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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The cheerleaders of "Bring It On" easily topped the chart, despite tracking studies suggesting a closer race for first place with "The Art of War."
Universal's opening of Beacon Pictures' PG-13-rated dark comedy about cheerleaders kicked off to a cheerful ESTIMATED $17.41 million at 2,380 theaters ($7,315 per theater). Its per-theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
"In an environment this year where there were lots of teen films that didn't work, finding the appropriate release date for this picture was (very important)," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "We've become this summer's biggest surprise.
"What marketing (under president Marc Shmuger) did was to find the hook to bring the message to the target audience. The hook was the competitiveness of the film (with its white and black cheerleading teams). That's what worked. We didn't sell it as another teen comedy with sex and raunch. We sold it as a competitive film with these kids pitted against each other, which is what the movie really is about. Our marketing did the impossible in an environment where there have been lots of films that didn't work for this target audience (of young females)."
The film's low production cost should make it very profitable for Universal and Beacon. "This picture only cost Universal $10 million," Rocco noted. "Our partners at Beacon - and particularly Marc Abraham (president of Beacon Communications and producer of 'Bring' with Thomas Bliss) - have become such a viable part of Universal. They are the ones that gave us 'Hurricane.' They're giving us a Christmas film, 'Family Man' (a romantic comedy fantasy directed by Brett Ratner and starring Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni). And we're looking forward to 'Spy Game' next year."
Universal's exit polls over the weekend are very encouraging, according to Rocco: "Overall, 75% in the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good) and 53% definite recommend. For young females (under 25), it's 90% in the Top Two Boxes and 62% definite recommend." She noted that it was playing particularly well to the under 17 crowd.
Directed by Peyton Reed, it stars Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dusku, Jesse Bradford and Gabrielle Union.
Warner Bros.' R-rated martial arts drama "The Art of War" opened in second place to a solid ESTIMATED $11.19 million at 2,630 theaters ($4,253 per theater).
Directed by Christian Duguay, "War" stars Wesley Snipes, Anne Archer and Donald Sutherland.
New Line's R-rated fantasy suspense thriller "The Cell" slipped two slots to third place in its second weekend with a less sexy ESTIMATED $9.6 million (-45%) at 2,430 theaters (+19 theaters; $3,961 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.7 million.
Directed by Tarsem, "Cell" stars Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn and Vincent D'Onofrio.
Warner Bros. PG-13 sci-fi action adventure "Space Cowboys" dropped one rung in its fourth week to fourth place, still showing good legs with an ESTIMATED $6.61 million (-30%) at 2,795 theaters (-40 theaters; $2,365 per theater). Its cume is approximately $63.8 million.
"'Space Cowboys' had a phenomenal night last night (Saturday). It was up 69% over Friday. It was huge," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "It continues to hold well and continues to benefit from great word of mouth. It's got playability. People enjoy the movie.
"At the end of this week, we'll be at $66 million - where 'Unforgiven' was at $67 million and 'In the Line of Fire' was at $71 million. Now we have Labor Day weekend coming up, so we'll have a terrific hold. The movie's now got a shot at, maybe, north of $90 million."
Fellman also noted that "Cowboys" should also benefit from the fact that it has the next four weeks ahead of it with little or no competition for its adult audience. "We had a great playdate," he said, "and it's turning out that the film is reaping the benefits of it."
Directed by Clint Eastwood, "Space" stars Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland.
Paramount's R-rated Spike Lee documentary comedy "The Original Kings of Comedy" fell three notches to fifth place in its second week with a less funny ESTIMATED $6.1 million (-45%) at 875 theaters (+28 theaters; $6,971 per theater). Its cume is approximately $21.4 million.
Directed by Spike Lee, "Kings" stars Steve Harvey.
DreamWorks PG-13-rated supernatural thriller "What Lies Beneath" slid one peg in its sixth week to sixth place with an okay ESTIMATED $4.5 million (-33%) at 2,568 theaters (-192 theaters; $1,752 per theater). Its cume is approximately $130.8 million.
"Beneath" is a co-production of DreamWorks, which is releasing it domestically, and 20th Century Fox, which is distributing it internationally.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, "Beneath" stars Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Warner Bros.' PG-13-rated football action comedy "The Replacements" fell three notches to seventh place in its third week with a lower scoring ESTIMATED $4.11 million (-43%) at 2,717 theaters (-37 theaters; $1,511 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.8 million.
Directed by Howard Deutch, "Replacements" stars Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13-rated Mafia comedy "The Crew" opened in a virtual tie for seventh place to a quiet ESTIMATED $4.1 million at 1,510 theaters ($2,715 per theater).
Directed by Michael Dinner, "Crew" stars Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, Dan Hedaya and Seymour Cassel.
Universal and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13-rated comedy sequel "Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps" skidded three slots to ninth place in its fifth week with a calm ESTIMATED $3.34 million (-47%) at 2,543 theaters (-426 theaters; $1,315 per theater). Its cume is approximately $109.8 million.
Directed by Peter Segal, it stars Eddie Murphy, Janet Jackson and Larry Miller.
Rounding out the Top Ten was MGM's PG-13-rated romantic drama "Autumn in New York," down two pegs in its third week with a slower ESTIMATED $3.15 million (-42%) at 2,260 theaters (-22 theaters; $1,393 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.7 million.
Directed by Joan Chen, it stars Richard Gere and Winona Ryder.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Lions Gate Films' unrated romantic comedy "Love & Sex" in New York and Los Angeles, placing 26th with an encouraging ESTIMATED $64,000 at 8 theaters ($8,000 per theater).
Directed by Valerie Breiman, it stars Famke Janssen and John Favreau.
"It was a gorgeous weekend in New York and L.A., so that cuts the Friday to Saturday bumps down a little bit," Lions Gate co-president Tom Ortenberg said Sunday morning.
"But people seem to like this movie, so hopefully they will tell all their friends."
Looking ahead, Ortenberg added, "Sex" will move into the Top 20 markets Sept. 8.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend, Artisan Entertainment's R-rated dark comedy "Cecil B. Demented" went wider in its third week, placing 23rd with an okay ESTIMATED $0.18 million (+13%) at 69 theaters (+39 theaters; $2,650 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.6 million.
Directed by John Waters, it stars Melanie Griffith and Stephen Dorff.
USA Films' director's cut reissue of the R-rated 1984 thriller "Blood Simple" added theaters in its eighth week, placing 25th with a quiet ESTIMATED $70,000 (-18%) at 63 theaters (+2 theaters; $1,105 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.5 million.
Directed by Joel Coen and written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, it stars John Ge z, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, Samm-Art Williams and M. Emmet Walsh.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $84.92 million, down about 4.28% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $88.71 million. This weekend's key film gross was down about 10.54% from this year's previous weekend when key films grossed $94.92 million.
Last year, Buena Vista's fourth week of "The Sixth Sense" was first with $20.10 million at 2,763 theaters ($7,274 per theater); and Buena Vista's opening week of "The 13th Warrior" was second with $10.27 million at 2,306 theaters ($4,453 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $30.4 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $28.6 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES
Based on business by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more), last weekend's top six distributors were:
Universal was first with two films ("Bring It On" and "Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps"), grossing an ESTIMATED $24.75 million or 29.2% of the market.
Warner Bros. was second with four films ("Space Cowboys," "The Art Of War," "The Perfect Storm" and "The Replacements"), grossing an ESTIMATED $23.21 million or 27.3% of the market.
New Line was third with one film ("The Cell"), grossing an ESTIMATED $9.6 million or 11.3% of the market.
Paramount was fourth with two films ("The Original Kings of Comedy" and "Bless the Child"), grossing an ESTIMATED $8.9 million or 10.5% of the market.
Buena Vista (Disney and Touchstone) was fifth with three films ("The Crew," "Coyote Ugly" and "Disney's The Kid") grossing an ESTIMATED $7.52 million or 8.9% of the market.
Sony Pictures Releasing (Columbia and TriStar) was tied for sixth with two films ("Godzilla 2000" and "The Hollow Man"), grossing an ESTIMATED $4.5 million or 5.3% of the market.
DreamWorks was tied for sixth with two films("What Lies Beneath" and "Chicken Run"), grossing an ESTIMATED $4.5 million or 5.3% of the market.
(11)Hollow Man/Columbia: Theaters: 2,481 (-475) Gross: $2.8 million (-53%) (tie) Average per theater: $1,129 Cume: $66.6 million
(11)Coyote Ugly/BV/Touchstone: Theaters: 2,296 (-243) Gross: $2.8 million (-43%) (tie) Average per theater: $1,220 Cume: $49.3 million
(11)Bless the Child/Paramount: Theaters: 2,350 (-171) Gross: $2.8 million (-42%) (tie) Average per theater: $1,191 Cume: $22.8 million
(14)Godzilla 2000/TriStar: Theaters: 2,111 (0) Gross: $1.7 million (-61%) Average per theater: $805 Cume: $7.6 million
(15)The Perfect Storm/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,205 (-212) Gross: $1.3 million (-27%) Average per theater: $1,090 Cume: $175.7 million
(16)X-Men/Fox: Theaters: 1,175 (-449) Gross: $1.3 million (-49%) Average per theater: $1,095 Cume: $151.1 million
(17)Saving Grace/Fine Line: Theaters: 255 (0) Gross: $0.79 million (-24%) Average per theater: $3,085 Cume: $3.2 million
(18) Scary Movie/Miramax/Dimension: Theaters: 1,051 (-450) Gross: $0.71 million (-45%) Average per theater: $675 Cume: $148.6 million
(19)Disney's The Kid/Buena Vista/Disney: Theaters: 919 (-303) Gross: $0.62 million (-45%) Average per theater: $669 Cume: $65.6 million
(20)Chicken Run/DreamWorks: Theaters: 823 (-179) Gross: $0.48 million (-47%) Average per theater: $583 Cume: $102.8 million
(21)Gladiator/DreamWorks: Theaters: 507 (+223)(sub-run) Gross: $0.4 million (+34%) Average per theater: $785 Cume: $182.7 million
(22)Pokemon: The Movie 2000/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 538 (-100) Gross: $0.3 million (-50%) Average per theater: $485 Cume: $42.5 million
(23)Cecil B. Demented/Artisan: (See EXPANSIONS above)
(24)Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle/Universal: Theaters: 362 (-74) Gross: $0.18 million (-20%) Average per theater: $485 Cume: $25.3 million
(25)Blood Simple/USA: (See EXPANSIONS above)
(26)LOVE & SEX/Lions Gate: (See OTHER OPENINGS above)
(27)Alice & Martin/USA: Theaters: 13 (-1) Gross: $34,000 (-6%) Average per theater: $2,650 Cume: $0.3 million