Attempting to delve into one of Tinseltown’s most curious scandals--the mysterious suicide (or was it?) of the original TV Superman actor George Reeves--the story begins after Reeves (Ben Affleck) is found dead of a seemingly self-inflicted gunshot wound during a late night party in his Benedict Canyon home. The case then unfolds through the eyes of Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) a street-smart publicity hungry private dick hired by Reeves’ grieving mother. As Simo slowly peels back the layers of Reeves’ seemingly glamorous life he discovers an actor of charm talent and sophistication whose every opportunity for a big break fizzled forcing him to lead a frustrated existence slumming in the superhero show he deemed beneath him. Gradually identifying with Reeves’ failed expectations for himself Simo discovers a host of candidates who may have actually pulled the trigger on the actor including his young party girl paramour (Robin Tunney) his longtime lover and patron (Diane Lane) and his lover’s husband a powerfully connected studio “fixer” (Bob Hoskins). It is Brody not Affleck who carries the bulk of the film on his shoulders and the Oscar winner delivers a finely etched turn as Simo who’s fractured potential mirrors Reeves’ but quite simply Simo’s story isn’t nearly as dark or engaging as Reeves’ life or the mystery surrounding his death. Affleck an actor who has had his share of ups downs duds and disappointments in Hollywood delivers one of his most charming and fully realized performances to date even if his spot-on recreation of Reeves’ speech pattern is a bit distracting. The luminous Lane’s acting talents remain in full blossom in a character she’s well-suited to play—the aging beauty fearing the road ahead—and she commands every scene she’s in. Unfortunately there should have been many many more of them. She’s almost criminally underused. Hoskins more menacing then ever and the reliable stable of supporting players like Joe Spano are all top-notch as well; only Tunney apparently trying to channel both Betty Boop and Bette Davis simultaneously seems a bit off her game as the wannabe femme fatale. Best known for his strong turns helming many of the best episodes of television series such as The Sopranos Sex and the City and Six Feet Under first time feature director Allen Coulter’s cool assured hand and meticulous recreation of Cold War Los Angeles are major bonuses here. Even when Simo’s story sags in comparison to Reeves’ Coulter keeps us interested particularly when staging the Rashomon-like sequences depicting the various theories behind Reeves’ demise. But by skimping on Reeves’ story in favor of a less compelling fictional framework built around a private detective investigating the case we never see one key suspect’s possible murder scenario enacted visually and it comes off as a glaring omission.
The thing is Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties doesn’t even have anything to do with the classic Charles Dickens novel. Two Kitties is more a pauper/prince type story. I guess kids probably don’t know what a “pauper” is and well The Prince and the Pussy wouldn’t really work would it? Still they could have at least come up with a clever story to go along with the title. This time around Garfield (Bill Murray) wants to stop Jon (Breckin Meyer) from asking cute-as-a-button vet Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt) to marry him on a trip to London by stowing away. Once over the pond the fat yellow cat ends up being mistaken for a royal fat yellow cat Prince (Tim Curry) who has just inherited a castle. Sure Garfield likes all the perks--minced pie anytime he rings a bell; pampering beyond your regular tongue bath; and no Odie. There are a few downsides namely an evil relative (Billy Connolly) who wants the cat dead so he can get the estate but it doesn’t matter. Both cats are killed in the end anyway. Oh I’m kidding (I only wish). The laconic Murray is certainly a wise choice to voice the indolent fat cat and was mildly entertaining in the first Garfield. But for the Oscar-nominated actor to agree to do it again let’s just say it must have been very costly for the producers. I would hope anyway that he asked for a lot of money because why else would you do something as inane as this? The character interminably grates. There are also a bevy of British actors in Two Kitties who are equally annoying doing animal voices--from Curry as the mollycoddled Prince to Bob Hoskins as a bulldog and Sharon Osbourne as a pig. As for the human factor Meyer and Love Hewitt are gag-producing sugary sweet while Connolly just makes a complete ass of himself as the dastardly villain. It’s kind of embarrassing actually --for everyone involved. It still boggles the mind the first Garfield grossed $75 million domestically. Yes it was an understandable endeavor since the comic strip has always been immensely popular and with the advent of CGI creating the Garfield we all know and love for the screen was finally possible. But the first Garfield was so mind-numbingly ridiculous you just have to wonder what the audiences saw in it. I guess maybe it had something to do with keeping 7-year-olds occupied. Of course all the studio execs saw were dollar signs so it stands to reason they’d make a sequel. It made money dammit so we have to do it again can’t you see that? OK so let’s say we go with that reasoning hoping maybe they’ll have realized their mistakes with the first and come up with something better. No such luck. I have feeling this time around however those same execs may be disappointed. In a summer full of far more stellar entertainment for the kiddies these Two Kitties are going to thankfully fall by the wayside and put an end to the franchise once and for all.
She's a hip-hoppin' be-boppin' mean ol' nanny who whips a mean stew and your butt for not doing your homework—and now she's back! Alas we don't speak of the Mrs. Doubtfire sequel but rather that of Big Momma a.k.a. FBI Agent Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence). Agent Warner has cut ties with the FBI at the behest of Sherry (Nia Long)—who as you no doubt recall is the granddaughter of the real Big Momma—since she's pregnant with Malcolm's baby. But wouldn't you know that he gets sucked back in after a former colleague is killed. Posing as Big Momma he's hired as a nanny to a suburban family the deadbeat dad of which is involved in the murder and a crime plot. She does it all—cooks cleans dances and even runs down bad guys but it's a race against time to stop the potential national security crisis. That is a race against the film's (mercifully) short running time. Although Lawrence's resume includes some of the dregs of comedy it's hard to argue that he is truly blessed when it comes to physical comedy and comedic timing. He continues both trends here this time without the help of the breakthrough actors of the past two years Paul Giamatti and Terrence Howard who yes both starred in the first Big Momma's House. That means Lawrence's urban mania is truly on its own and absurd and juvenile as the film may be even film snobs can't hold back a few laughs at his Big Momma outlandishness. Longreturns for no more than a select few scenes and to provide a minor conflict in the story. The notable newcomer is CSI's Emily Procter as the sterile mother who hires Big Momma. She does a serviceable job as a suburban Petite Momma. Might she be the next Giamatti or Howard to bolt to bigger and better things in time for the next sequel? No.
Big Momma's House 2 is right up director John Whitesell's alley. He's the guy behind such misses—though not necessarily financially—as Malibu's Most Wanted and See Spot Run and he's right at home here. Whitesell doesn't hold back in (literally and figuratively) pulling the robe off Big Momma but he clearly knows that nothing is to interrupt Lawrence's antics not even the thin story line. Aside from that he knows quite well how to execute thinly veiled rip-offs of the aforementioned Mrs. Doubtfire as well as countless other hidden-motive comedies (i.e. Kindergarten Cop Houseguest et al). Because while the main guise is the Big Momma fat suit Whitesell parades the film about as a feel-good/family flick.
Ana (Sarah Polley) a hard-working nurse living in a picturesque Wisconsin suburb wakes up early one morning to find a little blonde neighborhood girl chomping on Ana's husband's jugular. She makes a quick getaway only to find her pruned-lawn universe in complete disarray: Houses are on fire cars are careening out of control and people are literally running for their lives--and that's before the title art even appears. It turns out a mysterious plague is transforming people into zombies with an insatiable appetite for living human tissue. Now on the run Ana joins up with other survivors including tough cop Kenneth (Ving Rhames) good guy Michael (Jake Weber) street-smart Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his very pregnant wife Luda (Inna Korobkina) and decide the Crossroads Mall would be a good sanctuary. After convincing three security guards to let them into their safe haven the group bands together to defend the mall against the growing army of zombies pawing at the glass doors. But while the mall with its stores packed with food clothing TVs and radios serves as an ideal refuge the group realizes that no one is coming to rescue them and their only chance of survival is to plot their own escape. But their getaway is squelched when some of those still living barricaded inside the mall begin to show signs of infection including the expectant Luda.
Drawing a skilled cast to a horror film--a genre that's not taken very seriously--is always a good move because it gives it a certain credibility. Dawn of the Dead's lineup which includes Polley Rhames Weber and Phifer offer up likeable characters despite the lack of character development. As the bleeding-heart nurse Polley (My Life Without Me) is clearly the heroine here: Not only does she care for everyone's medical needs but she is also the film's biggest risk taker diving nose-first into dangerous situations for the group's sake. Her character Ana is a nice balance to Rhames' badass cop Kenneth whose decisions are grounded and never clouded by emotion. Other dueling characters include Weber's (Wendigo) Michael the group's strategic leader and militant security guard CJ played by Michael Kelly (Unbreakable). The cast plays off each other nicely; it's just a shame that they are emotionally disconnected. For example although Phifer is persuasive as the doting father-to-be it's difficult to sympathize with Andre's gut wrenching predicament with his pregnant zombie wife because their bond was never established. Look for actors from the original film in cameo appearances including makeup artist Tom Savini (also a biker in the original) as the sheriff; Scott Reiniger (Roger) as the general; and Ken Foree (Peter) as the televangelist.
Dawn of the Dead marks Zack Snyder's directorial debut--and what a project he chose. Snyder however fittingly resurrects the undead created by Romero 24 years ago into much more menacing zombies for modern-day horror-savvy audiences: They are lightning-fast have shark-like radar for human flesh and demonstrate pack mentality. Of course the film's look is a lot slicker that its predecessor minus a few action sequences involving the zombie hordes that almost appear to have been shot on digital video. Snyder for example was careful not to make the film too CGI-laden and instead relied on special effects makeup designer David Anderson (Men in Black Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) to make the zombies extremely gross lifelike and menacing. But in focusing on creating this fear-provoking look the film loses some of the subtle humor that distinguished the 1978 production from the average horror pic. Remember the scene in the original film that has the zombies robotically trying to walk up the down escalator? Romero had a way of laughing at the film's own absurdity without demeaning it; Snyder's humor here is less sophisticated and instead relies on screenwriter James Gunn's dialogue. But this modern Dawn of the Dead is still a thrilling moviegoing experience with tons of scares to be had.
SwimFan made an unexpectedly big box office splash, opening in first place to $12.4 million.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding continued dancing in second place, holding beautifully with $10.6 million. With its cume now at $96 million, Wedding is heading for an enormously profitable $125 million or more.
City by the Sea washed ashore quietly in third place with $9.1 million.
Signs placed fourth with $8.0 million while its cume entered mega-milestone territory with $205.8 million.
xXx finished fifth with $5.5 million as its cume reached $131 million.
With no new blockbusters driving the fall's first post-Labor Day weekend, key films (those grossing $500,000 or more) were down marginally by about 1 percent -- $68.2 million versus last year's $68.8 million. It was the eighth consecutive weekend in which business was down from last year.
THE TOP TEN
20th Century Fox's PG-13 thriller SwimFan kicked off atop the chart to a surprisingly strong ESTIMATED $12.43 million at 2,855 theaters ($4,354 per theater).
Directed by John Polson, it stars Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen and Shiri Appleby.
Asked why SwimFan hadn't tracked like it would end up being the weekend's number one film, Fox executive vice president, distribution Rick Myerson said Sunday morning, "The tracking is a guide. It's not the Ouija board that gives you exact information. We noticed that the tracking for young females and young males was increasing all week. I think sometimes what people do is look at the overall tracking rather than get into the specifics.
"The audience was young females and young males and that started to come on (stronger) at the end of the week. There hadn't been a movie for young females since Blue Crush and there hadn't been a movie for young males since xXx. So all of a sudden they saw, 'Hey, this is the perfect vehicle for me. Let's go.' I think that had something to do with it."
IFC Films' release of Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy sleeper hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding held on to second place in its 21st week with a still outstanding ESTIMATED $10.59 million (-5%) at 1,695 theaters (+76 theaters; $6,249 per theater). Its cume is approximately $96.0 million, well on its way to $125 million or more in domestic theaters.
Wedding's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Going into the weekend, with SwimFan not tracking like it would place first, insiders had speculated that Wedding could move up to the top spot.
"We fell a few meters short of SwimFan, but can't complain about a $10 million (plus) weekend that dropped off only 5 percent from a holiday weekend," IFC distribution head Rob Schwarz said Sunday morning.
Franchise Pictures R rated cop drama City by the Sea, released through Warner Bros., opened in third place with an uneventful ESTIMATED $9.14 million at 2,575 theaters ($3,550 per theater).
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones, it stars Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand and James Franco.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated supernatural thriller blockbuster Signs slid three rungs to fourth place in its sixth week with an OK ESTIMATED $8.0 million (-41%) at 3,232 theaters (-205 theaters; $2,475 per theater). Its cume is approximately $205.8 million, heading for $225 million.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, it stars Mel Gibson.
Revolution Studios and Columbia's PG-13 rated action adventure thriller xXx slipped two notches to fifth place in its fifth week with a still macho ESTIMATED $5.5 million (-47%) at 3,088 theaters (-448 theaters; $1,791 per theater). Its cume is approximately $131.0 million.
Directed by Rob Cohen and produced by Neal H. Moritz, it stars Vin Diesel, Asia Argento and Marton Csokas.
"We keep working our way towards $150 million or very close to it and couldn't be more pleased," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
Miramax/Dimension Films' PG rated family comedy sequel Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams dropped two pegs to sixth place in its fifth week with a dull ESTIMATED $3.0 million (-50%) at 2,821 theaters (-429 theaters; $1,063 per theater). Its cume is approximately $73.9 million.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, it stars Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino.
New Line's PG-13 rated comedy sequel Austin Powers in Goldmember slid one post to seventh place in its seventh week with a less lively ESTIMATED $2.76 million (-50%) at 2,102 theaters (-404 theaters; $1,308 per theater). Its cume is approximately $207.1 million.
Directed by Jay Roach, it stars Mike Myers, Beyonce Knowles and Michael Caine.
Asked where Goldmember is heading, New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning, "somewhere between $210-215 million probably." The previous sequel Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me did $205.4 million in domestic theaters in 1999.
MDP Worldwide's R rated horror film feardotcom fell three notches to eighth place via Warner Bros. in its second week with a soft ESTIMATED $2.35 million (-50%) at 2,550 theaters (theater count unchanged; $920 per theater). Its cume is approximately $10.5 million.
Directed by William Malone, it stars Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone and Stephen Rea.
Columbia took ninth place with what Sony called an "encore release" of its PG-13 rated blockbusters Spider-Man and Men in Black II with an ESTIMATED $2.0 million at 2,078 theaters ($962 per theater). Sony did not release a new cume for each film, but put the double bill's "encore release cume" at $2.0 million.
Directed by Sam Raimi, Spider-Man stars Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Men In Black II stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith.
"It's an encore run prior to what looks like spectacular video and DVD releases on each," Sony's Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "Spider-Man on Oct. 31, a special Halloween release date. And a Thanksgiving release date on Men In Black II."
Rounding out the Top Ten was Universal and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated romantic surfer girl comedy Blue Crush with a calm ESTIMATED $1.81 million (-59%) at 2,009 theaters (-811 theaters; $900 per theater). Its cume is approximately $37.2 million.
Directed by John Stockwell and produced by Brian Grazer and Karen Kehela, it stars Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Matthew Davis, Sanoe Lake and Mika Boorem.
This weekend saw the arrival of no other noteworthy releases.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated comedy The Good Girl went wider in its fifth week with a solid ESTIMATED $1.5 million (-48%) at 690 theaters (+23 theaters; $2,210 per theater). Its cume is approximately $9.7 million.
Directed by Miguel Arteta, it stars Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal and John C. Reilly.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated thriller One Hour Photo continued to expand well in its third week with a strong ESTIMATED $1.45 million (-42%) at 173 theaters (+9 theaters; $8,382 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.9 million.
Written and directed by Mark Romanek, it stars Robin Williams.
"Next Friday it expands to 1,200 runs," a Fox Searchlight spokesman said Sunday morning.
Focus Features' romantic drama Possession added a few more theaters in its fourth week with a still hopeful ESTIMATED $0.98 million (-49%) at 616 theaters (+2 theaters; $1,590 per theater). Its cume is approximately $7.9 million.
Directed by Neil LaBute, it stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart.
Paramount Classics' PG rated German romantic comedy Mostly Martha went wider in its fourth week with an OK ESTIMATED $0.3 million (-31%) at 70 theaters (+4 theaters; $3,720 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.2 million.
Written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, it stars Martina Gedeck.
United Artists' R rated comedy 24 Hour Party People, released through MGM, continued to widen and hold well in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $93,000 at 35 theaters (+3 theaters; $2,649 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.8 million.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom, it stars Steve Coogan.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $68.18 million for the weekend, down a marginal 0.93 percent from last year when they totaled $68.82 million.
Key films cannot be compared to the previous weekend of this year, which was a four day holiday weekend.
Last year, Universal's opening week of The Musketeer was first with $10.31 million at 2,438 theaters ($4,230 per theater); and Sony's opening week of Two Can Play That Game was second with $7.72 million at 1,297 theaters ($5,953 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $18.0 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $23.0 million.