Set in a world inhabited only by motor vehicles Cars is sort of a cross between Michael J. Fox's Doc Hollywood and NASCAR. The main hero is a hotshot rookie race car named Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson)--an obvious homage to the late fast-driving Steve McQueen--whose one goal in life is to win the Piston Cup and bask in fame and glory. Yet on his cross-country trip to the Piston Cup Championship in California to compete against two seasoned pros (real-life legendary racer Richard Petty voices the reigning champion The King) Lightning finds himself unexpectedly detoured in the sleepy--and forgotten--Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. There he meets its colorful denizens--including Sally (Bonnie Hunt) a snazzy 2002 Porsche who owns the local “rest” stop; Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) the town’s rusty but trusty tow truck; and Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) a 1951 Hudson Hornet who rules the town with a steady hand er wheel. Together they all help the cocksure Lightning realize that there are more important things than trophies fame and sponsorship. If Pixar calls you come running so it isn’t at all surprising how impressive the Cars vocal line-up is starting with legendary screen icon Newman as the Doc. Come on being the race car driving nut that he is you think the 81-year-old actor would say no to voicing a 1951 Hudson Hornet who has his own mysterious past in the racing world? Hell no. The rest of the cast also seem to have a good time channeling their inner car from Wilson’s snarky speedster to Hunt’s cute and sexy Porsche a big-city lawyer who decides to get out of the fast lane. Supporting voices include Cheech Marin and Tony Shalhoub as Radiator Springs’ low-riding body shop and Italian Fiat tire shop owners respectively. Even George Carlin gets into the act as a groovy ‘60s VW wagon who sells “organic” fuel. Good stuff. Of course what Pixar flick would be complete without its comic relief? Although he’s no Ellen DeGeneres as a short-term memory impaired fish Larry the Cable Guy fills in nicely as the dim but sweet Mater the ultimate hick tow truck. Having been out of the directing loop since his 1999 sequel Toy Story 2 Cars marks Pixar’s golden boy John Lasseter return--and this is his big love letter to the splendor that is the automobile. Of course his demand for perfection took its toll. The animators had to come up with a new technique called “ray tracing ” which allows the car stars--that are metallic and heavily contoured--to credibly reflect their environments. Even with a sophisticated network of 3 000 computers and state-of-the-art lightning-fast processors that operate up to four times faster than they did on The Incredibles the average time to render a single frame of film was 17 hours. Still all that time spent pays off. Cars is a real visual treat with another firm grasp in storytelling. Sure it’s a bit of a vanity project and may shoot way over the kiddies’ heads making them squirm a little during the “slow” parts. But as one of the recently appointed top guns at Disney Lasseter can do just about anything he wants these days--and we are going to love it dammit.
When ordered to fire a long-time janitor named Stavi (Luis Avalos) Steve Barker (Johnny Knoxville) softens the blow by hiring him to mow the lawn at his apartment complex. Steve didn't provide him with health insurance so Stavi naturally loses a few fingers in a mowing accident and now it'll cost thousands to save the digits. What's a guy to do? Why of course fix the Special Olympics—a suggestion of Steve's degenerate uncle Gary (Brian Cox) who's also in the financial dumps. Former track star Steve reluctantly goes along with the scam and competes in the Special Olympics. His competitors are quick to pick up on his ruse but they decide to help him after Steve explains his motive. He must also try not to disappoint Lynn (Katherine Heigl) the beautiful volunteer who doesn't know of his real identity. What's a guy to do? Take the high road of course. Certainly Knoxville—of Jackass infamy and debauchery—would have no moral trepidation about headlining offensive exploitative crap like The Ringer but stardom beckons him if he only he stops aiming so damn low! His performance here was probably not as easy as it'd seem but it's reasonable to think that Jackass stunts involving a bottle of absinthe and some paper cuts to the cornea quickly eliminated any butterflies. What Knoxville has in spades is that rare charisma to prevent him from ever looking uncool. Then there's Cox the latest revered journeyman to sell his soul on the cheap for a role completely beneath him. Mostly disabled actors round out the cast uttering any and all funny lines but there's something fundamentally wrong when the audience erupts in laughter before the lines are even delivered. Though the Farrelly brothers—directors of There's Something About Mary and Dumb & Dumber--only acted as executive producers of The Ringer their lowbrow stamp is smeared all over. Directing chores were handed over to Barry Blaustein prolific writer of comedies like Coming to America making his feature directorial debut. The Ringer delivers on its promise of frat-dude humor and Blaustein certainly knows how to make his leading man shine—but it does so in cheap sophomoric ways.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets kicked off atop the chart to a magical $87.7 million, off only 3 percent from last year's series $90.3 million launch for the Warner Bros. franchise. The sequel's ticket sales were running ahead of the original for both Saturday and Sunday.
8 Mile was miles away in second place with $21.3 million, but heading for a profitable $130 million in domestic theaters.
The Santa Clause 2 was a jolly third with $15.1 million.
The Ring finished fourth, holding well with $11 million as its cume hit $101.6 million.
Half Past Dead opened half-dead in fifth place to $8.2 million.
Driven by Harry Potter, key films were up nearly 8 percent from last year--$168.4 million versus $156.3 million.
THE TOP TEN
Warner Bros.' PG rated sequel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets materialized in first place to a spellbinding ESTIMATED $87.69 million at 3,682 theaters ($23,816 per theater).
Harry's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Chris Columbus, it stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson.
"We're thrilled because Saturday and Sunday exceeded the first one," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "We went up with the first one 4 percent on Saturday and this one went up 14 percent on Saturday. So Saturday and Sunday become the largest PG grossing days in motion picture history. We have $33.6 million for Saturday, $24.5 million (estimated) for Sunday. Friday was $29.6 million."
Fellman pointed out that, "The only day we fell behind the original Potter was Friday (when the first film did $32.3 million). Saturday and Sunday exceeded the original Potter which did $33.5 million on Saturday and $24.4 million on Sunday). So we're only 3 percent off (for the weekend). Obviously, this has exceeded our expectations and we're very pleased with it.
"The film's reviews and exit interviews even exceeded the good notices and exit polls of the first one. I'd like to congratulate the director Chris Columbus and David Heyman, who produced the movie, for delivering a wonderful film and establishing an incredible franchise for us. And of course none of this is possible without the vision and the imagination of J.K. Rowling. And I'd also like to acknowledge the great marketing department headed by Dawn Taubin and the creative talent of Jim Fredrick, who developed our campaign."
Universal and Imagine Entertainment's R rated drama 8 Mile fell one notch to second place in its second week with a less lively ESTIMATED $21.33 million (-58%) at 2,496 theaters (+26 theaters; $8,545 per theater).
8 Mile, which only cost about $41 million to produce, has a cume of approximately $86.4 million and is heading for a nicely profitable domestic theatrical gross of about $130 million.
Directed by Curtis Hanson and produced by Brian Grazer, it stars Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy and Mekhi Phifer.
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated comedy sequel Santa Clause 2 dropped one rung to third place in its third week with a still funny ESTIMATED $15.1 million (-39%) at 3,346 theaters (-6 theaters; $4,502 per theater). Its cume is approximately $82.5 million, heading for $100 million-plus.
Directed by Michael Lembeck, it stars Tim Allen.
DreamWorks' PG-13 rated horror thriller The Ring slipped one peg to fourth place in its fifth week, still holding well with an ESTIMATED $11.0 million (-29%) at 2,882 theaters (-45 theaters; $3,828 per theater). Its cume is approximately $101.6 million, heading for $125 million.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, it stars Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson and Brian Cox.
Sony's Screen Gems division opened its PG-13 thriller Half Past Dead in fifth place to an unexciting ESTIMATED $8.2 million at 2,113 theaters ($3,881 per theater).
Written and directed by Don Michael Paul, it stars Steven Seagal, Ja Rule and Morris Chestnut.
IFC Films' release of Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding held on to sixth place in its 31st week, still showing terrific strength with an ESTIMATED $4.71 million (-19%) at 1,812 theaters (-183 theaters; $2,602 per theater). Its cume is approximately $199.6 million, heading for $215 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Columbia's PG-13 rated comedy I Spy, which was fourth last week, tied for seventh place in its third week with a soft ESTIMATED $4.0 million (-54%) at 2,611 theaters (-571 theaters; $1,532 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.9 million.
Directed by Betty Thomas, it stars Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson.
Paramount and MTV Films' R rated comedy Jackass: The Movie, which wa
s fifth last week, tied for seventh place in its fourth week with a slow ESTIMATED $4.0 million (-43%) at 2,413 theaters (-119 theaters; $1,670 per theater). Its cume is approximately $59.5 million, heading for $65-70 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Jeff Tremaine, it stars Johnny Knoxville.
Miramax's R rated drama Frida, which continued to expand in its fourth week, held on to ninth place with a hopeful ESTIMATED $2.89 million (+5%) at 519 theaters (+200 theaters; $5,568 per theater). Its cume is approximately $8.6 million.
Directed by Julie Taymor, it stars Salma Hayek.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama, down three notches in its eighth week with an okay ESTIMATED $2.4 million (-38%) at 1,469 theaters (-535 theaters; $1,604 per theater). Its cume is approximately $122.0 million, heading for $127 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Andy Tennant, it stars Reese Witherspoon.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Samuel Goldwyn Films' R rated drama The Crime of Father Amaro to an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.45 million at 43 theaters ($10,510 per theater).
Directed by Carlos Carrera, it stars Gael Garcia Bernal and is the official Mexican entry in this year's best foreign language film Oscar race.
Miramax's R rated drama Ararat kicked off to a hefty ESTIMATED $0.16 million at 5 theaters ($32,400 per theater).
Written and directed by Atom Egoyan, it stars David Alpay, Charles Aznavour, Eric Bogosian, Brent Carver and Marie-Josee Croze.
Artisan Entertainment's PG rated documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown kicked off to a hopeful ESTIMATED $0.13 million at 23 theaters ($5,434 per theater).
Directed by Paul Justman, it tells the story of the Funk Brothers, the legendary musicians who were Motown's back-up band on the tons of hit records the label produced in Detroit in the early '60s.
"It's a good start," Artisan distribution head Steve Rothenberg said Sunday morning. "Documentaries never start with big numbers--other than Bowling For Columbine. I guess that's the exception to the rule. When we had (the documentary) Buena Vista Social Club a few years ago we opened up to about $8,000 a screen at a similar number of theaters. So we're hoping that we can hold in like that film did week after week and, hopefully, the film will grow. We have 12 more theaters in 12 cities coming next week and then another 12 for Thanksgiving."
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend United Artists' R rated satiric documentary Bowling For Columbine released via MGM went wider in its fifth week with a still solid ESTIMATED $1.35 million (-13%) at 248 theaters (+26 theaters; $5,434 per theater). Its cume is approximately $8.9 million.
Written, produced and directed by Michael Moore, it won the Special Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
"We broke the record this weekend for the highest grossing non-concert documentary of all time," a United Artists spokeswoman said Sunday morning. "The film that previously held that (record) was Hoop Dreams with $7.33 million. We're at six weeks in release and they reached that gross after 37 weeks."
Focus Features' PG-13 rated drama Far From Heaven went wider in its second week with a very encouraging ESTIMATED $0.93 million at 54 theaters (+48 theaters; $17,238 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.3 million.
Directed by Todd Haynes, it stars Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert.
"It's Todd Haynes' biggest film ever," Focus distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning. "Based on the business in the new markets, and particularly the results in the suburban markets, they were splendid. The suburbs were crazy! Voorhees, New Jersey's going to do about $21,000 for the weekend. These are very rare numbers for any art film like this. It puts it into a very special sphere.
"All in all, the consistency of its performance is breathtaking because it was very successful everywhere it opened. I think we can pretty much be certain that this coming weekend's augmentation into about 250 theaters--we'll in about 70 or 80 markets in total--should be a replica of what happened this weekend. We've got a really wonderful opportunity to play very strongly during the Thanksgiving holiday and, probably, beyond. I'm very excited because this is such a special film."
HBO Films and Newmarket Films' PG-13 rated comedy drama Real Women Have Curves added theaters in its fifth week with a quiet ESTIMATED $0.5 million (+2%) at 154 theaters (+8 theaters; $3,475 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.7 million.
Directed by Patricia Cardoso, it stars America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros and George Lopez.
Artisan Entertainment's R rated comedy Roger Dodger widened in its fourth week with a dull ESTIMATED $0.2 million at 48 theaters (+14 theaters; $4,166 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.7 million.
Written and directed by Dylan Kidd, it stars Jennifer Beals, Elizabeth Berkley, Jesse Eisenberg, Isabella Rossellini and Campbell Scott.
"We're adding another 12 (runs) next weekend," Artisan distribution head Steve Rothenberg said Sunday morning. "At the end of the day, I think it'll be (a cume of) about $1.5 million."
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $168.43 million for the weekend, up about 7.79 percent from last year when they totaled $156.25 million.
Key films were up about 20.93 percent from the previous weekend this year when they totaled $139.27 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' opening week of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was first with $90.29 million at 3,672 theaters ($24,590 per theater); and Buena Vista/ Disney's third week of Monsters, Inc. was second with $22.72 million at 3,461 theaters ($6,564 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $113.0 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $109.0 million.