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.
Samuel L. Jackson’s “scare tactics” in Lakeview Terrace (Sony) have put this Neil LaBute-directed thriller at the top of the box office heap for the three-day weekend. The racially-charged, crooked-cop yarn sold an estimated $4.7M in tickets on Friday, and it should finish the weekend with $13.5M or so.
For Jackson, Lakeview Terrace doesn’t even crack his top 15 openings, settling for a number on par with 2006’s Snakes on a Plane ($13.8M), but it is easily LaBute’s all-time biggest opening, surpassing his dreadful remake of The Wicker Man ($9.6M). The playwright-turned-director became friends with budding superstar Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) while attending BYU, and the square-jawed actor starred in LaBute’s first 2 features--Sundance winner In the Company of Men ($2.8M cume) and Your Friends and Neighbors ($4.7M). Unfortunately, he has drifted from edgy, cynical arthouse fare to lesser commercial projects as evidenced by the 43 percent Fresh score for Lakeview Terrace on Rotten Tomatoes (still better than the 15 percent Fresh registered by The Wicker Man).
The weekend’s No. 1 movie also stars Patrick Wilson, a Golden Globe nominee for HBO’s Angels in America and the star of Todd Field’s excellent Little Children. Lakeview Terrace is by far his most commercial film, and, with Passengers (Sony) and Valkyrie (MGM/UA) due by the end of the year and Zack Snyder’s hyper-buzzed Watchmen (Warner Bros) set for March, it is probably just a next step to super-stardom.
The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading (Focus) is solidly at No. 2 for Friday with an estimated $3.42M. That should translate to an excellent $11.3M, down just 41 percent from opening weekend. By Monday the goofball spy comedy will have banked $36.4M making it the all-time third-best grossing movie from Joel and Ethan Coen, trailing only last year’s Oscar winner No Country For Old Men ($74.2M cume) and The Ladykillers ($39.8M).
Having the most MySpace friends apparently doesn’t make you a sure-thing at the box office. Dane Cook, the stand-up comic-turned-actor who built his career, in part, on the social networking site MySpace, has flopped in the new Lionsgate comedy My Best Friend's Girl. The movie, also starring Kate Hudson, scrounged up just $2.85M in opening day ticket sales on its way to a likely three-day of just $7.7M.
Industry tracking seemed to suggest $10M+ for this R-rated comedy, but instead the movie is a step backwards for Cook’s big screen career. My Best Friend's Girl is only the comic’s fifth-best opening as a lead, behind Good Luck Chuck ($13.6M), Dan in Real Life ($11.8M), Employee of the Month ($11.4M) and Mr. Brooks ($10M). This movie is comparable to his first film vehicle Waiting ($6M opening), and it is hard to see how this one will push past $20M domestic.
Holdovers Righteous Kill (Overture) and Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys (Lionsgate) are neck-and-neck for the day with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro holding the edge $2.34M-$2.2M. Perry’s film will play stronger with families on Saturday and Sunday, however, so The Family That Preys will likely finish No. 4 with $7.59M compared to $7.2M for Kill.
Two other new wide releases have opened very softly. MGM’s animated Igor managed $1.9M on Friday, and it will likely finish sixth with a disappointing $6.8M. Meanwhile, Ghost Town (Dreamworks/Paramount) from Steven Spielberg pal David Koepp and starring Ricky Gervais (HBO’s Extras) generated just $1.65M in Friday sales, and it is headed for an opening weekend of only $5.5M.
On the specialty front, there is very good news for The Duchess (Paramount Vantage), which debuted at seven locations. With Oscar nominees Keira Knightley (Atonement) and Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient) on the marquee, this period costume drama delivered an impressive $62,000 on Friday for a $9,000 Per Theatre Average. The film should wrap the weekend with a $30,000 PTA as it sets up for its platform release.
EARLY THREE-DAY ESTIMATES
1. NEW - Lakeview Terrace (Sony) - $13.5M, $5,479 PTA, $13.5M cume
2. Burn After Reading (Focus) - $11.3M, $4,253 PTA, $36.4M cume
3. NEW - My Best Friend's Girl (Lionsgate) - $7.7M, $2,957 PTA, $7.7M cume
4. Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys (Lionsgate) - $7.59M, $3,667 PTA, $28.44M cume
5. Righteous Kill (Overture) - $7.2M, $2,284 PTA, $28.3M cume
6. NEW - Igor (MGM) - $6.8M, $2,907 PTA, $6.8M cume
7. The Women (Picturehouse) - $5.61M, $1,876 PTA, $19.52M cume
8. NEW - Ghost Town (Dreamworks/Paramount) - $5.5M, $3,654 PTA, $5.5M cume
9. The House Bunny (Sony) - $3.29M, $1,232 PTA, $46.22M cume
10. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros) - $3.14M, $1,651 PTA, $522.11M cume
Lakeview Terrace pushes a lot of racial buttons in a melodramatic but gripping story of a young interracial couple--Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington)--who move into beautiful new suburban house in a hilly neighborhood of Southern California. Trouble starts when the self-appointed lord of the street an uptight veteran LAPD officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) turns an unkind suspicious eye toward his new neighbors. As if his relentless patrols up and down the block weren’t bad enough he aims his super bright light right into their bedroom all night long. When he catches his kids spying on the couple as they make love in their pool his rage against the pair increases and tensions ratchet up--not helped by a major brush fire threatening homes in the near-distance. Everyone’s patience meets a boiling point as the marriage encounters troubles and Abel’s flash-point temper gets him into hot water on his job. As the fires burn closer the not-so-neighborly conflict careens out of control. The incomparable Jackson is riveting to watch even if this pretty straightforward role of a controlling racist cop doesn’t pose one of the bigger acting challenges of his career. As Abel Jackson simply commands our attention every moment he is on screen and dominates the proceedings like few actors can. You feel his simmering anger and prejudices although until the final moments there isn’t a whole lot of back story to add dimension or complexity to the character. He seems to be what he is with no logical reason for targeting the nice young couple next door. Essentially this is really a three-character piece which--save for a few scenes of Jackson at the station or on patrol--is concentrated solely in the cul-de-sac. Making up the other two parts of this triangle Wilson and Washington are quite believable both slow to burn until given no other choice. Wilson is treading on territory he explored in Little Children and is quite effective as you conjure up memories of the young Paul Newman whom Wilson uncannily resembles especially when shooting pool. Washington continues to show the great promise she displayed in Ray and holds her own in this company. Playwright screenwriter and director Neil LaBute is known for creating tough characters (usually men) and cynical scenarios in his work so it’s easy to see why he might have been attracted to this material written by David Loughery and Howard Korder. His direction is so tight and even claustrophobic at times making the film feel like it could have been designed for a theatrical production--an area in which LaBute is well versed. The power of the piece comes from the combustible interaction between the three main actors and the pitch perfect pacing lets the action peak at just the right moments. By slowly building this house of dominoes LaBute knows just the precise moment to go for the jugular and knock them all down. In other hands it all could have been too much but the director nicely reins things in before unleashing the real fury simmering beneath the surface of this engrossing adult drama.