With its twisty-turning plot and military setting Basic could be the love child of an illicit affair between The Usual Suspects and The General's Daughter; it even borrows the star of the latter. In Basic John Travolta plays Tom Hardy a former Army Ranger and interrogator extraordinaire who's now a DEA agent in Panama suspended from duty on suspicion of bribery. He's hitting the rebellious law enforcement officer's requisite bottle of Jack Daniels heavily--until an old friend on the local army base Col. Bill Styles (Tim Daly) calls him in to investigate the disappearances and probable deaths of an elite group of trainees and their commander Sgt. Nathan West (Samuel L Jackson) during a training session in the Panamanian jungle. Staff investigator Lt. Julia Osbourne (Connie Nielsen) a plucky Southern gal who's none too pleased with Hardy's invasion of her turf is assigned to help Hardy question the unit's surviving members Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi) and Dunbar (Brian Van Holt). As their stories unfold over a series of flashbacks the interrogators discover a military underworld of drugs murder and coercion--and the mysterious existence of a rogue Ranger unit called "Section 8." Now for an interrogation of our own. Is the plot convoluted? Sir yes sir! Is it too tricky for its own good? Sir yes sir! Thank you soldier. You may stand down.
The trigger-finger pointing winking cluck-clucking "gotcha" persona Travolta (Swordfish Domestic Disturbance) creates in Hardy is as appropriate to the story as it can possibly be; the way he manipulates his subjects under interrogation is much the same way the story manipulates its audience. He leads them--and the observant Lt. Osbourne--to believe one thing then pulls the rug out from under them to prove the old cliché of military movies: that nothing is as it seems. In Nielsen's (The Hunted One Hour Photo) Osbourne we're given a character who could lead us through the jungle of the plot (she discovers the "facts" at the same time as the audience so her reaction is meant I suppose to be ours) but since Hardy spends much of his time making her look and feel like an idiot she comes off as one and frankly so do we. The talented Jackson (Changing Lanes) mostly does the bellowing drill sergeant bit while Ribisi (Heaven) as the homosexual son of a high-ranking general talks like he has cotton wool in his mouth and moves and twitches like he's mildly brain-impaired. (His character's not supposed to be; he only got shot in the leg.) One bright spot in this movie is the featured role for hunky Van Holt (Windtalkers Black Hawk Down) whose chiseled good looks and heroic demeanor make him a shoo-in should anyone ever make a live-action Johnny Bravo movie.
Director John McTiernan has given audiences some heavy-duty action in Die Hard Die Hard With a Vengeance and The Hunt for Red October but he's also the director who brought us such gems as Rollerball and Last Action Hero so it's not surprising that in Basic we get some action and intrigue paired with the out-there story stylings and narrative confusion of some of his less successful work. Here each flashback brings new information that conflicts with what we've been told before and the story never really resolves those conflicts in any satisfying way. The "big twist" at the end instead of bringing it all together creates gaping holes in the plot or at least creates so much doubt in the story we've just spent an hour and a half watching that it's easy to get fed up with trying to figure it out. Naturally no one likes to be spoon-fed plot resolutions but in order for twists to work they have to give the audience something to focus its doubt on--they can't just call the whole kit and caboodle into question. We have to be able eventually to figure it out. But hey maybe we aren't supposed to work out the details; after all this movie with its catchy one-word title and colorful cast of characters is just begging for a sequel: Basic 2: Explaining the First Movie.
Looks like people were ready for more Middle-earth action.
As if anyone is truly surprised, the second installment of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy dominated the box office this weekend with its continuing tale about some good-hearted Hobbits who want to destroy an evil Ring, while a bunch of nasty Middle-earth denizens try and stop them.
Over the three-day weekend, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers took in a whopping $61.5 million*, towering over the number two spot captured by the new Sandra Bullock/Hugh Grant film Two Weeks Notice. The romantic comedy only managed to take in about a quarter of The Two Towers' haul at $14.4 million.
Other openers this week included another epic saga, Gangs of New York, which came in fourth with $9.1 million and the animated The Wild Thornberrys Movie, which opened strong at number six with a respectable $6.1 million.
THE TOP TEN
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers opened with an amazing three-day weekend total, ESTIMATED at $61.5 million at 3,6 22 theaters ($16, 980 per theater) and also taking in almost half of the weekend's box office (46.4 percent). Since its Wednesday, Dec. 18, opening, the film has brought in an ESTIMATED $101.5 million in total over five days.
Directed by Peter Jackson, it stars Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom and Liv Tyler.
The middle part to J.R.R. Tolkien's literary fantasy epic clearly surpassed its predecessor by nearly 25 percent. On the same weekend last year, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which also opened on the Wednesday before Christmas, took in $47.2 million in three days. The film went on to pull in $94 million after its first five days, eventually grossing $313 million in North America and about $550 million overseas, according to Variety.
The Two Towers also posted the second highest domestic Wednesday opening ever, with a healthy $26 million, behind 1999's Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace at $28.5 million, according to New Line. Fellowship of the Ring was the previous holder of the December one-day record, opening with $18.2 million.
"We are pleased and astounded," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman told Variety of The Two Towers performance.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Two Weeks Notice opened in second place with an ESTIMATED $14.4 million at 2,755 theaters ($5, 229 per theater).
Directed by Marc Lawrence, it stars Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant.
This romantic comedy about a corporate lawyer's love/hate relationship with her boss is Bullock's second best opening in the last five films she has made. Her best opening was this summer's Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which opened with a strong $16.1 million and went on to gross $69.5 million domestically. Bullock's top film Miss Congeniality opened to the smaller tune of $10 million in December 2000 but grossed $106.8 million domestically, proving the comedic actress has the star power to open films strong--and keep them that way.
The third spot belonged to Sony Pictures' Maid in Manhattan, this season's other romantic comedy, which opened last weekend at number one. Falling 41 percent, it still managed to rake in an ESTIMATED $11 million at 2,866 theaters (+28 theaters; $3,838 per theater). It's cume to date is approximately $35.5 million.
Directed by Wayne Wang, it stars Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes.
Guess a historical period piece about 1860s New York can't beat Hobbits or romance. Miramax's highly anticipated R-rated Gangs of New York opened with a less-than-exciting ESTIMATED $9.1 million at 1,504 theaters ($6,064 per theater). Still, with the film's recent slate of Golden Globe nominations, the momentum should give Gangs a fair amount of shelf life.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz.
20th Century Fox's drum showstopper PG-13 rated Drumline continued to boom at number five with an ESTIMATED $7.6 million (-40%) at 1,837 theaters ($4,137 per theater). The little-film-that-could about an underdog high school band opened at No. 3 last week and has so far gained a respectable $22.8 million.
Directed by Charles Stone, it stars Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana and Orlando Jones.
Another new flick on the block this weekend was Paramount Pictures' PG-rated The Wild Thornberrys Movie, which opened in sixth place with an ESTIMATED $6.1 million at 3,012 theaters ($2,025 per theater).
Based on the hit Nickelodeon TV show, the animated film about a family of wildlife documentary filmmakers, is directed by Cathy Malkasian and Jeff McGrath and includes the vocal talents of Lacey Chabert, Tim Curry, Rupert Everett, Lynn Redgrave and Marisa Tomei.
Chortling in at number seven is Disney's PG-13 rated The Hot Chick, taking in an ESTIMATED $4.5 million at 2,217 theaters ($2,030 per theater). Dropping 39 percent, the body-switching comedy bowed last week in fifth place and has made approximately $13.7 million thus far.
Directed by Tom Brady, it stars Rob Schneider, Anna Faris and Rachel McAdams.
Warner Bros. PG-rated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets dropped a couple of notches to No. 8 with an ESTIMATED $4.45 million (-30%) at 2,750 theaters (-275 theaters; $1,620 per theater). The second movie about our fab boy wizard and his adventures at Hogwarts has managed to eke out approximately $228.9 million in its six weeks at the box office. Not too shabby.
Directed by Chris Columbus, the film stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Kenneth Branagh, Jason Isaacs, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane and Maggie Smith.
The once-popular franchise seems to have lost its steam. Paramount Pictures PG-13 rated Star Trek: Nemesis continued its disappointing run, slipping from its bow at second place last weekend to ninth with an ESTIMATED $4.4 million (-76%) at 2,711 theaters ($1,623 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.4 million.
Directed by Stuart Baird, it stars Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Tom Hardy, Ron Perlman, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden and Marina Sirtis.
Tenth place belongs to Bond, James Bond. MGM's megahit, PG-13 rated Die Another Day, continued reaping the rewards with an ESTIMATED $4 million, dropping 49 percent at 2,075 theaters (-1,302 theaters; $1,928 per theater). One of the highest-grossing Bond films ever, its taken in approximately $138.4 million so far.
Directed by Lee Tamahori, it stars Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike, Toby Stephens and Rick Yune.
Three of the higher-profile independent films of the season opened in limited theaters this weekend, including Denzel Washington's Antwone Fisher, Spike Lee's 25th Hour and Narc starring Ray Liotta.
Fox Searchlight's PG-13 rated Antwone Fisher opened Thursday in 15 theaters at an ESTIMATED $217,500 ($14,500 per theater). The film, about a man struggles to come to terms with his abusive childhood, is directed by the Oscar-winning Washington, who also stars along with newcomer Derek Luke. Fisher will open wide Jan. 1.
Buena Vista's R-rated 25th Hour also opened Thursday in 5 theaters and took in an ESTIMATED $109,811 ($21, 962 per theater). The intense drama focuses on a drug dealer's last 24 hours before he goes to prison and how he chooses to spend it. Directed by Spike Lee, it stars Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson and Brian Cox. The film opens wide Jan. 10.
Paramount's Narc opened in 6 theaters Friday, making an ESTIMATED $66,000 ($11,000 per theater). The gritty drama stars Ray Liotta and Jason Patric as two undercover narcotics detectives after a cop killer.
The top 12 films this weekend earned $132 million, up 46.4 percent from last weekend.
This time last year, New Line's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was number one at the box office with $47.2 million, while Warner Bros. Ocean's Eleven came in second with $14.7 million and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius third with $13.8 million.
*All estimates as reported by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.