Summit via Everett Collection
You can imagine that Renny Harlin, director and one quadrant of the writing team for The Legend of Hercules, began his pitch as such: We'll start with a war, because lots of these things start with wars. It feels like this was the principal maxim behind a good deal of the creative choices in this latest update of the Ancient Greek myth. There are always horse riding scenes. There are generally arena battles. There are CGI lions, when you can afford 'em. Oh, and you've got to have a romantic couple canoodling at the base of a waterfall. Weaving them all together cohesively would be a waste of time — just let the common threads take form in a remarkably shouldered Kellan Lutz and action sequences that transubstantiate abjectly to and fro slow-motion.
But pervading through Lutz's shirtless smirks and accent continuity that calls envy from Johnny Depp's Alice in Wonderland performance is the obtrusive lack of thought that went into this picture. A proverbial grab bag of "the basics" of the classic epic genre, The Legend of Hercules boasts familiarity over originality. So much so that the filmmakers didn't stop at Hercules mythology... they barely started with it, in fact. There's more Jesus Christ in the character than there is the Ancient Greek demigod, with no lack of Gladiator to keep things moreover relevant. But even more outrageous than the void of imagination in the construct of Hercules' world is its script — a piece so comically dim, thin, and idiotic that you will laugh. So we can't exactly say this is a totally joyless time at the movies.
Summit via Everett Collection
Surrounding Hercules, a character whose arc takes him from being a nice enough strong dude to a nice enough strong dude who kills people and finally owns up to his fate — "Okay, fine, yes, I guess I'm a god" — are a legion of characters whose makeup and motivations are instituted in their opening scenes and never change thereafter. His de facto stepdad, the teeth-baring King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), despises the boy for being a living tribute to his supernatural cuckolding; his half-brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan) is the archetypical scheming, neutered, jealous brother figure right down to the facial scar. The dialogue this family of mongoloids tosses around is stunningly brainless, ditto their character beats. Hercules can't understand how a mystical stranger knows his identity, even though he just moments ago exited a packed coliseum chanting his name. Iphicles defies villainy and menace when he threatens his betrothed Hebe (Gaia Weiss), long in love with Hercules, with the terrible fate of "accepting [him] and loving [their] children equally!" And the dad... jeez, that guy must really be proud of his teeth.
With no artistic feat successfully accomplished (or even braved, really) by this movie, we can at the very least call it inoffensive. There is nothing in The Legend of Hercules with which to take issue beyond its dismal intellect, and in a genre especially prone to regressive activity, this is a noteworthy triumph. But you might not have enough energy by the end to award The Legend of Hercules with this superlative. Either because you'll have laughed yourself into a coma at the film's idiocy, or because you'll have lost all strength trying to fend it off.
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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.
Universal's unsinkable "U-571" continued full speed ahead in first place this weekend just as studio tracking data indicated it would.
The PG-13 World War II submarine drama, which had a 19% first-choice tracking going into the weekend, held on to the top spot with a brisk ESTIMATED $12.33 million (-37%) at 2,615 theaters (+32 theaters; $4,715 per theater). Its cume is approximately $38.2 million, heading for $60 million-plus in domestic theaters.
"U-571's" per theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow, "U-571" stars Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi.
"Once again, Universal keeps the marketplace afloat," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "With nearly 40% of the market share in a lackluster environment, Universal managed to have three films in the Top Ten."
Rocco sees "U-571" sailing "past $60 million, but a lot depends on what happens next week. There's a very big film that's tracking tremendously well for males called 'Gladiator,' which is 50% owned by Universal (and 50% owned by DreamWorks). 'U-571' could be affected by it. There's no doubt about it. It depends on how much the marketplace can expand. If you take a look at the business, there's not much going on out there. So we're hoping that 'Gladiator' does expand the marketplace enough for 'U-571' to hang in there and for 'Gladiator' to do a ton of business."
Although DreamWorks is distributing "Gladiator" domestically and Universal has it internationally, Rocco pointed out, "We're 50-50 partners. We share equally in the film."
The R rated action adventure "Gladiator," a period piece set during the time of the Roman Empire, is directed by Ridley Scott and stars Russell Crowe.
Universal also owned second place, opening its "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas" to a rock solid ESTIMATED $10.81 million at 3,037 theaters ($3,560 per theater).
"Vegas" is the PG rated prequel to the 1996 "Flintstones" blockbuster that grossed over $350 million worldwide.
Directed by Brian Levant, director of the original "Flintstones," the prequel stars Mark Addy and Stephen Baldwin.
"It's great. There's no (other) family film in the marketplace. Its tracking indicated it would open around $10 million, which is what I expected," Universal's Rocco said.
"We also have a lot of promotional tie-ins this week -- particularly with Burger King -- which should keep it in the marketplace. There's nothing else doing business with the family audience. Obviously, the kids like it, particularly young females."
New Line's opening of its PG-13 rated time travel thriller "Frequency" was a high-powered third with an ESTIMATED $9.125 million at 2,621 theaters ($3,481 per theater).
Directed by Gregory Hoblit, it stars Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel.
"We're just tickled," New Line distribution head David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "It was tracking (to open) at $7 million. We had a big rush at the end, which is a New Line specialty. We think this picture's going to be in the marketplace for a long time."
Who is the film's core audience? "You know something," Tuckerman replied, "it's all over (the place). That was one of the problems we had with (marketing) the movie. All sections are, like, tracking equally -- the under-25, the over 25, and both male and female."
20th Century Fox's opening of its PG-13 rated drama "Where the Heart Is" finished fourth with a heartening ESTIMATED $8.3 million at 2,437 theaters ($3,405 per theater).
The $15 million "Heart" is likely to be profitable for Fox, which reportedly picked it up for domestic and English speaking territories for just $9 million.
Directed and produced by Matt Williams, it stars Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing and Joan Cusack.
"The picture played extremely well, especially to women," Tom Sherak, 20th Domestic Film Group chairman and senior executive vice president of Fox Filmed Entertainment, said Sunday morning.
"70% of the audience was women. It played in the 80%'s definite recommend and in the 90%'s excellent and very good. So, hopefully, it will have a nice long run. The definite recommend for younger women (under 25) was 82% and for older women was 78%."
Noting "Heart's" low acquisition cost to Fox, Sherak said, "We should do really well on it."
New Line also scored a fifth place victor with "Love & Basketball," down three hoops in its second week with a still lovely ESTIMATED $5.55 million (-32%) at 1,245 theaters (+8 theaters; $4,458 per theater). Its cume is approximately $15.9 million.
The PG-13 rated drama, which reportedly cost under $10 million to make, is targeted to under-25 African-Americans.
Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, it stars Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan.
"I think it's going to do between $35 and $40 million," New Line distribution head David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "I think it's profitable now."
Paramount's R rated military trial drama "Rules of Engagement" fell three pegs in its fourth week to sixth place with a quiet ESTIMATED $4.75 million (-41%) at 3,027 theaters (-193 theaters; $1,569 per theater). Its cume is approximately $50.2 million heading for $60-65 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by William Friedkin, it stars Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated romantic comedy "Keeping the Faith" continued to show good legs in its third week, down two rungs to seventh place with an okay ESTIMATED $4.6 million (-35%) at 2,171 theaters (+13 theaters; $2,150 per theatre). Its cume is approximately $25.7 million.
Directed by Edward Norton, it stars Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman and Edward Norton.
Columbia's PG-13 rated dramatic comedy "28 Days" slid four notches to eighth place in its third week with a restrained ESTIMATED $4.0 million (-45%) at 2,523 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,585 per theater). Its cume is approximately $28.6 million, heading for $40 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Betty Thomas, "Days" stars Sandra Bullock and Viggo Mortensen.
Universal's "Erin Brockovich" fell three notches to ninth place in its seventh weekend with a less sexy ESTIMATED $3.77 million (-31%) at 2,504 theaters (-652 theaters; $1,505 per theater). Its cume is approximately $113.0 million, heading for $125-130 million in domestic theaters.
The R rated dramatic comedy was co-financed by Universal, which is distributing it domestically, and by Columbia, which is releasing it internationally. The two studios are 50-50 partners in the picture.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, it stars Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckart.
Rounding out the Top Ten was New Line's R rated suspense thriller "Final Destination," down one rung and holding solidly in its seventh weekend with a strong ESTIMATED $2.53 million (-10%) at 1,153 theaters (-162 theaters; $2,190 per theater). Its cume is approximately $46.1 million heading for $50 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by James Wong, it stars Devon Sawa.
MGM's PG rated romantic comedy "Return to Me" was nearly tied with "Final," placing 11th, down three slots in its fourth week with an okay ESTIMATED $2.5 million (-37%) at 2,006 theaters (-314 theaters; $1,246 per theater). Its cume is approximately $25.2 million.
Directed by Bonnie Hunt, "Return" cost only about $24 million to make. It stars David Duchovny and Minnie Driver.
Last weekend also saw the arrival, via Sony's Screen Gems label, of its R rated digitally shot comedy "Time Code," placing 23rd with an enc uraging ESTIMATED $0.095 million at 7 theaters ($13,571 per theater).
Directed by Mike Figgis, it stars Saffron Burrows and Salma Hayek.
"We're really excited about it," Sony Pictures releasing president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "We really feel like we're on the front end of a real filmmaking revolution here. I think that's always what made the project fun. We got very nice reviews and, I think, great results. The Nuart (in West L.A.) looks like it's going to do over $25,000. Both New York runs look like about $17,000 each. I think there's real interest here. The fact that it's the beginning of something that a lot of people feel is coming - shooting completely in digital from beginning to end -- really makes it kind of exciting.
"This really is the kind of picture we formed Screen Gems to get involved with. I think Valerie Van Galder and her marketing team really did a terrific job on this."
Looking ahead, Blake said, "We're going to add 16 more major markets next Friday and then expand on May 12 in the markets we opened this week."
Lions Gate Films' R rated dark comedy "The Big Kahuna" arrived in New York and Los Angeles, placing 24th with an okay ESTIMATED $0.088 million at 8 theaters ($11,000 per theater).
Directed by John Swanbeck, "Kahuna" stars Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and Peter Facinelli.
"On May 12 we go into seven additional markets exclusive, and on May 19 it's going to go out to approximately 400 runs," Lions Gate co-president Tom Ortenberg said Sunday morning.
Looking at "Kahuna's" first weekend, Ortenberg said, "I think it's solid. It's an art film. It's going to play like an art film. Our best run in Los Angeles was actually Pasadena, which I think shows the more mature suburban nature of the picture. So I'm not so concerned about opening up to huge numbers out of the gate. On 'The Red Violin,' we had areas where, for example, Palo Alto/Menlo Park was bigger than the city of San Francisco. Deerfield, Illinois, was bigger than the city of Chicago. Boulder was bigger than Denver.
"We weren't looking for huge numbers out of the core runs. We were looking to get the picture on its feet and established in the marketplace and kind of set the groundwork for further expansion. I think that's pretty much what we've done."
Miramax's R rated dark comedy "Committed" opened in New York and L.A., placing 26th with an uncommitted ESTIMATED $0.012 million at 6 theaters (3 in New York and 3 in Los Angeles; $2,000 per theater).
Written and directed by Lisa Krueger, it stars Heather Graham and Casey Affleck.
"It will go to the Top Ten (markets) next week," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning.
USA Films' R rated dark comedy "The Idiots" opened in New York, placing 27th with a calm ESTIMATED $0.007 million at 2 theaters ($3,642 per theater).
Directed by Lars von Trier, it stars Brodil Jorgensen.
Sony Pictures Classics kicked off its R rated romantic comedy "Bossa Nova" at two theaters in New York. No estimates were available Sunday morning since SPC does not track its openings.
Directed by Bruno Barreto, it stars Amy Irving and Antonio Fagundes.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front, Miramax's R rated comedy "East Is East" went wider in its third week, placing 21st with an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.27 million at 39 theaters (+21 theaters; $6,100 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.6 million.
Produced by Leslee Udwin and directed by Damien O'Donnell, "East" stars Om Puri and Linda Bassett.
Paramount Classics' R rated drama about teen suicide, "The Virgin Suicides," expanded in its second week, placing 22nd with a less sexy ESTIMATED $0.17 million (-29%) at 29 theaters (+11 theaters; $5,765 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.5 million.
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, it stars James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst and Josh Hartnett.
USA Films went wider with its R rated drama "Joe Gould's Secret," placing 25th in its fourth week with a dull ESTIMATED $0.064 million at 32 theaters (+3 theaters; $2,013 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.3 million.
Directed by Stanley Tucci, it stars Ian Holm and Stanley Tucci.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $76.97 million, up about 42.47% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $54.02 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 9.80% from this year's previous weekend, when key films grossed $85.33 million.
Last year, 20th Century Fox's opening week of "Entrapment" was first with $20.15 million at 2,815 theaters ($7,157 per theater); and Warner Bros.' fifth week of "The Matrix" was second with $8.72 million at 2,903 theaters ($3,002 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $28.8 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $23.1 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 four films ("U-571," "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas," "Erin Brockovich" and "The Skulls"), grossing an ESTIMATED $28.22 million or 36.6% of the market.
New Line was second with three films ("Frequency," "Love & Basketball" and "Final Destination"), grossing an ESTIMATED $17.2 million or 22.3% of the market.
20th Century Fox was third with one film ("Where the Heart Is"), grossing an ESTIMATED $8.3 million or 10.8% of the market.
Buena Vista (Disney, Touchstone)was fourth with three films ("Keeping the Faith," "High Fidelity" and "Fantasia 2000"), grossing an ESTIMATED $7.9 million or 10.3% of the market.
Paramount was fifth with one film ("Rules of Engagement"), grossing an ESTIMATED $4.75 million or 6.2% of the market.
Sony Pictures Releasing (Columbia, TriStar, Screen Gems) was sixth with one film ("28 Days"), grossing an ESTIMATED $4.0 million or 5.2% of the market.
(12)The Road to El Dorado/DreamWorks: Theaters: 2,247 (-923) Gross: $2.2 million (-58%) Average per theater: $979 Cume: $46.6 million
(13)Fantasia 2000/BV/Disney: Theaters: 53 (0) (all IMAX) Gross: $2.0 million (+11%) Average per theater: $38,056 Cume: $49.7 million (domestic)
(14) American Psycho/Lions Gate: Theaters: 1,012 (-230) Gross: $1.35 million (-50%) Average per theater: $1,334 Cume: $12.1 million
(15)The Skulls/Universal: Theaters: 1,340 (-707) Gross: $1.31 million (-52%) Average per theater: $975 Cume: $32.6 million
(16)High Fidelity/BV/Touchstone: Theaters: 806 (-425) Gross: $1.3 million (-40%) Average per theater: $1,635 Cume: $22.2 million
(17)Gossip/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,525 (0) Gross: $0.98 million (-58%) Average per theater: $645 Cume: $4.2 million
(18)Romeo Must Die/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 709 (-730) Gross: $0.84 million (-46%) Average per theater: $1,180 Cume: $53.7 million
(19)American Beauty/DreamWorks: Theaters: 791 (-339) Gross: $0.73 million (-46%) Average per theater: $923 Cume: $128.2 million
(20)Where the Money Is/USA Films: Theaters: 456 (-1,079) Gross: $0.3 million (-76%) Average per theater: $650 Cume: $5.4 million
(21)East Is East/Miramax: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(22)The Virgin Suicides/Paramount Classics: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(23)TIME CODE/Sony/Screen Gems: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(24)THE BIG KAHUNA/Lions Gate: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(25)Joe Gould's Secret/USA Films: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(26)COMMITTED/Miramax: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(27)THE IDIOTS/USA Films: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)