About Schmidt is a curious slice of Americana. The film is really about ordinary Americans going about their everyday lives but the characters are so clearly drawn and the dialogue so rich you are immediately hooked. Somewhat reluctantly 66-year-old Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) retires from his long-standing job as an insurance salesman. He wonders what he is going to do with his time now. His wife Helen (June Squibb) convinces him to buy a motor home so they can travel around the country together in their golden years. That would be great if Helen didn't bug Warren incessantly. He is also plagued by the fact his only daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) is marrying Randall (Dermot Mulroney) a dimwitted fellow Warren does not consider worthy of his daughter (and really isn't). Still Warren would go on living his life without any change indefinitely even if he wasn't very happy because darn it that's what you do. But suddenly things do change for Warren--Helen unexpectedly dies leaving him with a big empty house and his own nagging thoughts which he writes down in letters to the third-world foster child he sponsors in Africa for $22 a month. Finally one day he wakes up with a purpose in life--to stop Jeannie's marriage. He decides to drive the Winnebago across the country to convince her she's making a mistake but as with any good soul-searching journey he discovers more things about himself than anything else.
Oscar-winning Nicholson is one of those performers who continually surprises you. He may have that same maniacal grin and the unmistakable "Jack" voice but he is an actor of immeasurable talent--and he goes way out on a limb as Warren Schmidt. He plays all 66 years right up there on screen in vivid Technicolor--down to the gray hair wrinkles black socks and saggy boxer shorts. Nicholson lets his vanity go to epitomize the aging white Midwest American man. The process the actor uses to transform Warren from a cold and selfish man into a somewhat decent human being is mesmerizing. This is Jack's movie and he should almost certainly get an Oscar nod for this. But to give credit to the rest of the cast almost everyone in the film turns in gutsy performances. Davis (Hearts in Atlantis) downplays her good looks to play the mousy Jeannie who eventually stands up to her father. Mulroney's performance as the mullet-haired Randall is a far cry from his romantic leading man in My Best Friend's Wedding. The supporting role which stands out the most is Randall's New Age mom Roberta as played by Oscar winner Kathy Bates. She bares it all--literally and figuratively--and gives the spunky Roberta a wonderful very human twist. Her scene with Nicholson in a hot tub is one for the movie anthologies.
Much like his excellent films Election and Citizen Ruth writer/director Alexander Payne likes to paint a picture of true blue Americans perhaps somewhat exaggerated for the big screen but nonetheless real. Anyone who sees About Schmidt will know at least one Warren Schmidt in their lives--an uncle a friend but more than likely a father. Payne exquisitely details this man's life visually and with the spoken word. From the opening shots of the insurance building Schmidt works in to seeing Warren sitting in his empty office boxes packed waiting for the hour hand to hit 5:00 so he can leave to his less-than-happy retirement party you immediately understand what this character is all about. He lives his life by the book rarely venturing off the beaten path until at 66 he realizes he wants to break free. As soon as Warren starts his journey things unravel ruts are broken out of and even though Warren won't entirely change who he is he tries to be a better person. His toast to his daughter at her wedding reception is classic--you think at any moment he is going to ruin it for her and do something typically "Schmidt-like " but he ends up surprising you instead. There are only a few moments when the film drags a little but for the rest it is riveting.
As the opening song belts out fast cars champagne and caviar are what professional basketball player Jamal Jeffries (played by Miguel A. Nunez Jr.) is all about. In fact Jeffries is so taken by his own success that he doesn't sign autographs but uses a stamp. His Dennis Rodman-style antics however reach a breaking point when he strips during a game in front of millions of fans and flings his jock strap into the seats. The stunt gets him thrown out of the league and before he can say "slam-dunk " Jeffries loses his house his cars and his girlfriend. Desperate to work again at the one thing he does best Jeffries comes up with the mother of all schemes: He shaves his legs dabs on mascara and tries out for the women's league--and it works. But as he builds friendships and gains the trust of the women on his team he feels torn between his obligation to his team the Banshees and his need to return to a normal life. If you've seen the 1982 comedy Tootsie you know exactly how this film plays out. Surprisingly Juwanna Mann is not crammed with bad slapstick humor but is an entertaining twist on an old classic with a delightfully sweet storyline.
Nunez (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) not only pulls off the Jamal/Juwanna character with ease but he pretty much steals the show here. His character comes off as endearing rather than obnoxious because he takes his role as a woman seriously and is never condescending about playing in the women's league. Nunez also delivers some great one-liners the best being when he is fighting off advances from the gold-toothed Puff Smokey Smoke. Vivica A. Fox (Two Can Play That Game) plays Michelle a fellow player whom Jeffries develops feelings for. Although it's hard to buy the sweet and almost delicate Fox in such an athletic role she pulls it off--but there is not all that much chemistry between her and Nunez. As Jeffries' crass sports agent Lorne Daniels Kevin Pollak (3000 Miles to Graceland) is seedy with just the right touch of humanity so his character is not completely despicable. The most cartoonish and unlikable character is Tommy Davidson's (Bamboozled) Puff Smokey Smoke. He has some funny lines but is too far-fetched to be believable.
Jesse Vaughan who directed a season of In Living Color makes his directorial debut with Juwanna Mann. Judging from the trailer I thought the film would be a low-brow comedy with a lot of overdone men-in-heels humor. I was instead pleasantly surprised by the film's storyline which--although it is a complete take on Tootsie--is short sweet and non-offensive. While some characters like Puff Smokey Smoke are a bit over the top Nunez's Jamal/Juwanna character is never clownish and well developed enough that you can't help but feel for his/her predicament. Some scenes appear to have a Klumps influence like the scene in which Jeffries is playing cards with his aunt and a gang of her senior friends but the overall effect is a moderately funny film peppered with some slightly funnier moments. Newcomer Bradley Allenstein had the sense to deliver a sweet comedy screenplay that was short enough and knew when to quit.
An Easter parade of moviegoers kicked Panic Room off in style to $30.2 million, a new record for the holiday weekend.
Ice Age remained frozen in second place with a still steaming $18.6 million. The Rookie opened on third base with a solid $15.8 million line drive.
Rounding out the top five were Blade 2, finishing fourth with a less sharp $13.2 million, and Clockstoppers, ticking slowly with a $10.1 million fifth place launch.
For the third consecutive weekend, key films--those grossing $500,000 or more--enjoyed summer size ticket sales. The Easter weekend's $126.3 million total was 37 percent ahead of $92 million for the comparable weekend last year. It also was up 48 percent from Easter 2001 (Apr. 13-15) when key films grossed $85.3 million.
THE TOP TEN
Columbia's opening of its R rated thriller Panic Room opened atop the chart to a record setting ESTIMATED $30.2 million at 3,053 theaters ($9,892 per theater).
Panic's average per theater was the highest for any film playing this weekend.
Directed by David Fincher, it stars Jodie Foster.
"It's the biggest Easter opening ever, beating Matrix, which isn't a bad one to beat," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "Matrix opened Apr. 2, 1999--Easter Weekend was Apr. 2-4 and it actually opened on Wednesday, Mar. 31. It did $27.8 million for the three-day portion [of the holiday weekend]. It went on to gross $171.4 million. I'd say that's a little ambitious, but it's obviously a great start when you're talking about the biggest Easter opening ever and beating a film of that high profile.
"It's also Jodie Foster's biggest [opening], beating Contact, which was July 11-13, 1997 at $20.6 million. Again, you're talking about somebody with a great portfolio of films, including Maverick and Silence of the Lambs, all $100 million-plus movies. So it's nice that this is her biggest opening."
Focusing on who went to see Panic, Blake noted, "What we got was a good mix of younger and older adults. I think it really appeared, as it is, to be a 'full meal movie' as opposed to something specifically for kids or something specifically for science fiction fans or some of the more segmented [audience] movies that have done very well but have been appealing to less of a broadly adult audience. I think we're really the first broadly adult film in a while that has had equal appeal to young adults as well as older adults and very equal between male and female.
"Our audience was largely 25 and older and was almost equally split between men and women. It clearly was a 'full meal movie' that several adult audiences would enjoy. It's a $48 million negative, so that puts us in a real nice position [to see profits and] especially for a picture of this quality."
20th Century Fox's PG rated animated feature Ice Age held on to second place and was still sizzling in its third week with an ESTIMATED $18.58 million (-38%) at 3,333 theaters (-12 theaters; $5,575 per theater). Its cume is approximately $117.3 million, heading for $150-175 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Chris Wedge, it features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
"People love it," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning, addressing the film's success. "It has just caught the public's fancy."
Reflecting on the strong March marketplace, Snyder pointed out, "It's the movies. It keeps expanding every time another quality picture's put in the marketplace."
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated family appeal baseball drama The Rookie opened in third place to a rousing ESTIMATED $15.8 million at 2,511 theaters ($6,283 per theater).
Directed by John Lee Hancock, it stars Dennis Quaid.
"I'm so pleased," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "The filmmakers and Dennis Quaid have been so committed and have worked so hard on this movie. As you can see by the CinemaScores and [the grosses], the picture has played great. The word of mouth is terrific."
Focusing on the strong opening, Viane noted, "We've gotten Dennis the highest opening Dennis has ever had. And I don't think there's been a baseball movie that's ever done this kind of business."
Baseball doesn't typically hit a home run at the box office, Viane observed, but, "This one sure looks like we're going to get an inside the park one. It looks to me like we're going to have legs beyond belief. The CinemaScore numbers in all three [age] categories gave an A for the guys and for females it was A+ under-21, 21-34 was an A and 35-and-up was an A+. Those are very, very terrific responses from the public."
Buena Vista held 1,151 well-attended sneak previews of Rookie the weekend of Mar. 15-17. "I really believe that the impetus to having this kind of opening was to get the very positive word of mouth out there [through the sneaks]," Viane said.
"The picture scored one point higher with the public on opening weekend [than at the sneaks[, which means their anticipation was relatively high and we delivered on it. But, again, I don't think we'd get there without Dennis Quaid doing all that hard work [promoting the film]. To have a movie star so committed to going out and doing all the events is just terrific."
Asked what accounts for the strength the box office has shown the past three weekends, all of which have been in the $125-135 million range, Viane said, "I honestly think there's just a whole lot of really good movies out there right now. It is [a product driven business] and, obviously, the success of this particular time should spur the summer because everybody's seeing all those terrific new trailers for the summer product."
New Line Cinema's R rated vampire thriller Blade 2 slid three pegs to fourth place in its second week with a less thrilling ESTIMATED $13.18 million (-59%) at 2,707 theaters (theater count unchanged; $4,867 per theater). Its cume is approximately $54.9 million, heading for $75 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, it stars Wesley Snipes.
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG rated time travel adventure Clockstoppers kicked off in fifth place to a slow paced ESTIMATED $10.1 million at 2,540 theaters ($3,976 per theater).
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, it stars Jesse Bradford, Paula Garces, French Stewart, Michael Biehn and Robin Thomas.
"It's on the low side of where I thought it would be, frankly," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "I think Rookie did more business than we anticipated. Our picture is playing a little younger than we had anticipated. But this genre of film normally will play to a higher multiple because it stays in the marketplace a lot longer. It does matinee business and weekend business [that] sort of extends the life of the film, if you will."
Asked why business this March is so good, Lewellen replied, "I assume that it's just the product that's coming into the marketplace. Certainly, pictures like Ice Age that has broad family appeal has really pumped up (business). I think Rookie is of that same kind of genre. I think the quality of the product in the end probably is always the key to [strong ticket sales].
"But it could be that the country's in a mood to go to the movies or a combination of the two. Usually, that's what it is. There's no one dramatic thing that says this is why they're coming to the movies. You don't have a Titanic, if you will, driving the whole market."
Universal's 20th anniversary reissue of its PG rated sci-fi fantasy drama E.T. dropped three notches to sixth place with a slow ESTIMATED $6.13 million (-57%) at 3,007 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,040 per theater). Its reissue cume is approximately $24.3 million.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas.
Warner Bros.' R rated black comedy Death to Smoochy opened uneventfully in seventh place to an ESTIMATED $4.29 million at 2,164 theaters ($1,980 per theater).
Directed by Danny DeVito, it stars Robin Williams, Edward Norton and Catherine Keener.
Universal, DreamWorks and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated drama A Beautiful Mind--which won four Oscars, including Best Picture--rose one peg in its 15th week to eighth place with a still beautiful ESTIMATED $4.04 million (-1%) at 1,560 theaters (+105 theaters; $2,590 per theater). Its cume is approximately $161.0 million.
Directed by Ron Howard, the Brian Grazer production stars Russell Crowe, Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly.
Paramount and Icon Productions' R rated Vietnam war drama We Were Soldiers, which was sixth last weekend, tied for ninth place in its fifth week with a calm ESTIMATED $3.53 million (-38%) at 2,046 theaters (-813 theaters; $1,723 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67.4 million, heading for $75 million in domestic theaters.
Written and directed by Randall Wallace, it stars Mel Gibson.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated action comedy Showtime from Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment dropped five rungs to tie for ninth place in its third week with a dull ESTIMATED $3.51 million (-57%) at 2,321 theaters (-596 theaters; $1,510 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.3 million.
Directed by Tom Dey, it stars Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy and Rene Russo.
This weekend also saw the arrival via MGM of United Artists' R rated drama No Such Thing to a quiet ESTIMATED $0.029 million at 9 theaters in six markets ($3,196 per theater).
Written and directed by Hal Hartley, it stars Sarah Polley, Robert John Burke, Helen Mirren and Julie Christie.
Artisan Entertainment held sneak previews Saturday night of its R rated youth appeal comedy National Lampoon's Van Wilder.
Directed by Walt Becker, it stars Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid.
No details were available from Artisan. Van Wilder opens wide this Friday (Apr. 5).
On the expansion front this weekend Lions Gate Films' R rated drama Monster's Ball went wider in its 14th week following Halle Berry's Best Actress Oscar victory with an OK ESTIMATED $2.03 million at 676 theaters (+133 theaters; $2,995 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.9 million.
Directed by Marc Forster, it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Heath Ledger and Peter Boyle.
USA Films' R rated romantic comedy Monsoon Wedding added theaters in its sixth week with a still spicy ESTIMATED $0.78 million (+4%) at 140 theaters (+12 theaters; $5,560 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.3 million.
Directed by Mira Nair, it was produced by Nair and Caroline Baron.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein expanded in its third week to a still arousing ESTIMATED $0.71 million (+39%) at 131 theaters (+65 theaters; $5,420 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.0 million.
Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it stars Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.
"We're very pleased," Fox Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. "We expanded into many more regional markets this week with a lot of good results. We're pleased with how it's playing. It's variable. It obviously is better in some [markets] than others. We're expanding again next week to more than 300 theaters. We're looking forward to a good long and smooth run."
In the greater New York area, Gilula added, "the film is very, very strong. That's where it was made. The suburban runs in New York are quite strong. We expanded last Friday into the greater metropolitan area around New York City in a lot of suburban areas around New York in northern New Jersey and southern Connecticut with very good results."
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $126.25 million, up about 37.14 percent from last year when they totaled $92.06 million. Last year Easter weekend was Apr. 13-15 when key films took in $85.3 million, putting this Easter 48.01% ahead of last year.
Key films this weekend were down a modest 2.26 percent from the previous weekend of this year's total of $129.17 million.
Last year, Dimension Films' opening week of Spy Kids was first with $26.55 million at 3,104 theaters ($8,552 per theater); and 20th Century Fox's opening week of Someone Like You was second with $10.01 million at 2,345 theaters ($4,269 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $36.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $48.8 million.
Leave it to Pixar to come up with another clever story. We are introduced to a thriving monster metropolis where Monsters Inc. employs an elite group of big bad guys to go into children's closets and gather the city's energy supply--the children's screams. But lately there has been an energy crunch; it seems kids are not getting as scared as they used to. Enter top Kid Scarer Mr. James P. Sullivan a.k.a. Sully (voiced by John Goodman) a big blue fuzzy monster who along with his assistant Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) a green one-eyed wisecracker gets potent screams from the kiddies. Unfortunately the one thing Sully Mike and the others are deathly afraid of is the children themselves. And when one child Boo (voiced by Mary Gibbs) makes her way through the closet door into the monster world things get decidedly complicated for Sully who learns kids aren't so scary after all.
Honestly how could you go wrong with the vocal talents of John Goodman Billy Crystal Steve Buscemi and James Coburn? In Monsters Inc. they absolutely shine. Oscar-winning Coburn brings the head of Monsters Inc. Mr. Henry J. Waternoose a crablike spidery monster vividly to life. Buscemi as the evil Randall Boggs a slimy serpent monster who can camouflage himself to blend with anything plays the perfect foil to Sully a monster with grand plans who rivals the big guy in the quota for kids' screams. Crystal is hysterical as Mike with enough neuroses and wild antics to offset the sweet Sully--without stealing the show. Even the little girl Boo comes across convincingly as a two-and-a-half-year-old especially when she sings in the bathroom. It's Goodman who makes the movie complete--his Sully is one big galoot you can wrap your arms around.
Pixar Animation must constantly search high and low for the cream of the crop in animation and story development; they never settle for second best. The studio has the Midas touch when it comes to computer-animated films--its three features so far Toy Story Toy Story 2 (still one of the best sequels ever made) and A Bug's Life have grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide. Yes Dreamworks may have given Disney a run for its money with its spectacular summer blockbuster Shrek but Pixar isn't going to roll over that easily. Monsters Inc. is a wonderfully inventive film especially in its creation of such otherworldly settings as the factory and its assembly line of closet doors. The movie combines all the right elements--there's a good guy a funny sidekick a slimebag a climactic chase scene and an adorable reason for things to end happily.