Green Zone is a story we’ve already heard shot in a manner we’ve already seen and starring Matt Damon in a role he’s already played. Remember those WMDs that were never found in Iraq and later exposed to be the invention of a dubious and poorly-vetted informant? Remember the misguided and hideously botched attempt at establishing democracy after the fall of Saddam and the violent prolonged insurgency that ensued? If you’ve been away from the television for the past hour and somehow managed to forget any of these details Green Zone is here to remind you.
Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller an Army weapons inspector whose frustration over repeatedly coming up empty in his search for Iraqi WMDs leads him on a quest to track down and expose the people responsible for leading him (and us) down that infamously bogus path. Though his hand-to-hand skills are a notch below Jason Bourne’s Miller’s single-mindedness moral certainty and permanent expression of square-jawed defiance — always threatening another “How do you like them apples?” rebuke — in the face of an insidious multi-level government conspiracy are essentially equivalent to those of Damon’s Bourne trilogy soulmate.
And like Bourne his most dangerous adversary isn’t found on the battlefront but rather within the government he once served so proudly. As Miller delves ever deeper into the Case of the Faulty WMD Intelligence Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) the duplicitous arrogant Defense Department bureaucrat in charge of U.S. operations in Iraq summarily relieves him of his post. (Hint: the better dressed a Green Zone character is the more sinister his ambitions.) But Miller remains undeterred and he goes rogue to locate the CIA informant “Magellan ” a formerly high-ranking Iraqi official whose supposed confirmation of Saddam’s nuclear ambitions served as the basis for U.S. invasion.
We know how the story ends. Green Zone’s pervasive overarching sense of deja vu is accentuated by director — and veteran Bourne helmer — Paul Greengrass who employs the trademark hand-held super-shakycam style which was so fresh and inventive in 2004 but now feels stale and predictable. (Admittedly my aversion to Greengrass’ approach was no doubt heightened by a previous night’s viewing of Roman Polanski’s excellent The Ghost Writer a political thriller as subtle and precise and finely tuned as Green Zone is ham-fisted and haphazard — and which also uses the phantom WMD controversy to far greater narrative effect.)
Green Zone culminates in essentially a violent footrace between Miller and the Army Special Forces as they scour a heavily-armed insurgent stronghold to find Magellan with Miller hoping to secure his potentially damning testimony before the Army can silence him for good. The climactic sequence for all I could tell was either shot in Damon’s backyard culled from Bourne trilogy deleted scenes or assembled from scattered YouTube clips. This punishingly chaotic often incoherent and ultimately exhausting approach to storytelling isn’t cinema verite; it’s dementia pugilistica.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
The numbers are in and Something's Gotta Give gave the competition a run for its money this weekend as the Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton romantic comedy claimed the No. 1 spot at the box office with $17 million.* The film's box office victory makes it the ninth No. 1 opening for Sony Pictures this year--the most of any distributor in 2003.
Something's Gotta Give also hacked last week's box office champ The Last Samurai, which dropped to second place with $14 million, and the new comedies Stuck on You, which debuted in third place with $10 million, and Love Don't Cost a Thing, which kicked off in fourth place with $6.5 million.
Eddie Murphy's holiday fright flick The Haunted Mansion rounded out the Top Five with $6.3 million in its third week of release.
Although Something's Gotta Give didn't rake in as much as Nicholson's comedy Anger Management, which opened in April to the tune of $42.2 million, it debuted slightly stronger than the actor's 1997 romantic comedy As Good As It Gets, which took in $12.6 million in its first weekend.
Sony Pictures' head of distribution Jeff Blake told The Associated Press Sunday that although Something's Gotta Give is targeted at older adults, it scored well among younger crowds, with viewers under 30 accounting for a third of the audience.
"For the holidays, this is the perfect piece of entertainment, especially in a market that for the most part has had either children's films or darker-themed adult films out there," Blake said. "This is funny, well-written, and we think [it] works for all audiences."
THE TOP TEN
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Something's Gotta Give debuted at No. 1 with an ESTIMATED $17 million at 2,677 theaters. Its $6,350 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this week.
In the film, an older man dating a pretty twenty-something falls in love with her dynamic mother.
Directed by Nancy Meyers, it stars Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet and Frances McDormand.
Warner Bros.' R rated period actioner The Last Samurai, last week's box office topper, dropped to second place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $14 million (-42%) in 2,908 theaters (unchanged; $4,831 per theater average). Its cume is approximately $46.8 million.
Directed by Edward Zwick, it stars Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Tony Goldwyn and Timothy Spall.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated comedy Stuck on You opened in third place with an ESTIMATED $10 million at 3,003 theaters with a $3,330 per theater average.
In the film, conjoined twins discover how difficult it is when one wants to pursue his dream as an actor in Hollywood. But once they become celebrities, they realize it's time for an operation to separate them.
Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, it stars Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Eva Mendes and Cher.
Warner Bros. PG-13 rated teen comedy Love Don't Cost a Thing kicked off in fourth place with $6.5 million at 1,844 with a $3,544 per theater average.
In the film, a remake of the 1987 comedy Can't Buy Me Love, a geek pays the most popular girl in school to be his girlfriend so people will think he's popular.
Directed by Troy Beyer, it stars Nick Cannon, Christina Millian and Steve Harvey.
Buena Vista's PG rated horror comedy The Haunted Mansion dropped two notches to No. 5 in its third week with an ESTIMATED $6.3 million (-33%) at 3,001 theaters (-121 theaters; $2,099 per theater). Its cume is approximately $53.9 million.
Directed by Rob Minkoff, it stars Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason and Jennifer Tilly.
Miramax Films' R rated dark comedy Bad Santa held steady in sixth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $6.2 million (-12%) at 2,540 theaters (+449 theaters; $3,385 per theater). Its cume is approximately $35.9 million.
Directed by Terry Zwigoff, it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Tony Cox and John Ritter.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
New Line Cinema's PG rated holiday comedy Elf fell three spots to seventh in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $6.2 million (-23%) at 2,876 theaters (-243 theaters; $2,156 per theater). Its cume is approximately $147.6 million.
Directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Zooey Deschanel and Mary Steenburgen.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 rated hip-hop drama Honey tumbled six rungs to eighth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $5 million (-60%) in 1,972 theaters (+30 theaters; $2,585 per theater). Its cume is approximately $20 million.
Directed by Bille Woodruff, it stars Jessica Alba, Mekhi Phifer and Lil' Romeo.
Universal Pictures' PG rated live-action comedy Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat, fell from its fifth place perch to ninth position in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $4.1 million (-41%) at 2,955 theaters (-454 theaters, $1,420 per theater). Its cume is approximately $90.7 million.
Directed by Bo Welch, it stars Mike Myers, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Kelly Preston, Alec Baldwin and Sean Hayes.
Warner Bros.' R rated horror thriller Gothika fell three notches to round out the Top 10 in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.7 million (-48%) at 1,806 theaters (-399 theaters; $1,514 per theater). Its cume is approximately $53.9 million.
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, it stars Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Penelope Cruz and Bernard Hill.
Sony's PG-13 rated drama Big Fish debuted in six theaters with an ESTIMATED $215,000 with a $35,833 per theater average.
In the film, a son comes to understand his father through the older man's fantastic stories.
Directed by Tim Burton, it stars Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter and Alison Lohman.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $83 million, down 7.08 percent from last weekend's $89.3 million take and also down 8.1 percent from last year's $90.4 million.
Last year, Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan debuted in first place with $18.7 million at 2,838 theaters ($6,593 per theater); Paramount's PG-13 rated sci-fi sequel Star Trek: Nemesis opened in second place with $18.5 million in 2,711 theaters ($6,829 per theater); and 20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated teen musical Drumline kicked off in third place with $12.6 million in 1,836 theaters ($6,865 per theater).