What no "giant sea pods" this time? Instead The Invasion skews the Body Snatchers scenario by making the alien invasion a virus rather than plant life. Said virus which comes to Earth via a mysterious crash of a space shuttle is transmitted by some form of bodily fluid-to-bodily fluid connection. For example throwing up into people's faces or coffee cups is a fun way to spread the disease. The end result however is the same: Once the infected person falls asleep they undergo a transformation and wake up looking the same but are unfeeling and inhuman—and ready to organize. As the infection spreads and more and more people are altered there are a few humans left fighting for their lives including psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) and her doctor friend Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig). Carol’s only hope is to stay awake long enough to find her young son who may hold the key to stopping the devastating invasion. But we won’t tell you how. OK it has something to do with an immunity but that’s all we are going to say. Nicole Kidman has had a string of bad luck since winning that damn Oscar for The Hours. One wonders if maybe the golden statuette might actually be a curse (Cuba Gooding Jr. anyone?). Still regardless of the movie--be it Bewitched The Stepford Wives or Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus--Kidman manages to turn in a decent performance. The same goes for The Invasion. Her mother bear act is quite believable as she races to find her son (played with spunk by Jackson Bond) while trying to stay awake and pretending to be cold and unemotional among the pod people--oh excuse me the virally infected people. You root for her all the way. Craig doesn’t have as much to do but still delivers when it counts. In a supporting role Jeremy Northam does a nice job as Carol’s ex-husband a CDC doctor who is one of the first to get infected. As does the always good Jeffrey Wright as a very clever genetic scientist. Even Veronica Cartwright one of the survivors in the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers makes a cameo as one of Carol’s patients who tells her “My husband isn’t my husband!” Famous last words. Body snatching must be a popular water-cooler topic at the movie studios. Starting with the 1956 sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers in which Kevin McCarthy barely escapes his small town with his life running into highway traffic screaming “They're here already! You're next! You're next You're next...” there have been at least two other versions including the above-mentioned 1978 film and the 1993 film Body Snatchers. To its credit The Invasion switches things up a bit nixing the pods and making it more relevant to our current socio-political climate. It even begs the question: Could we be better off if we didn’t have emotions? But the movie is still mired by its derivativeness and too-pat ending—and it also apparently had problems getting off the shelf. Originally wrapped in early 2006 rumor has it the studio didn’t like German director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s original cut and brought in Matrix’s Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski for rewrites and James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) to direct the new scenes. Again to its credit The Invasion surprisingly feels cohesive despite all the different influences. Let’s just say whoever came up with the tense car chase in which Carol tries to throw off the pod people (it's just more effective calling them that) draped all over the car kudos to them.
An avalanche of ticket sales for The Rock gave Scorpion King a record setting number one opening of $36.2 million.
Changing Lanes slowed down to place second with $11.1 million. Murder by Numbers opened third with only a small box office killing of $9.5 million.
The Rookie showed strong legs and placed fourth with $6.3 million. Panic Room locked up the fifth spot with $6.2 million.
Driven by Scorpion, key films--those grossing $500,000 or more--totaled $99.1 million, up over 27 percent from last year's $77.8 million. Business was up over 9 percent from the previous weekend's $90.7 million.
THE TOP TEN
Universal's PG-13 rated adventure spinoff The Scorpion King in association with World Wrestling Federation Entertainment and Alphaville kicked off with blockbuster strength to a chart topping ESTIMATED $36.2 million at 3,444 theatres ($10,515 per theater).
Scorpion's average per theater was the highest for any film playing this weekend.
Insiders said Scorpion is well on its way to $100 million in domestic theaters. How far it goes beyond that will depend on how well it holds after Columbia launches its highly anticipated event film Spider-Man May 3.
Scorpion goes into the record books as the biggest opening ever in the month of April. Actually, Universal broke its own record, having set it with $20.4 million for Life the weekend of Apr. 16-18, 1999.
"Everyone at Universal is very excited over the fact that we took one immensely popular franchise and spun off a completely new and obviously equally popular franchise," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning.
"We're happy we were able to launch a summer type movie in mid-April. That's setting precedent again. And certainly, having the April opening record is something to toot your horn about."
Rocco emphasized that, "None of this would have been possible without the tireless efforts of the amazing star of this movie, The Rock, who we're very proud to be in business with. He literally did everything we asked him to do (to launch the movie) and kept coming back for more. He's incredible. He's got talent. He's got charisma.
"And I have to credit our filmmaking partners at Alphaville, (producers) Sean Daniel and Jim Jacks with producers Kevin Misher and Stephen Sommers, for getting this film ready, bringing it to us in time to release it in April and doing it at a relatively inexpensive cost. Because it's not a special effects film like The Mummy, it didn't cost as much. It was $60 million--not (cheap) by today's standards, but still and all it's something to be very proud of."
Asked who was on hand opening weekend, Rocco replied, "It was just what we thought it would be. It was young males, who loved it. They came for The Rock. The audience was (about) 56 percent under 25, which was what was expected for this. And having launched it at this tremendous number, it bodes very well for next weekend where there's really nothing (in terms of huge competition to cut into Scorpion). We have two weeks to ourselves--this week and next week. That's a good thing."
Paramount's R rated road rage drama Changing Lanes drove one notch down the chart to second place in its second week, still on the track with an ESTIMATED $11.1 million (-35%) at 2,642 theaters (+29 theaters; $4,201 per theater). Its cume is approximately $32.8 million.
Directed by Roger Michell, it stars Ben Affleck and Samuel L Jackson.
Castle Rock Entertainment's Murder by Numbers opened calmly in third place via Warner Bros. to an ESTIMATED $9.51 million at 2,663 theaters ($3,569 per theater).
Directed by Barbet Schroeder, it stars Sandra Bullock.
"About 71 percent of the audience was over the age of 25, of which 60 percent were female," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning.
"So it was predominantly female. It's a different kind of film for Sandra Bullock and a film she wanted to make. It wasn't that far from the studio projections. We'll hang in there and see how we hold up. Next week's not very strong (in terms of new competition)."
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated family appeal baseball drama The Rookie rose one rung to fourth place in its fourth week, still rounding the bases with great energy with an ESTIMATED $6.3 million (-21%) at 2,507 theaters (-13 theaters; $2,528 per theater). Its cume is approximately $53.7 million.
Directed by John Lee Hancock, it stars Dennis Quaid.
Columbia's R rated thriller Panic Room escaped three blocks south to fifth place in its fourth week with a still scary ESTIMATED $6.2 million (-42%) at 2,825 theaters (-294 theaters; $2,195 per theater). Its cume is approximately $82.2 million, heading for the area of $100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by David Fincher, it stars Jodie Foster.
"We have opened every (new international) market in the number one position. This weekend we had a very big opening in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy--all in the number one position," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
Panic's international numbers, Blake said, are "very comparable to a picture we handled last spring, Erin Brockovich, which was our international title. It's doing that level of business (and is) certainly pointed towards $100 million-plus and we're going to be real close domestic. But, certainly, international is off to that level of start. Obviously, with more major territories to come, we'll know more within a month. Every one has been a terrific launch and a number one opening."
Looking ahead, Blake noted, "Next week is France. The U.K. opens on May 3. And Japan opens May 18."
20th Century Fox's PG rated animated feature Ice Age eroded two pegs to sixth place in its sixth week, still holding nicely with an ESTIMATED $5.74 million (-33%) at 2,817 theaters (-194 theaters; $2,038 per theater). Its cume is approximately $159.5 million, heading for $175 million or more in domestic theaters.
Directed by Chris Wedge, it features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
Columbia's R rated romantic comedy The Sweetest Thing dropped four notches in its second week to seventh place with a bittersweet ESTIMATED $5.2 million (-45%) at 2,670 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,948 per theater). Its cume is approximately $17.0 million.
Directed by Roger Kumble, it stars Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair.
20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises' PG-13 rated thriller High Crimes fell two rungs to eighth place in its third week with a dull ESTIMATED $3.77 million (-50%) at 2,408 theaters (-339 theaters; $1,564 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.8 million, heading for $35-40 million.
Directed by Carl Franklin, it stars Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman.
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG rated time travel adventure Clockstoppers slid two slots to ninth place in its fourth week, with a slower ESTIMATED $2.86 million (-39%) at 2,188 theaters (-324 theaters; $1,307 per theater). Its cume is approximately $31.9 million, heading for the area of $40 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, it stars Jesse Bradford, Paula Garces, French Stewart, Michael Biehn and Robin Thomas.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Artisan Entertainment's R rated youth comedy National Lampoon's Van Wilder, which was tenth last week, in its third week with a less wild ESTIMATED $2.25 million (-45%) at 1,806 theaters (-298 theaters; $1,246 per theater). Its cume is approximately $17.3 million, heading for $20 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Walt Becker, it stars Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid.
"We're thinking it will probably top off at $20 million because I don't think there's going to be more than a couple weeks of business left," Artisan domestic theatrical distribution president Steve Rothenberg said Sunday morning.
"For us, it's a good win. We made the film for between $5-6 million, so to gross $20 million and with all the ancillary (business because) these titles are usually very good in video, we should be fine."
This weekend also saw the arrival of IFC Films' PG rated romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a slim ESTIMATED $0.53 million at 108 theaters ($4,895 per theater).
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Manhattan Pictures' R rated thriller Enigma opened to an unexciting ESTIMATED $0.15 million at 25 theaters ($5,985 per theater).
Directed by Michael Apted, it stars Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam and Saffron Burrows.
Paramount Classics' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Triumph of Love arrived to an non-triumphant ESTIMATED $61,000 at 18 theaters ($3,378 per theater).
Directed by Clare Peploe, it stars Mira Sorvino, Fiona Shaw, Jay Rodan, Rachael Stirling and Ben Kingsley.
Sony Pictures Classics' R rated drama Nine Queens kicked off to a hopeful ESTIMATED $39,000 at 5 theaters ($7,713 per theater).
Directed by Fabian Bielinsky, it stars Ricardo Darin and Gaston Pauls.
Lions Gate Films' R rated drama Chelsea Walls opened to a soft ESTIMATED $10,000 at 3 theaters ($3,219 per theater).
Directed by Ethan Hawke, it stars Rosario Dawson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Sean Leonard, Natasha Richardson, Uma Thurman, Mark Webber and Steve Zahn.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend IFC Films' unrated erotic drama Y Tu Mama Tambien went wider in its sixth week with an okay ESTIMATED $1.03 million (+1%) at 243 theaters (+50 theaters; $4,245 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.9 million.
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, it stars Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.
USA Films' R rated romantic comedy Monsoon Wedding added theaters in its ninth week with a still enticing ESTIMATED $0.71 million (+14%) at 189 theaters (+27 theaters; $3,740 per theater). Its cume is approximately $7.1 million.
Directed by Mira Nair, it was produced by Nair and Caroline Baron.
Universal's international division reported Sunday morning that The Scorpion King kicked off its international run with an outstanding number one opening in Australia. The film's $0.28 million opening day gross is the second biggest opening day of the year Down Under. In its first three days, Scorpion grossed $1.0 million on 191 playdates.
In the U.K. Scorpion arrived to an excellent $1.7 million on 402 playdates in its first 2 days, including Thursday night previews, and is running neck and neck with Bend it Like Beckham for first place.
In Malaysia, Scorpion grossed $0.33 million on 41 playdates, ranking as Universal's second biggest opening ever, UIP's all-time third biggest opening and the industry's fourth biggest opening in history.
In Singapore, Scorpion grossed $0.36 million on 26 playdates, making it Universal's fourth biggest opening, UIP's sixth biggest opening and the industry's tenth biggest.
In the Philippines, Scorpion also did excellent opening weekend business, grossing $0.23 million on 76 playdates, matching the ticket sales for past blockbusters like Jurassic Park III and Tomb Raider.
In Hong Kong, Scorpion grossed an excellent $0.36 million on 38 playdates, equaling the openings for The Mummy and Tomb Raider.
A Beautiful Mind continued to hold very well in the Top 5 in several countries. In Argentina, Mind tied for first place in its ninth week with $35,000 (-17%) on 51 playdates.
In Brazil, it ranked fifth in its tenth week with $0.11 million (-27%) on 155 playdates.
Mind was fifth in its eighth week in Germany with $0.46 million (-21%) on 389 playdates.
In Mexico, it placed fifth in its eighth week with $0.14 million (-24%) on 153 playdates.
Ali G Is in Da House, Universal's latest film from Working Title, was ninth in its fifth week, grossing $0.32 million (-38%) on 282 playdates. In 29 days, Ali G has grossed $13.6 million.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $99.1 million, up about 27.42 percent from last year when they totaled $77.78 million.
Key films this weekend were up about 9.27 percent from the previous weekend of this year's total of $90.7 million.
Last year, Miramax and Universal's second week of Bridget Jones's Diary was first with $10.2 million at 2,221 theaters ($4,585 per theater); and Dimension Films' fourth week of Spy Kids was second with $10.1 million at 3,191 theaters ($3,156 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $20.3 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $47.3 million.
Told from the perspective of one innocent maid Mary Macearchran (Kelly MacDonald) the story starts as she arrives at the magnificent country estate of Gosford Park. On this particular weekend host Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his wife Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) have invited an eclectic group to the house for a shooting party. The guests include Sylvia's two sisters (Geraldine Somerville Natasha Wightman) their respective loser husbands (Charles Dance Tom Hollander) her cantankerous aunt Constance (Maggie Smith) for whom Mary works British matinee idol Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) and his American friend Morris Weisman (Bob Balaban) a film producer who makes Charlie Chan movies. As the upper-crust guests bicker about money and power the ranks of house servants personal maids and valets below make sure their charges are well taken care of under the guidance of the head butler Jennings (Alan Bates) head housekeeper Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) and head cook Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins). Through Mary's eyes we see that the glamour of the upstairs patrons and the seeming precision downstairs are not all they seem. The two worlds are destined to collide and when they do it leads to only one thing--murder.
One of the joys of an Altman movie is his uncanny ability to take a huge ensemble cast of really good actors and carve out a film from their personal stories. This style can also work to the film's detriment however and in Gosford Park the mostly British cast melds together almost too well. Often you can't even tell who's who. Still with all the talent involved there are at least a few bright moments: Smith as the wisecracking Constance an old lady who's very used to being waited on hand and foot gets all the best lines and delivers them flawlessly and veteran actress Mirren is also brilliant as the staunch Mrs. Wilson. She turns in one of the film's only heartbreaking scenes as her character grieves for the son she gave away long ago in the name of servitude. Also good are MacDonald as the young Mary Clive Owen as the valet Robert Parks who carries more than just a chip on his shoulder and Emily Watson as the headstrong chief housemaid Elsie. Northam too shows off his musical abilities as the suave piano-playing singing Novello. The rest all blend together except unfortunately the two American actors--Balaban comes off as annoying and Ryan Phillippe playing an actor pretending to be Morris' valet is in way over his head.
Interestingly the film is taken from a story idea dreamt up by Altman and Balaban. One wonders if perhaps the two were inspired to create Park after watching an episode of the classic '70s British television drama Upstairs Downstairs which was about a wealthy British household whose servant class had just as many dramas as the people they served (hmm sounds familiar). Sure it's conceivable that two Americans sitting around talking about making a distinctly British movie (and a period piece to boot) could pull it off and with a tremendous talent like Altman attached you'd think it would work. But Park misses the mark. The Altman-esque qualities are all there--the way he interweaves his characters' stories and shows real people with real emotions--but maybe just maybe Altman is simply out of his element. You enjoy the ride but it's not a ride through appealing territory and you're definitely watching from the window as the characters live a life you never really become a part of.