A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
Universal's "Meet the Parents" continued to meet box office success, becoming the year's third film to place first for three consecutive weeks.
The PG-13-rated comedy was still laughing all the way to the bank in its third weekend with an estimated $16.32 million (-23%) at 2,619 theaters (+4 theaters; $6,230 per theater). Its cume is approximately $81.0 million, heading for a domestic theatrical gross of $130 million or more.
"Parents'" international release is through DreamWorks Pictures, which co-financed the film and will share equally in its success.
"Parents" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide release last weekend.
"Being number one for the third week in a row is extraordinary," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "It's only been twice this year that that's happened. The last time was with 'Erin Brockovich' (also from Universal) and the time before was in February with 'The Whole Nine Yards' (from Warner Bros.). Two of the three are ours. Of course, we went through the entire summer without anything being number one for three weeks in a row."
"Brockovich" placed first the weekends of Mar. 17-19, Mar. 24-26 and Mar. 31 - April 2. "Yards" was number one the weekends of Feb. 18-21, Feb. 25-27 and Mar. 3-5.
Asked where "Parents" is heading in domestic theaters, Rocco replied, "I'm sure it will go to $130 million, at least."
The film is playing so well, she explained, because it's "a broad appeal comedy."
Directed by Jay Roach (director of both "Austin Powers" hits), "Parents" stars Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller.
Rocco also pointed with pleasure to Universal's critically-acclaimed, R-rated drama "Billy Elliot," the first title from the studio's new Universal Focus banner. "Billy" expanded gracefully in its second week and tied for 17th place with an estimated $0.5 million at 38 theaters (+28 theaters; $13,240 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.8 million.
'Billy Elliot' is coming along nicely," Rocco said. "It's a very slow roll out. The new engagements looked spectacular. We had solid increases in the old engagements, where we didn't expand in the marketplace. So we're very happy and will continue to roll out.
"We did another set of exit polls this weekend. Once again, it was (very strong) with 96% in the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good) and an 80% definite recommend, which only proves that last weekend's exit polls were very solid. The numbers are strong and they're well above average. People's top reason for coming to see it was the story and the reviews."
20th Century Fox's PG-13-rated comedy "Bedazzled" opened with better-than-anticipated energy to a sparkling estimated $13.72 million at 2,568 theaters ($5,344 per theater).
"We feel great about it," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning. "The whole market looks like it's come back pretty strong. 'Meet the Parents' won't go away. Even with another comedy coming in, it's real strong. The marketplace is terrific. We're very pleased."
What audience is it attracting? "It looks like everybody," Snyder replied, "because we've got kids coming Saturday afternoon, also. We're off to a good start."
Directed by Harold Ramis, "Bedazzled" stars Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley.
Warner Bros.' PG-13-rated drama "Pay It Forward" kicked off in fourth place with a very encouraging estimated $10.16 million at 2,130 theaters ($4,768 per theater).
"The exits are sensational," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "We had 91% in the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good). We had 80% definite recommend, which is huge. So I think this movie is going to leg it out.
"We seemed to be hurt more than any more last night because of the World Series. We're playing to a much older audience (than other films in the Top Five). In New York, 'Titans' was up 23% (from Friday), 'Bedazzled' was up 7%, 'Parents' up 14%. We were up zero."
Asked if "Forward" will go wider this weekend, Fellman replied, "We're not going to spread. We're going to hang in and see how we hold the second week. Hopefully, the Yankees will finish (the Series) off quickly."
Directed by Mimi Leder, "Pay It Forward" stars Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment.
Buena Vista/Disney's PG-rated football drama "Remember the Titans" from producer Jerry Bruckheimer gave up two yards on the box office gridiron in its fourth weekend, still holding well in fourth place with an estimated $10.0 million (-23%) at 2,801 theaters (+75 theaters; $3,545 per theater). Its cume is approximately $77.4 million.
Directed by Boaz Yakin and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Chad Oman, "Titans" stars Denzel Washington.
Dimension Films' R-rated action adventure "The Legend of Drunken Master" opened with less energy than insiders anticipated, placing fifth with an estimated $3.7 million at 1,342 theaters ($2,757 per theater).
Directed by Lau Ka Leung, it stars Jackie Chan.
DreamWorks' R-rated political thriller "The Contender" fell one ballot to sixth place in its second week with an okay estimated $3.6 million (-33%) at 1,571 theaters (+55 theaters; $2,274 per theater). Its cume is approximately $10.6 million.
Written and directed by Rod Lurie, "Contender" stars Gary Oldman, Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges and Christian Slater.
New Line's R-rated horror thriller "Lost Souls" plunged four pegs to seventh place in its second weekend with a calm estimated $3.25 million (-59%) at 1,970 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,650 per theater). Its cume is approximately $12.9 million.
Directed by Janusz Kaminski, "Souls" stars Winona Ryder and Ben Chaplin.
Warner Bros.' reissue of its R-rated 1973 horror classic "The Exorcist" dropped two notches to eighth place in its fifth week with a less scary $2.9 million (-45%) at 1,708 theaters (+53 theaters; $1,698 per theater). Its cume is approximately $34.8 million, heading for $40 million or more in domestic theaters.
"Halloween's coming up and that should give us a push," Warners' Fellman reminded. "So we'll get into the $40 millions."
Directed by William Friedkin, "Exorcist" stars Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair and Max von Sydow.
Paramount's R-rated urban appeal comedy "The Ladies Man" slid five rungs to ninth place in its second week with an unloved estimated $2.85 million (-47%) at 2,043 theaters (+21 theaters; $1,395 per theater). Its cume is approximately $9.7 million.
Directed by Reginald Hudlin, "Ladies" stars Tim Meadows, Karyn Parsons and Billy Dee Wiliams.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Artisan Entertainment's R-rated romantic comedy "Dr. T and the Women ," down three slots in its second week with an unexciting estimated $2.5 million (-50%) at 1,489 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,678 per theater). Its cume is approximately $9.1 million.
Directed by Robert Altman, "Dr. T" stars Richard Gere, Helen Hunt, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern, Shelley Long, Tara Reid, Kate Hudson and Liv Tyler.
OTHER OPENINGS This weekend also saw the arrival of Keystone Entertainment's PG-rated family film "MVP: Most Valuable Primate," placing 22nd with a slow estimated $0.14 million at 185 theaters ($745 per theater).
Directed by Robert Vince, it stars Kevin Zegers and Jamie Renee Smith.
Miramax's R-rated suspense drama "The Yards" opened in New York, L.A. and Chicago, placing 26th with a short estimated $0.052 million at 8 theaters ($6,500 per theater).
Directed by James Gray, it stars Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron and James Caan.
Miramax's G-rated documentary "Calle 54" opened in New York for a one week Oscar qualifying run, placing 27th with a quiet estimated $8,000 at 1 theater.
Directed by Fernando Trueba, it stars Paquito D'Rivera and Tito Puente.
SNEAK PREVIEWS There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, Warner Bros.' PG-13-rated comedy "Best in Show" went wider in its fourth week, placing 11th with a still-promising estimated $2.16 million (+1%) at 497 theatres (+206 theaters; $4,346 per theater). Its cume is approximately $6.8 million.
Directed by Christopher Guest, "Best" stars Jennifer Coolidge, Christopher Guest and John Michael Higgins.
New Line's R-rated Spike Lee satire "Bamboozled" went wider in its third week, placing 18th with a calm estimated $0.43 million at 244 theaters (+227 theaters; $1,742 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.8 million.
Written and directed by Spike Lee, "Bamboozled" stars Damon Wayans, Savion Glover and Jada Pinkett-Smith.
Universal's R-rated drama "Billy Elliot," the first title from the studio's new Universal Focus banner, added theaters in its second week and tied for 16th place with a very encouraging estimated $0.5 million at 38 theaters (+28 theaters; $13,240 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.8 million.
(Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco's comments about "Billy" are included in today's Top Ten grosses report.)
Directed by Stephen Daldry, "Billy" stars Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Bell, Jamie Draven and Adam Cooper.
Fine Line's R-rated drama "Dancer in the Dark" went slightly wider in its fifth week, placing 19th with a dull estimated $0.33 million (-17%) at 126 theaters (+3 theaters; $2,595 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.8 million.
Written and directed by Lars Von Trier, "Dancer" stars Bjork and Catherine Deneuve.
Artisan Entertainment's controversial unrated drama "Requiem For A Dream" expanded in its third week, placing 25th with a still sexy estimated $0.087 million at 5 theaters (+3 theaters; $17,400 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.3 million.
Directed by Darren Arnonofsky, "Requiem" stars Jared Leto and Ellen Burstyn.
"We just opened up our second market, L.A., and the numbers were tremendous," Artisan distribution head Steve Rothenberg said Sunday morning. "We got a great review in the L.A. Times. The (Laemmle) Sunset, alone, is going to do about $26,000, which for L.A. is a pretty darn good (gross).
"On Nov. 3 we go into the top 12 cities. We're in New York and L.A. now. Then we go into San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Philly, D.C., etc."
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $76.48 million, up about 9.68% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $69.73 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down a marginal 0.65% from this year's previous weekend when key films grossed $76.98 million.
Last year, Universal's opening week of "The Best Man" was first with $9.03 million at 1,346 theaters ($6,710 per theater); and Paramount's fifth week of "Double Jeopardy" was second with $7.62 million at 3,002 theaters ($2,539 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $16.6 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $30.0 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES Based on business by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more), last weekend's top six distributors were:
Warner Bros. was first with four films ("Get Carter," "The Exorcist," "Pay It Forward" and "Best in Show"), grossing an estimated $16.3 million or 21.3% of the market.
Universal was second with two films ("Meet the Parents" and "Bring It On"), grossing an estimated $14.86 million or 19.4% of the market.
20th Century Fox was third with two films ("Bedazzled" and "Digimon: The Movie"), grossing an estimated $13.7 million or 19.1% of the market.
Buena Vista (Disney and Touchstone) was fourth with one film ("Remember the Titans"), grossing an estimated $10.0 million or 13.1% of the market.
DreamWorks was fifth with two films ("The Contender" and "Almost Famous"), grossing an estimated $4.93 million or 6.4% of the market.
Miramax (Miramax and Dimension) was sixth with one film ("The Legend of Drunken Master"), grossing an estimated $3.7 million or 4.8% of the market.
ADDITIONAL ESTIMATES (11)Best In Show/Warner Bros.: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(12)Almost Famous/DreamWorks: Theaters: 1,707 (-555) Gross: $1.33 million (-39%) Average per theater: $780 Cume: $28.8 million
(13)Get Carter/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,925 (-390) Gross: $1.09 million (-63%) Average per theater: $565 Cume: $13.9 million
(14)Bring It On/Universal: Theaters: 1,736 (-436) Gross: $1.04 million (-36%) Average per theater: $600 Cume: $66.2 million
(15)Digimon: The Movie/Fox: Theaters: 1,655 (-170) Gross: $0.87 million (-55%) Average per theater: $525 Cume: $8.5 million
(16)Billy Elliot/Universal Focus: (see EXPANSIONS above) (tie)
(16)Urban Legends: Final Cut/Columbia: Theaters: 1,081 (-1,140) Gross: $0.5 million (-58%) (tie) Average per theater: $465 Cume: $21.0 million
(18)Bamboozled/New Line: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(19)Dancer in the Dark/Fine Line: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(20)Nurse Betty/USA Films: Theaters: 516 (-502) Gross: $0.2 million (-59%) (tie) Average per theater: $390 Cume: $24.1 million
(20)Nutty Professor II: The Klumps/Universal: Theaters: 421 (-104) Gross: $0.20 million (-31%) (tie) Average per theater: $465 Cume: $122.1 million
(22)MVP: MOST VALUABLE PRIMATE/Keystone Ent.: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(23)The Watcher/Universal: Theaters: 351 (-520) Gross: $0.12 million (-70%) Average per theater: $330 Cume: $28.8 million
(24)Girlfight/Screen Gems/Sony: Theaters: 229 (-24) Gross: $0.11 million (-50%) Average per theater: $460 Cume: $1.4 million
(25)Requiem For A Dream/Artisan: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(26)THE YARDS/Miramax: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(27)CALLE 54/Miramax: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)