Before U.S. forces are set to invade the Japanese island of Saipan in June of 1944 Marines Joe Enders (played by Nicolas Cage) and Ox Anderson (played by Christian Slater) are given a special assignment: They must protect two Navajo code talkers Ben Yahzee (played by Adam Beach) and Charlie Whitehorse (played by Roger Willie). The men's orders are to protect the code "at all costs " and although it is never worded as such it is assumed they are to kill the code talkers if they fall into enemy hands. Enders somehow rationalizes that killing Yahzee will be easier if the two remain distant and he treats Yahzee like dirt for the first half of the film. Yahzee tries to appease Enders by telling jokes and being sweet until he finds out what Enders' true mission really is. Yahzee then turns into a Rambo-type soldier on a one-man kamikaze mission killing everything in his path. Ultimately the two men bond and Enders is faced with the predictable dilemma of deciding Yahzee's fate. Windtalkers is inspired by true events but unfortunately the film doesn't focus enough on the Navajo experience or the code but instead places too much emphasis on Enders' inner turmoil.
One thing war films are usually good at is establishing the bonds among soldiers in times of conflict but the relationships developed in Windtalkers are practically nonexistent. As Enders Cage is a bitter man dealing with some heavy issues but we never get a chance to care about his character's plight; he's too busy being detestable. It would have been interesting to get a better glimpse into Beach's character Yahzee but instead of delving into how his racist comrades' actions affect him for example Beach has to sling back smart one-liners like "How did you know I was a chief? You must have seen me showering with my war bonnet." Slater's character is just as one-dimensional as all the other characters but he at least shows a glimmer of human emotion in Anderson that makes him slightly more likeable. Frances O'Connor has a small and useless role as a nurse stationed at a hospital in Hawaii. Her character Rita is so irrelevant to the film's plot that she actually disappears after a few scenes only to resurface intermittently as a voiceover for letters she writes to Enders.
The premise for Windtalkers is a fascinating one that is trivialized rather than explored. Director John Woo pulls out every Navajo cliché including ritualistic flute-playing and mystical burials. The most interesting aspects of the film are the anatomy of the code and watching it go into effect from its boot-camp development stage to the language being used over the battlefield radios to encode messages. But rather than focus on that scribes John Rice and Joe Batteer hone in on Enders and Anderson and they waste time developing useless storylines like the friendship Enders strikes up with nurse Rita at a Pearl Harbor hospital. The battle scenes come across as bland compared to last year's Black Hawk Down but the film's most disappointing aspect is the fact that Yahzee's and Whitehorse's characters are so underdeveloped. (Wait I seem to remember Yahzee having a son named George Washington. Give me a break!) The film's soundtrack composed by James Horner also seems oddly out of place and too upbeat for the morose subject matter.
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.
Ewan McGregor may enjoy working in Hollywood, but he would never live there. McGregor said he loathes the Los Angeles studio system because it dehumanizes actors by putting them on A, B and C lists according to how much money they can make for a studio, he told Britain's The Mail on Sunday's You Magazine. Apparently unaware that studios see actors as being bankable commodities, the actor told the magazine: "We're not a bunch of letters to make you money--we're people." McGregor also denied rumors that he was romantically involved with his Moulin Rouge costar Nicole Kidman.
Comic Judy Gold gave birth Thursday to a 7-pound, 8-ounce boy, The Associated Press reports. Gold, who hosts HBO's At the Multiplex With Judy Gold, and baby Benjamin Dov Callahan-Gold are doing fine.
More than 500 friends and coworkers attended a memorial Monday to Jack Lemmon at the Paramount Studios theater, AP reports. In attendance were actors Kevin Spacey, Hank Azaria, Tom Hanks and comedy writer Larry Gelbart. Lemmon died June 27 of cancer at the age of 76.
The 15th annual Hispanic Heritage Awards will honor director-writer Gregory Nava, artist and educator Judith Baca, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist Liz Balmaseda, tennis player Joe Fernandez and journalist talk-show host Cristina Saralegui, AP reports. The awards, to be held Aug. 25, will be broadcast Sept. 22 on NBC, with Gloria Estefan among the featured performers.
A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that Barbie, the sexy plastic siren, could be used in some controversial artistic photographs, Reuters reports. Judge Ronald Lew ruled Monday that artist Tom Forsythe could use Barbie dolls in a series of limited edition photographs that depicts them in various sexually explicit poses. Forsythe said that his photos attempt to skewer the stereotyping of women and commodification of female bodies.
An anonymous collector bought a pizza-stained piece of paper signed by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison for $24,000 at a Melbourne auction on Monday, AP reports. The paper was signed in during the Beatles 1964 Australian tour. Drummer Ringo Starr was not on the tour because of a bout with laryngitis.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have canceled a concert in Tel Aviv because of sudden outbursts of suicide bombings in Israel. According to Reuters, some 20,000 tickets had already been sold for the concert, to be held at the end of August. Fans will be reimbursed for the tickets. Israeli tourism has dropped 50 percent since the bloodshed began, forcing the shut down of hotels and airlines to cut back on flights.
CNN is in talks with Rush Limbaugh about hosting a show, Variey reports. The network declined to comment on the talks but said it is always looking for a diversity of on-air voices. In the past, Limbaugh dubbed the network the "Clinton News Network". CNN is apparently attempting to woo big-name personalities in a bid to increase ratings and come across as less liberal to attract more conservative viewers. Limbaugh's TV show Rush Limbaugh, The Television Show failed to take off in 1992.
The new two-hour TV movie The Brady Bunch in Washington has papa Brady as president of the United States with wife Carol as vice president, Army Archerd reported in Variety. The movie apparently pokes fun at the White House, past and present. The film is executive produced by Sherwood Schwartz, with his son Lloyd producing and writing with Sherwood's daughter Hope Juber. Filming will take place in Toronto using a Canadian crew and actors.
Even though Rush Hour 2 has grossed an estimated $131.9 million at the domestic box office so far, industry insiders are wondering whether the movie could have made more had Regal Cinemas not passed on the movie. According to The Hollywood Reporter, New Line Cinemas and Regal Cinema were involved in a dispute over film rental negotiations. Regal initially refused to screen the film as long as New Line sought firm-term rental negotiations. Regal claims that New Line broke off negotiations at the 11th hour and insists that missing Rush Hour 2 would not harm the company financially. The Regal Cinema chain has 4,067 screens.
A new series of Absolutely Fabulous will debut on the BBC's fall TV schedule, the BBC News reports. The British comedy, which stars Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley and Julia Sawalha, centers on a neurotic fashion publicist and her best friend, an outrageous fashion editor. The series also airs on the Comedy Central network.