It’s been 45 years since Peter Sellers was unleashed as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the delicious Pink Panther. That 1963 film spawned numerous sequels and cartoons and in 2006 the baton was passed to Steve Martin -- who hatched a worldwide hit with his version of the French detective. In this meandering gag-laden sequel Martin is assigned to join a team of other famed international detectives and crime wizards to crack a case where priceless treasures are being stolen around the globe including of course the iconic Pink Panther diamond. Again aiding Clouseau in his own cause are his partner Panton (Jean Reno) and Nicole (Emily Mortimer) for whom he still has those amorous feelings. Let’s face it no one could top Sellers in this role and it’s wise that Martin doesn’t really try instead taking the character more toward The Jerk. Whether inadvertently burning restaurants down to the ground juggling wine bottles (in a particularly lame sequence) mangling the English language imitating the Pope or spouting hopelessly politically incorrect bon mots like calling an Asian colleague “my little yellow friend ” Martin plays it broadly and safely. As the quartet of international detectives brought in to solve the case with Clouseau Andy Garcia Alfred Molina Yuki Matsuzaki and gorgeous Aishwarya Rai Bachchan do everything they can to keep from being totally upstaged by Martin’s nonstop antics but it ain’t easy for any of them. Also of note: John Cleese takes Kevin Kline's place as Clouseau’s exasperated boss and Lily Tomlin Martin’s All of Me co-star are reunited here to teach him properly correct social etiquette. With a cast of capable comic veterans like this all any director would have to do is point the camera and make sure it’s in focus. And that seems to be ALL Dutch helmer Harald Zwart (Agent Cody Banks) has done. The PP template has been dumbed down to appeal to young kids and despite its picaresque Paris and Rome locations this comes off as surprisingly flat with a lot of comic possibility left twisting in the wind.
Of course 21 isn’t just about blackjack. It’s more about Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) a shy but brilliant M.I.T. student who--needing to pay Harvard medical school tuition--finds the answers in the cards so to speak. After dazzling his unorthodox math professor and stats genius Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) with some mathematical prowess Ben is quickly indoctrinated into Rosa’s group of “gifted” students who head to Las Vegas every weekend with the know-how to count cards and beat the casino at the blackjack tables. And win big they do. Ben is soon seduced by the allure of this luxurious lifestyle including his sexy teammate Jill (Kate Bosworth) but begins rebelling against the well-oiled machine Rosa has built. Apparently you don’t want to cross this particular math professor--nor the old-school casino security consultant (Laurence Fishburne) who has set his sights on Ben as a master card counter. It’s not illegal to do that but the casinos don’t much like it when they catch you doing it. Hey what happens in Vegas…oh you know the rest. The most well-rounded performance comes from the British Sturgess best known for singing Beatles’ songs in Across the Universe. His Ben starts out as a naive math whiz/nerd whose biggest thrill is designing the perfect science project for an M.I.T. contest but then becomes the smooth Vegas dude with the nice clothes and hot girlfriend and finally turns into the guy who eventually loses it all. It’s not hard to see just how much Ben is going to change once he gets involved in the moneymaking scheme but Sturgess handles the transition with aplomb. The stiff Bosworth isn’t nearly as effective as his love interest but she has her moments. Also good for comic relief is Aaron Yoo (Disturbia) as one of the blackjack players who oddly enough is also a kleptomaniac. The performance drawbacks in 21 come from the more veteran players. Spacey and Fishburne seem to be going through the motions utilizing techniques they’ve used many times before. Spacey can whither whoever it is with that look of his while Fishburne postures as he always does. It’s too bad they couldn’t have put in more effort. As with any movie in which the action is inherently stagnant (i.e. sitting at a blackjack table) the question is how to keep things visually stimulating. That’s where director Robert Luketic--who up to this point has only done broad comedies such as Legally Blonde and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton--comes in. Luketic does a fine job maneuvering the camera around the tables creating slo-mo close-ups of the cards and incorporating a cool soundtrack. A good montage or four usually can also work well in a situation like this and Luketic fully utilizes that technique--from the kids winning to them spending their money in gloriously obscene ways. Based on the book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions 21 has the extra advantage of being a somewhat true story as well. But the script from Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb basically copies from other sources and never really distinguishes itself.
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.
Moviegoers' eyes were on "The Watcher" as Hollywood's fall season got off to an unexciting start.
Box office levels across the board were considerably less than insiders had anticipated going into the weekend. With many studio executives out of town attending the Toronto Film Festival, few insights were offered as to what went wrong. Overall, key films were estimated to have grossed about 22 percent less than this time last year.
With televised coverage of the Olympics expected to provide stiff competition from Sept. 15 through Oct. 1, Hollywood is holding back on opening high-profile films in September. That will almost certainly be reflected in ticket sales for the month.
"With the Olympics and everything else, I think it's going to be a lousy fall," predicted one insider.
"Watcher," an R-rated psychological thriller from Universal, needed only single digit grosses to capture first place. It opened to a calm estimated $9.1 million at 2,742 theaters ($3,320 per theater).
With Universal having reportedly picked "Watcher" up from Interlight for only $5 million, it won't have to do much more business to turn a profit for the studio.
Directed by Joe Charbanic, "Watcher" stars James Spader, Marisa Tomei and Keanu Reeves.
"It is what it is," an insider explained Sunday morning. "It's one of those movies that if you target it, you can do fine -- especially on a weekend like this when there isn't a whole lot of competition."
USA Films' R-rated dark comedy "Nurse Betty" was a solid number two, opening to a healthy estimated $7.27 million at 1,459 theaters ($4,981 per theater).
"Betty's" per-theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release last weekend.
"The picture performed extremely well," USA Films distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning. "In Manhattan, it was through the roof. San Francisco, Seattle and Portland played beautifully, too. An upscale audience for sure. The high-end people came out massively, and we had a lot of good numbers all over the country - even as far as Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and runs in New Orleans were very strong, with $7,000 and $8,000 weekend grosses on the picture."
USA isn't planning to go wider with "Betty" next weekend. "It's the right number," Foley noted.
The studio's exit polls were very positive, he added: "It's playing to males and females over 25 very, very nicely. It was females 51 percent and males 49 percent. The response to the film is quite high. The majority of the people (attending) are over 35, which is exactly what the poling said. The Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good) were about 60 percent. A real good opening."
Looking at how the film played from Friday to Saturday, Foley pointed out that "the overall jump was 50 percent. The jump from Friday to Saturday in the high-end theaters was anywhere from 80 percent to 90 percent and well over that. We should have a good day today (Sunday)."
Directed by Neil La Bute, "Betty" stars Morgan Freeman, Renee Zellweger, Chris Rock and Greg Kinnear.
The encouraging launch for "Betty" was not only good news for USA Films, but also for Universal, which actually owns the film. Insiders said Universal had acquired "Betty" as part of its purchase of PolyGram. Universal is reportedly paying USA a distribution fee to release "Betty" domestically.
Universal and Beacon Pictures' PG-13-rated comedy "Bring It On" fell two pegs to third place in its third week with a less cheerful estimated $6.55 million (-43 percent) at 2,416 theaters (+6 theaters; $2,710 per theater). Its cume is approximately $44.5 million.
With only about $10 million invested in "Bring," Universal is already seeing profits from it.
Directed by Peyton Reed, "Bring" stars Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dusku, Jesse Bradford and Gabrielle Union.
New Line's R-rated fantasy suspense thriller "The Cell" slid two rungs to fourth place in its fourth week with a less lively estimated $3.48 million (-51 percent) at 2,476 theaters (+32 theaters; $1,403 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.2 million.
Directed by Tarsem, "Cell" stars Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn and Vincent D'Onofrio.
"I think it should wind up north of $60 million," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning.
Warner Bros. PG-13 sci-fi action adventure "Space Cowboys" dropped two notches in its sixth week to fifth place with an aging estimated $3.32 million (-51 percent) at 2,607 theaters (-188 theaters; $1,273 per theater). Its cume is approximately $78.8 million, heading for $90-100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, "Space" stars Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland.
"We've got a shot at $100 million," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "I would say it looks right now like $90 million unless we get some kick at the end of the year (from awards nominations). We're not going to go to video (quickly). We're going to hang on and wait and see Top Ten lists and all of that."
DreamWorks PG-13-rated supernatural thriller "What Lies Beneath" held on to sixth place in its eighth week with a slower estimated $2.9 million (-38 percent) at 2,166 theaters (-241 theaters; $1,342 per theater). Its cume is approximately $142.5 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.
Paramount's R-rated Spike Lee documentary comedy "The Original Kings of Comedy" held on to seventh place in its fourth week with a less funny estimated $2.5 million (-47 percent) at 997 theaters (+45 theaters; $2,508 per theater). Its cume is approximately $32.0 million.
Directed by Spike Lee, "Kings" stars Steve Harvey.
Warner Bros.' R-rated martial arts drama "The Art of War" from Franchise Pictures fell four trenches to eighth place in its third week with a quieter estimated $2.4 million (-60 percent) at 2,370 theaters (-260 theaters; $1,013 per theater). Its cume is approximately $25.0 million.
Directed by Christian Duguay, "War" stars Wesley Snipes, Anne Archer and Donald Sutherland.
Artisan Entertainment's opening of its R-rated suspense drama "The Way of the Gun" was ninth with a disappointing estimated $2.2 million at 1,515 theaters ($1,452 per theater).
Insiders had expected "Gun" to open to more than twice as much business and make the Top Five.
Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, "Gun" stars Ryan Phillippe, Benicio Del Toro, Juliette Lewis and James Caan.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Dimension Films' R-rated fantasy action adventure sequel "Highlander: Endgame," down five pegs in its second week with a slow estimated $1.8 million (-65 percent) at 1,545 theaters (+2 theaters; $1,165 per theater). Its cume is approximately $9.0 million.
Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski, "Highlander" stars Adrian Paul and Christopher Lambert.
OTHER OPENINGS This weekend also saw New Line's R-rated urban appeal drama "Turn It Up" arrive in a tie for 19th place to a slow estimated $0.6 million at 661 theaters ($908 per theater). Its cume after 5 days is approximately $0.8 million.
Directed by Robert Adetuyi, "Turn" stars Pras and Ja Rule.
Dimension Films' opening of its R-rated urban appeal drama "Backstage" placed 23rd with an unexciting estimated $0.51 million at 322 theaters ($1,583 per theater). Its cume after 5 days is approximately $0.7 million.
Directed by Chris Fiore, it stars Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man and Redman.
Also arriving was MGM's limited release reissue of its 1984 comedy "This Is Spinal Tap," placing 28th with a restrained estimated $54,000 at 10 theaters ($5,400 per theater).
Directed by Rob Reiner, "Spinal" stars Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner and Fran Drescher.
Columbia's R-rated drama "Anatomy" checked into 29th place with a lifeless estimated $6,000 at 8 theaters ($750 per theater).
Written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, it starsFranka Potente and Benno Furmann.
SNEAK PREVIEWS DreamWorks held 125 sneak previews in the Top Ten markets Saturday night of its R-rated dramatic comedy "Almost Famous."
A DreamWorks spokesperson said the sneaks played to 60 percent capacity. Those on hand -- 50 percent males and 50 percent females and 70 percent over 25 - scored it 88 percent in the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good).
DreamWorks said it was "very pleased" with how the sneaks went and will hold 600-700 sneaks of "Almost" this Saturday night (Sept. 16) in the remaining Top 100 markets.
Using a distribution pattern similar to what it did very effectively this time last year with "American Beauty," DreamWorks plans to launch "Almost" in New York and Los Angeles on Wed., Sept. 13, and then put it in limited release Sept. 15 at 125-140 theaters. It will expand in the weeks that follow.
"Famous" is being released internationally by Sony's Columbia Pictures, which co-financed the production and will share equally with DreamWorks in its success.
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe ("Jerry Maguire"), "Almost" starsBilly Crudup,Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Patrick Fugit, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, Noah Taylor and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
EXPANSIONS There was no significant activity on the expansion front this weekend.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $53.96 million, down about 22.46 percent from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $69.59 million.
This normal three-day weekend's key film gross cannot be compared to this year's previous weekend, a four-day holiday weekend.
Last year, MGM's opening week of "Stigmata" was first with $18.31 million at 2,899 theaters ($6,316 per theater); and Buena Vista's sixth week of "The Sixth Sense" was second with $16.51 million at 2,782 theaters ($5,935 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $34.8 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $16.2 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 three films ("The Watcher," "Bring It On" and "Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps"), grossing an estimated $17.18 million or 31.8 percent 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 $8.04 million or 14.9 percent of the market.
USA Films was third with one film ("Nurse Betty"), grossing an estimated $7.27 million or 13.5 percent of the market.
New Line Cinema (New Line and Fine Line Features) was fourth with three films ("The Cell," "Saving Grace" and "Turn It Up"), grossing an estimated $5.13 million or 9.5 percent of the market.
Paramount was fifth with two films ("The Original Kings of Comedy" and "Bless the Child"), grossing an estimated $3.29 million or 6.1 percent of the market.
DreamWorks was sixth with one film("What Lies Beneath"), grossing an estimated $2.9 million or 5.4 percent of the market.
ADDITIONAL ESTIMATES (11)The Replacements/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 2,058 (-427) Gross: $1.72 million (-51 percent) Average per theater: $833 Cume: $39.2 million
(12)Nutty Professor II: The Klumps/Universal: Theaters: 1,694 (-439) Gross: $1.53 million (-50 percent) Average per theater: $900 Cume: $116.9 million
(13)Coyote Ugly/BV/Touchstone: Theaters: 1,412 (-410) Gross: $1.3 million (-46 percent) Average per theater: $921 Cume: $55.3 million
(14)Autumn in New York/MGM: Theaters: 1,801 (-415) Gross: $1.2 million (-45 percent) (tie) Average per theater: $666 Cume: $33.9 million
(14)The Crew/Buena Vista: Theaters: 1,487 (-28) Gross: $1.2 million (-67 percent) (tie) Average per theater: $595 Cume: $10.9 million
(16)Saving Grace/Fine Line: Theaters: 875 (0) Gross: $1.05 million (-55 percent) Average per theater: $1,205 Cume: $9.3 million
(17)Hollow Man/Columbia: Theaters: 1,184 (-765) Gross: $0.8 million (-61 percent) (tie) Average per theater: $676 Cume: $71.4 million
(17)Bless the Child/Paramount: Theaters: 1,165 (-777) Gross: $0.8 million (-59 percent) (tie) Average per theater: $675 Cume: $27.4 million
(19)Whipped/Destination: Theaters: 1,561 (0) Gross: $0.6 million (-72 percent) (tie) Average per theater: $385 Cume: $3.8 million
(19)The Perfect Storm/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 705 (-299) Gross: $0.6 million (-56 percent) (tie) Average per theater: $851 Cume: $178.6 million
(19)TURN IT UP/New Line: (see OTHER OPENINGS above) (tie)
(22)X-Men/Fox: Theaters: 682 (-166) Gross: $0.55 million (-48 percent) Average per theater: $810 Cume: $154.0 million
(23)BACKSTAGE/Dimension: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(24)Gladiator/DreamWorks: Theaters: 583 (+76) Gross: $0.44 million (-14 percent) Average per theater: $760 Cume: $184.2 million
(25)Chicken Run/DreamWorks: Theaters: 621 (-136) Gross: $0.31 (-52 percent) Cume: $104.6 million
(26)Disney's The Kid/Buena Vista/Disney: Theaters: 585 (-196) Gross: $0.29 million (-58 percent) Average per theater: $495 Cume: $67.4 million
(27)Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle/Universal: Theaters: 289 (-17) Gross: $0.10 million (-36 percent) Average per theater: $350 Cume: $25.8 million
(28)THIS IS SPINAL TAP/MGM: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(29)ANATOMY/Columbia: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)