Based on H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's bestselling book of the same name Friday Night Lights tells the true story of the dusty West Texas town of Odessa where nothing much happens until September rolls around. That's when the town's 20 000 or so denizens pour into Ratliff Stadium the country's biggest high school football field every Friday night to watch the Permian Panthers Odessa's "boys in black " take to the field. All the town's hope and dreams are pinned on the padded shoulders of these young gridiron heroes--including insecure quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black); cocky self-assured running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke); headstrong self-destructive tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) who must contend with an overbearing abusive dad (Tim McGraw--yes that Tim McGraw the country singer); and the team's spiritual leader middle linebacker Ivory Christian (newcomer Lee Jackson). The Panthers begin their season with one thing on their minds--winning their fifth straight championship for the first time in the team's 30-year history--but for their coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) it also means instilling a love and joy of the game in the boys' hearts amidst tremendous pressures and expectations. Easier said than done.
There isn't a false note in any of the performances and no one falls back on clichéd versions of their characters as is so easy to do in rah-rah sports movies. Thornton does a particularly good job as Gaines keeping you guessing whether he's going to be a hardass insensitive to his players' emotional needs (like so many movie football coaches before him) or if he truly means to coach his boys in a fair and decent way. Gaines too has to deal with his own pressures especially from the townsfolk who are likely to string him up if the team loses the championship. As for Gaines' players Black (the oh-so-serious kid from Thornton's Sling Blade) is all grown up and buffed out and still very serious. It works for the young actor though as the beleaguered Winchell struggles with the love-hate relationship he has with his chosen sport. Other standouts include Luke (Antwone Fisher) as the star player Boobie whose cocksureness leads him to an injury; Hedlund as the volatile Billingsley trying desperately to please his father; and McGraw making his film debut as the father a former Permian Panther champion who sure hasn't given up his competitive spirit basically beating it into his son. First Faith Hill (McGraw's real-life wife) in The Stepford Wives and now McGraw--who knew country singers could act?
From All the Right Moves to Varsity Blues to Remember the Titans Friday Night Lights unfortunately doesn't completely distinguish itself from the pack of football movies before it--like those this is all about how the young players--be they underdogs second-string nobodies or stars--rising above the mounting pressure and playing the best they can bless their hearts. Still there's no question the sports genre--particularly football--always gets the juices pumping with FNL being no exception. It might have something to do with our sick fascination with watching bone-crunching hits and body-punishing tackles. It's dangerous out there for these guys; no other sport (besides maybe hockey) can elicit such wince-inducing emotion and actor/director Peter Berg (The Rundown) exploits that. Obviously influenced by Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday Berg effectively paints his own gritty documentary-style picture of the competitive sport without relying on too many trite gushy over-the-top moments. And to give it credit the film does not necessarily have a feel-good "let's win one for the Gipper" ending; it is based on a true story after all and as we know real life isn't all sunshine and roses especially in the bloodthirsty world of Texas high school football.
December 31, 2001 6:50am EST
New Line Cinema's epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring made a noble debut at the box office this weekend, taking in $45.2 million in its opening weekend, bringing its four day domestic theatrical release total to $73.1 million. Hitting 3,359 theaters, The Fellowship of the Ring averaged $13,471 per theater.
While the PG-13-rated The Fellowship of the Ring did not surpass last month's $90.3 million take for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, it did eclipse the $60 million mark predicted by the studio.
The Fellowship of the Ring pulled in $18.2 million at the domestic box office on its first day, the biggest take ever for a single day in December, and the third biggest Wednesday opening for any film in North America. It did not, however, surpass records set by Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, which grossed $28.5 million on May 19, 1999, and Jurassic Park III, which made $19 million on July 18, 2001.
Directed by Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring stars Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd and Liv Tyler.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 crime remake Ocean's Eleven kept its runner-up title for the second week in a row, earning $14.5 million in 3,075 theaters ($4,745 per theater). Its cume is approximately $95.2 million.
The film, directed by Steven Soderbergh, stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, and Don Cheadle.
Armed and ready, Paramount's G-rated animated feature Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius comfortably slid into third place with an estimated $14 million in 3,139 theaters ($4,460 per theater), easily beating out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Last week's box office topper, Paramount's Vanilla Sky, dropped to fourth place this weekend. The romantic thriller earned $12.1 million, a 52 percent drop from last week, at 2,744 theaters ($4,410 per theater). Sky has a cume of approximately $45.1 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Cameron Crowe, Vanilla Sky star Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz.
Universal's R-rated pot comedy How High smoked its way to a fifth place with an estimated $7.6 million at 1,266 theaters (an impressive $6,003 per theater).
It's directed by Jesse Dylan and stars rappers Method Man and Redman.
Slowly losing steam, Warner Bros.' Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone dropped two spots to finish sixth, making $6.7 million-a 38 percent drop from last week, at 3,311 theaters (-111 theaters; $1,863 per theater). Its cume is approximately $236.1 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Chris Columbus, it stars Daniel Radcliffe in its title role.
Sony's R-rated youth flick Not Another Teen Movie fell four notches to place seventh with an estimated $5.5 million (-56%) at 2,365 theaters ($2,326 per theater). Its cume is approximately $21.6 million.
Directed by Joel Gallen, the film stars Jaime Pressly, Mia Kirshner, Chyler Leigh, Chris Evans and Cody McMains.
Warner Bros.' The Majestic made a weak debut in eighth place with a dull estimated $5 million at 2,361 theaters, with an average of $2,128 per theater.
The PG-rated drama directed by Frank Darabont stars a subdued Jim Carrey.
Fox's Joe Somebody eked by in ninth spot. The PG-rated comedy opened with an estimated $3.6 million at 2,503 theaters ($1,458per theater).
Directed by John Pasquin, the film stars Tim Allen, Julie Brown, Hayden Panettiere and Greg Germann.
Rounding out the top ten was Buena Vista's Monsters, Inc., down four rungs in its eighth week with an estimated $3.5 million at 2,097 theaters (-585 with an average of $2,530 per theater). Its cume is approximately $224.1 million.
We've all known nobodies like Joe Scheffer (Tim Allen)--a milquetoast fellow who works at his job while hardly anyone notices him. Even though he's a talented video specialist for a big company he is regularly passed over for a long-promised promotion. Only one of his co-workers "wellness coordinator" Meg Harper (Julie Bowen) pays attention to him--mostly because it's her job but she also genuinely likes him (he secretly likes her too). One day the straw breaks when he loses his hard earned parking spot to the office bully Mark McKinney (Patrick Warburton) and is then humiliated by Mark in front of his precocious 12-year-old daughter Natalie (Hayden Panettiere). Joe decides he is not going to roll over and play dead; he's going to challenge Mark. Suddenly his popularity grows at the office. He starts climbing the corporate ladder. He gets a makeover and takes martial arts instruction from a washed-up "B" action star (Jim Belushi). Life is good--that is until Joe notices how unimpressed Meg and Natalie have become; they want the old Joe back (and darn it so do we). As the big day approaches Joe must decide if he will play into the popular vote or show everyone that he is truly a "somebody" now.
You've got to admit that Tim Allen is a funny guy. He can be thrown into any comedy (and he's smart enough to keep making them instead of trying to do a "drama") and you know he's going to pull out a pretty good performance. Some of his efforts like the hysterical Galaxy Quest have been better than others. Unfortunately Joe falls into the "other" category but don't blame Allen too much since he still manages to make Joe an endearing character. Bowen is plucky and spirited without much substance while Panettiere is a standout as Joe's daughter Natalie. With a face like an angel she projects more real emotion than anyone else and if she plays her cards right she might turn into a good little actress. Best of all it was great to see Belushi again. Definitely a high point of the film he is hysterical as the has-been action star trying to teach Joe how to fight.
Joe provides just enough laughs to keep you in your seat but it isn't really going to surprise you. The formula is simple-wimpy guy stands up for himself learns invaluable lesson about being true to oneself and gets the girl. This isn't rocket science folks and the script lapses into pat answers a little too easily. Still it's one of those comedies that grows on you whether you want it to or not. The funniest moments in the film are between Allen and Belushi hands down with the comic veterans playing off one other expertly. It's also clear director John Pasquin and Allen have a long history together. They began their relationship on Allen's hit TV show Home Improvement and then went on to make a few successful films for Disney including The Santa Clause and Jungle2Jungle. Pasquin can bring out good stuff from Allen but somehow misses the great things Allen can do.
Brace yourself Dr. Laura. This clueless teen queen (Natasha Lyonne) has it all: good looks a football captain boyfriend and a popular pair of pom-poms. But her candy-colored world crumbles when her panicked parents stage an intervention after finding a Melissa Etheridge poster that leads them to conclude she's a friend of Ellen. After being carted off to an anti-gay rehab camp for teens the perky princess must choose between the straight and narrow-minded or the love that dare not speak its name.
The quirky ensemble casting is half this film's fun. Lyonne is charming as the pepster tempted by T&A and she sparks onscreen with swanky and sexy co-star Clea DuVall who plays the butch femme fatale suitor (alarmingly reminiscent of Nancy McKeon's Jo from "The Facts of Life.") Drag queen supreme RuPaul is unrecognizable out of his high heels and even higher blond wig wearing a "Straight is Great" T-shirt as a macho militant ex-gay counselor. Cathy Moriaty is sweetly sinister as the homophobic headmistress and Mink Stole steals scenes as the uptight upright meddling mom.
Kudos to Jamie Babbit for tackling this hot-potato topic but this well-intentioned film too often misses its mark turning potentially comical scenes into unbearably awkward moments. Babbit fouls when tugging at the heartstrings but hits home runs when the humor is at its broadest.