Though Garry Marshall hasn’t made a decent flick since 1990’s Pretty Woman he still apparently wields a not inconsiderable amount of clout in Hollywood. What else could explain the all-star ensemble of actors who gathered for Valentine’s Day? Among the major names found probing the turgid depths of the nearly 80-year-old director’s insipid rom-com are Julia Roberts Anne Hathaway Ashton Kutcher Jessica Alba Jamie Foxx Jessica Biel Taylor Lautner and various other prominent actors who either owe favors to Marshall or whose incriminating photos he holds in his possession.
A slice-of-life tale unfolding in Los Angeles over the course of a single Valentine’s Day the film chronicles the romantic adventures of a diverse cast of characters at various stages of relationships and encompassing virtually every conceivable demographic category. Their ages backgrounds and perspectives often dramatically differ but they each share one trait in common: Almost without exception they are all ceaselessly painfully disastrously unfunny.
Some temper their dishumor with a dose of the annoying like Kutcher whose dopey florist Marshall unwisely chose to anchor Valentine’s Day’s story around. Others add a dash of the preposterous like Roberts dressed in military fatigues in a laughable attempt to play a U.S. Army Captain on leave from the front. Still others add cloying sentiment to the mix like Bryce Robinson’s lovelorn 10-year-old whose grandparents played by Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo ply him with nostalgic romantic tips pre-fabricated for maximum inter-generational cuteness. Whatever your preferred method of cinematic torture may be you’ll undoubtedly encounter it in this film.
In addition to challenging the pain threshold Valentine’s Day offers a test of endurance as well its story requiring over two hours to satisfy the narrative demands of its swollen cast. If you didn’t despise Hallmark’s ersatz holiday before you certainly will after enduring this Bataan Death March of rom-coms.
Set in the heart of suburbia this dour and listless tale revolves around the dark soul of the humorless Henry Poole (Luke Wilson)--a man whose life has careened out of control. Looking for reinvigoration he returns to the bland suburban neighborhood of his youth hoping it will turn his mojo around and give him solitary comfort and peace. He buys a house for full price and tries to settle in but his hopes to be left alone are dashed by three female neighbors. First is a nosy woman Esperanza (Adriana Barraza) who is convinced she sees the stucco image of Christ on the side of his house. Then there’s the solemn 8 year-old Millie (Morgan Lily) who has taken a complete vow of silence since the divorce of her parents. Finally there is her mother Dawn (Radha Mitchell) who tries to reignite a passion in Henry. As crowds drawn by the Christ-like image begin to mushroom in his backyard--including a priest (George Lopez) who tries to counsel him--Henry is diagnosed with a terminal illness making him question his own faith in God and the quality of his life.
Luke Wilson fails to convince as the soulless Henry Poole a self-absorbed man throwing his own pity party. He’s so anti-social and morose through most of the film that the audience has a tough time connecting with his plight even as his life is threatened. Blame the script or Wilson himself for making Poole such an unattractive stick-in-the-mud. Young Lily as the near-autistic child next door plays it with mystical abandon but the role seems contrived. The normally reliable Mitchell doesn’t have a clue where her character seems to be going and fails to tap into her true emotional register. Lopez normally an upbeat comedic presence in films and TV plays it low-key here effective but forgettable. Stealing the film is Barraza the wonderful Oscar-nominated Mexican actress from Babel who lifts the tempo considerably every time she is onscreen. She gets the intended spirit of the material and delivers line readings in a completely convincing and fresh manner. Her belief in Esperanza’s own off-the-wall beliefs brings us to her side.Too bad everyone else seems to be in another picture. Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) can’t really locate a pulse in Albert Torres first-produced screenplay. Pellington approaches the story meant to be uplifting and inspiring in a slow-handed way--letting any chance for real dramatic sparks to fade away. Small human character studies like this need more invention in the telling to make up the lack of pizzazz inherent in the premise. What he does achieve nicely is the look and feel and a ‘40s or ‘50s-style middle class Southern California neighborhood lit by the bright sun but lacking in any kind of style or personality. When the figure of Christ is spotted on a non-descript wall of stucco it’s the first time this street has ever come to life. That works but the whole point of the story--the deeply religious spiritual underpinnings--don’t quite come across the way the director and screenwriter intended. Henry Poole Is Here remains ultimately a failure--a noble effort but misguided and largely bloodless.
Time to break out the Scooby snacks.
The canine Columbo and his human handlers live up to their pesky ways in Scooby-Doo, a live-action version of the cartoon classic that should easily trump fellow newcomers The Bourne Identity and Windtalkers this weekend at the box office.
The real mystery doesn't involve Spooky Island or its apparent owner, Emile Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson), but the ultimate fate of this family-friendly Scooby-Doo.
Perhaps in an effort to create a Harry Potter-type franchise, Warner Bros. and director Raja Gosnell keep this Scooby-Doo very much in the spirit of the original TV show. This means Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) never lights up and mellows out, Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) don't knock boots, and Velma (Linda Cardellini) remains firmly in the closet.
This lack of a post-modern spin--apparently evident in the original script and in some deleted scenes--might disappoint teens and younger adults yearning for another Brady Bunch Movie. But, if kids want to throw their arms around the CGI Scooby-Doo and their parents feel like taking a trip down memory lane, then Gosnell can expect a bigger hit than his Big Momma's House ($117.5 million). And, for once, Prinze's disastrous box office record won't be a hindrance.
In recent years, audiences have embraced the flesh-and-blood antics of The Flintstones ($130.5 million), George of the Jungle ($105.2 million) and Inspector Gadget ($97.3 million). They also wisely rejected The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle ($26 million), for being obscure and irrelevant, and last year's Josie and the Pussycats ($14.2 million) for its wildly contradictory stand on consumerism. Scooby-Doo ranks alongside The Flintstones as one of TV's most beloved animated series, so the Great Dane could match or exceed both The Flintstones' $37.1 million opening and total. It certainly helps that Scooby-Doo boasts the long-waited trailer for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Scooby-Doo should not face too much in the way of rivalry from Spider-Man or Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, both of which have peaked.
Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man now ranks fifth on the list of highest grossing domestic releases, passing Jurassic Park ($357 million) last week. With $373.8 million through Wedneday, the webslinger will need to employ all his superpowers to overcome Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace ($431 million).
Attack of the Clones, not Spider-Man, was expected to rake in the most money this year, but the second chapter in George Lucas' Star Wars saga dropped 33 percent in its fourth weekend, from $21 million to an unsatisfactory $14 million. The Phantom Menace made $14.1 million in its fifth weekend and $13.2 million in its sixth weekend. With $259.7 million through Wednesday, its 28th day in theaters, Attack of the Clones is lagging behind the $303 million that The Phantom Menace scared up during the same period. Attack of the Clones should manage to surpass The Empire Strikes Back's $290.2 million total by the July 4th holiday weekend. Regardless, Attack of the Clones looks set to become the first $300 million disappointment.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron showed surprising endurance in its third weekend. The animated western, narrated by Matt Damon, dropped a modest 18 percent in its third weekend, from $11.3 million to $9.3 million. With $56.9 million through Wednesday, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron's staying power can be attributed to parents seeking out suitable entertainment for their vacationing children. Yet Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron will won't gain too much more ground with the arrival of Scooby-Doo and the upcoming Lilo & Stitch, Hey Arnold! and The Powerpuff Girls.
Jack Ryan, meet fellow CIA agent Jason Bourne.
The trouble with spies continues this week as Matt Damon battles with memory loss and fellow agency operatives in The Bourne Identity. Go director Doug Liman's stylish reworking of the Robert Ludlum novel failed to make its original Sept. 7 release date--reportedly because Liman wanted to shoot a pivotal action scene--and now arrives in the wake of spy flicks The Sum of All Fears and Bad Company.
Oh, but what could have been.
Universal had planned to open The Bourne Identity on May 31 against The Sum of All Fears, setting up what would have resulted in a delicious box office death match between old pals Damon and Ben Affleck. Universal wisely blinked, so Matt and Ben live to fight another day.
Damon's surprisingly convincing turn as a lethal weapon, coupled with Liman's ability to keep matters both smart and tense, should overcome any notions that The Bourne Identity doesn't deserve a theatrical release.
Damon, however, isn't going to best Affleck.
Amnesia is a tired plot device that, when handled predictably, results in a commercial misfire such as Jim Carrey's The Majestic. The Bourne Identity is no Majestic, but it isn't as inventive or intriguing as Memento. Also, The Bourne Identity is dark, brooding and unassuming, whereas The Sum of All Fears is loud, proud and patriotic. On top of this, Affleck's a proven commodity as an action star following Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. Damon's a relative neophyte when it comes to saving the day.
Damon should settle for an opening on a par with The Sum of All Fears' second weekend haul of $19.2 million and a total of around $60 million.
The latest Jack Ryan adventure, which has $68.8 million through Wednesday, should tumble by at least 40 percent to $11.5 million in its third weekend. That will bring The Sum of All Fears close to the $83.2 million total earned by the second Ryan yarn, Patriot Games, in 1992.
Jason Bourne will take out Bad Company without working up a sweat.
Saddled with scathing reviews, director Joel Schumacher's woefully unfunny and unexciting action-comedy managed to scrap up an $11 million opening purely on the appeal of miscast stars Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock. Audiences clearly are ready to gasp at the possibly of a nuclear threat on our shores--hence The Sum of All Fears' popularity-but not prepared to laugh at the CIA's attempts to halt such a terrorist attack. With $14.5 million through Wednesday, Bad Company looks set to make no more than $30 million for producer Jerry Bruckheimer of Armageddon and Pearl Harbor fame. That would rank as the worst showing for a Bruckheimer-produced offering since splitting with partner Don Simpson just before his 1996 death.
Bad Company's failure leaves Undercover Brother alone in the bid to solicit chuckles from comical spy games. Eddie Griffin's enjoyable blaxploitation satire scored a $7.3 million second weekend, down 39 percent from its $12 million debut, but it has $26 million through Wednesday. The Man might stop the low-budget Undercover Brother from exceeding Austin Powers's $53.8 million total, but thwarting future adventures of this Afro-wearing avenger isn't likely.
The war goes on for Nicolas Cage.
Last summer, Cage fought the Germans, wooed Penelope Cruz and plucked Captain Corelli's Mandolin. The result was a very disappointing $25.5 million. Cage's latest World War II tour of duty, John Woo's oft-delayed Windtalkers, should not fare any better.
MGM originally intended to release Windtalkers on June 29, 2001, after Pearl Harbor and before Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Yanking Windtalkers out of Pearl Harbor's path made sense, but then MGM misjudged the mood of the nation when it scuttled its Nov. 9, 2001, release in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy. The war-themed Behind Enemy Lines, Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers managed to capitalized on America's post-Sept. 11 patriotism. MGM now needs Windtalkers to reverse its flagging fortunes after the disastrous Rollerball and Hart's War.
This Flag Day offering reveals the role that Navajo soldiers performed in helping the U.S. defeat the Japanese. Cage is the U.S. marine assigned to protect Adam Beach, a Navajo-American code talker. Cage's orders include killing Beach should he fall into enemy hands.
Unfortunately, Woo mishandles what could otherwise have been a unique and compelling war epic. Woo's trademark balletic approach to violence should lend itself perfectly to the horrors of war, but instead he throws at us one bloody but dull and impotent battle after another. He doesn't get much help from the cliché-ridden screenplay by Joe Batteer and John Rice or from the hammy Cage and the wishy-washy Beach. Add a romance that goes nowhere with obligatory love interest Francis O'Connor, and Windtalkers makes Pearl Harbor look like Saving Private Ryan. At least Pearl Harbor had that bomb falling from the sky.
Cage and Woo's first collaboration, Face/Off, packed a powerful punch in 1997, earning $112.2 million. Their participation in Windtalkers should ensure an opening double that of the $7.7 million endured by Hart's War, MGM's first race-related World War II drama of the year that made a lowly $19 million. Bad word of mouth will gun down Windtalkers, leaving MGM with a very expensive gamble that won't gross more between $40 million and $50 million. And could such a flop result in doom and gloom for the third Cage-Woo collaboration, the yet-to-be-filmed The Divide?
Dodging bullets came easy to the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
The Southern belles of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood giggled their way to a marvelous $16.1 million debut, a personal best for Sandra Bullock. It's also better than the $14.8 million opening of 1996's A Time to Kill, which also co-starred Bullock and Ashley Judd. This adaptation of Rebecca Wells' novel even tiptoed off with the No. 1 slot on Wednesday, earning $2.2 million to The Sum of All Fears' $2 million.
Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which has $22.8 million through Wednesday, looks destined to yammer on and on. Audiences clearly have had enough of Jennifer Lopez's Enough ($35 million through Wednesday) and are no longer interested in learning About a Boy ($33.4 million through Wednesday). There also is no wide-release competition for the female audience on the horizon. That means the sisterhood can expect to exceed Bullock's Hope Floats ($60.1 million) and possibly challenge her While You Were Sleeping ($81 million). It's doubtful, though, that without male support Ya-Ya Sisterhood can top A Time to Kill's $108.7 million.
More guests arrived for My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which has $11 million through Sunday in limited release. The romantic comedy experienced an 85 percent increase in business last weekend after doubling its screen count from 207 to 443.
Greeted with so-so reviews, The Importance of Being Earnest dropped 19 percent in its third weekend, from $733,913 to $625,256, while remaining at 147 theaters. It has $2.4 million through Sunday. Director Oliver Parker had better luck with his first stab at freely adapting an Oscar Wilde play, An Ideal Husband, which had generated $5.7 million by its third weekend on the strength of terrific notices. Maybe its time Parker focus his attention on the works of another legendary playwright.