The tragic opera tells the story of a disfigured musical genius (Gerald Butler) who haunts the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera waging a reign of terror over its occupants [cue the organ music]. Think The Elephant Man meets The Hunchback of Notre Dame--except this particular "monster" has some serious sex appeal. I mean honestly his only "disfigurement" is some scarring on one side of his face which he covers with a rather classy mask. No big whoop. But I digress. When he falls desperately in love with the lovely ingénue Christine (Emmy Rossum) who has lived in the opera house for most of her life the Phantom devotes himself to molding the young soprano into a star exerting a strange sense of control over her as he nurtures her extraordinary talents. But when Christine falls for the dashing Raoul (Patrick Wilson) all hell breaks loose as the Phantom's growing jealousies threatens to tear everyone apart [OK now it's really time to cue the organ music].
Fans will no doubt be happy their favorite musical has finally made it to the big screen but the musical's original stars Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman have been replaced in the movie version by hot young actors. This is a very wise decision considering the film's rather longwinded nature. In other words even though the Phantom performers keep singing and singing and then sing some more at least they are appealing to watch (and they did do all their own singing). Butler (Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) is particularly effective as the Phantom all brooding mysterious and far more intriguing a suitor than pretty boy Raoul played blandly by Wilson (HBO's Angels in America). With her alabaster skin and long luscious locks Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow) also does a nice job as Christine. But she is unfortunately limited to only a few range of emotions--either all doe-eyed and somber over her Phantom doe-eyed and gushy over Raoul or just plain doe-eyed. As for the supporting players Minnie Driver nearly steals the show as the Italian soprano diva La Carlotta. As the only breath of fresh air in the musty opera house you definitely crave more of her.
It's taken about 15 years to bring Webber's smash hit to the big screen. Apparently after winning every known theater award for Phantom the legendary producer-composer approached director Joel Schumacher in 1988 to do the movie after being impressed by Schumacher's work on The Lost Boys. Hmmm The Lost Boys to Phantom of the Opera--I'm still trying to tie that one together. Anyway Webber had to postpone production for personal reasons and then Schumacher was busy doing such films as Tigerland and Phone Booth. Finally the time was ripe to make Phantom coming on the heels of the musical movie boom started by Moulin Rouge and Chicago. Schumacher certainly incorporates all the right elements from the young and talented cast to the opulent sets and magnificent costumes. The problem is the material: Phantom really isn't all that compelling of a story. Sure the stage production was and still is a theatrical event especially as the Phantom moves on catwalks all over the theater and the impressive chandelier comes crashing down on the stage. But for the film adaptation there needs to be something more than just grand posturing set pieces and operatic music. Maybe a little more dialogue? A sex scene? Anything?
They ride together. They die together. They conquer the box office together.
The buddy sequel Bad Boys II proved a formidable opponent for an angst-y teen girl, a ship of cursed pirates and a bumbling secret agent at the box office weekend. The shoot 'em up actioner gunned down the competition with a lawful *$46.7 million, defeating the espionage spoof Johnny English, which snuck in at fourth place with a furtive $9.3 million, and the adolescent drama How To Deal, which opened in eighth position with a meager $5.8 million.
Bad Boys II also trounced last week's box office topper, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The swashbuckling tale, however, did not experience the typical second week drop off and continued to sail smoothly with an impressive $33.3 million--down only 29 percent from last week.
But while moviegoers demonstrated they hadn't had their fill of pirates just yet, they certainly weren't interested in learning how to deal. How To Deal failed to strike a chord with teen audiences, and it looks as though star Mandy Moore will find out what happens when the box office "gets turned upside down."
Rounding out the Top Five were the period thriller The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which came in third with $10.1 million, and the sci-fi actioner Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which landed in fifth place with $9.1 million.
THE TOP TEN
Sony Picture's R rated buddy actioner Bad Boys II premiered at the top of the box office with an ESTIMATED take of $46.7 million at 3,186 theaters. Its $14,658 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this weekend.
In the sequel, Miami narcotics detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett become part of a high-tech task force assigned to stem the flow of designer ecstasy into the city and inadvertently uncover a deadly conspiracy involving a ruthless drug lord.
Directed by Michael Bay, it stars Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jordi Molla, Gabrielle Union and Peter Stormare.
Buena Vista Pictures' PG-13 rated fantasy actioner Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, last week's box office champ, came in second in its second week with an ESTIMATED $33.3 million (-29%) at 3,359 theaters (+90 theaters; $9,914 per theater). Its cume is $132.2 million.
Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated period thriller The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fell one spot to third place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $10.1 million (-56%) at 3,002 theaters (unchanged; $3,364 per theater). Its cume is approximately $42.4 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 took fourth place with an ESTIMATED $9.3 million at 2,236 theaters with a $4,159 per theater average.
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.
Warner Bros.' R rated sci-fi actioner Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines dropped two places to No. 5 in its third week with an ESTIMATED $9.1 million (-53%) at 3,404 theaters (-100; $2,701 per theater). Its cume is approximately $127.7 million.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes and Kristanna Loken.
Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios' G rated computer-animated feature Finding Nemo fell only one spot in its eighth week to sixth place with an ESTIMATED $7.3 million (-14%) at 2,408 theaters (-163 theaters; $2,944 per theater). Its cume is approximately $303.8 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.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
MGM's PG-13 rated Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde fell three rungs to seventh in its third week with an ESTIMATED $6.1 million (-49%) at 3,205 theaters (-170 theaters; $1,903 per theater). Its cume is approximately $75.4 million.
Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it stars Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Regina King, Bob Newhart and Jennifer Coolidge.
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated drama How To Deal debuted disappointingly in eighth place with an ESTIMATED $2.5 million at 2,319 theaters with a $2,501 per theater average.
Based on a combination of two young adult romance novels by Sarah Dessen (Someone Like You and That Summer), the film revolves around a teenage girl who doesn't believe in storybook romance--until she meets the right guy.
Directed by Clare Kilner, it stars Mandy Moore, Trent Ford, Alexandra Holden, Allison Janney and Peter Gallagher.
Sony Picture's PG-13 rated Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle dropped three places to ninth in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $3.7 million (-48%) at 2,261 theaters (-941 theaters; $1,636 per theater). Its cume is approximately $89.1 million.
Directed by McG, it stars Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Bernie Mac.
Fox Searchlight's R rated sci-fi thriller 28 Days Later dropped one place to round out the Top Ten in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.5 million (-40%) at 1,310 theaters (-86 theaters; $1,947 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.4 million.
Directed by Danny Boyle, it stars Cillian Murphy, Naomi Harris, Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns.
Miramax's R rated crime drama Dirty Pretty Things opened in five theaters this weekend and took in an ESTIMATED $101,000 with a strong $20,200 per theater average.
In the film, a kind-hearted Nigerian doctor who works at a seedy West London hotel finds a human heart in one of the toilets and uncovers something far more sinister than just a common crime.
Directed by Stephen Frears, it stars Chewitil Ejiofor, Sergi Lopez and AudreyTautou.
Fox Searchlight's R rated musical comedy Garage Days, meanwhile, opened in 23 theaters and took in an ESTIMATED $21,160 with a $920 per theater average.
The film is a coming-of-age comedy about a young Sydney band trying to get a foothold in the competitive world of rock n' roll.
Directed by Alex Proyas, it stars Kick Gurry, Maya Stange, Pia Miranda and Chris Sadrinna.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $137.6 million, up a whopping 33.63 percent from last year's take of $102.9 million. The Top 12 films were also up .58 percent from last weekend when they grossed $136.8 million.
Last year, DreamWorks' R rated drama Road to Perdition topped the box office in its second week of release with $15.4 million at 2,159 theaters (+326 theaters; $7,139 per theater average), Sony's G rated Stuart Little 2 debuted in the No. 2 position with $15.1 million at 3,225 theaters with a $4,644 per theater average and Sony's PG-13 rated Men in Black II followed in third place in its third week with $14.5 million at 3,641 theaters ((+30; $3,997 per theater).
The vampire Lestat de Lioncourt (Stuart Townsend) wakes from a hundred-year sleep to the rock 'n' roll present day and likes what he sees and hears. Tired of the vampire's solitary life he becomes the frontman for an unknown rock band and transforms it into the latest greatest thing gaining the adulation of millions. He also decides to disregard the unspoken rule that vampires must hide away from the rest of world and writes songs encoded with specifics of the secret life of vampires. As expected Lestat's lyrics draw the attention of both the bloodsuckers who want to destroy him and the human vampire scholars (called the Talamasca) who want to study him. One young Talamascan student Jesse Reeves (Marguerite Moreau) becomes obsessed with Lestat after reading his journal from the 1800s. She learns that Lestat had a brief encounter with Queen Akasha (Aaliyah) the most ancient and dangerous vampire to ever exist and the mother of all who walk the Earth in search of blood. He gets his chance to meet Akasha again when his music awakens her from an ancient slumber. She rises and seeks out Lestat to become her king and join her in ruling the world.
The film truly belongs to Townsend and fans of the Anne Rice's novels will be happy to know he completely embodies the charismatic vampire Lestat. The little-known Irish actor who starred in last year's indie About Adam with Kate Hudson rules the screen whenever he is on it and luckily he's on it quite a lot. He's especially powerful when he is in rock star mode. Although Moreau's Jesse is fairly one dimensional she comes alive in her scenes with Townsend. Let's hope they keep asking him to play Lestat (when and if they make any more films from Rice's vampire novels) and next time give him an actress he can have some real chemistry with. The late R&B singer Aaliyah made her second film appearance in Damned as the queen. Even though she is only in the film a short time she possesses a certain charm as the ancient and evil Queen Akasha and makes a great first impression by destroying a vampire coven. Yet her acting skills are just not up to par with the rest of the cast including the charismatic Vincent Perez as the vampire Marius and Lena Olin as the kind-hearted vampire Maharet.
Damned was set to be released in the fall of last year but word of mouth had the film destined for the video shelf before it even made it to the big screen. Then tragedy struck and as the news of Aaliyah's untimely death echoed throughout the world of entertainment Warner Bros. wisely decided to hold onto it and release it in theaters at a more favorable time knowing there would be an audience who'd want to see the singer's last film. Yet for all the bad press surrounding it Damned actually pleasantly surprises you due largely in part to Townsend's mesmerizing performance. Michael Rymer's direction is not a masterpiece of filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination but it has a certain MTV quality about it which makes it appealing. That same quality however also makes it too slick glossing over the meatier parts of Rice's novel making the dialogue and action trite and sometimes downright silly. Come to think of it the 1994 Interview With the Vampire also suffered from the same thing. Maybe translating Rice's words is harder than it looks.