smirk factor inherent the idea that your favorite stars are getting to play together. In FDR-era army helmets, no less. But what we also get from the film is an aura of smug self-confidence from project captain Clooney, who seems all too ready to take for granted that we're perfectly satisfied peering into his backyard clubhouse.
So assured is the director/co-writer that we're happy to be in on the game that there doesn't seem to be any effort taken to refine the product for the benefit of a viewing audience. An introductory speech from art historian Frank Stokes (Clooney) sets up the premise straight away: the Nazis are stealing and destroying all of Europe's paintings and sculptures, and by gum we need to stop them! The concept doesn't complicate from there, save for a batting back and forth of the throughline question about whether the preservation of these pieces is "really worth it." Stokes rallies his own Ocean's Seven on a fine arts rescue mission, instigating an old fashioned go-get-'em-boys montage where we learn everything we need to know about the band mates in question: Damon has a wife, Goodman has gumption, Murray doesn't smile, Bob Balaban is uppity, and Jean Dujardin is French.
The closest thing to a character in The Monuments Men comes in the form of Hugh Bonneville, a recovering alcoholic whose motivation to take on the dangerous mission is planted in a festering desire to absolve himself of a lifetime of f**king up. When we're away from Bonneville, the weight disspears, as does most of the joy. Without identifiable characters, even master funnymen like Goodman, Murray, and Balaban don't have much to offer... especially since the movie's jokes feel like first draft placeholders born on a tired night.
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
But wait a minute, is this even supposed to be a comedy? After all, it's about World War II. And no matter what Alexandre Desplat's impossibly merry score would have you believe (coupled with The Lego Movie, this opening weekend might be responsible for more musical jubilance than any other since the days of "Make 'Em Laugh!"), warfare, genocide, and desecration of international culture all make for some pretty heavy material. But The Monuments Men's drama is just as fatigued as its humor, clumsily piecing together a collection of mini missions wherein the stakes, somehow, never seem to jump. We're dragged through military bases, battered towns, and salt mines by Clooney and the gang — occasionally jumping over to France to watch Damon work his least effective magic in years on an uptight Cate Blanchett, who holds the key to the scruffy American's mission but doesn't quite trust him... until, for no apparent reason, she suddenly does. We never feel like any of these people matter, not even to each other, so we never really feel like their adventures do.
The Monuments Men doesn't have much of a challenge ahead of it. Its heroes are movie stars, its bad guys are Nazis, and its message is one that nobody's going to refute: art is important — a maxim it pounds home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, through countless scenes of men staring in awe at the works of Michelangelo and Rembrandt. And in this easy endeavor, Clooney decides to coast. How could it possibly go wrong? Just grab hold of the fellas, toss 'em in the trenches, and let the laughs and danger write themselves. "This is what they came to see," Monuments Men insists. "Just us guys havin' a ball." But we never feel in on the game, and it isn't one that looks like that much fun anyhow.
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Swordfish was the weekend's biggest catch in this weekend's choppy box office waters.
In a weekend marked by surprisingly large percentage declines across the board, Swordfish outperformed expectations. The Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow film flew much higher on Hollywood's radar screen than insiders had anticipated.
Overall, key films grossed about $94 million, down sharply by over 22% from last week and up only a marginal 1.4% from last year. Insiders attributed the hefty percentage declines this weekend to a number of possible factors, including competition from televised basketball and hockey playoffs, widespread good weather and a concentration of high school proms.
"It was interesting to see the number of graduations and proms that actually fell on this weekend while normally they're spread out a little," one top distributor pointed out. "I think people were tied up with a lot of family events this weekend. The weather back East was fantastic. And you had the NBA game on Friday and again today and you had the final game of the hockey playoffs, Game Seven, on Saturday. It was just a combination of things. Never is there one thing -- unless it's the Super Bowl -- that impacts the business like this. And that's just a one day thing.
"To give you an idea, on Friday of the pictures in the marketplace already, other than the two new pictures (that opened), all the pictures were off 47 percent (on average) on Friday night and off 51 percent (on average) on Saturday. That's way out of line from the norms. Most of the time you don't see one weekend dive so much from, like, the first weekend in June to the second weekend in June."
Nonetheless, the weekend saw Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures' R rated action drama Swordfish made a big first place splash with a tasty ESTIMATED $18.43 million at 2,678 theaters ($6,882 per theater).
Swordfish's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Dominic Sena and produced by Joel Silver and Jonathan Krane, it stars John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Don Cheadle.
Reflecting on how well Swordfish kicked off, Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning, "You have to just take a look at the demographics out there. All these movies were going after different audiences than ours. No question about it, the tracking once again proves that it doesn't always work. We came through. We're very, very happy about it. Now we're focusing on our second week."
Considering the competition from televised sports and a marketplace crowded with other films -- including DreamWorks' blockbuster Shrek, which many observers were predicting would move up from second place to capture top honors this weekend -- Fellman noted, "I think we beat the odds. We won the weekend certainly despite the NBA finals, which certainly hurt the box office on Friday and will again on Sunday."
Audience reaction, he added, "was really terrific. Our exits were great. The audience was 56% male and 44% female and they liked the movie equally, so that's very nice. This is the seventh motion picture in a row produced byJoel Silver that opened Number One in the marketplace.
"The studio's thrilled. It's nice to be in the John Travolta business when he's hot. We had a great cast (besides Travoltawith) Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Don Cheadle. These guys did a good job. And Dominic Sena made a good movie. And, of course, we have our production partners Village Roadshow in this movie, who deserve a tip of the hat."
Swordfish, Fellman said, "is John's third largest opening in his career. Face/Off is his biggest opening at $23.3 million. The General's Daughter is his second biggest at $22.3 million. Michael did $17 million, so this comes in (third). If you look at the (marketplace) for those movies in those days, there wasn't the enormous amount of competition the same weeks. They were generally free of competition. So (with Swordfish doing so well with a lot of competition now), it shows some strength for the movie."
As to where Swordfish might be heading, Fellman said it's too early to say at this point: "I think you need to sit back a little and digest the next weekend before we make predictions. We're off and running. It's a great opening for Warner Bros. and our summer. Our next movie is A.I. from Steven Spielberg and then we have also a terrific movie on July Fourth called Cats & Dogs.
"We're looking forward to a huge year and, of course, with Harry Potter (in November) and Oceans 11 (in December) and Majestic at Christmas and Collateral Damage (in October) and Training Day (in September), we're in good shape."
DreamWorks' PG rated computer animated blockbuster Shrek held on to second place in its fourth week, continuing to show great legs with an ESTIMATED $17.1 million (-39%) at 3,715 theaters (+54 theaters; $4,602 per theater). Its cume is approximately $176.6 million on its way to $250-270 million.
With its move up to 3,715 playdates, DreamWorks set a record for the largest number of locations any film has ever played in, beating the record set last year by Paramount's Mission: Impossible 2 with 3,669 locations.
Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, its voice talents include Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow.
"Two of the top five," DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp said Sunday morning, noting that the studio was very happy about its good showing with both Shrek and its opening of Evolution. "With that kind of weekend (where everything was down so much), we're actually pretty happy with both these numbers."
Buena Vista/Touchstone and Jerry Bruckheimer Films' PG-13 rated three hour epic action romance Pearl Harbor dropped two fathoms to third place in its third weekend with a less lively $14.9 million (-50%) at 3,255 theaters (+41 theaters; $4,565 per theater). Its cume is approximately $144.1 million, heading for $200 million.
Directed by Michael Bay, Pearl was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay and written by Randall Wallace. Its extensive cast is led by Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight and Alec Baldwin.
"It appears that we're going to play on the same exact formula that Lost World did," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "Lost World was off 46-point-something percent and we're off 49.7 percent. It pretty much says that whatever the tracking of that particular movie was, that's the format we're going to find. Obviously, it takes you into the $200 millions."
Viane noted that there's a lot of competition in the marketplace from other films and that, "Part of it this weekend is that you've got (sports competition from) the Lakers on Friday and Sunday and you had the probably the first good weather in the East. But everybody was in that ballgame, so we're all equal (in terms of how it impacted)."
Viane pointed out that BV was also very pleased with its launch this weekend of Disney's PG rated animated adventure Atlantis in exclusive engagements in New York and Los Angeles. Atlantis did a staggering ESTIMATED $0.34 million at 2 theaters ($170,794 per theater).
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, its voice talents include Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer and Leonard Nimoy.
"What can I say other than, 'What a hell of a start?'" Viane observed.
Asked why BV had taken the exclusive engagements opening route with Atlantis that it had used years ago with its animated feature, Viane explained, "One of the greatest sales tools that a team has is when a movie plays really well. We had a sense that we'd get some really good critical reviews -- like Ebert and Roeper both gave it two thumbs up. We know the audience loves it. Any time you can get the people talking about your movie, then I think you've hit a home run. We knew very early on how much the public enjoys the movie. So we just decided to take a page out of our past and recreate it. It goes wide this Friday. I would imagine we'll approach 3,000 runs."
DreamWorks' and Columbia's PG-13 rated sci-fi comedy Evolution kicked off strongly in fourth place with a happy ESTIMATED $13.2 million at 2,611 theaters ($5,056 per theater).
Directed by Ivan Reitman, it stars David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott and Julianne Moore.
"Better than the tracking," DreamWorks' Jim Tharp said, noting that the film hadn't been expected to open this well. "And in a down weekend. We're pretty happy with the numbers based on the weekend that we're in."
Columbia's release of Revolution Studios PG-13 youth appeal comedy The Animal fell sharply in its second weekend, down two slots to fifth place with a quieter ESTIMATED $9.8 million (-50%) at 2,788 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,515 per theater). The film, which only cost $22 million to make, has a cume of approximately $35.8 million and is heading for $60-70 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Luke Greenfield, it stars Rob Schneider.
"I think the drops (this weekend) were universally higher than what everyone would have liked," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
"I think we can safely attribute that (to) the lovely weather that almost seems for the first time to be crossing the country this weekend. I think everybody lost a few points due to the weather this weekend."
20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated romantic musical drama Moulin Rouge slid two notches in its fourth week (its second in wide release) with an okay ESTIMATED $7.62 million (-44%) at 2,283 theaters (+4 theaters; $3,336 per theater). Its cume is approximately $27.5 million.
Directed by Baz Luhrmann, it stars Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.
"Everybody (is down a lot this weekend). I'd be killing myself if it was only us," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning, pointing to some even steeper declines than Moulin's. "Otherwise, I'd be going 'Geez! 44 percent!' I think it's just the weekend. In order to expand the market for another $35 million to take in Swordfish and Evolution, everybody took a hit."
Is Moulin's 44 percent drop cause for alarm? "I really don't think so," Snyder replied. "What it's saying it's the end of is the weak sister theaters that we've had. They'll be disappearing quickly. But where this picture is working, it's still got some great numbers. The individual numbers are terrific. What you're finding in cities is one run is absolutely gangbusters, kicking butt -- usually in the most sophisticated zone -- and the blue collar zones are (not nearly as good). So we'll end up losing those and keeping the solid ones. We've got a long way to go."
MGM's PG-13 comedy What's The Worst that Could Happen? tumbled two pegs to seventh place in its second weekend with a less funny ESTIMATED $5.4 million (-58%) at 2,675 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,019 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.2 million.
Directed by Sam Weisman, it stars Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito.
Universal's PG-13 rated adventure blockbuster sequel The Mummy Returns fell three pegs to eighth place in its sixth week with an okay ESTIMATED $4.15 million (-46%) at 2,539 theaters (-665 theaters; $1,635 per theater). Its cume is approximately $188.2 million, heading for $200 million in domestic theaters.
Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, Mummy stars Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz and features an appearance by wrestling star The Rock.
Columbia's PG-13 rated youth appeal adventure A Knight's Tale slid two notches to ninth place in its fifth week with a calm ESTIMATED $1.7 million (-50%) at 1,850 theaters (-591 theaters; $919 per theater). Tale, which cost only $41 million to produce, has a cume of approximately $52.7 million and is heading for $60 million in domestic theaters.
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, Tale stars Heath Ledger.
Rounding out the Top Ten was the R rated romantic comedy Bridget Jones's Diary from Miramax Films, Universal Pictures, StudioCanal and Working Title, down two rungs in its ninth week with a quiet ESTIMATED $1.2 million (-40%) at 975 theaters (-326 theaters; $1,230 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67.4 million, heading for $70 million in domestic theaters.
Having only cost about $25 million to produce, Bridget will be very profitable.
Directed by Sharon Maguire, Bridget stars Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Fine Line Features' R rated comedy The Anniversary Party to an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.16 million at 11 theaters ($14,790 per theater).
Written and directed by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, its ensemble cast includes Jane Adams, Jennifer Beals, Phoebe Cates, Alan Cumming, Kevin Kline, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey and John C. Reilly.
Paramount Classics' romantic drama Bride of the Wind opened to an okay ESTIMATED $0.035 million at 8 theaters ($4,420 per theater).
Directed by Bruce Beresford, it stars Sarah Wynter, Jonathan Pryce and Vincent Perez.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front, this weekend saw Miramax's R rated French thriller With a Friend Like Harry... continue to widen in its eighth week with an okay ESTIMATED $0.19 million (-3%) at 99 theaters (+28 theaters; $1,865 per theater). Its North American cume is approximately $2.1 million.
Harry is being released under Miramax's French film banner Miramax Zoe.
Directed by Dominik Moll, it stars Laurent Lucas, Sergi Lopez, Mathilde Seigner and Sophie Guillemin.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $94.11 million, up a marginal 1.38% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $92.83 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 22.23% from last weekend this year when key films took in $121.02 million.
Last year, Buena Vista's opening week of Gone In 60 Seconds was first with $25.34 million at 3,006 theaters ($8,428 per theater; and Paramount's third week of Mission: Impossible 2 was second with $17.23 million at 3,669 theaters ($4,696 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $42.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $35.5 million.
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