A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
There are five new wide releases this weekend along with an important expansion, but this three-day is certain to “go to the dogs.” Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney), starring Piper Perabo and Jamie Lee Curtis and featuring the voice talent of everyone from Drew Barrymore to George Lopez to Placido Domingo, is tracking through the roof, and it is a surefire box office winner.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua is the first of four likely blockbusters from Disney set for release in the fourth quarter. The distributor will be scoring big with High School Musical 3 on October 24 followed by the animated 3D Bolt, arriving on the Friday before Thanksgiving, and the Adam Sandler family adventure film Bedtime Stories coming Christmas Day. It would not be surprising for this to become a quartet of $100M grossing pictures.
My sources tell me that Beverly Hills Chihuahua is scoring big in industry tracking with Females, both Under 25’s and Moms, and that the movie will ride a family audience wave through Saturday and Sunday matinees. The film will also hit big with Latinos thanks to the Mexican setting and the voices of not just Lopez and Domingo, but also Andy Garcia, Cheech Marin, Paul Rodriguez, Edward James Olmos and popular Spanish-language radio deejay Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo. It all adds up to a possible $30.5M opening weekend.
Last week’s winner Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount) may dip as little as 40 percent-45 percent from opening weekend to something in the $17M range. That will keep the high-tech Shia LaBeouf thriller on track for a final domestic haul of $95M-$100M.
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Sony), from director Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas), has gained real traction among the Under 25 set according to the latest tracking. It seems that 20-year-old Michael Cera is the key to the movie’s appeal. The Canadian-born actor, who first made a splash in the cult TV hit Arrested Development, is the nerdy heartthrob for a generation of girls who loved him in Superbad ($121.5M) and Juno ($143.5M). Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist will likely open at No. 3 with the possibility of a very solid $15.3M.
The new movie from Oscar nominee Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) is the tough-to-market Blindness (Miramax). Reviews are verging on awful for this adaptation of Jose Saramago’s novel with a score of just 41 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as of Wednesday night, and now the picture will be fighting a national protest as well. This thriller, starring Oscar nominee Julianne Moore, tells the story of a terrifying plague of blindness, and Dr. Marc Mauer, President of the National Federation of the Blind says that his group “Condemns and deplores this movie, which will do substantial harm to the blind of America and the world.” With 1,700 playdates, a sign that Miramax is trying to grab what it can before bad word-of-mouth sets in, it could still manage $2,600 or so per location for a possible $4.5M.
Universal’s Flash of Genius, the real-life story of Robert Kearns, who invented the intermittent windshield wiper, had the invention stolen by Ford and then sued the auto giant, will open on a more limited 1,000 or so screens. Reviews are very good (80 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as of Wednesday night), and, with a cast including Oscar nominee Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets, Little Miss Sunshine), Golden Globe nominee Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) and Oscar nominee Alan Alda, Flash could score a $4,100 PTA for a $4.1M opening and a No. 6 finish.
Two other new releases look very soft in tracking research. David Zucker’s conservative comedy rant An American Carol (Vivendi) seems headed for $3M and may miss the top 10 altogether. Things could be even tougher for MGM’s How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, which, despite the presence of rising British star Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), will probably manage no better than $2.5M.
Finally, the Ed Harris-directed western Appaloosa (Warner Bros) will expand to 800 or so screens, and $1.8M could be the ceiling despite strong reviews and a cast that includes Viggo Mortensen and Academy Award winners Renee Zellweger and Jeremy Irons.
FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE WEEKEND
1. NEW - Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) - $30.5M
2. Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount) - $17.5M
3. NEW - Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Sony) - $15.3M
4. Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros) - $7.4M
5. NEW - Blindness (Miramax) - $4.5M
6. NEW - Flash of Genius (Universal) - $4.1M
7. Igor (MGM) - $3.55M
8. Lakeview Terrace (Sony) - $3.5M
9. Fireproof (IDP Films/Samuel Goldwyn) - $3.3M
10. Burn After Reading (Focus) - $3.25M
*NEW – An American Carol (Vivendi) - $3M
*NEW – How To Lose Friends and Alienate People (MGM) - $2.5M
*Appaloosa (Warner Bros) - $1.8M
After 20 years with the LAPD Det. Mitch Preston (Robert De Niro) just wants to catch the crooks finish the paperwork and retreat to his mundane life at home where he eats TV dinners and pursues his hobby of making bad pottery. Patrolman Trey Sellars (Eddie Murphy) really wants to be an actor--he's only a cop because he made a lousy waiter. When Sellars bungles Preston's undercover case and media hounds catch it all on tape the irate Preston shoots up a news camera that gets in his face. Over-caffeinated network exec Chase Renzi (Rene Russo) upon seeing the damning evidence that could have killed her cameraman is captivated by Preston's complete lack of charm and convinces her superior she can save his crappy network by pairing Preston and Sellars up on a reality show. As expected Preston is reluctant--and even more so when he's forced to take the mugging Sellars as his partner. The two take impromptu acting lessons from iconic actor/director William Shatner (playing himself) and set off to attract an audience boost the ratings become celebrities and get the bad guys in a televised reality christened Showtime. Meanwhile the evil Cesar Vargas (Pedro Damian)--whom we know is evil 'cause he hides in the shadows he's flashy and well groomed and he mumbles in an unfathomable Third World/ European accent--is stockpiling guns powerful enough to knock down houses and blow the doors off a Brinks truck.
The movie offers a few good yuks--a coke-sniffing dog an unprecedented cameo by jive-rhyming lawyer Johnnie Cochran and William Shatner satirizing William Shatner (who does this better than anybody else satirizing William Shatner). Unfortunately we've seen a lot of his funniest stuff like the scene in which he demonstrates how to roll over a car hood cop-style in the previews. Rene Russo gives an effective souped-up Lethal Weapon-type performance with her hyper pushy fast-talking network exec desperate to make her name in the industry. De Niro's straight-man comedy is in his facial expressions--or lack thereof--and Murphy is…well Murphy. It's their first outing together and they play off each other like a foul-mouthed version of Abbott and Costello (guess who plays who?). We've seen De Niro play grumpy (Midnight Run) and Murphy play obnoxious (almost everything) before. But as you may suspect it's their grade-A chemistry that holds this badly stitched predictable though occasionally funny flick together--especially in regards to the jokes on Hollywood and the current bounty of reality TV.
You can smell the gags and The Odd Couple-versus-Goldfinger plot unfolding a million miles away. You just know Preston is hiding a gun inside that Big Gulp when he goes undercover to investigate a pawn shop and you know Vargas will make bad-guy errors in judgment like staging a robbery in downtown L.A. the day after he's confronted by our star cops in a populated disco. But that may lead you to wonder why the police--who are likewise not presented as being particularly bright in this movie--weren't trailing him as Vargas is the prime suspect in the gun-trafficking subplot. Some of the comedy borders on satire but isn't played up enough for you to tell if it was meant that way or not. The action scenes are so badly edited it's hard to tell who's chasing whom until the camera cuts back to Murphy's toothy grin and a cement-faced De Niro shooting out his car window. And speaking of commercial-laden reality TV the product placement in this movie is shameless--we get a full-length commercial for Apple Computers played not once but twice.