Sift through comments on franchise sequel announcements and you'll find many crying afoul to Hollywood's insistence of resurfacing every last brand in their bank of titles. The desire for original content is reasonable but occasionally a cinematic follow-up does have the potential to be rich and rewarding. Revisiting characters who've seen time pass in their own lives is worthy of exploration — Peter Bogdanovich's Texasville Richard Linklater's Before Sunset and even A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas prove that theory. American Reunion reaches for that same dramatic arc reentering the lives of its core cast eight years after American Wedding. But instead of mixing comedy with any weighty issues the movie only tickles the nostalgia bone (and without f**king one pie in the process) — a hurdle that keeps American Reunion from being nearly as riotous as the original.
Life hits a wall for Jim (Jason Biggs) in 2012. He's a happily married man a father and a moderately successful employee of a faceless company. But after catching his wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) enjoying the company of a shower head it dawns on Jim that he's in need of a shake-up. Perfect timing: Jim packs up the family and heads to his hometown for his 13th high school reunion (sure why not) where he reunites with the old gang: Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) currently whipped into submission by his girlfriend Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) back from a trip around the world Oz (Chris Klein) now a superstar sportscaster fresh off a celebrity dance show stint and Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott) a law firm temp who continues to turn women into his own personal squeeze toys. The high school buddies devolve quickly into their old habits alcoholic antics and potty-mouthed rants by the red solo cupful. Good fun for Jim no fun for Michelle.
Instead of digging deep into its well-founded characters (which I swear is allowed in a raunchy R-rated comedy) American Reunion sticks to the familiar goofball scenarios of its predecessors. Which is passable because the core group who stuck through all three movies — Biggs Nicholas Thomas and Scott — make poop-infused pranks and slapstick shtick like a scene in which Jim and co. must get a drunken naked eighteen-year-old back into her parents' house without looking like total creepsters highly entertaining. Scott once again proves him an underused comedic talent making Stifler one of the few characters who can rattle off colorful cuss words while showing a glimmer of humanity. Same goes for Eugene Levy as Jim's Dad who finds his role beefed up now that he's once again single. Grieving for years over his wife's death Jim helps his advice-dealing pop hit the dating scene and Levy spins gold out of the silliest of situations.
The problem with American Reunion is everyone else. Chris Klein never clicks with the rest of the group (that's what he gets for skipping out on Jim's wedding) while the rest of the ensemble feel ham-fisted for cameo purposes rather than complimenting the storyline. Tara Reid and Mena Suvari return to the franchise to stand around and react to the ineptitude of their male counterparts. Natasha Lyonne is in and out faster than Jim's first time. Other brief character appearances are like bigfoot sightings. The idea of bringing the entire cast of the original back for more seems perfect but without proper pacing from writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay) there's never a moment to enjoy it.
American Reunion is a flaccid entry servicing fans while coming through with enough laugh out loud moments to make one scream (In one scene Jim takes a page out of Michael Fassbender's Shame that will elicit audible reactions). If these were fresh characters we'd brush it off — but at the film's core is a lovable familiar bunch of knuckleheads that can't be ignored. And if Stifler wants to party you party.
Despite what the trailer might have you believe In the Land of Women isn't exactly a sweet sigh-inducing romance. Yes main character Carter Webb (Adam Brody)--a slightly snarky screenwriter who makes his living writing soft-core porn--leaves Hollywood for Michigan to get over a hard break-up by taking care of his aging tart-tongued grandmother (Olympia Dukakis). And yes he subsequently ends up getting entangled with angsty blond teenager Lucy Hardwicke (Kristen Stewart) and her lonely mom Sarah (Meg Ryan). But the trio's tenuous relationships are complicated by confusion resentment illness and misunderstanding all of which add up to a situation that's hardly straightforward--and frankly not all that romantic either. Brody is no stranger to playing sarcastic pop culture-savvy Southern Californians: After four seasons on The O.C. as Seth Cohen he's got the type down pat. As Carter he balances wry quips with a nice dose of empathy--you can tell that he truly cares about both Lucy and Sarah (not to mention his grandma as crusty as she is). But to be honest it's a little hard to see why. Stewart plays Lucy with a shy sullenness that's not very endearing--she gets a little more animated toward the end but it's too little too late--and Ryan's trademark perkiness has worn thin. She gives Sarah's dramatic scenes her best shot but the character's confusion and pain don't seem at home on her unnaturally tight face. Dukakis gets in a few zingers as Grandma Phyllis but the character is essentially one-note--as is Lucy's sister Paige (Makenzie Vega) who swiftly goes from "cutely precocious" to "awkward yapping." In many ways Paige seems like a character lifted out of the John Hughes playbook which isn't that surprising given Carter's fascination with the '80s director's oeuvre--and the movie's Hughes-ian high school subplot. Unfortunately the "classic" high school movie scenes (the party Lucy takes Carter to their movie outing at the mall her dawning realization at the end etc.) while fun for folks who grew up watching the movies they're obviously inspired by have a light tone that's jarring compared to the rest of the film's drama. When it comes down to it Carter--who's looking for a reason to stop drifting through life--has a lot more in common with Garden State's Andrew Largeman than Hughes heroes like Ferris Bueller and John Bender. Trying to squeeze him into a teen-centric story rather than focusing on helping him grow up doesn't do him--or the movie--any favors.
The box office took its typical post-Thanksgiving weekend plunge. Die Another Day showed the best signs of life, regaining first place with a modest $13 million in ticket sales.
Analyze That opened without mobs of moviegoers, placing second with $11.3 million.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tumbled from first to third place with $10 million.
Empire arrived to an encouraging $6.3 million.
Treasure Planet finished fifth with a lean $5.7 million.
The weekend's biggest success story was Columbia and Intermedia Films' platform release of Spike Jonze's unconventional comedy Adaptation. In its opening weekend at 7 theaters, Adaptation grossed a sizzling $400,000, averaging $57,143 per theater. (For details and comments by Columbia distribution president Rory Bruer please see OTHER OPENINGS below.)
Key films grossed $77.4 million, down nearly 6 percent from this weekend last year when they did $82.2 million.
THE TOP TEN
(NOTE: Today's percentage variations are calculated against grosses for the three day Friday-Sunday portion of the five day Thanksgiving holiday period.)
MGM and United Artists' PG-13 rated James Bond thriller Die Another Day recaptured first place from Harry Potter in its third week with an ESTIMATED $13.0 million (-58%) at 3,347 theaters (+23 theaters; $3,884 per theater). Its cume is approximately $120.4 million, heading for $165-175 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Lee Tamahori and produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, it stars Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry.
The last Bond film, The World Is Not Enough, opened Nov. 19-21, 1999 to $35.52 million and went on to gross $126.9 million in domestic theaters and $225.1 million in international theaters for a worldwide total of $352 million.
"It's amazing. Three weeks (in first place) in a row. We haven't had that in a very long time," MGM senior vice president, publicity Eric Kops said Sunday morning.
Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment's R rated comedy sequel Analyze That kicked off quietly in second place to an ESTIMATED $11.3 million at 2,635 theaters ($4,288 per theater).
Directed by Harold Ramis, it stars Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal and Lisa Kudrow.
Analyze's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in over 1,000 theaters this weekend.
The series' original film, Analyze This, opened to $18.4 million the weekend of Mar. 5-7, 1999 at 2,518 theaters ($7,301 per theater). It wound up grossing $106.7 million in domestic theaters.
"Our exits are good. People had a lot of laughs," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "The picture plays very well. It's a good audience pleaser. And we're hoping that we will be able to continue that and play well through the holidays."
Warner Bros.' PG rated sequel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets slid two pegs to third place in its fourth week with a calm ESTIMATED $10.02 million (-69%) at 3,387 theaters (-295 theaters; $2,958 per theater). Its cume is approximately $213.9 million.
Directed by Chris Columbus, it stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson.
"I think we're heading for $275 million (in domestic theaters)," Warner Bros.' Dan Fellman said.
Focusing on the big drops seen across the board this weekend versus last weekend, Fellman pointed out, "Last Friday night is the biggest day of the year (for moviegoing). People are off (starting) Wednesday afternoon. You have Thanksgiving on Thursday. Families are busy. Friday is like a Saturday because nobody works Thursday. Movies are a little soft on Thursday and them BOOM! That's the biggest day (of the holiday weekend). It's bigger than Saturday. So you have this huge gross on Friday. The following week you're coming in off of a work day on Friday."
Arenas Entertainment and Universal's R rated urban action film Empire arrived in fourth place to a solid ESTIMATED $6.27 million at 867 theaters ($7,235 per theater).
Written and directed by Franc Reyes, it stars John Leguizamo, Peter Sarsgaard and Denise Richards.
"We're very excited because this is a film that we acquired for around $650,000," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "It's the first venture with our partners the Arenas Group. We acquired the film for them. This fantastic opening is indicative of how we targeted the release date without attempting to compete with the high profile films (in the marketplace).
"867 playdates is not the norm for an urban action film, but we were very selective in how we distributed the film. We didn't attempt to compete with the more mainstream fare this weekend and that's evidenced by the choice of the (release) date and the marketing campaign."
Arenas, Rocco explained, "chose Empire as its first release because it's a commercial genre film. They deserve the credit for recognizing the talent of Franc Reyes, who directed and wrote Empire. The Arenas partnership is one that we plan to cultivate for a long time to come. There are plans to release all different kinds of films, which we're very excited about, particularly because they're going to showcase Latino talent for a Latino audience. They've assisted us in marketing this film because they're experts in marketing to the Latino audience. This is a hugely successful launch and I think strategically the results are exceptional."
Rocco also applauded Leguizamo's efforts to promote Empire, noting that he "worked very hard on the film and supported the film tremendously. He literally did interviews (with) every radio, TV and print outlet in every major Hispanic market. I think the results speak for themselves."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated sci-fi adventure Treasure Planet dropped one orbit to fifth place in its second week with a slow ESTIMATED $5.7 million (-53%) at 3,227 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,754 per theater). Its cume is approximately $23.8 million.
Directed by John Musker & Ron Clements, its screenplay is by Ron Clements & John Musker.
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated comedy sequel Santa Clause 2 fell three rungs to sixth place in its sixth week, with a still funny ESTIMATED $5.4 million (-55%) at 2,356 theaters (-170 theaters; $2,296 per theater). Its cume is approximately $120.2 million, heading for $140 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Michael Lembeck, it stars Tim Allen.
Columbia's PG-13 rated animated musical Adam Sandler's 8 Crazy Nights dropped two slots to seventh place in its second week with a less funny ESTIMATED $5.2 million (-45%) at 2,503 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,078 per theater). Its cume is approximately $20.4 million.
Directed by Seth Kearsley, it was produced by Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo and Allen Covert.
New Line Cinema's R rated comedy sequel Friday After Next slid two slots to eighth place in its third week with a slow ESTIMATED $2.8 million (-62%) at 1,450 theaters (-171 theaters; $1,931 per theater). Its cume is approximately $29.1 million.
Directed by Marcus Raboy, it stars Ice Cube and Mike Epps.
Universal and Imagine Entertainment's R rated drama 8 Mile fell one peg to ninth place in its fifth week with an okay ESTIMATED $2.61 million (-55%) at 2,015 theaters (-483 theaters; $1,295 per theater). Its cume is approximately $111.2 million, heading for $125 million.
Directed by Curtis Hanson and produced by Brian Grazer, it stars Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy and Mekhi Phifer.
Rounding out the Top Ten was DreamWorks' PG-13 rated horror thriller The Ring, down one rung in its eighth week with an uneventful ESTIMATED $2.5 million (-52%) at 1,642 theaters (-270 theaters; $1,537 per theater). Its cume is approximately $123.3 million, heading for $130 million.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, it stars Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson and Brian Cox.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Dimension Films' R rated sci-fi thriller Equilibrium to a soft ESTIMATED $0.53 million at 301 theaters ($1,754 per theater).
Written and directed by Kurt Wimmer, it stars Christian Bale, Emily Watson, Taye Diggs and Angus MacFadyen.
Columbia and Intermedia Films' R rated unconventional comedy Adaptation kicked off to a spectacular ESTIMATED $0.4 million at 7 theaters ($57,143 per theater) -- three in New York, three in Los Angeles and one in Toronto.
Directed by Spike Jonze, it stars Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper.
"It's terrific," Columbia distribution president Rory Bruer said Sunday morning. "The reviews are so good. We had near sell-out business everywhere. The Grove (multiplex in L.A.) was wild this weekend. Just jam-packed -- not a seat to be had. And they really seemed to like the picture a lot."
Looking ahead, Bruer said, "On Dec. 20 we'll broaden to some of the top cities, probably somewhere around 100 locations and then broaden some more on Jan. 10 to around 600 (theaters).
Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures held about 875 well attended sneak previews Saturday of their PG-13 rated romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan.
Directed by Wayne Wang, Maid stars Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes.
"We had these great sneaks," Columbia's Rory Bruer said. "We had 875 theaters, so it was about double of what we had last week (for Friday's sneaks). They were 95 percent full. Many were sold out. It just seems to be such a terrific romantic comedy for the season. It feels really good. It opens Friday (Dec. 13) at around 2,600 theaters."
Touchstone Pictures held sneak previews Friday night of its PG-13 rated comedy The Hot Chick. No details were available from Disney Sunday morning.
Directed by Tom Brady, it stars Rob Schneider.
Chick opens wide this Friday (Dec. 13).
On the expansion front this weekend Samuel Goldwyn Films' R rated drama El Crimen del Padre Amaro went wider in is fourth week to a still hopeful ESTIMATED $0.4 million at 122 theaters (+14 theaters; $3,230 per theater). Its cume is approximately $3.1 million.
Directed by Carlos Carrera, it stars Gael Garcia Bernal and is the official Mexican entry in this year's best foreign language film Oscar race.
Miramax's R rated drama Ararat widened in its fourth week with a dull ESTIMATED $0.14 million at 42 theaters (+9 theaters; $3,405 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.2 million.
Written and directed by Atom Egoyan, it stars David Alpay, Charles Aznavour, Eric Bogosian, Brent Carver and Marie-Josee Croze.
United Artists' R rated drama Personal Velocity, released via MGM, added theaters in its third week with a still encouraging ESTIMATED $92,000 at 20 theaters (+15 theaters; $4,595 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.2 million.
Directed by Rebecca Miller, it stars Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Fairuza Balk. Velocity won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $77.4 million this weekend, down about 5.83 percent from last year when they totaled $82.19 million.
Comparisons to last weekend of this year are not valid because last weekend was a holiday weekend.
Last year, Warner Bros.' opening week of Ocean's Eleven was first with $38.11 million at 3,075 theaters ($12,393 per theater); and Warner Bros.' fourth week of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was second with $14.74 million at 3,672 theaters ($4,014 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $52.8 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $24.3 million.