Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
That big Hulk of a guy not only got mad, he got super green, making a heap of cash at the box office this weekend. The latest Marvel comic actioner raged its way to the No.1 spot, debuting with a smashing $62.6 million.*
The opening for the not-so-jolly green giant, however, didn't quite reach the same levels as Marvel Comics' flagship Spider-Man, which set a three-day opening record of $114.8 million last year. The Hulk also trails the most recent Marvel entry, X2: X-Men United, which opened with $85.6 million last month. Among all films to open so far this year, The Hulk weighs in at No. 5, Reuters reports.
Still, The Hulk's massive numbers make it the biggest June opener of all time, followed by Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me with opened in 1999 at $54.9 million and Scooby-Doo, which opened in 2002 at $54.1 million.
Last week's topper, the briny Finding Nemo, managed to keep afloat in the second spot with $20.5 million. The high octane 2 Fast 2 Furious crossed the finish line in third place with $10.3 million, while the comedy with a higher power Bruce Almighty commanded fourth with $10 million. Rounding out the top five was the heist thriller The Italian Job stealing $7.2 million.
Other newcomers this week included the romantic comedy Alex & Emma, which swooned its way into seventh place at $6.2 million, and the American Idol ultra-pop flick From Justin to Kelly, which boogied in at No. 11 with $2.8 million.
THE TOP TEN
Universal Pictures' PG-13 The Hulk crushed the competition to take the No. 1 spot with an ESTIMATED $62.6 million at 3,660 theaters. Its per theater average of $17,104 put it well above the other films on the top 10 list.
The story follows a brilliant genetic scientist working with cutting-edge technology who absorbs a normally deadly dose of gamma radiation. When combined with his own altered DNA, the radiation turns him into an impossibly strong, rampaging creature known as the Hulk.
Directed by Ang Lee, it stars Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte.
Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios' G rated computer-animated feature Finding Nemo fell a spot to second place this week with an ESTIMATED $20.5 million (-28%) at 3,404 theaters (-21 theaters; $6,022 per theater). Its cume is approximately $228 million.
Directed and co-written by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton, it features the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe and Brad Garrett.
Universal Pictures' PG-13-rated action-packed sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious slipped to No. 2 in its third week with an ESTIMATED $10.3 million (-45%) at 3,140 theaters (-278 theaters; $3,280 per theater). Its cume is approximately $102.1 million, making it the ninth film released in 2003 to cross the $100 million mark.
Directed by John Singleton, it stars Paul Walker, Tyrese, Eva Mendes, Cole Hauser and Devon Aoki.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 Bruce Almighty dropped to fourth place in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $10 million (-30%) at 3,074 theaters (-403 theaters; $3,253 per theater average). Crossing the huge $200 million mark, its cume is approximately $210.7 million.
Directed by Tom Shadyac, it stars Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston and Morgan Freeman.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated actioner The Italian Job surprisingly climbed up the ladder this week from seventh to fifth in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $7.2 million (-25%) at 2,095 theaters (-602 theaters; $3,449 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67.6 million.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, it stars Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Seth Green, Mos Def and Edward Norton.
Paramount's PG rated animated feature Rugrats Go Wild fell two spots to No. 6 with an ESTIMATED $6.6 million (-42%), staying at 3,041 theaters ($2,190 per theater). In the film, Nickelodeon regulars the Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys team up to get off a deserted island. So far, it's accumulated approximately $23.5 million in two weeks.
Directed by Norton Virgien and John Eng, it features the voices of Michael Bell, Jodi Carlisle, Nancy Cartwright, Lacey Chabert, Melanie Chartoff, Cheryl Chase, Tim Curry, Elizabeth Daily and Bruce Willis.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 soppy romance Alex & Emma debuted in seventh place with an ESTIMATED $6.2 million at 2,310 theaters, averaging $2,701 per theater.
The film revolves around a novelist with a serious case of writer's block who hires a stenographer to help him finish his book, which he has 30 days to write or be killed by some nasty Cuban loan sharks.
Directed by Rob Reiner, it stars Luke Wilson, Kate Hudson and Sophie Marceau.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Sony Picture's PG-13 cop comedy Hollywood Homicide sank to eighth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $5.8 million (-48%) at 2,840 theaters ($2,042 per theater). The film, about a veteran police detective and his fresh-faced partner who are more interested in their side jobs than in the high-profile gangland-style murder they are currently investigating, has taken in approximately $21.4 million thus far.
Directed by Ron Shelton, it stars Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett.
New Line's PG-13 comedy Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd dropped three notches to ninth place in its second week with a dismal ESTIMATED take of $4.2 million (-61%) at 2,609 theaters ($1,639 per theater). The prequel to the 1994 Dumb & Dumber reveals how mentally challenged best friends Harry and Lloyd became pals, and has accumulated approximately $19.9 million.
Directed by Troy Miller, it stars Eric Christian Olsen, Derek Richardson, Eugene Levy and Cheri Oteri.
Warner Bros.' R rated sci-fi sequel The Matrix Reloaded dropped to No. 10 in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $4 million (-30%) at 1,850 theaters (-500 theaters; $2,189 per theater). Its cume is approximately $264.5 million.
Directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, it stars Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss and Hugo Weaving.
20th Century Fox's PG-rated musical romp From Justin to Kelly debuted with an ESTIMATED $2.8 million at 2,001 theaters, averaging $1,437 per theater.
The top two contenders from the first season of American Idol, winner Kelly Clarkson and runner-up Justin Guarini, team up in this Grease-like beach musical, playing a pair who sing, dance and fall in love during Spring Break on Miami Beach.
Directed by Robert Iscove, it also stars Katherine Bailess, Anika Noni Rose, Greg Siff and Brian Dietzen.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $141.9 million, up 22 percent from last week's take of $116.2 million.
The Top 12, however, were down 5 percent from last year's $150.2 million total.
Last year, Fox's PG-13 Minority Report premiered at the top of the box office with $35.6 million at 3,001 theaters ($11,888 per theater), while Buena Vista's PG-rated animated Lilo & Stitch debuted at a close second with $35.2 million at 3,191 theaters ($11,050 per theater); Warner Bros.' PG rated Scooby-Doo came in third place with $24.4 million at 3,447 theaters ($7,101 per theater).