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.
So, Marky Mark, you wanna be a rock 'n' roll star?
Sporting a shaggy mane, a nipple ring and an extremely tight pair of leather pants, former rapper Mark Wahlberg cranks up the Marshall amps to 11 this weekend with Rock Star.
Expect a loud debut for this rag-to-riches-to-rags rock epic--destined to knock down surprise No. 1 champ Jeepers Creepers--that capitalizes on Wahlberg's success in Planet of the ApesThree Kings and The Perfect Storm. It's not much of a stretch for Wahlberg to convincingly portray a wide-eyed dreamer who succumbs to a lifestyle based on sex, drugs and heavy metal. That's pretty much what happened to him as Dirk Diggler, Boogie Nights's porn star and aspiring (but untalented) rocker.
A cautionary tale very much in the vein of VH1's Behind the Music series, Rock Star owes its roots, somewhat loosely, to the stranger-than-fiction rise to fame of Judas Priest singer Tim "Ripper" Owens. In 1996, Owens went from singing in a Judas Priest tribute band to replacing original singer Rob Halford. The members of Judas Priest have distanced themselves from Rock Star, no doubt because it depicts its would-be metal god as nothing more than a pawn unable to find his own voice.
Though hardly as poignant as last year's Almost Famous, Rock Star should outperform director Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical account of his teenage foray into rock journalism. Almost Famous made only $32.5 million, despite universal good reviews. Rock Star also should hit higher notes than the last major music-themed autobiography, Selena, which opened with $11.6 million in 1997 and eventually made $35.3 million.
In an ironic twist, director Stephen Herek's Rock Star opens against yet another adaptation of The Three Musketeers. Herek directed his own version of the Alexandre Dumas-penned swashbuckling adventure in 1993, starring Chris O'Donnell as D'Artagnan with Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland and Oliver Platt declaring all one and one for all. In director Peter Hyams's The Musketeer, former model Justin Chambers unsheathes his sword as D'Artagnan to face Wahlberg's Planet of the Apes adversary, Tim Roth.
The need for another Musketeer-- even one flaunting choreographed, stunt-heavy sword fights--remains a mystery. Also, Hyams didn't exactly light up the box office with his most recent efforts, End of Days and Sudden Death. Accordingly, The Musketeer is unlikely to challenge the $53.4 million that Herek's The Three Musketeers captured.
Aimed squarely at black audiences, Two Can Play That Game should enjoy the same attention enjoyed by similar previous romantic comedies starring Morris Chestnut and Vivica A Fox. Chestnut's The Brothers smooth-talked its way to $27.4 million earlier this year. Fox's Booty Call rang up $20 million in 1997. But Two Can Play That Game seems to lack the mainstream appeal that made Fox's 1998 Soul Food a $43.4 million hit and inspired a Showtime series.
Unlikely to show much in the way of endurance is Soul Survivors, given its competition. The teen horror yarn--on the shelf for one year, then delayed from the end of summer while cut to secure a PG-13 rating, then released in only 600-plus theaters--goes head to head against Jeepers Creepers and The Others. Soul Survivors could serve as nothing more than a footnote in the promising careers of stars Wes Bentley (American Beauty) and Eliza Dushku (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back).
Not that Jeepers Creepers looks set to enjoy a second lucrative weekend. Executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola, of all people, this rote bloodbath set a Labor Day weekend-opening record of $15.8 million. That's almost twice that of the $8.1 million taken in 1996 by The Crow: City of Angels.
Those looking for a good scare most likely turned out last weekend for Jeepers Creepers--as is the norm for low-budget horror flicks--and will sample Soul Survivors or return to see Nicole Kidman's cerebral chiller,The Others this weekend. Still, expect the Creeper to rear his ugly head again, given that the film's $17.5 million gross through Wednesday justifies a sequel.
After dominating the August box office, Rush Hour 2, American Pie 2, The Princess Diaries and The Others should start to wind down their runs.
On Wednesday, Rush Hour 2 became the third film this year to make $200 million--$200.1 million, to be exact--and should surpass The Mummy Returns' $201.5 million this weekend. That would make Rush Hour 2 the year's second-highest grossing film, behind Shrek.
American Pie 2--cooling, but still a tasty proposition--has earned $126 million through Wednesday, $25 million than its predecessor. At $93.4 million, The Princess Diaries is the summer's biggest non-action sleeper and stands to make $100 million by next weekend. The Others continues its impressive run, having garnered $61 million through Wednesday.
With much to choose from this weekend, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back ($22.9 million), "O" ($7.7 million) and Summer Catch ($14.8 million) look set to take sharp tumbles.
The oft-delayed "O", in particular, failed to connect. Perhaps audiences who were perhaps longing for another accessible racially tinged romance, a la Save the Last Dance, shied away after discovering that this controversial drama is an almost faithful interpretation of Othello, just set in a prep school.
Does the female sex sell?
Judging from "Charlie's Angels" $75.4 million take in two weeks, the answer is a definite ... maybe.
The Drew Barrymore - Cameron Diaz - Lucy Liu starrer has overcome its infamous casting, script and $90 million production woes to become a bonafide hit. Milking its combination of cleavage, kung-fu fighting and Diaz's dance moves, "Charlie's Angels" urged moviegoers to "get some action," which they did, taking a strong summer for women and kicking it up a couple notches.
Once upon a time -- er, last spring, actually -- the Island of Moneymaking Girl-Power Movies only had one survivor: Julia Roberts. Sandra Bullock is in career rehab, Jodie Foster's a hit-or-miss. Meg Ryan and Michelle Pfeiffer owe half their box office draw to their huge male co-stars, while Sharon Stone is banking on "Basic Instinct 2" to revive her appeal. And Demi Moore ... well, that $12.5 mil for "Striptease" seems like a looong time ago.
Sounds bleak? Maybe not. The summer, while producing some of the weakest movies in recent memory, has managed to power up some hits with female-heavy marquees. Devoid of huge budgets, these films waited patiently while Tom, Mel, Eddie, Jim and Harrison duked it out before making their marks. Examples:
"Bring It On" Costing just $10 million, this comedy about a cheerleading competition bested Wesley Snipes' "Art of War" and knocked off Jennifer Lopez's "The Cell" (see below) to claim the top spot with $17 million in late August. Boasting no marquee names (it stars Kirsten Dunst, Gabrielle Union and Eliza Dushku), the film showed surprising legs (no pun intended) and has gone on to gross $67 million to date.
"The Cell" Jennifer Lopez became the highest-paid Latina actress in 1996 with her $1 million leading role in "Selena." "The Cell" put her in Virgin Mary robes, black bodysuits and a Hannibal Lecter muzzle contraption (is that moving up? We're not sure.). Audiences, intrigued either by the movie's visuals or Lopez's derriere in those tight outfits (or both), bit the first weekend, giving the $33 million thriller a $17.5 million opening. "The Cell" eventually tapped out at $61 million or so -- not a blockbuster, but enough to give Lopez a foothold for her next flick's salary negotiations.
"Coyote Ugly" Girls dancing to Rob Base on top of a bar in tight jeans, splashing water on themselves and serving beer. Lather, rinse, repeat. Touchstone Pictures' marketing department knew what it was doing when it hyped the ogling quotient and fierce-grrrl message ("tonight they're calling the shots") in trailers rather than its cheesy "Flashdance"-inspired story about a wide-eyed girl (Piper Perabo) who works at the bar Coyote Ugly while she launches her songwriting career. It barely earned back its $45 million budget (it's grossed about $60 million), but that still ain't bad for a film with a baffling title and no names (just faces) above the marquee.
And here's a peek at female-driven films to look forward to: "102 Dalmatians" -- Opens Nov. 22. Sequel to the 1996 film, which made about $137 million. Glenn Close looks to score again as memorable madwoman Cruella De Vil.
"Miss Congeniality" -- Opens Dec. 22 in New York. FBI agent Sandra Bullock has to tweeze her eyebrows to go undercover at a beauty pageant. Bullock's last film, the alcoholic comedy-drama "28 Days," languished at about $38 million, but she should shine here in a quirky role, supported by "The Cider House Rules" Oscar winner Michael Caine.
"Sugar and Spice" -- Opens Jan. 26. Mena (Suvari), Marley (Shelton), Marla (Sokoloff) and Melissa (George) are a bunch of cheerleaders who go on a crime spree. Isn't that cute?
"The Wedding Planner" -- Opens Jan. 26. It's Jennifer Lopez again, this time going for a Sandra Bullock-esque role as the title character, falling for the groom (Matthew McConaughey) of the wedding she's coordinating.
And let's not forget 2001's other offerings: "Bridget Jones's Diary," aka The Movie Renee Zellweger Gained Weight For; the Drew Barrymore starrer "Riding in Cars With Boys," directed by Penny Marshall; and next summer's ultimate girl-power gig -- Angelina Jolie as buxom archaeologist Lara Croft in "Tomb Raider," based on the popular video game.
Get some action, indeed.