A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
It should. You've seen Open Range done about a 100 times before and in far better ways. In the beginning we meet Range's cowboys--old curmudgeon Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) stoic Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) jovial Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and Button (Diego Luna) the token "kid"--but then a big giant warning sign goes off when early on lines like "Let's rustle up some grub" and "They broke the mold after him " are uttered with complete seriousness. The film never recovers after that. Twenty minutes in nothing has happened--at all. Finally the rough-hewn men roll into Harmonville a typical Old West town and encounter a nasty Irish rancher named Baxter (Michael Gambon) who along with a corrupt sheriff (James Russo) rules the town with an iron hand. Baxter issues the appropriate threats to the freegrazers to move along or else--and then carries out said threats killing Mose and severely injuring Button even killing Charley's dog. Of course revenge must be exacted but not before getting Button some medical attention thus allowing Boss and Charley to meet the lovely but no-nonsense frontierswoman Sue Barlow (Annette Bening) who nurses Button back to health. Charley is immediately smitten because as Boss explains "A woman like that makes you want to put down roots make little 'uns" (no really he says that). Before it's all over the town rises up against their oppressor a shootout occurs blood is spilled--and the guys in the white hats win. The moral? Don't kill a cowboy's dog.
Even with a strong desire to be in a Western any actor in their right mind would have run far away from Open Range after reading the awful script. Yet producer/director/star Kevin Costner was miraculously able to rustle up his own posse of Oscar-caliber actors perhaps through good old-fashioned bribery. Costner doesn't do much with Charley but stand around and say little while Duvall tries his best as old Boss--a man who after losing a young wife and child heads out into the open plains. Still the veteran actor has the unenviable task have having to say some of the worst lines in cinematic history including my personal favorite: "If you want to stand there talkin' to the Man upstairs I'll stand over here hat in hand. But I ain't talkin' to that son of a bitch!" Both Costner and Duvall really should know better having starred in some other pretty good Westerns including Dances With Wolves and the TV miniseries Lonesome Dove respectively. Who knows what Bening was thinking? She plays Sue with requisite steely resolve a spinster who has nearly given up on love but obviously had no clue on how ridiculous she'd end up looking on screen. Same goes for Mexican actor Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien) who along with having a difficult time with the English language has an even more difficult time pulling off the puppy-dog-like Button. What kind of name is that for a character in a Western anyway?
Costner has said again and again he could make Westerns and baseball movies 'til the cows come home-apparently he's doing just that. When this multitasker got his hands on Lauran Pain's novel The Open Range Men to adapt into a big-screen production he most likely felt he had found another dream project similar to his Oscar-winning Wolves experience. Unfortunately the end result only proves it's time for this cowboy to hang up his spurs. Along with screenwriter/producer Craig Storper Costner has turned Open Range into one giant rehash of at least 10 other Western classics including High Noon Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and The Magnificent Seven without generating one original idea. The director does know how to capture the beauty of the open plains and shows audiences some truly spectacular vistas in Range. It's just that Costner is so desperately in love with the notion of the hard-bitten cowboy working and living off the land he forgets about telling a good story with compelling character relationships. Either that or he figures true fans of the Western simply won't care and will let the ambiance of the film wash over them. But in a topsy-turvy career Costner has once again made an error in judgment.
IQ test, anyone?
Geniuses all of types--but mainly of the depressed, disillusioned or schizophrenic variety--dominated theaters nationwide this weekend during the otherwise happy holidays.
A Beautiful Mind, featuring Russell Crowe as Nobel Prize-winning John Forbes Nash Jr., tallied up a whopping $19.9 million through Wednesday, Jan. 2, at a maximum of 525 theaters since Dec. 21. That puts to shame seasonal underachievers The Majestic and Joe Somebody, which both debuted in wide release on the same day as A Beautiful Mind.
Father doesn't necessarily know best in The Royal Tenenbaums, a quirky comedy starring Gene Hackman as the patriarch of a gifted but truly dysfunctional family. Directed by Wes Anderson, The Royal Tenenbaums has amassed $11.5 million from Dec. 21 through Wednesday at a maximum of 291 theaters. Anderson's previous offering, the equally eccentric Rushmore, made a lowly $17 million in 1999 despite terrific critical acclaim.
The heartrending but inspirational A Beautiful Mind should brace itself for a bigger bow than The Royal Tenenbaums when it expands Friday to 1,800-plus theaters. The Ron Howard-directed drama quickly emerged as a strong Oscar contender, thanks in part to great reviews and a handful of Golden Globe nominations. Crowe could pull a Tom Hanks and earn himself an Oscar for the second consecutive year, following last year's win for Gladiator. He gives a quiet and sincere performance as the socially inept mathematician whose promising career fizzled in the 1950s as a result of his schizophrenia.
Howard's no stranger to causing a stir at the box office. The former sitcom star now ranks as of one Hollywood's highly sought-after directors following the smashes Splash, Apollo 13, Parenthood and Ransom. His last film, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, hauled off $260 million during the 2000 holiday season.
After earning $7.7 million last weekend, A Beautiful Mind looks set to corral between $15 million and $20 million in its first weekend in wide release. A possible slew of Oscar nominations will help A Beautiful Mind to become Howard's fourth $100 million hit in five tries, and his fifth in total.
The Royal Tenenbaums has critical momentum on its side, plus the promise of dominating the Oscar nominations in the acting categories. Anderson cast Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller and Luke Wilson as Hackman's messed-up kids.
Anjelica Huston, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Danny Glover costar, providing The Royal Tenenbaums with an insurance policy against some (wrongful) accusations that it, like its protagonists, is flawed and often too peculiar for its own good.
The Royal Tenenbaums should enjoy a hefty bump from last weekend's $4.9 million take as its expands to 751 theaters. If all goes well, The Royal Tenenbaums could surpass the totals for two recent Owen Wilson offerings, both costarring his Tenenbaums colleagues. The war yarn Behind Enemy Lines, with Hackman, has $51 million through Tuesday. Zoolander, the Stiller-directed fashion satire, has $45.1 million through Tuesday.
The first new wide release of 2002 is, ironically, a sci-fi thriller originally scheduled for summer 2000. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, Impostor represents another oft-delayed film that Miramax genre label Dimension will unceremoniously dump without much warning. Texas Rangers, Dimension's last such release, was mowed down without so much as a fighting chance when it debuted late November in 402 theaters to a gutless $319,000.
Strangely, the studio once displayed enormous faith in Impostor. An impressed Dimension threw money at director Gary Fleder in 1999 to expand what was then a part of The Light Years Trilogy into a stand-alone, feature-length film. Once slated for an Aug. 11, 2000, release, Impostor moved back and forth on Dimension's schedule, from fall 2000 to spring 2001, then fall 2001, spring 2002 and, to what seemed like a firm date, Dec. 25, 2001. Dimension then belatedly settled on Jan. 4, allowing Miramax to shift Kate & Leopold from Dec. 21 to Christmas Day. Fleder, in the meantime, directed Don't Say a Word while the film was kept out of theaters and trimmed to secure a PG-13 rating.
In what sounds like a post-apocalyptic Fugitive, Gary Sinise stars as an engineer on the run after authorities suspect him of being an alien. Vincent D'Onofrio and Madeleine Stowe costar.
Dick's adaptations have enjoyed mixed success. Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, floundered upon its 1982 release but has since become a cult classic praised for its unique vision of a future urban skyscape. Under Paul Verhoeven's guidance, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale became Total Recall, the Arnold Schwarzenegger trip to Mars that grossed $119.3 million in 1990.
Given its odd history and quiet release, Impostor looks set to vanish without causing much of a stir. Impostor, however, will no doubt serve as an appetizer for Philip K. Dick fans eagerly awaiting this summer's Minority Report, marking Tom Cruise's first collaboration with Steven Spielberg.
Impostor also will fall prey to the ongoing success of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Peter Jackson's magnificent adaptation of the first book in the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy continues to live up to expectation. After just 15 days in theaters, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring has tracked down a precious $179.3 million. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone made $201.9 million during the same period, but it was playing at 300 more theaters. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring should fend off a serious challenge this weekend from A Beautiful Mind to retain the box office pole position and soar past the all-important $200 million mark.
Speaking of the boy wizard, Harry Potter celebrated 2002 by almost doubling its Christmas weekend take of $7 million to $11.9 million. With $293.2 million through Wednesday, Harry Potter not only reigns as the year's top box office attraction, but, on Thursday, likely supplanted The Sixth Sense as the 10th top-grossing film released domestically. Thanksgiving's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets now faces the daunting task of becoming one of the most popular sequels ever made.
Put George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts in a film directed by Steven Soderbergh and its success is almost guaranteed. Ocean's Eleven keeps hitting the jackpot at the box office weekend after weekend. The jazzy remake of the Rat Pack crime caper beat out a slew of newcomers to reclaim the No. 2 spot last weekend, stealing off with $139.2 million through Wednesday. That ranks as a personal best for both Pitt and Soderbergh, whose Erin Brockovich and Traffic earned, respectively, $125.5 million and $124.1 million. If all continues to roll in Clooney's favor, Ocean's Eleven could beat The Perfect Storm's $182.6 million to become his highest grosser.
Tom Cruise can't expect Vanilla Sky to do the same for him. Cameron Crowe's much-maligned remake of Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) dropped a mere 5 percent last weekend, from $12 million to $11.5 million, and now has a good but far from great $72.8 million through Wednesday. That's less than what Mission: Impossible 2 made in its first five days in May 2000. Still, Vanilla Sky managed to surpass Cruise's other recent critically mauled drama, Eyes Wide Shut, which ended up with $55.6 million. With competition from A Beautiful Mind, however, Vanilla Sky should fall hard and fast long before it can reach $100 million.
Don't expect a reversal of fortunes for The Majestic and Joe Somebody, both of which should disappear from theaters when Oscar hopefuls Black Hawk Down, The Shipping News and I Am Sam storm theaters later this month.
The Majestic, featuring Jim Carrey in fine dramatic form, held steady in its second weekend, but that's not saying much when it debuted with $4.9 million. With only $18.9 million through Tuesday, The Majestic will likely represent a post-Ace Ventura: Pet Detective career low for Carrey. His last flop, Man on the Moon, wrestled a mere $34.5 million from audiences in 1999.
Joe Somebody, with $15.9 million through Tuesday, also stands as a personal worst for Tim Allen. For Richer or Poorer, a lazy comic take on Witness, mustered only $31.6 million in 1997.
The jury remains out on Ali and Kate & Leopold.
Ali came out with both fists flying, earning a record $10.2 million for a Christmas Day release. Fatigue set in last weekend, as Michael Mann's biography of the ex-Cassius Clay punched up a lower-than-expected $14.7 million and has $41.4 million through Wednesday. Audiences seem to prefer A Beautiful Mind, which made more money Wednesday in limited release than Ali at 2,446 theaters.
Chances are the $105 million Ali will not go the distance should Oscar voters turn a blind eye to Will Smith's unenthusiastically received portrayal of the Greatest.
Meg Ryan has not enjoy a hit since re-teaming with Tom Hanks for a third time in You've Got Mail. After disappointing results with the tearjerker Hanging Up and the political thriller Proof of Life, Ryan returns to the realm of romantic comedies with Kate & Leopold. The time-bending yarn, co-starring Hugh Jackman as a 19th-century blueblood transported to 21st-century New York, opened Christmas Day with a lukewarm $2.5 million but made a respectable $9.7 million last weekend. Its total through Wednesday is $23.4 million, guaranteeing Ryan her biggest hit since You've Got Mail. Not that the dull and cliché-ridden Kate & Leopold will come close to matching the $115.8 million that You've Got Mail made in 1998.
Two animated adventures should continue to keep kids amused this weekend. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius soared to $51.5 million on Wednesday, making it the third consecutive hit spin-off of a popular Nickelodeon TV show. The smart Jimmy Neutron should landed safety between The Rugrats Movie's $100.4 million and Rugrats In Paris's $76.5 million.
Disney/Pixar's Monsters, Inc. experience a major power surge last weekend, jumping 61 percent last weekend from $3.8 million to $6.1 million. Its total is $240 million through Wednesday, bringing its well within reach of Toy Story 2, which, at $245.8 million, stands as the most successful of the four Disney/Pixar collaborations.
Shrek lost its box office crown in late December when Harry Potter surpassed its $267.6 million gross. Chances are the green but not-so mean ogre could find himself unexpectedly caught in the shadow of two energy producing monsters and a lost little girl.