A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
Prior to Sept. 11, Hollywood expected little in the way of brisk business during the last weekend of January. Then, in the wake of the terrorist attacks, NFL officials pushed back the Super Bowl one weekend to Feb. 3.
That prompted Hollywood to take decisive action.
Mandy Moore's A Walk to Remember and Josh Hartnett's 40 Days and 40 Nights were scheduled pre-Sept. 11 to debut against Super Bowl celebrations.
Miramax pushed back 40 Days and 40 Nights to March 1, but now Moore must fend off Richard Gere's The Mothman Prophecies, director Kevin Reynolds' The Count of Monte Cristo, the martial arts spoof Kung Pow: Enter the Fist and the expansion of Sean Penn's I Am Sam.
The Count of Monte Cristo and The Mothman Prophecies will likely slug it out as this weekend's top new choice.
How many times can Hollywood remake Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo? Not as many times as Hollywood cares to revisit Dumas' The Three Musketeers, but still enough to substantiate claims that studio executives have run out of any vaguely original ideas. Ironically, Reynolds' costume adventure fled its October release to avoid a bloody battle with director Peter Hyams' The Musketeer.
The Count of Monte Cristo look likes it will emulate Hyams' hyperkinetic The Musketeer, which opened Sept. 8 with $10.3 million without the benefit of a familiar face playing D'Artangan, but ultimately only earned an unimpressive $27 million.
Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce star as the childhood friends turned enemies when both fall in love with the same woman. Unfortunately, Reynolds brings such little energy to Caviezel's transformation from wrongly imprisoned dupe to vengeful nobleman that audiences might find themselves pining for the dumb-downed but high-kicking antics of The Musketeers.
At the end of the day, The Count of Monte Cristo isn't going to make anyone forget that Reynolds directed Waterworld.
Richard Gere is looking to score his first hit in five years sans Julia Roberts. He suffered two major flops in 2000--Autumn in New York ($37.8 million) and Dr. T & the Women ($13.1 million)-after reuniting in 1999 with his Pretty Woman co-star for the smash hit Runaway Bride ($152.3 million). The Jackal earned $54.9 million in 1997, but that modest gross can be attributed to pairing Gere with Bruce Willis. Gere's last solo hit: 1996's Primal Fear ($56.1 million).
Based on a true story, The Mothman Prophecies features Gere as a reporter investigating a series of strange events and visions afflicting a small West Virginian town. Directed by Arlington Road's Mark Pellington, this supernatural-tinged drama could capitalize on the success of fellow PG-13 chillers The Sixth Sense and The Others. Gere, though, might want look toward May's Unfaithful as his best chance of breaking out of his slump.
So Mariah Carey's Glitter bombed. That isn't stopping bubblegum pop divas Mandy Moore and Britney Spears from trying their hand at conquering the silver screen. Spears' Crossroads opens Feb. 15, which gives Moore three weeks to establish her acting credentials.
After a brief appearance in last summer's The Princess Diaries, Moore headlines A Walk to Remember as a mousy minister's daughter who falls for rich stud Shane West.
That A Walk to Remember is based on Nicholas Spark's popular novel should guarantee initial interest from non-Moore fans. However, what is essentially another disease-of-the-week tearjerker should fare slightly better than Glitter ($4.2 million) and On the Line ($4.3 million) with 'N Sync's Lance Bass and Joey Fatone.
Cross What's Up, Tiger Lily? and Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the result seemingly is Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. Steve Oedekerk doubles as star and director in this knockabout farce about a theater patron who somehow ends up trapped inside the old kung fu flick Savage Killers.
Oedekerk is best known for directing the anything-blows Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, so his presence far from guarantees a huge turnout this weekend. If anything, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist might attract die-hard martial fans open to the idea of Oedekerk poking fun at their favorite genre. Otherwise, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist won't become the chop socky equivalent of Scary Movie.
Already dismissed by numerous critics as Rain Man meets Kramer vs. Kramer, I Am Sam expands this weekend to 1,000-plus theaters after a low-key limited run that yielded $182,229 through Monday. Sean Penn stars as a mentally challenged father fighting to regain custody of his 7-year-old daughter. Michelle Pfeiffer is Penn's lawyer.
New Line had hoped that I Am Sam would emerge as an Oscar contender, but lukewarm reviews now make that an unlikely prospect. Without Oscar respect, I Am Sam must rely on its Beatles-driven soundtrack to generate interest.
Aside from Steven Soderbergh, Ridley Scott currently ranks as Hollywood's hardest-working director.
For his efforts, Scott's enjoyed two $100 million hits in the past two years, Gladiator and Hannibal. If Soderbergh can direct three consecutive $100 blockbusters in a row--Erin Brockovich, Traffic and Ocean's Eleven--Scott surely is up for the task.
Scott guns for his third smash with Black Hawk Down, the brutal recount of a 1993 battle between U.S. troops trapped in war-torn Somalia, which stormed this past Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend into 3,101 theaters after three weeks in limited release.
Black Hawk Down easily unseated The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring as the nation's top film. It has $39.8 million through Wednesday after a $33.6 million four-day weekend tally. It ranks as the second-highest January opening behind 1997's Star Wars: Special Edition reissue.
Scott's war drama should continue to dominate the box office at least until the Feb. 8 arrival of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Collateral Damage and director John McTiernan's Rollerball remake.
A $100 million total seems likely for Scott. Sturdy reviews should also result in several high-profile Oscar nominations. The sense of patriotic pride that turned the similarly themed Spy Game and Behind Enemy Lines into modest hits still lingers, offsetting minor criticism that the film is one long, gory shootout. Also, the last time stars Josh Hartnett and Tom Sizemore and producer Jerry Bruckheimer went to war, they scored a $198.5 million hit in Pearl Harbor.
For the MLK holiday weekend, Disney let the Snow Dogs out, a moderately entertaining family comedy revolving around a fictional Alaska mushing race called the Arctic Challenge.
Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as a Miami dentist who heads to Alaska to find out more about his late biological mother. Northern Exposure-style antics aside, Gooding bonds with both the mushing dogs willed to him and the father (James Coburn) he never knew.
Snow Dogs astonished everyone by earning $23.7 million during the MLK holiday weekend, and has $25 million through Wednesday. That makes it the fourth-best January opening. Perhaps it should not have come as that much of a surprise considering Snow Dogs experienced sellouts at 85 percent of the 960 theaters that sneaked the film Jan. 5. Besides, there's only so many times that parents can or will take their children to see something other than the aging Monsters, Inc., Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.
That the eponymous heroes of Snow Dogs bark rather than talk might prevent the film from becoming a runaway smash on the scale of last year's Dr. Dolittle 2 and Cats and Dogs. Accordingly, Snow Dogs should end up with less than Dr. Dolittle 2's $112.9 million and Cats and Dogs's $93.3 million.
Snow Dogs might be a surprise hit, but it isn't likely to reverse the notion that Gooding is unwilling to stretch creatively since winning an Oscar for Jerry Maguire. Beyond giving a sterling performance in Men of Honor, Gooding's allowed himself to slum in moronic thrillers (Instinct, Chill Factor, the straight-to-video A Murder of Crows). He did enjoy two hits in 2001, but only as an ensemble cast member of Pearl Harbor and the amusing Rat Race.
Serving as a straight man to eight crafty canines isn't going to help his cause. Nor is spending much of Snow Dogs falling down and yelling at the top of his lungs.
Snow Dogs does represent a return to the doghouse for director Brian Levant. His Beethoven howled its way to $56.9 million in early 1992, so he knows a thing or two about handling dogs. He also could do with a hit after the ill-conceived The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.
Is Colin Hanks a chip off the old block?
Orange County, the first feature film lead role for Tom Hanks' son, opened Jan. 11 with a zesty $15 million and enjoyed a $10.5 million MLK holiday weekend. Most of the credit should go to the aggressive campaign launched by MTV Films, which played up the presence of Jack Black. A wise move, considering Black's Shallow Hal opened in November with $22.5 million and ended up with a fat $69.6 million.
Orange County's total through Wednesday is $29.2 million. The youth comedy, featuring Hanks as an aspiring writer desperate to attend Stanford University, should remain an alternate this weekend for teens too cool for A Walk to Remember and apathetic toward Sunday's NFL Conference Championships.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring should generate an additional $8 million despite its fall from the top office top spot. Peter Jackson's epic fantasy already has $250 million through Wednesday--soundly supplanting Rush Hour 2 as New Line's biggest hit domestically--with a precious $300 million total all but inevitable. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring will no doubt see its decrease in earnings slowed in weeks to come should this first of three films based on author J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy secure a number of high-profile Oscar nominations.
The challenge now before The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: to surpass Harry Potter. The boy wizard fell out of the Top 10 over the MLK holiday weekend after 2 ½ months in release and a $309.6 million total through Monday.
A Beautiful Mind's victory at last weekend's Golden Globes--it earned Best Picture (Drama) while Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly walked away with acting--will help Ron Howard's biography of tortured mathematical genius John Forbes Nash Jr. retain its momentum. After three weekends in wide release, A Beautiful Mind has amassed $80.1 million through Wednesday. That is a formula for a possible $120 million tally, or more if it dominates the Oscars.
The Royal Tenenbaums' Gene Hackman won the Golden Globe for Best Actor (Comedy/Musical), which should keep Wes Anderson's quirky family farce very much in the minds of moviegoers. The Royal Tenenbaums has $38 million through Wednesday, following a strong $5.3 million MLK holiday weekend at only 997 theaters.
Even more impressive is the outstanding performances by two other Oscar contenders, Gosford Park and In the Bedroom.
The comical murder mystery Gosford Park finds influential director Robert Altman at his most playful. Also serving as an examination of the British class system, Gosford Park looks set to become Altman's most popular film since he skewered Hollywood practices with 1992's The Player ($21.7 million). Gosford Park expanded Jan. 11 from 131 theaters to 518 theaters, jumping from $1.5 million to $3.6 million. Its total through Wednesday is $12.8 million, following a MLK holiday weekend haul of $4.1 million.
In the Bedroom, with Tom Wilkinson and Golden Globe winner Sissy Spacek coping with the shooting death of their son, also expanded Jan. 11, from 207 theaters to 424 theaters with great success. Todd Field's directorial debut has collected $8.6 million through Wednesday.
In the Bedroom should grow stronger in coming weeks if, as expected, it's blessed with a handful of Oscar nominations. The drama is Miramax's best shot at landing a Best Picture nomination given that The Shipping News is struggling to overcome lukewarm reviews and a poor box office total of $7.9 million through Monday in limited release.
The bell looks set to ring on Ali now that the MLK holiday has come and gone. Michael Mann's biography didn't benefit from Muhammad Ali's televised 60th birthday celebration, and poor word of mouth has hit the film harder than punch by Joe Frazier. Ali's total through Monday is $57.2 million, a disappointment considering the film's $105 million budget.
Heist yarn Ocean's Eleven is still on a roll, having racked up $172.4 million in ill-gotten gains through Wednesday.
New competition in Snow Dogs saw Monsters, Inc. and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius take a sharp tumble during the four-day holiday. Monsters, Inc. has $249.9 million through Monday, surpassing Toy Story 2 ($245.8 million) as the highest-grossing Disney/Pixar offering. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius has $74.1 million through Monday, with $80 million a likely landing spot for the pre-teen fly boy.
Five new wide releases Friday finally means, at long last, good riddance to deserving underachievers Vanilla Sky ($94.1 million) and Kate & Leopold ($43.2 million).