Labor Day is a dumping ground for bad movies, but this year seems more toxic than usual. Three of the four new wide releases--Babylon A.D. (Fox), Disaster Movie (Lionsgate) and College (MGM)--were not screened for critics, while Traitor, the Don Cheadle thriller from Overture, has managed just a 54 percent Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Horror and action have always been good plays on this weekend with Halloween 2007 ($30.59M opening), 2005's Transporter 2 ($20.1M opening) and Jeepers Creepers 2 ($18.36M) as the all-time best Labor Day openings, but there is no horror on the menu at America's multiplexes this weekend, and Traitor is more of a grown-up thriller than a pure action genre pic.
That has left the door open for another weekend win for the Ben Stiller-directed Tropic Thunder (Dreamworks/Paramount). The R-rated movie satire has grabbed an estimated $3M on its third Friday, which should translate to an $11.5M 3-day and a very strong $14.2M for 4 days. By Monday night, the movie will have banked $86.53M, and I am projecting a final domestic take of $115M-$120M.
French director Mathieu Kassovitz’s Babylon A.D. (Fox) managed to score $3.5M on its opening day, enough to win Friday, but the Vin Diesel sci fi flick will finish the weekend at No. 2. I am calling for a three-day of $10.6M and $13.1M in sales by Tuesday morning. Vin Diesel, whose career seemed promising after his work in Saving Private Ryan, will likely post only his 8th-best 3-day opening, behind XXX ($44.5M), The Fast & The Furious ($40M), Saving Private Ryan ($30.6M), The Pacifier ($30.5M) and The Chronicles of Riddick ($24.3M).
There is just no stopping The Dark Knight (Warner Bros), which seems headed for a strong 3rd on the 3-day and 4-day scoreboards. The Christopher Nolan-directed phenomenon generated $2.1M or so on Friday, but the Caped Crusader will get his usual monster weekend bounce. The 3-day total should be in the $8.8M range and the 4-day is looking like $11.3M. Sometime on Sunday, TDK will smash through the magical $500M barrier, and the movie will push to a new cume of just under $505M.
Another holdover The House Bunny (Sony) seems headed for No. 4. The Anna Faris Under 25 Female-driven comedy added $2.7M to start its second weekend, and that should translate to $8.5M for the 3-day and a 4-day of $10.9M. The new cume for this PG13-rated comedy will be a nifty $30M.
Despite sub-$1M days on Wednesday and Thursday, business has picked up dramatically for Traitor. With the always trusty Cheadle in the lead, the movie delivered about $2.3M on Friday, and it will play well with the 25 Plus crowd over the weekend. It should finish 5th with $8.4M by Sunday night and a very solid $10.8M by the end of Labor Day.
The news is very bad for the other two new wide releases. It appears that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer have gone back to the "movie spoof well" one too many times. Disaster Movie (Lionsgate) managed $2.2M on Friday, No. 5 for the day, but it is headed for just $7.3M for the four days. That is far behind previous Friedberg/Seltzer openings Scary Movie 3 ($48.1M), Scary Movie ($42.3M), Scary Movie 4 ($40.2M), Scary Movie 2 ($20.5M), Epic Movie ($18.6M) and Meet the Spartans ($18.5M).
MGM's College never really had much of a chance. With stars like Drake Bell, who has 54 episodes of the Nickelodeon series Drake & Josh on his resume, along with Andrew Caldwell (a few episodes of Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel), Kevin Covais (the singer known as Chicken Little from American Idol), Alona Tal (10 episodes of Veronica Mars on the CW) and Ryan Pinkston (a season of the Andy Richter series Quintuplets), this should have gone straight to video. The picture flunked on Friday with $660,000, and it will top out at $2.2M for the Labor Day weekend.
The news was also dismal for the Focus comedy Hamlet 2, expanding to 1,500 screens. This Sundance favorite could only muster $600,000 on Friday, and it will be limited to an estimated $2.5M for the long weekend.
EARLY FOUR-DAY ESTIMATES
1. Tropic Thunder (Dreamworks/Paramount) - $14.2M, $4,089 PTA, $86.53M
2. NEW - Babylon A.D. (Fox) - $13.1M, $3,864 PTA, $13.1M cume
3. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros) - $11.3M, $4,109 PTA, $504.97M cume
4. The House Bunny (Sony) - $10.9M, $4,016 PTA, $30.45M cume
5. NEW – Traitor (Overture) - $10.8M, $5,258 PTA, $12.3M cume
6. Death Race (Universal) - $9.68M, $3,816 PTA, $26.53M cume
7. NEW – Disaster Movie (Lionsgate) - $7.3M, $2,763 PTA, $7.3M cume
8. Pineapple Express (Sony) - $3.47M, $1,696 PTA, $79.85M cume
9. Mamma Mia (Universal) - $3.33M, $1,751 PTA, $130.42M cume
10. Mirrors (Fox) - $3.29M, $1,809 PTA, $25.36M cume
*Hamlet 2 (Focus) - $2.5M, $1,565 PTA, $3.53M cume
*NEW – College (MGM) - $2.2M, $1,036 PTA, $2.2M cume
To say that Meet the Spartans is a spoof of 300 is to suggest that there is some semblance of a storyline mocking that the 2007 blockbuster epic; I refuse to give it that much credit. Rather this movie is a lame-ass excuse to randomly throw jabs at pop culture and in extreme emergencies “advance” the “plot”--which only really makes fun of 300’s subtexts not its story. It all starts in ancient Sparta where a young Leonidas (Sean Maguire) is groomed to defeat the evil Xerxes (Ken Davitian “the fat guy from Borat ” which is essentially how the movie introduces him) and the invading Persians (led by Method Man). But really Spartans is all about the atrociously unfunny parodies that litter its not-brief-enough 80 minutes: Transformers Stomp the Yard Happy Feet American Idol Dancing with the Stars Ugly Betty Anna Nicole Britney Paris homosexuality bodily functions--they’re all spoofed here! A truly groundbreaking concept indeed. Formerly up-and-coming British actor Maguire (England's EastEnders) must’ve thought a lead role no matter how bad the movie would beget bigger jobs in the near future. Oops! Didn’t he ever hear of Adam Campbell the like-minded bloke whose biggest role since headlining Date Movie was last year’s Epic Movie? In short actors looking to break out should not be tempted by crap like this. It’s the same story: Maguire can obviously act but he makes a complete fool of himself in the process and now must give his career time to recover. He only bears a slight physical resemblance to the actor he’s parodying Gerard Butler (when heavily bearded) and otherwise spends the movie uttering the worst possible lines when not subjecting himself to scenes so mortifying that they’re like some kind of Fear Factor for Actors. Elsewhere the usual D-listers pop up for a shot at regaining quasi-relevance. Carmen Electra now a veteran of this franchise--lucky her!--plays Leonidas' wife and is leaned on for nothing more than her hotness. Which is more than can be said about everyone else from a clearly desperate-for-work Kevin Sorbo (Andromeda) as one of Leonidas’ ‘yes’ men to Method Man whose heretofore-horrible film résumé just got worse. Whereas Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s Scary/Epic/Date Movie spoofs might’ve bore the “this probably wasn’t as easy to come up with as it seems” tag Spartans looks like something from a script they found in the garbage can at a middle school: Not only is it pure trash unworthy of being released but the “jokes ” if you will were seemingly written by and for 13- to-14-year-olds. Not one second of the movie is even implicitly deserving of a snicker; instead it’s actually antagonizing to watch as Friedberg and Seltzer bombard us with scene after scene of the shallowest material ever committed to celluloid. This is the absolute dreg of cinema the lowest of the low not to be confused with “lowbrow ” which would be an unfair compliment in this case. Spartans even fails miserably in trying to make fun of the few pop-culturisms that deserve it and the least the writer-directors could’ve done was hire actors who physically resemble the celebs they’re spoofing! Friedberg and Seltzer are just utterly allergic to originality: Obviously you don’t expect the story to be original since it’s all a rip-off to begin with but they can’t even spin any of it into a single original gag. And they're so lost during the few non-spoof scenes that they resort to the dreaded pratfalls. Seriously these dudes make Uwe Boll look like Orson Welles.
Date Movie doesn’t have a story as much as it does a series of miss-or-really-miss spoofs of date movies and cultural hodgepodge; the thin “story” is just enough to keep the film from being a series of vignettes. Julia (Alyson Hannigan) who makes Big Momma look little is determined to find her Prince Charming instead of wasting away in her lonely apartment. She briefly finds him in Grant Fonckyerdoder (Adam Campbell) before losing him (so ends any originality). So she visits a date doctor named Hitch (Tony Cox)—yes that movie—who takes her to get barbaric liposuction. Then she meets Grant again they fall in love and she meets his parents Mr. and Mrs. Fonckyerdoder (Fred Willard and Jennifer Coolidge) making for a Meet the Fockers spoof (the biggest spoof-ee). Julia has competition from Grant’s ex (Sophie Monk) allowing for more film references but ultimately they live clumsily ever after.
It’s hard to see through the utter mess that is Date Movie enough to evaluate its acting but Hannigan seems to be at least serviceable. Although it seems like “acting” here means merely nauseating the audience enough so they can taste the vomit but manage to hold it in. Like when she licks Tony Cox’s face for 15 or so seconds—in slow motion… It’s more Fear Factor than Inside the Actor’s Studio. As for Campbell Date Movie is his first. There’s no frame of reference whatsoever and yet it’s still clear that he’s above this. He almost seems like a classically trained actor who’s forced to stretch his comfort zone by performing horrendous impressions such as the orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally. The lone semblance of a bright spot comes from Coolidge impersonating Barbra Streisand’s Roz Focker. Again way too classy for this Movie.
Date Movie's trailer brags “From two of the six writers of Scary Movie...” After seeing it you can’t help but muse “It took two writers for that movie?!” The writers in question are Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer who also co-directed. The film should at the very least be an appetizer for Scary Movie 4’s upcoming entrée (to which they did not contribute) but with no hint of continuity or a passable storyline it even fails that menial task—and where the Scary Movies have succeeded is in the satisfactory stories that surround the film references. The biggest problem though lies in the spoofs: While the rules mandate that only chick flicks/date movies can be parodied the writer/directors abandon their target audience by referencing movies like When Harry Met Sally. Luckily there’s always an audience member who feels the need to solve the conundrum aloud.