The best way to go into Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is to think of it as the first film in a brand new franchise; a franchise in which mermaids love men zombies won’t eat you and a Fountain of Youth exists but all laws of logic reasoning and competent storytelling don’t. Although screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were smart enough to sever the narrative ties to the first two sequels in their franchise’s fourth outing the latest swashbuckling adventure in the series shares most of the same faults its predecessors faced.
Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) steps in for Gore Verbinski in On Stranger Tides but you’ll be hard-pressed to find his contributions to the already-flashy film that finds our hero Capt. Jack Sparrow (the inimitable Johnny Depp) on the hunt for the fore mentioned fountain. Of course he’s not the only one looking for eternal life: also in tow are nameless stereotypical Spaniards the English crown headed by a reformed Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Blackbeard a ruthless pirate who looks and sounds a lot like Ian McShane. Their paths cross on numerous occasions as the story scrambles across the map culminating in a splashy battle in a magical meadow where Ponce de Leon’s greatest discovery lies.
Less a cohesive story and more a collection of individual set pieces linked together by nonsensical dialogue and supernatural occurrences the film isn’t all that hard to follow if you don’t strain yourself doing so. The sequence of events collide so conveniently for the characters you can’t help but call the screenplay anything but the result of complacency while the film itself sails so swiftly from point to point it’s actually a waste of time to dwell on plot holes and motives. Disrupting its momentum (which is one of the few things the film has going for it) is an unwatchable romance between Sam Claflin’s missionary Philip and Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) one of a handful of murderous mermaids who do battle with Blackbeard’s crew. Their bland courtship will have you begging for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley to return to the high seas and that’s saying something.
The all-female fish people are one of a few additions to the Pirates world but their effect on the film is negligible outside of being the impetus for the coolest action sequence in the picture and perhaps the most unnerving of the series. The others include Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard’s busty daughter Angelica and Stephen Graham as shipmate Scrum. The former feels out of place among the cartoony happenings but provides much needed sass while the latter fills in for Kevin McNally’s Gibbs for much of the film and is a pleasure to watch for some hammy comedic moments.
As always however this is Depp’s show and he continues to put a smile on my face with his charisma and theatrical presence. Even though he’s operating on autopilot throughout you can’t help but marvel at his energy and enthusiastic output as he literally fuels the fun in the film. The same can be said of Rush who’s given a meatier and more significant arc this time around. He trades quips with Depp as if they were a golden-age comedy duo and they remain the most appealing attraction in the franchise. Though he brings an undeniable sense of danger to the picture I was sadly underwhelmed by McShane’s Blackbeard a character with such a domineering reputation and imposing look he should’ve been stealing scenes left and right. Instead I felt he phoned his performance in though that could’ve been the result of Marshall’s indirection.
No better than the genre-bending original but a slight improvement over Dead Man’s Chest and At Worlds End On Stranger Tides suffers centrally from lack of a commanding captain. Marshall’s role is relegated to merely on-set facilitator or perhaps liaison between legions of talented craftspeople that make the movie look so good. Whatever vision he had for this venture if he had a unique take at all is chewed up and spit out by the engines of the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster factory rendering the film as mechanical as the ride from which it is based.
Richard Riddick (Vin Diesel) has a really bad rep and with good reason: Five years ago convicted killer Riddick escaped the galaxy's law enforcement during a botched interplanetary prison transfer and has been on the lam ever since. As The Chronicles of Riddick picks up our antagonist finds his relative freedom has been compromised when mercenaries out for the $1 million bounty on his head discover his location and hunt him down. Riddick escapes their clutches steals their ship and sets off for Planet Helion to find Imam (Keith David) the Muslim cleric he rescued in Pitch Black and the only person who could have squealed his location to authorities. But while Riddick's hunch about Imam are correct the cleric has a reason for luring the mammoth murderer out of hiding: Helion is falling to unholy armies of Necromongers--warriors who conquer by force in the vein of Star Trek's Borg. Of course Riddick doesn't give a damn about the Helions or their plight--until he gets wind that the Necromogers want to kill him because of an old prophecy that foresees their end at Riddick's hands. Like it or not Riddick is left with no other choice but to battle the Necromongers.
The character of Riddick is unquestionably what made Pitch Black one of the most sequel-worthy sci-fi films in years. And Riddick would not have been one of sci-fi's most intoxicating characters if it weren't for Diesel. Like his Dominic Toretto in the 2001 actioner The Fast and the Furious Riddick is a villain of few words but when he speaks his carefully chosen words have impact--even if the dialogue is at times overly theatrical. Riddick is the perfect antihero; a cold-blooded and indifferent being who somehow evokes more compassion than the film's so-called good guys. Joining Riddick are some recurring characters including David as Imam but Riddick benefits the most from the addition of some new characters particularly Colm Feore as Lord Marshal the Necromonger leader whose goal is to rid the universe of all human life. Feore channeling nuggets of Julius Caesar into his role makes for one of Riddick's most thrilling foes. Another prominent addition to the cast is Judi Dench who has a surprisingly small role as Aereon an Elemental captured by the Necromongers and used for her special powers including ESP.
Writer/director David Twohy took his horror pic Pitch Black which gained a cult following since it was released four years ago and managed to successfully turn it into an sci-fi actioner of epic proportions. Everything is grander here which is almost a given considering Twohy shot Pitch Black on a dime in Australia using colored filters. In Riddick the director distinguishes the film's different environments--the Necros' mothership Crematoria's cavernous prison and Helion--using warm to cool tones that are dazzling yet more subtle than its predecessor. The CGI effects get a little gamey at times but production designer Holger Gross' gargantuan sets are impressive and help craft Twohy's otherworldly vision into a plausible one. And although Twohy jumps genres from Pitch Black to its sequel his storyline evolves logically from the original premise. But while moviegoers unfamiliar with Pitch Black will be able to follow the story easily enough they may have a difficult time grasping what makes Riddick such a big deal; the film explains the legend but never fully captures its quintessence. This could hurt Riddick's chances to broaden its Pitch Black fan base.
Hollywood delivered a one-two box office punch this weekend with big openings targeted to adult and family audiences.
Minority Report reported the majority of moviegoer votes, claiming first place with $36.9 million. Lilo & Stitch, which out-grossed Minority on Friday, wound up second with livelier than expected ticket sales of $35.8 million.
Insiders had projected only an $18-20 million launch for Lilo. Minority fell into the $30-40 million range that Hollywood handicappers had anticipated, although some had gone out on a limb speculating about a $50 million kickoff.
With stiff competition on two key demographic fronts, all three Top Five holdovers suffered big drops. Scooby-Doo slid 55 percent to third place with $24.4 million. The Bourne Identity fell 46 percent to fourth place with $14.8 million. The Sum Of All Fears skidded 41 percent to fifth place with $7.9 million.
Driven mostly by Minority and Lilo, ticket sales were up nearly 16 percent from this weekend last year. Key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more -- took in $159.4 million versus last year's $137.7 million.
THE TOP TEN
20th Century Fox's opening of its and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated sci-fi fantasy thriller Minority Report took first place with a hot ESTIMATED $36.9 million at 3,001 theaters ($12,296 per theater).
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Tom Cruise.
Minority's average per theater was the highest for any film playing this weekend.
"We had terrific results in big cities, urban and suburban (and in) sophisticated (markets)," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning. "The audience breakdown was 52 percent male, 64 percent 25 and over. (It had) great scores all around, especially from the younger folks even though they weren't there in the bigger numbers. But they actually had the better scores. So that bodes well for the future."
Focusing on the weekend day by day, Snyder noted, "We had a decent bump from Friday to Saturday. It seemed to be a little bit soft in the bump there for all movies. But we were up 13 percent. I've got $11.9 million for Friday and $13.4 million for Saturday -- 13 percent up. And 13 percent down (estimated) for Sunday to $11.6 million."
Minority's reviews, Snyder said, "were spectacular. There's always some negatives in there, but overall across the country it was a really wonderfully reviewed movie."
In Friday's grosses Lilo out performed Minority. "I've got them at $12.5 million on Friday and we were $11.9 million, so they were (ahead)," he said, pointing to the animated hit's strong matinee showings that day. "Lilo & Stitch's average was $4,000 for the matinees on Friday. Our average was $2,325. When they ended up having the same basic average when day was done, what it tells you is that they had the possibility to crank all day long with a much shorter movie. We have a two hour and 22 minute movie and ended up with one main show at night."
Is Minority's length a drag on its grossing potential? "It's a slight one," Snyder replied, "especially with a movie that kind of plays adult. Eventually we will get more and more teens, but (right now) we're not getting those 15 year olds that will be in there at 11 o'clock. So you really get that one main show. And it's a long show, so your eight o'clock show is your main show and that's what you've really got to work off of.
"Saturday you can get two shows, but Friday's a one show (day). I think that's how the grosses end up as they are. They cranked all day long, had a short movie and probably had five great matinees and we were working off really one main show at night."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated family appeal feature Lilo & Stitch arrived to much better numbers than expected, placing second with a colorful ESTIMATED $35.8 million at 3,191 theaters ($11,218 per theater).
Written and directed by Chris Sanders, it was produced by Clark Spencer. Its original score is by Alan Silvestri.
"We are thrilled," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "We never anticipated coming in in first place (but) I truly believe that's where we're at. In our hearts, we truly believe we're number one. We will speak as though we're number one."
Whatever Lilo's ranking for the weekend, Viane said, "The amazement here is that this is the second best opening in June on an animated film we've ever had -- second only to The Lion King (which opened to $40.9 million the weekend of June 24-26, 1994)."
Focusing on Lilo's terrific numbers, Viane said Disney is, "a very happy place. It's great. It's amazing how this one apparently didn't show up on some people's radars. But obviously the public was out there in masses. I was over at the Promenade (multiplex in L.A.) yesterday and I cannot tell you how many kids walked into the theater with those little Stitch cuddly dolls. It'll be an eminently successful film. I think the directors and the animators and everybody (who worked on the picture) did a magnificent job."
Warner Bros.' PG rated family comedy Scooby-Doo stumbled two steps to third place in its second week with a still sizable ESTIMATED $24.36 million (-55%) at 3,447 theaters (theater count unchanged; $7,067 per theater). Its cume is approximately $101.2 million.
Directed by Raja Gosnell, it stars Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini and Rowan Atkinson.
"It's the first hundred million dollar movie of the year for us," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "$101.195 million in 10 days. We're very thrilled about it. We've announced a sequel (for 2004). We're going to build a franchise on Mr. Doo. Audiences still love this movie. I'm very pleased with that hold considering the $35.8 million that Disney (grossed with Lilo)."
Universal's PG-13 espionage thriller The Bourne Identity starring Matt Damon slid two pegs to fourth place in its second week -- holding respectably given Minority's strong opening -- with an ESTIMATED $14.76 million (-46%)) at 2,643 theaters (+5 theaters; $5,585 per theater). Its cume is approximately $54.1 million, heading for $85 million.
Paramount's PG-13 rated thriller The Sum Of All Fears dipped one notch to fifth place in its fourth week, holding its own in the face of strong competition from Minority with an ESTIMATED $7.9 million (-41%) at 3,039 theaters (-191 theaters; $2,601 per theater). Its cume is approximately $97.4 million, heading for $120 million or more in domestic theaters.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson and produced by Mace Neufeld, it stars Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.
"I think the biggest (film based on a Tom Clancy book) was $122 million. Whether or not it surpasses that is a question mark at this point," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning, noting that Fears was impacted by both Minority and Bourne. "We're very happy with the hold. Obviously, we would have liked to have held better than the 41 percent, but given the level of the competition it's a good hold."
MGM's R rated World War II drama Windtalkers retreated three trenches to sixth place in its second week with a wounded ESTIMATED $6.7 million (-54%) at 2,898 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,312 per theatre). Its cume is approximately $26.7 million.
Directed by John Woo, it stars Nicolas Cage.
Morgan Creek's MPG-13 rated urban appeal basketball theme comedy Juwanna Mann opened in seventh place via Warner Bros. to an unexciting ESTIMATED $6.0 million at 1,325 theaters ($4,528 per theater).
Directed by Jesse Vaughan, it stars Kevin Pollak, Tommy Davidson, Kim Wayans, Ginuwine and Lil' Kim.
"The picture played (best) predominantly in the urban ethnic markets and did little to cross over (into mainstream situations)," Warners' Dan Fellman said.
Warner Bros. and Gaylord Films' PG-13 rated drama Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood fell two slots in its third week to eighth place with a less divine ESTIMATED $5.69 million (-36%) at 2,310 theaters (-197 theaters; $2,461 per theater). Its cume is approximately $46.4 million.
Directed by Callie Khouri, it stars Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan, James Garner, Ashley Judd, Shirley Knight, Angus Macfadyen and Maggie Smith.
"It had the best hold of any of the wide releases, only down 36 percent," Warners' Dan Fellman said. "And with the strong mid-weeks that this picture's getting we'll be past $50 million by the end of the week (and) heading into the $60 millions."
20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm's PG rated franchise installment Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones dropped three rungs to ninth place in its sixth week with a slower ESTIMATED $5.1 million (-46%) at 2,107 theaters (-294 theaters; $2,421 per theater). Its cume is approximately $279.8 million, heading for $300 million in domestic theaters.
Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace took in $431.1 million in domestic theaters. Its worldwide total (domestic plus international) was $923 million.
Directed by George Lucas, it stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Columbia's PG-13 sci-fi fantasy blockbuster Spider-Man, down three pegs in its eighth week with a less energetic ESTIMATED $4.4 million (-41%) at 2,278 theaters (-424 theaters; $1,932 per theater). Its cume is approximately $390.2 million heading for $400 million-plus in domestic theaters.
Directed by Sam Raimi, it stars Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Sony Pictures Classics' PG-13 drama Sunshine State to a sunny ESTIMATED $92,000 at 10 theaters ($9,202 per theater).
Written, directed and edited by John Sayles, it stars Jane Alexander, Angela Bassett, Gordon Clapp, Edie Falco, Miguel Ferrer, Timothy Hutton, James McDaniel and Mary Steenburgen.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend IFC Films' PG rated romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding added a few more theaters in its 10th week with a still impressive ESTIMATED $1.7 million (-1%) at 459 theaters (+4 theaters; $3,785 per theater). Its cume is approximately $16.3 million.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Miramax's PG rated comedy The Importance Of Being Earnest expanded in its fifth week to an uninteresting ESTIMATED $0.5 million (-18%) at 201 theaters (+21 theaters; $2,487 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.2 million.
Directed by Oliver Parker, it stars Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson.
Think Film's R rated dark comedy The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys went wider in its second week with an uneventful ESTIMATED $0.2 million at 76 theaters (+67 theaters; $2,510 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.3 million.
Directed by Peter Care, it stars Kieran Culkin.
Miramax's R rated classic drama Cinema Paradiso: The New Version added theaters quietly in its second week with an ESTIMATED $28,000 at 7 theaters (+4 theaters; $4,000 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67,000.
Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, it stars Philippe Noiret.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $159.42 million, up 15.74 percent from last year when they totaled $137.74 million.
Key films were down about 1.00 percent from the previous weekend of this year when they grossed $161.01 million.
Last year, Universal's opening week of The Fast and the Furious was first with $40.09 million at 2,628 theaters ($15,255 per theater); and 20th Century Fox's opening week of Dr. Dolittle 2 was second with $25.04 million at 3,049 theaters ($8,212 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $65.1 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $72.7 million.