As with seemingly every other tentpole release to hit the multiplex this summer the action thriller Cowboys & Aliens is based on a comic book – albeit a lesser-known one. It’s directed by Jon Favreau whose previous comic-book adaptations Iron Man and Iron Man 2 proved how much better those films can be when they’re grounded in character. Unfortunately his latest effort is grounded not in character but a hook an alt-history scenario best expressed in the language of the average twelve-year-old: “Like wouldn’t it be awesome if like a bunch of 1870s cowboys had to fight a bunch of crazy aliens with exoskeletons and spaceships and super-advanced weapons?”
Like perhaps. The hook was compelling enough to get someone to pony up a reported $160 million to find out and the result is a film in which the western and science-fiction genres don’t so much blend as violently collide. After the wreckage is cleared both emerge worse for wear.
Daniel Craig stars as Jake Lonergan a stranger who awakens in the New Mexico Territory with a case of amnesia a wound in his side and a strange contraption strapped to his wrist. After dispatching a trio of bandits with Bourne-like efficiency he rides to the nearby town of Absolution where he stumbles on what appears to be an elaborate Western Iconography exhibit presented by the local historical preservation society. There’s the well-meaning town Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) struggling to enforce order amidst lawlessness; the greedy rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who really runs things; his debaucherous cowardly son Percy (Paul Dano); the timid saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) who’s going to stand up for himself one of these days; the humble preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown) dispensing homespun spiritual advice; et al.
Jake of course has his own part to play – the fugitive train-robber – as we discover when his face shows up on a wanted poster and a sneering Dolarhyde fingers him for the theft of his gold. The only character who doesn’t quite conform to type is Ella (Olivia Wilde) who as neither a prostitute nor some man’s wife – the traditional female occupations in westerns – immediately arouses suspicion.
Jake is arrested and ordered to stand trial in Federal court but before he can be shipped off a squadron of alien planes appears in the sky besieging Absolution and making off with several of its terrified citizenry. In the course of the melee Jake’s wrist contraption wherever it came from reveals itself to be quite useful in defense against the alien invaders. Thrown by circumstances into an uneasy alliance with Dolarhyde he helps organize a posse to counter the otherworldly threat – and bring back the abductees if possible.
Cowboys & Aliens has many of the ingredients of a solid summer blockbuster but none in sufficient amounts to rate in a summer season crowded with bigger-budget (and better-crafted) spectacle. For a film with five credited screenwriters Cowboys & Aliens’ script is sorely lacking for verve or imagination. And what happened to the Favreau of Iron Man? The playful cheekiness that made those films so much fun is all but absent in this film which takes itself much more seriously than any film called Cowboys & Aliens has a right to. Dude you’ve got men on horses with six-shooters battling laser-powered alien crab people. Lighten up.
Craig certainly looks the part of the western anti-hero – his only rival in the area of rugged handsomeness is Viggo Mortensen – but his character is reduced to little more than an angry glare. And Wilde the poor girl is burdened with loads of clunky exposition. The two show promising glimpses of a romantic spark but their relationship remains woefully underdeveloped. Faring far better is Ford who gets not only the bulk of the film’s choicest lines but also its only touching subplot in which his character’s adopted Indian son played by Adam Beach quietly coaxes the humanity out of the grizzled old man.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
Seeing Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn reunite on the big screen is an enticing proposition. As anyone who has watched them in The Break-Up or Made can attest the two Swingers alums seem to step up their improv game whenever they share the frame and their verbal sparring rarely yields anything short of comedy gold.
The above certainly holds true in Couples Retreat the new relationship comedy directed by child actor-turned-filmmaker Peter Billingsley. Sadly the demands of the film’s bloated ensemble cast and the constraints of its PG-13 rating allow precious few opportunities for Favreau and Vaughn to work their magic. And since the rest of Couples Retreat’s main castmembers refuse to pick up the slack when they’re on screen the end result is uneven disappointment.
The plot of Couples Retreat centers on four couples who travel to Bora Bora for a new-age “tune-up” for their flagging relationships. Each pair has its own unique set of problems: Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) are type-A achievers whose perfect union is threatened by their inability to conceive; Joey (Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis) have essentially lived a sham marriage since an unplanned pregnancy led to their shotgun wedding 18 years ago; Dave (Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman) are so tied up in the day-to-day routine of their busy lives that the passion has vanished from their relationship; and recently dumped Shane (Faizon Love) is dealing with the pain of his break-up by shacking up with Trudy (Kali Hawk) a shrieking sexpot half his age.
It’s a solid lineup of actors to be sure. Problem is everyone has to have their own jokes their own story arc and their own tidy resolution at the end. But save for a few amusing moments nobody besides Favreau and Vaughn is particularly funny or interesting. If anything it’s the supporting actors -- including Frenchman Jean Reno as the blissed-out seminar guru Peter Serafinowicz as the satin-voiced group guide and Carlos Ponce as the groping yoga instructor -- who provide the bulk of the laughs.
The whole experience of Couples Retreat ultimately feels like it was phoned-in by everyone involved as if it were a scheme concocted to get a free all-expenses-paid vacation in Bora Bora. Most disappointing of the bunch is Bateman who is coming dangerously close to typecasting himself as the uptight deadpan good guy. Dude needs to make a movie in which he kills someone -- or at least beats them very badly. Who’s going to want to see an Arrested Development movie if Bateman essentially plays Michael Bluth in every movie he makes?
Well "story" might be a strong word but it could be no other way for a movie version of the hit Comedy Central TV show. After the Reno police squad—deputies Travis Junior (Ben Garant) Raineesha Williams (Niecy Nash) Cherisha Kimball (Mary Birdsong) Trudy Wiegel (Kerri Kenney) Clementine Johnson (Wendi McLendon-Covey) James Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui) S. Jones (Cedric Yarbrough) and Lt. Dangle (Thomas Lennon)—makes a grand if dubious entrance the officers receive the news that they’ve been invited to the "American Police Convention" in Miami Beach. Following the cross-country trek from Nevada to Florida—by bus mind you—they’re immediately fish out of water in fast-paced party-friendly Miami but that all changes when a terrorist attack strands all local police. Suddenly the entire metropolis falls under the jurisdiction of the eight inept officers from Reno and that’s (supposed to be) a very funny proposition. The whole cast from the Reno 911 TV show is on board here and the actors are just as goofy on the big screen as they are on the small one—only now they’re more Police Academy than Cops spoofers. Indeed the sly wry humor is mostly gone but these well-traveled actors make it work more than it should. Namely Lennon as the Daisy Dukes-donning lieutenant and Kenney as the always-awkward Trudy. (It should be noted that she not only looks and acts like Rachel Dratch’s twin but the Reno Sheriff's Department would probably be a great fit for the SNL/30 Rock actress.) The rest of the actors simply stretch out their TV personas to movie versions and is it ever a stretch! Very funny cameos from Danny DeVito David Koechner (Anchorman) Patton Oswalt (TV’s The King of Queens)—whose role is more integral than a mere cameo—and Paul Rudd as a hilarious Scarface-like drug lord render the acting at least not to blame for Reno: Miami’s woes. The main story here is predictably the lack of a story. It’s fine and in fact expected to have a thin story line for Reno: Miami lest stoner audiences have to think but at least there could’ve been a mock story. Even the Scary Movies find a better way to connect their spoof vignettes but there’s essentially nothing going on here. And it’s not safe to assume that viewers of the Reno TV show will enjoy the movie because the TV show consists of more bizarre inane and dry humor than does the movie. That’s the problem with transferring such a show to the big screen: Everything must be fleshed out when it’s not meant to be. Writer-producer-director-star (!) Ben Garant who also co-wrote mega-hit Night at the Museum with Reno costar Thomas Lennon is thus the prime suspect here. When Garant brings the humor it’s golden and similar to that from the show but he doesn’t allow it to pop up often instead trying to attract a wider younger fan base via sex gags and pratfalls—some of which fail so badly it’s embarrassing.
Hollywood's advance radar system fizzled this weekend as "15 Minutes" failed to oust "The Mexican" from first place.
Although insiders were right in predicting a sharp second week drop for DreamWorks' R-rated drama "The Mexican," they were wrong about it losing top honors. "Mexican" held on to first place with a less sexy estimated $12.13 million (-40%) at 2,959 theaters (+8 theaters; $4,100 per theater). Its cume is approximately $38.3 million.
"Mexican" reportedly only cost about $40 million since its two superstars worked for much less than their usual salaries.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, "Mexican" stars Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.
New Line's R-rated drama "15 Minutes" kicked off in second place with a solid estimated $10.48 million at 2,337 theaters ($4,482 per theater).
"Minutes" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide release last weekend.
Written and directed by John Herzfeld, "Minutes" stars Robert De Niro and Edward Burns.
Insiders had been talking about a $15-20 million opening that would have put "Minutes" in first place.
"The picture's got a message and the message was resonating with the older demo and obviously not with the younger one," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning.
"The tracking showed that it was going to open higher than (it did). Although, with the definite interest numbers (being lower), it sort of told you that (even with) the tracking numbers for first choice and all the rest of it, because of the (limited) interest it was going to (open) lower."
Warner Bros.' PG-rated family appeal comedy "See Spot Run" from Village Roadshow Pictures was still barking loudly in third place in its second week with an estimated $6.6 million (-32%) at 2,656 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,485 per theater). Its cume is approximately $17.9 million.
Reportedly made for only about $15 million, "Spot" should be profitable in theaters as well as in home video.
Directed by John Whitesel, "Run" stars David Arquette.
MGM and Universal's R-rated thriller "Hannibal" fell two rungs to fourth place in its fifth week with a less delicious estimated $5.7 million (-44%) at 2,947 theaters (-325 theaters; $1,934 per theater). Its cume is approximately $151.0 million, heading for $175 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis and Ridley Scott, "Hannibal" stars Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore.
Paramount's PG-13-rated comedy "Down to Earth" dropped one peg to fifth place in its fourth week with a less amusing estimated $5.5 million (-30%) at 2,521 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,182 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.0 million.
Directed by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, "Earth" stars Chris Rock.
"I think it's (going to get to) $65 million or so or maybe it might struggle to $70 million," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning.
"It held up really better than I thought. We're only off 30%. I was figuring a 35% drop with the De Niro picture coming in."
Miramax's PG-13-rated youth appeal comedy "Get Over It" arrived in sixth place to a calm estimated $4.4 million at 1,742 theaters ($2,525 per theater).
Directed by Tommy O'Haver, "Get" stars Kirsten Dunst, Ben Foster, Melissa Sagemiller, Sisqo, Shane West, Colin Hanks, Swoosie Kurtz, Ed Begley Jr. and Martin Short.
Sony Pictures Classics' Oscar-contending, PG-13-rated action adventure "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" fell two slots to seventh place in its 14th week, still showing strong legs with an estimated $4.3 million (-12%) at 1,756 theaters (+5 theaters; $2,450 per theater). Its cume is approximately $94.6 million.
"Tiger" is nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director. Director Ang Lee won the Directors Guild of America's feature directing award Saturday night, making him the favorite to win the Best Director Oscar.
Directed by Ang Lee, "Dragon" stars Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat.
"It looks good. Soon we're going to be at that Century Mark," Sony Pictures Classics sales vice president Tom Prassis said Sunday morning.
When will "Tiger" hit $100 million? "I'd like to say next weekend, but most likely it's going to be during the week after that."
How far does it go if it wins the Best Picture Oscar and where does it wind up if it doesn't win? "Well, if it wins Best Picture, we're obviously going to be on the screen a lot longer -- probably, I'd say, another one or two months. It probably would go up to $120-125 million. If we don't win Best Picture, we'll still probably be on the screen because people still have a need to see the film.
"I was in Vegas this past week (for ShoWest) and talked to so many exhibitors who don't normally go to the movies, who are going two or three times to see this film and taking friends to see it. And then I've talked to people from all walks of life who have seen it three or four times."
Insiders see "Tiger" as having a strong shot at winning Best Picture, particularly in view of Ang Lee's DGA victory. But if it doesn't win, Prassis said, "It hangs on (but) obviously it's not going hang on the way it would if it did win." In that case, he sees it winding up with $110-115 million.
USA Films' R-rated, Oscar-contending drama "Traffic" dropped two notches to eighth place in its 11th week, still holding very well with an estimated $3.87 million (-11%) at 1,678 theaters (+40 theaters; $2,304 per theater). Its cume is approximately $97.5 million.
"Traffic" is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, "Traffic" stars Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
"It's the Academy Awards (benefit) -- down 11%. The drops in the Academy Awards trend continue to be impressive. Last weekend it was down 16% and the weekend before it was down 18%, so you can see the drops diminishing," USA distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning.
"At the end of the week, we'll be at $98.5 million and Saturday we'll get there (at $100 million). Next Sunday morning, we'll be at $100 million and probably after the weekend we'll be at $101 million."
Asked for a best and worst case prediction -- winning or not winning the Best Picture Oscar -- of where the film's gross goes, Foley replied, "Because it's at $100 million within the next week, you have a nice little fit in there for maybe an accelerated run to the Academy Awards, which will deliver maybe $6 million. So that's $107 million. If it wins, it could be up another $15 million -- $120-125 million."
If "Traffic" doesn't win Best Picture, he added, "It will probably get to maybe $110-115 million. The dollar houses are in there. In the dollar houses, you can throw in another $3 million no matter where you are. So if it peters out at like $110 million in first run, then you're looking at $3-5 million from the dollar houses, so it would be like $113-115 million."
Miramax's PG-13-rated, Oscar-contending romantic comedy drama "Chocolat" fell two rungs to ninth place in its 13th week, holding better than any of the weekend's wide releases with an estimated $3.8 million (-10%) at 1,928 theaters (+71 theaters; $1,970 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.0 million.
"Chocolat" is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture.
Asked where "Chocolat" is heading, Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning, "I think $65-70 million." If it should win Best Picture -- an upset victory that some Hollywood handicappers argue remains a possibility -- Kaminow added, "Why not $100 million?"
BR>Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, "Chocolat" stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp.
Rounding out the Top Ten this week was Buena Vista/ Disney's G-rated animated feature "Recess: School's Out," down two notches in its fourth week, with a less playful estimated $2.2 million (-44%) at 2,339 theaters (-164 theaters; $946 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.5 million.
Directed by Chuck Sheetz, "Recess" was produced by Sheetz and Stephen Swofford and executive produced and created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere.
OTHER OPENINGS Miramax's R-rated drama "Blow Dry" opened to a quiet estimated $0.25 million at 157 theaters ($1,600 per theater). Its cume after five days is approximately $0.3 million.
Directed by Paddy Breathnach, it stars Alan Rickman, Natasha Richardson, Rachel Griffiths, Rachael Leigh Cook, Josh Hartnett, Bill Nighy, Rosemary Harris and Heidi Klum.
Paramount Classics' PG-13-rated comedy "Company Man" opened to a poor estimated $0.078 million at 103 theaters ($760 per theater).
Written and directed by Peter Askin and Douglas McGrath, "Company" stars Alan Cumming, Anthony LaPaglia, Denis Leary, Douglas McGrath, John Turturro and Sigourney Weaver.
Shooting Gallery's unrated comedy "When Brendan Met Trudy" arrived to a dull estimated $0.038 million at 14 theaters ($2,715 per theater).
Directed by Lynda Myles, it stars Peter McDonald and Flora Montgomery.
SNEAK PREVIEWS MGM held 627 sneak previews Saturday night of its PG-13-rated comedy "Heartbreakers" from Davis Entertainment. The film, which was successfully screened for exhibitors attending the ShoWest convention in Las Vegas last week, will be previewed again next Saturday night (Mar. 17) at about 1,000 theaters.
"We averaged 50% attendance," MGM worldwide distribution president Larry Gleason said Sunday morning. "We had really good exit polls. 55% female, 45% male. 54% of the audience was over 30 and 46% were under 30. Definite recommend was 66%, which is a good number against a 50% average. And the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good) were 78%. It's almost identical to the exit polls we had for 'The Thomas Crown Affair' in August of 1999.
"It's just what we wanted to do. We need to get the word out on the picture. So we're doing it again next week. We'll increase it to up to 1,000 (theaters) next week as per plan; and by the time we open in two weeks, we should be in good shape."
"Heartbreakers" opens Mar. 23 at about 2,500 theaters.
Directed by David Mirkin and produced by John Davis and Irving Ong, "Heartbreakers" stars Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee, Jeffrey Jones and Gene Hackman.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, this weekend saw Sony Pictures Classics go wider with its R-rated drama "Pollock," grossing in its fifth week an encouraging estimated $0.71 million (+7%) at 155 theaters (+51 theaters; $4,611 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.7 million.
"Pollock" received Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Ed Harris) and Best Supporting Actress (Marcia Gay Harden).
Directed by Ed Harris, "Pollock" stars Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden.
USA Films' PG-rated drama "In the Mood For Love" continued to expand in its sixth week with a still encouraging estimated $0.26 million (-5%) at 73 theaters (+9 theaters; $3,563 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.6 million.
Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai, "Love" stars Tony Leung and Maggie Chung.
"'In the Mood' continues to do a nice amount of business," USA distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning. "We're getting chunks of grosses, a quarter of a million dollars weekend after weekend. It's a surprisingly adorable picture for a small beautiful art film. I think we'll ultimately get to $3 million on it and that would delight me."
Universal Focus' R-rated thriller "The Caveman's Valentine" widened in its second week with a quiet estimated $0.19 million at 59 theaters (+43 theaters; $3,245 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.3 million.
Directed by Kasi Lemmons, "Valentine" stars Samuel L. Jackson.
USA Films' R-rated reality TV satire "Series 7" added theaters in its second week with an okay estimated $0.027 million (-6%) at 4 theaters (+2 theaters; $6,700 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.070 million.
Written and directed by Daniel Minahan, "Series" stars Brooke Smith, Glenn Fitzgerald, Mary Louise Burke, Richard Venture, Michael Kaycheck and Merrit Wever.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $68.15 million, down about 16.65% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $81.41 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 17.94% from last weekend this year when key films did $82.69 million.
Last year, Buena Vista's opening week of "Mission To Mars" was first with $22.86 million at 3,054 theaters ($7,484 per theater); and Artisan Entertainment's opening week of "The Ninth Gate" was second with $6.62 million at 1,586 theaters ($4,176 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $29.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $22.6 million.