Like Mom always said never talk to strangers and never accept a package containing a vintage ventriloquist dummy unless you know who sent it. Sadly young married couple James (Ryan Kwanten) and Lisa (Laura Regan) ignore the latter piece of advice and pay dearly for it. While James is out picking up dinner Lisa makes their pintsized doll feel right at home. When James returns home however he finds his pretty wife has been fatally well doll-handled. Thus begins a full-scale truth mission for new widower James: He seeks to prove the doll's guilt and his innocence in Lisa's homicide as well as learning of the doll’s origins. He heads to Ravens Fair a small town of (apparently) perpetual nightfall and low-hanging fog—a literal and figurative ghost town. With a suspicious cop (Donnie Wahlberg) tracing his every step James finds out about the doll’s er mother Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts) and her fondness for silence. And that this doll is one tough resilient S.O.B.! In a movie about ghosts and such it’s fitting that The Office star John Krasinski’s doppelganger (or long-lost twin) is the lead actor. Up-and-coming actor Kwanten (Flicka) is serviceable and wears the crucial “Where have I seen this dude before?” look quite well but he’s hardly anyone you’ll remember after the movie. And if he has hopes of consistently landing roles beyond the scope of teen-aimed TV dramas and low-budget movies he’ll have to up the liveliness of his performances. Outdoing him are basically all of the remaining G-list actors starting with Saw mainstay Wahlberg an actor who seems oddly cozy atop the bottom of the Hollywood totem pole. As the constantly shaving Det. Lipton Wahlberg at least livens up the proceedings a bit in contrast to his screenmate Kwanten. As Kwanten’s brand new stepmom model-turned-actress Amber Valletta (Hitch) also becomes a piece of the puzzle. The creepiest performances though come from the old timers (veterans Michael Fairman and Joan Heney as a mortician and his tortured wife) the dead (Roberts as the ghostly Mary Shaw in flashbacks) and the seemingly inanimate (that damn doll!). If Saw masterminds Leigh Whannell and James Wan really want to go all progressive-horror on us they might want to try an actual silent film. That would’ve been doubly beneficial here because not only is their latest effort an homage to yesteryear’s similar horror tales (complete with stock-footage scenes and the ancient Universal Studios company logo sequence) but also because the dialogue is atrocious and a silent Silence might have actually worked better. The writing from Wan and Whannell is not without its clever twists and the direction from Wan boasts some genuinely disturbing images even when you expect it—but any number of their Hollywood peers can scare up a few screams here and there. In the end these guys don’t do much more than merely perpetuate the Chucky (from the Child’s Play movies) theory: Dolls can be scary! And Silence is but a cheap stopgap between their annual Saw movies.
Anyone who knows anything about the real-life Jackie Kallen will probably find
Against the Ropes a significant deviation from her biography. In the film Kallen (Meg Ryan) is a boxing fanatic whose work as an executive assistant at the Cleveland Coliseum allows her to watch the bouts from her office and do the hang at a bar frequented by boxers promoters and local sports paparazzi. Her big break into the man's world of pro boxing comes when she has a run-in with promoter Sam LaRocca (Tony Shalhoub) and he sells her a contract with a boxer for a dollar. That boxer turns out to be a crackhead has-been but while visiting his derelict tenement she discovers her ticket to the big time in Luther Shaw (Omar Epps) a street thug with the raw talent to become a champion. She enlists the help of veteran trainer Felix Reynolds (Charles S Dutton) and the rest of the story chronicles the team's meteoric rise to fame Kallen's Faustian over-reaching her lust for publicity and her ultimate professional downfall and resurrection.
As the movie version of Jackie Kallen Ryan dresses walks talks and verbally spars an awful lot like Julia Roberts did as Erin Brockovich and like her predecessor she tries to trade in her cherubic image for something a little well grittier. Picture lace-up bodices snakeskin leather minis suits with satin lapels cut down to there and other skintight skin-patterned accoutrements and you'll have a pretty good idea of what her character looks like. Add an indescribable yet undeniably lowbrow accent and you'll know what she sounds like too. But underneath it all this is still Meg Ryan cute as a button with those big blue eyes and the nose that wrinkles when she smiles. There are moments when Ryan seems to tap into her inner gnarly girl but they're few and far between; most of the time she comes off like a little kid playing dress-up which is kind of fun to watch for a while but eventually you want her mom to come and take her off your hands. Epps fares better although he's a bit duller as 'Lethal' Luther Kallen's star boxer and when the ever-charming Dutton who also directed has his few scenes in the spotlight he shines. Less impressive is a tight-lipped Shalhoub as LaRocca whose vendetta against Kallen culminates in a "curtain call" scene so forced and ridiculous it would have ruined the film had it not already been steadily progressing downhill from the start.
Producer Robert Cort says he and the other filmmakers never intended to make a "biographical" film; instead they tried to focus on Jackie's "astounding accomplishments in the man-eat-man world of boxing." For the record the real Jackie Kallen was first a professional journalist and later a businesswoman with her own public relations firm and she represented several athletes in that capacity before turning to managing her own boxers. No doubt that story sounded an awful lot like the female version of Jerry Maguire which is probably why it wasn't made. Instead the filmmakers try a different gambit: They tell Kallen's life story as if she were boxing's answer to Erin Brockovich--the ol' white-trash-gal-makes-good storyline. It's not especially original; it's not particularly compelling; but it may sell a few movie tickets although to whom is the burning question.
Against the Ropes would play great to Lifetime's mostly female audience if it weren't for all the blood and beating. (Director Dutton a former boxer himself has a lot of experience here although from a cinematic perspective this is no Ali where the slo-mo and close-ups of the boxers were poetry in motion.) And it'd do equally well on ESPN if it weren't for all the corny chick-flick tear-jerking stuff.
An avalanche of ticket sales for The Rock gave Scorpion King a record setting number one opening of $36.2 million.
Changing Lanes slowed down to place second with $11.1 million. Murder by Numbers opened third with only a small box office killing of $9.5 million.
The Rookie showed strong legs and placed fourth with $6.3 million. Panic Room locked up the fifth spot with $6.2 million.
Driven by Scorpion, key films--those grossing $500,000 or more--totaled $99.1 million, up over 27 percent from last year's $77.8 million. Business was up over 9 percent from the previous weekend's $90.7 million.
THE TOP TEN
Universal's PG-13 rated adventure spinoff The Scorpion King in association with World Wrestling Federation Entertainment and Alphaville kicked off with blockbuster strength to a chart topping ESTIMATED $36.2 million at 3,444 theatres ($10,515 per theater).
Scorpion's average per theater was the highest for any film playing this weekend.
Insiders said Scorpion is well on its way to $100 million in domestic theaters. How far it goes beyond that will depend on how well it holds after Columbia launches its highly anticipated event film Spider-Man May 3.
Scorpion goes into the record books as the biggest opening ever in the month of April. Actually, Universal broke its own record, having set it with $20.4 million for Life the weekend of Apr. 16-18, 1999.
"Everyone at Universal is very excited over the fact that we took one immensely popular franchise and spun off a completely new and obviously equally popular franchise," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning.
"We're happy we were able to launch a summer type movie in mid-April. That's setting precedent again. And certainly, having the April opening record is something to toot your horn about."
Rocco emphasized that, "None of this would have been possible without the tireless efforts of the amazing star of this movie, The Rock, who we're very proud to be in business with. He literally did everything we asked him to do (to launch the movie) and kept coming back for more. He's incredible. He's got talent. He's got charisma.
"And I have to credit our filmmaking partners at Alphaville, (producers) Sean Daniel and Jim Jacks with producers Kevin Misher and Stephen Sommers, for getting this film ready, bringing it to us in time to release it in April and doing it at a relatively inexpensive cost. Because it's not a special effects film like The Mummy, it didn't cost as much. It was $60 million--not (cheap) by today's standards, but still and all it's something to be very proud of."
Asked who was on hand opening weekend, Rocco replied, "It was just what we thought it would be. It was young males, who loved it. They came for The Rock. The audience was (about) 56 percent under 25, which was what was expected for this. And having launched it at this tremendous number, it bodes very well for next weekend where there's really nothing (in terms of huge competition to cut into Scorpion). We have two weeks to ourselves--this week and next week. That's a good thing."
Paramount's R rated road rage drama Changing Lanes drove one notch down the chart to second place in its second week, still on the track with an ESTIMATED $11.1 million (-35%) at 2,642 theaters (+29 theaters; $4,201 per theater). Its cume is approximately $32.8 million.
Directed by Roger Michell, it stars Ben Affleck and Samuel L Jackson.
Castle Rock Entertainment's Murder by Numbers opened calmly in third place via Warner Bros. to an ESTIMATED $9.51 million at 2,663 theaters ($3,569 per theater).
Directed by Barbet Schroeder, it stars Sandra Bullock.
"About 71 percent of the audience was over the age of 25, of which 60 percent were female," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning.
"So it was predominantly female. It's a different kind of film for Sandra Bullock and a film she wanted to make. It wasn't that far from the studio projections. We'll hang in there and see how we hold up. Next week's not very strong (in terms of new competition)."
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated family appeal baseball drama The Rookie rose one rung to fourth place in its fourth week, still rounding the bases with great energy with an ESTIMATED $6.3 million (-21%) at 2,507 theaters (-13 theaters; $2,528 per theater). Its cume is approximately $53.7 million.
Directed by John Lee Hancock, it stars Dennis Quaid.
Columbia's R rated thriller Panic Room escaped three blocks south to fifth place in its fourth week with a still scary ESTIMATED $6.2 million (-42%) at 2,825 theaters (-294 theaters; $2,195 per theater). Its cume is approximately $82.2 million, heading for the area of $100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by David Fincher, it stars Jodie Foster.
"We have opened every (new international) market in the number one position. This weekend we had a very big opening in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy--all in the number one position," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
Panic's international numbers, Blake said, are "very comparable to a picture we handled last spring, Erin Brockovich, which was our international title. It's doing that level of business (and is) certainly pointed towards $100 million-plus and we're going to be real close domestic. But, certainly, international is off to that level of start. Obviously, with more major territories to come, we'll know more within a month. Every one has been a terrific launch and a number one opening."
Looking ahead, Blake noted, "Next week is France. The U.K. opens on May 3. And Japan opens May 18."
20th Century Fox's PG rated animated feature Ice Age eroded two pegs to sixth place in its sixth week, still holding nicely with an ESTIMATED $5.74 million (-33%) at 2,817 theaters (-194 theaters; $2,038 per theater). Its cume is approximately $159.5 million, heading for $175 million or more in domestic theaters.
Directed by Chris Wedge, it features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
Columbia's R rated romantic comedy The Sweetest Thing dropped four notches in its second week to seventh place with a bittersweet ESTIMATED $5.2 million (-45%) at 2,670 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,948 per theater). Its cume is approximately $17.0 million.
Directed by Roger Kumble, it stars Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair.
20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises' PG-13 rated thriller High Crimes fell two rungs to eighth place in its third week with a dull ESTIMATED $3.77 million (-50%) at 2,408 theaters (-339 theaters; $1,564 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.8 million, heading for $35-40 million.
Directed by Carl Franklin, it stars Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman.
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG rated time travel adventure Clockstoppers slid two slots to ninth place in its fourth week, with a slower ESTIMATED $2.86 million (-39%) at 2,188 theaters (-324 theaters; $1,307 per theater). Its cume is approximately $31.9 million, heading for the area of $40 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, it stars Jesse Bradford, Paula Garces, French Stewart, Michael Biehn and Robin Thomas.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Artisan Entertainment's R rated youth comedy National Lampoon's Van Wilder, which was tenth last week, in its third week with a less wild ESTIMATED $2.25 million (-45%) at 1,806 theaters (-298 theaters; $1,246 per theater). Its cume is approximately $17.3 million, heading for $20 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Walt Becker, it stars Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid.
"We're thinking it will probably top off at $20 million because I don't think there's going to be more than a couple weeks of business left," Artisan domestic theatrical distribution president Steve Rothenberg said Sunday morning.
"For us, it's a good win. We made the film for between $5-6 million, so to gross $20 million and with all the ancillary (business because) these titles are usually very good in video, we should be fine."
This weekend also saw the arrival of IFC Films' PG rated romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a slim ESTIMATED $0.53 million at 108 theaters ($4,895 per theater).
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Manhattan Pictures' R rated thriller Enigma opened to an unexciting ESTIMATED $0.15 million at 25 theaters ($5,985 per theater).
Directed by Michael Apted, it stars Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam and Saffron Burrows.
Paramount Classics' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Triumph of Love arrived to an non-triumphant ESTIMATED $61,000 at 18 theaters ($3,378 per theater).
Directed by Clare Peploe, it stars Mira Sorvino, Fiona Shaw, Jay Rodan, Rachael Stirling and Ben Kingsley.
Sony Pictures Classics' R rated drama Nine Queens kicked off to a hopeful ESTIMATED $39,000 at 5 theaters ($7,713 per theater).
Directed by Fabian Bielinsky, it stars Ricardo Darin and Gaston Pauls.
Lions Gate Films' R rated drama Chelsea Walls opened to a soft ESTIMATED $10,000 at 3 theaters ($3,219 per theater).
Directed by Ethan Hawke, it stars Rosario Dawson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Sean Leonard, Natasha Richardson, Uma Thurman, Mark Webber and Steve Zahn.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend IFC Films' unrated erotic drama Y Tu Mama Tambien went wider in its sixth week with an okay ESTIMATED $1.03 million (+1%) at 243 theaters (+50 theaters; $4,245 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.9 million.
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, it stars Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.
USA Films' R rated romantic comedy Monsoon Wedding added theaters in its ninth week with a still enticing ESTIMATED $0.71 million (+14%) at 189 theaters (+27 theaters; $3,740 per theater). Its cume is approximately $7.1 million.
Directed by Mira Nair, it was produced by Nair and Caroline Baron.
Universal's international division reported Sunday morning that The Scorpion King kicked off its international run with an outstanding number one opening in Australia. The film's $0.28 million opening day gross is the second biggest opening day of the year Down Under. In its first three days, Scorpion grossed $1.0 million on 191 playdates.
In the U.K. Scorpion arrived to an excellent $1.7 million on 402 playdates in its first 2 days, including Thursday night previews, and is running neck and neck with Bend it Like Beckham for first place.
In Malaysia, Scorpion grossed $0.33 million on 41 playdates, ranking as Universal's second biggest opening ever, UIP's all-time third biggest opening and the industry's fourth biggest opening in history.
In Singapore, Scorpion grossed $0.36 million on 26 playdates, making it Universal's fourth biggest opening, UIP's sixth biggest opening and the industry's tenth biggest.
In the Philippines, Scorpion also did excellent opening weekend business, grossing $0.23 million on 76 playdates, matching the ticket sales for past blockbusters like Jurassic Park III and Tomb Raider.
In Hong Kong, Scorpion grossed an excellent $0.36 million on 38 playdates, equaling the openings for The Mummy and Tomb Raider.
A Beautiful Mind continued to hold very well in the Top 5 in several countries. In Argentina, Mind tied for first place in its ninth week with $35,000 (-17%) on 51 playdates.
In Brazil, it ranked fifth in its tenth week with $0.11 million (-27%) on 155 playdates.
Mind was fifth in its eighth week in Germany with $0.46 million (-21%) on 389 playdates.
In Mexico, it placed fifth in its eighth week with $0.14 million (-24%) on 153 playdates.
Ali G Is in Da House, Universal's latest film from Working Title, was ninth in its fifth week, grossing $0.32 million (-38%) on 282 playdates. In 29 days, Ali G has grossed $13.6 million.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $99.1 million, up about 27.42 percent from last year when they totaled $77.78 million.
Key films this weekend were up about 9.27 percent from the previous weekend of this year's total of $90.7 million.
Last year, Miramax and Universal's second week of Bridget Jones's Diary was first with $10.2 million at 2,221 theaters ($4,585 per theater); and Dimension Films' fourth week of Spy Kids was second with $10.1 million at 3,191 theaters ($3,156 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $20.3 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $47.3 million.