WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
After contemplating the plight of the corporate middle manager a decade ago with the wickedly funny Office Space Mike Judge turns his acerbic eye toward the small business owner with his latest comedy Extract. Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman stars as a Joel Reynold a successful entrepreneur who built his humble flavoring company into a thriving concern that now stands on the verge of being acquired — for a hefty sum — by breakfast cereal titan General Mills.
But just as Joel is poised to realize his dream of selling his company and retiring early everything begins to fall apart. A rash of petty robberies creates discord among his employees. An attractive flirtatious new employee (Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Mila Kunis) leads him to ponder cheating on his aloof unaffectionate wife. And worst of all a lawsuit stemming from a freak accident on the floor of his factory threatens to bankrupt the company. The confluence of personal and professional crises soon has Joel on the precipice of disaster.
Scattered throughout Extract are the seeds of a really clever comedy on par with — or even surpassing — the venerable Office Space. The cast is certainly terrific: Bateman is the perfect choice for the beleaguered cynical yet well-meaning Joel; the always great J.K. Simmons (Burn After Reading) makes a fine counterpoint as his blunt no-nonsense second-in-command; Kunis is a superb comic femme fatale as a manipulative con artist at the heart of the pivotal lawsuit; legendary KISS frontman Gene Simmons is an inspired choice to play a shady ambulance-chasing attorney — an occupation he no doubt would have chosen had he not gotten into rock and roll; even the much-maligned Ben Affleck is effective as Dean a stoner barkeep who dispenses a hazardous combination of bad advice and hallucinogenic drugs on his best friend Joel.
For all its impressive ingredients Extract makes for a surprisingly tepid dish. Much of the same sly wit and clever characterizations that made Office Space such a delight can be found in this film but not in amounts great enough to sustain it. Most bothersome about Extract is the fact that Kunis’ character heretofore the catalyst for much of the story’s action essentially disappears for the latter third of the film. Almost as an afterthought she’s tossed a brief epilogue during the closing credits that serves to tie up all the loose ends related to her character. It’s emblematic of the movie as a whole.
One aspect of Extract that does pay off is a great subplot involving Dustin Milligan as Brad an empty-headed gigolo Joel hires as part of a disastrously ill-advised scheme to get his wife Suzie (played by SNL’s Kristen Wiig) to cheat on him first — thus clearing the ethical roadblocks (in his mind at least) for his unimpeded pursuit of Kunis’ character. But Brad ends up getting a little too wrapped up in his work making multiple follow-ups to Suzie and ultimately falling in love with his "client." The “break-up” scene between slow-witted Brad and exasperated Suzie is one of Extract’s highlights.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Based on Noel Coward’s 1928 play and set in that period Easy Virtue is about John Whittaker a young Englishman who falls madly in love with a flamboyant American woman named Larita whom he immediately marries and brings home to meet his stuffy all-airs English family. What ensues is a battle of wits that turns to war between the visiting yank and her new mother-in-law who is determined to prove to her son that he has made an egregious mistake.
WHO’S IN IT?
Jessica Biel takes a flying thespic leap and holds her own in the middle of a sterling cast of fine British talent as Larita the feisty young wife of a naïve young man who has fallen head-over-heels in love with her and expects his stuffy upper-crust family to fall in line. Biel is a delight as this thoroughly modern miss and shows she can adapt to the witty rhythms of Noel Coward’s rapid-fire repartee with the best of ‘em. And the best of ‘em includes the wonderfully talented and woefully underrated Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient) as the doubting Mrs. Whittaker who doesn’t quite welcome the American intruder with open arms. Thomas’ performance is reminiscent of the haughty English societal roles she began her career with but she adds a dollop of vinegar to this one and appropriately glams down for full effect. Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) is at once smitten and perplexed as the impressionable new groom while the ever-reliable and appealing Colin Firth steals it all as his cynical and dour father the only other family member who sees the spark in Larita.
Shot entirely in some stunning stately mansions in the environs around Berkshire and Cambridgeshire Easy Virtue expertly captures the flavor of a sophisticated late-'20s British romp. The fresh and inspired casting of Biel in her first English foray should also find contemporary audiences responding. Although he occasionally opens things up a bit (including a very funny fox hunt) director Stephen Elliott wisely lets his cast take center stage with Coward’s constant zingers and spicy dialogue.
There’s nothing really new here that will make you go “Wow.” Though it’s all “been there seen that ” Easy Virtue is still done with verve and style. It’s a hoot for those who miss this kind of theatrical experience on the big screen.
When the others have retired to the patio Biel’s character accidentally sits on Mrs. Whittaker’s prized little pooch sadly squashing the poor little bugger to death. Her subsequent Lucy-esque attempts to cover up the crime are slapstick silly fun giving Biel the opportunity to display the kind of comic chops she didn’t get to show opposite Adam Sandler and Kevin James in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Netflix. The widescreen cinematography is nice to look at but this little trifle will play just fine at your own estate.
Fresh out of the slammer Calvin “Babyface” Sims (Marlon Wayans)--or to us “Little Man”--robs a jewelry store along with his partner in crime Percy P (Tracy Morgan). After the heist is somewhat botched Calvin drops the jewel in the purse of an unsuspecting young woman Vanessa (Kerry Washington) in an attempt to elude cops. Calvin then follows Vanessa and her husband Darryl (Shawn Wayans) out to their suburban home where it’s calm and where the thief learns Darryl is desperate to father a child. So three-foot-tall Calvin shows up on Darryl’s doorstep in a dog basket goo-goo-ga-ga-ing much to the couple’s delight. They take him in and turn a blind eye on the fact that he has facial stubble and a mouthful of pearly whites as Cal tries repeatedly to retrieve the diamond. Amid countless muck-ups and pratfalls the trio grows closer with even Cal showing his heartfelt side. But he is still a criminal with a motive a motive which Vanessa’s elderly father (John Witherspoon) thinks he’s got figured out. Shawn and Marlon Wayans are easily two of the top five actors in the Wayans clan which is a feat if you know their genealogy but at this point it’d be nice to split the brothers up. Their roles here weren’t easily executable--especially Marlon’s--but it’s as if they implore us to not see them as artists. Marlon whose head is superimposed atop a little person’s body--a not-so-special effect--boasts some funny lines as a hardened thief but makes for a grating “toddler ” even though most will inexplicably find his proportions to be hilarious. Meanwhile Shawn actually steals more of the physical gags like getting hit in the groin oh maybe a dozen times by various objects. And it’s a sad day in Hollywood when people like Ray’s Kerry Washington bolt the good stuff for a Wayans vehicle but hey at least she looks great! The true comedy here sparse as it may be comes from numerous cameos by In Living Color alumni and three SNL-ers (Rob Schneider Molly Shannon and Tracy Morgan). Marlon Shawn and Keenen Ivory Wayans are an absolute testament to the Hollywood Machine in action. They “get” Hollywood more than perhaps even George Lucas does making them studio execs’ best friends. They are also more in touch with their fanbase than anyone and churn out precisely what their loyalists crave. In short they are utterly fascinating. Their movies? Not so much. Director Keenen often seems to mistake irreverent for crude and co-writers Marlon and Shawn--well clearly they didn’t envision a brainbuster but they produced (at least) one: We’re merely supposed to laugh at the fact that Vanessa and Darryl don’t notice Calvin’s perpetually changing ages spewing unintelligible babytalk in one scene and playing football in the next. Otherwise it’s more or less a series of Keenen alternating locales to exploit pratfalls that would arise if the man-child problem existed.
Everything appears to be status quo between humans and mutants. There’s a president who is sympathetic towards mutants Prof. Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) school is thriving and Magneto (Ian McKellen) is quiet--for the moment. But when a “cure” for mutancy is discovered which would give those with the mutant gene the choice to give up their powers and become human Magneto sees red. Cure mutants? Dem’s fightin’ words. With a few more allies on his side--including the resurrected Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who now calls herself the Phoenix and has unlimited powers--Magneto prepares to trigger the war to end all wars while the X-Men--lead by the stalwart Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and milquetoasty Storm (Halle Berry)--try to stop him. I seriously doubt this is really their Last Stand. All the usual suspects are back. Stewart is once again sufficiently wise as Xavier while McKellen’s Magneto continues to be one of the cooler comic-book villains. It’s amusing to watch him calmly mangle cars or dislodge the Golden Gate bridge with a gleam in his eye. Janssen also seems to relish playing dual roles--the tormented Grey and her evil alter ego Phoenix who is one scary broad. Unfortunately Jackman doesn’t have as much to chew on in Last Stand as he did in X2 and Berry is once again only good for drumming up fog. But the new mutants are kind of fun: Ellen Page (so deadly in Hard Candy) plays sweet this time as Kitty Pryde who can “phase” through solid material; Vinnie Jones (Snatch) is boisterous as the aptly named Juggernaut; Kelsey Grammer is diplomatic as the highly intelligent--and very blue--Dr. Hank McCoy aka Beast; and Dania Ramirez (Fat Albert) as the blink-of-an-eye quick Callisto gets to kick Storm’s ass. Cool cat fight. How dare director Bryan Singer leave his X-Men to go direct another superhero movie even if it is Superman Returns. If Wolverine had anything to say about he might have ripped Singer a new one. You really do feel Singer’s absence in The Last Stand. All of the director’s tormented pathos towards his mutant comrades and their struggles to live in the human world are not as prevalent in this third installment. Instead we’ve got happy-go-lucky director Brett Ratner of Rush Hour fame who turns The Last Stand into one giant id--big explosive and campy. Of course to his credit Ratner is pretty good at delivering a rousing albeit superficial action movie. It’s just not as gripping as X2. But listen the spirit of the comic is already built in from the previous installments so in essence we already know these characters pretty well. Do we really need more angst?
Time to do the Monsters mash.
Wisely receiving a two-week jump on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Monsters, Inc. looks set to effortlessly scare the aliens and ghosts that currently dominate the box office all the way back to whence they came.
This wonderful computer-animated escapade from Disney/Pixar should mesmerize the rugrats who adored the Toy Story yarns. Parents also will giggle at the misadventures of two friendly monsters, voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman, while enjoying nods to the likes of Armageddon and legendary stop-motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen.
That wide appeal will guarantee Monsters, Inc. the most lucrative opening since American Pie 2 bowed Aug. 10 with $45.1 million. Disney/Pixar can expect Monsters, Inc. to exceed the openings of such previous collaborations as Toy Story ($29.1 million) and A Bug's Life ($33.2 million), both of which benefited from a Thanksgiving holiday weekend debut. Toy Story 2 also opened during Thanksgiving, and consequently enjoyed a November-best $57.3 million opening. Monsters, Inc. won't topple Toy Story 2 by virtue of opening on a non-holiday weekend. Still, Disney/Pixar can count on an opening that will beat the month's second-highest opener, last year's Charlie's Angels ($40.1 million). Plus, showing the eagerly awaited Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones trailer before Monsters, Inc. can't hurt.
Monsters, Inc. will no doubt enjoy a two-week reign at the top of the box office, then take a tumble when blockbuster-in-waiting Harry Potter flies into theaters Nov. 17. Even then, Monsters, Inc. will likely serve as the alternative for parents who can't squeeze into one of the many thousands of screens showing Harry Potter. Monsters, Inc. should wind up with a total somewhere between Toy Story's $191.7 million and Toy Story 2's $245.8 million.
The brave souls going up against Monsters, Inc.: Jet Li and John Travolta. Both headline PG-13 rated thrillers, which should enable them to attract significant audiences, but martial arts sensation Li clearly holds an edge over the currently out-of-favor Travolta.
The first sci-fi epic since August's Ghosts of Mars, The One pits Li against Li. He plays different versions of himself from alternate universes, including a cop and the vicious killer out for his blood. Martial arts practitioners enjoy acting as their own co-stars, what with Jackie Chan's Twin Dragons ($7.8 million) and Jean-Claude Van Damme's Double Impact ($29 million), Maximum Risk ($14.1 million) and his direct-to-video Replicant.
Directed by Final Destination's James Wong, The One and its futuristic trappings will propel Li to his biggest opening as a lead. The Shakespearean-inspired Romeo Must Die opened in March 2000 with $18 million and peaked at $55.9 million. The subdued and clumsy Kiss of the Dragon made $13.3 million in July, ending up with only $36.8 million.
Travolta, meanwhile, is struggling to overcome a box-office slump that began with last year's Battlefield Earth and Lucky Numbers. Playing a patriotic cyberterrorist in the repugnant Swordfish somewhat helped Travolta's cause, but the summer thriller went offline with a modest $69.7 million. Domestic Disturbance, a throwback to such early 1990s homebound thrillers as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and The Crush, won't see Travolta break the $100 million barrier but it will allow him to regain his footing. He stars as a divorced father who fears that his son's stepfather (Vince Vaughn) is up to no good.
The extraterrestrial, philosophical ramblings of K-PAX's Kevin Spacey should continue to entrance those not amused by the antics of two goofy monsters. Neither Spacey nor co-star Jeff Bridges are particularly bankable commodities, which made K-PAX's $17.2 million opening last weekend all the more surprising. Its total through Wednesday: $20.4 million. Even more impressive, K-PAX trumped producers Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver's 13 Ghosts, which seemed all the more likely Halloween fare than a tale about a vacationing alien.
13 Ghosts, Zemeckis and Silver's second remake of a William Castle chiller, still managed to frighten $15.1 million from audiences. That's on a par with the duo's The House on Haunted Hill, which opened in 1999 with $15.9 million. With trick-or-treating over and done with, 13 Ghosts should experience a drop similar to the 52 percent decline The House on Haunted Hill endured in its second week. 13 Ghosts' total, through Wednesday, is $18.9 million, so the horror yarn is on pace to match or exceed The House on Haunted Hill's $40.8 million total.
Snoop Dogg's scary efforts met with limited success. Bones, which sees the rap star's murdered neighborhood benefactor return from the grave, opened Oct. 24 and generated $2.8 million during the weekend. Its total through Wednesday: $4.1 million. Bones also will fall out of favor with Halloween's passing, and should disappear quickly from its mere 847 theaters long before Thanksgiving.
Johnny Depp's From Hell, which dropped 45 percent in its second weekend to take in a disappointing $6 million, looks unlikely to make more than the $30 million that his Sleepy Hollow opened with in 1999. The Victorian-era slasher flick, with Depp on the trail of Jack the Ripper, has made $22.3 through Wednesday.
Riding in Cars With Boys, featuring a rare dramatic turn by Drew Barrymore, also took a skid. The Penny Marshall-directed weepie made $6 million in its second weekend, dropping 42 percent. Its total through Wednesday: $20.1 million. At this pace, Riding in Cars With Boys will likely come to halt somewhere just past the $24.1 million that Marshall's turkey Renaissance Man made in 1994.
The gritty Training Day continues to impress, with dirty cop Denzel Washington shaking down $66.1 million through Wednesday. Training Day should surpass this weekend the $66.4 million that Washington's The Bone Collector made in 1999 and could end up matching the $77.3 million that Philadelphia earned in 1997.
Bandits and The Last Castle are shaping up as major fall disappointments for its stars.
Bandits proves that crime doesn't always pay.
Bruce Willis' heist caper tumbled 39 percent in its third weekend to $5 million. This comes after a disheartening $13 million opening that MGM blamed on New York City's anthrax scare. Bandits never recovered, earning just $8.3 million in its second weekend. Its total through Wednesday: $33.1 million. Willis' recent comedic turn as a hit man in The Whole Nine Yards netted him $57.2 million.
Robert Redford must take comfort knowing that co-starring with Brad Pitt in Spy Game, due Nov. 21, will likely reap more bucks than The Last Castle. The military drama is shaping up as Redford's biggest flop since Havana, which earned a disastrous $9.2 million in 1990. The Last Castle, which has taken in $13.6 million through Wednesday, cements Rod Lurie's reputation as a politically minded but unprofitable director.
Still, at least some people have taken a mild interest in The Last Castle. The same cannot be said for On the Line, starring not one but two members of cooling teen heartthrobs 'N Sync. The romance, starring Lance Bass and Joey Fatone, opened last weekend with a less-than-lusty $2.3 million at 900 theaters. That's only slightly better than the terrible $2.4 million that Mariah Carey's Glitter opened with in September at 1,202 theaters. Perhaps pop--at least the soulless kind manufactured by the likes of 'N Sync--really is going bye, bye, bye.