Summit via Everett Collection
You can imagine that Renny Harlin, director and one quadrant of the writing team for The Legend of Hercules, began his pitch as such: We'll start with a war, because lots of these things start with wars. It feels like this was the principal maxim behind a good deal of the creative choices in this latest update of the Ancient Greek myth. There are always horse riding scenes. There are generally arena battles. There are CGI lions, when you can afford 'em. Oh, and you've got to have a romantic couple canoodling at the base of a waterfall. Weaving them all together cohesively would be a waste of time — just let the common threads take form in a remarkably shouldered Kellan Lutz and action sequences that transubstantiate abjectly to and fro slow-motion.
But pervading through Lutz's shirtless smirks and accent continuity that calls envy from Johnny Depp's Alice in Wonderland performance is the obtrusive lack of thought that went into this picture. A proverbial grab bag of "the basics" of the classic epic genre, The Legend of Hercules boasts familiarity over originality. So much so that the filmmakers didn't stop at Hercules mythology... they barely started with it, in fact. There's more Jesus Christ in the character than there is the Ancient Greek demigod, with no lack of Gladiator to keep things moreover relevant. But even more outrageous than the void of imagination in the construct of Hercules' world is its script — a piece so comically dim, thin, and idiotic that you will laugh. So we can't exactly say this is a totally joyless time at the movies.
Summit via Everett Collection
Surrounding Hercules, a character whose arc takes him from being a nice enough strong dude to a nice enough strong dude who kills people and finally owns up to his fate — "Okay, fine, yes, I guess I'm a god" — are a legion of characters whose makeup and motivations are instituted in their opening scenes and never change thereafter. His de facto stepdad, the teeth-baring King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), despises the boy for being a living tribute to his supernatural cuckolding; his half-brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan) is the archetypical scheming, neutered, jealous brother figure right down to the facial scar. The dialogue this family of mongoloids tosses around is stunningly brainless, ditto their character beats. Hercules can't understand how a mystical stranger knows his identity, even though he just moments ago exited a packed coliseum chanting his name. Iphicles defies villainy and menace when he threatens his betrothed Hebe (Gaia Weiss), long in love with Hercules, with the terrible fate of "accepting [him] and loving [their] children equally!" And the dad... jeez, that guy must really be proud of his teeth.
With no artistic feat successfully accomplished (or even braved, really) by this movie, we can at the very least call it inoffensive. There is nothing in The Legend of Hercules with which to take issue beyond its dismal intellect, and in a genre especially prone to regressive activity, this is a noteworthy triumph. But you might not have enough energy by the end to award The Legend of Hercules with this superlative. Either because you'll have laughed yourself into a coma at the film's idiocy, or because you'll have lost all strength trying to fend it off.
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While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
When all-American girl Susan Murphy is inadvertently hit by a falling meteor on her wedding day she grows to be nearly 50 feet tall. The U.S. military gets wind of this renames her Ginormica and locks her away with a slacker group of other “monsters” in a top-secret compound. But when a mysterious alien robot lands on Earth and begins wreaking havoc these good-hearted but inept creatures are called into action by the President and must band together as a team to save the world from certain catastrophe.
WHO’S IN IT?
As usual Dreamworks has assembled a stellar A-list voice cast led by Reese Witherspoon as Susan/Ginormica. Playing one of the rare female animated heroes Witherspoon’s sweet/confused demeanor — in light of her highly unusual status as a fearsome freakazoid — hits just the right tone generously letting her zanier colleagues steal scenes from right under her (a long way down by the way). Chief among these are a not-so-bright gelatinous blue mass named B.O.B. hilariously voiced by Seth Rogen; the genius Dr. Cockroach Ph.D in the capable hands of House doc Hugh Laurie; and Will Arnett’s half-ape half-fish The Missing Link. In the human roles there’s Stephen Colbert as the idiotic U.S. President Kiefer Sutherland as the monster’s prison guardian Paul Rudd as the ego-driven weatherman fiancé of Susan; and a deliciously villainous Rainn Wilson as Galaxhar the alien determined to take over Earth.
Superb 3-D effects aren’t overdone and add immeasurably to the ginormous fun of the film but even seeing it in theaters that only show it in regular 2-D doesn’t spoil the pure joy of this cartoonish War of the Worlds. Throw in parodies of every cheap '50s sci-fi movie you can think of and you have the ingredients for a silly monster mash sure to appeal to just about anyone who wants to laugh. Despite the impressive production elements it’s the smart and clever script that really sets it apart from its competitors — and that even includes the similar Monsters Inc. from Pixar.
Like any kid-oriented comic ‘toon today the action can be a bit too frenetic and Monsters vs. Aliens piles a lot of it on in its trim 95 minutes. Still the lovable characters carry the day and somehow make it all palatable.
When Susan now Ginormica brings her new friends home to meet her parents chaos ensues and so do the laughs. Also impressive are the large action scenes that make fine use of CGI animation breakthroughs.
BEST SUPPORTING BLOB:
It's easily the one-eyed lame-brained blue lug of a people hugger named B.O.B. perfectly matched to the talents of Rogen. He rolls away with the movie and inevitably the merchandise tie-ins.
There are five new wide releases this weekend along with an important expansion, but this three-day is certain to “go to the dogs.” Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney), starring Piper Perabo and Jamie Lee Curtis and featuring the voice talent of everyone from Drew Barrymore to George Lopez to Placido Domingo, is tracking through the roof, and it is a surefire box office winner.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua is the first of four likely blockbusters from Disney set for release in the fourth quarter. The distributor will be scoring big with High School Musical 3 on October 24 followed by the animated 3D Bolt, arriving on the Friday before Thanksgiving, and the Adam Sandler family adventure film Bedtime Stories coming Christmas Day. It would not be surprising for this to become a quartet of $100M grossing pictures.
My sources tell me that Beverly Hills Chihuahua is scoring big in industry tracking with Females, both Under 25’s and Moms, and that the movie will ride a family audience wave through Saturday and Sunday matinees. The film will also hit big with Latinos thanks to the Mexican setting and the voices of not just Lopez and Domingo, but also Andy Garcia, Cheech Marin, Paul Rodriguez, Edward James Olmos and popular Spanish-language radio deejay Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo. It all adds up to a possible $30.5M opening weekend.
Last week’s winner Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount) may dip as little as 40 percent-45 percent from opening weekend to something in the $17M range. That will keep the high-tech Shia LaBeouf thriller on track for a final domestic haul of $95M-$100M.
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Sony), from director Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas), has gained real traction among the Under 25 set according to the latest tracking. It seems that 20-year-old Michael Cera is the key to the movie’s appeal. The Canadian-born actor, who first made a splash in the cult TV hit Arrested Development, is the nerdy heartthrob for a generation of girls who loved him in Superbad ($121.5M) and Juno ($143.5M). Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist will likely open at No. 3 with the possibility of a very solid $15.3M.
The new movie from Oscar nominee Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) is the tough-to-market Blindness (Miramax). Reviews are verging on awful for this adaptation of Jose Saramago’s novel with a score of just 41 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as of Wednesday night, and now the picture will be fighting a national protest as well. This thriller, starring Oscar nominee Julianne Moore, tells the story of a terrifying plague of blindness, and Dr. Marc Mauer, President of the National Federation of the Blind says that his group “Condemns and deplores this movie, which will do substantial harm to the blind of America and the world.” With 1,700 playdates, a sign that Miramax is trying to grab what it can before bad word-of-mouth sets in, it could still manage $2,600 or so per location for a possible $4.5M.
Universal’s Flash of Genius, the real-life story of Robert Kearns, who invented the intermittent windshield wiper, had the invention stolen by Ford and then sued the auto giant, will open on a more limited 1,000 or so screens. Reviews are very good (80 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as of Wednesday night), and, with a cast including Oscar nominee Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets, Little Miss Sunshine), Golden Globe nominee Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) and Oscar nominee Alan Alda, Flash could score a $4,100 PTA for a $4.1M opening and a No. 6 finish.
Two other new releases look very soft in tracking research. David Zucker’s conservative comedy rant An American Carol (Vivendi) seems headed for $3M and may miss the top 10 altogether. Things could be even tougher for MGM’s How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, which, despite the presence of rising British star Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), will probably manage no better than $2.5M.
Finally, the Ed Harris-directed western Appaloosa (Warner Bros) will expand to 800 or so screens, and $1.8M could be the ceiling despite strong reviews and a cast that includes Viggo Mortensen and Academy Award winners Renee Zellweger and Jeremy Irons.
FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE WEEKEND
1. NEW - Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) - $30.5M
2. Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount) - $17.5M
3. NEW - Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Sony) - $15.3M
4. Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros) - $7.4M
5. NEW - Blindness (Miramax) - $4.5M
6. NEW - Flash of Genius (Universal) - $4.1M
7. Igor (MGM) - $3.55M
8. Lakeview Terrace (Sony) - $3.5M
9. Fireproof (IDP Films/Samuel Goldwyn) - $3.3M
10. Burn After Reading (Focus) - $3.25M
*NEW – An American Carol (Vivendi) - $3M
*NEW – How To Lose Friends and Alienate People (MGM) - $2.5M
*Appaloosa (Warner Bros) - $1.8M
If animals could indeed view their surroundings intellectually and talk to each other it’s entirely possible they’d discuss how screwed up human beings are especially in the ridiculous way we waste food. But hey to RJ (Bruce Willis) a wily raccoon what we throw away today becomes lunch tomorrow. He tries to impart some of this wisdom to his newfound friends--a motley crew lead by Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling)--after they wake up after a long winter’s nap and discover most of their natural habitat has been turned into a housing development separated by a very tall hedge. Yep these woodsy folk are sure in for an eye-opening adventure as the manipulative RJ convinces the gang to start collecting boxes of cheese doodles Girl Scout cookies and marshmallows telling them there is little to fear and everything to gain from their over-indulgent new neighbors. Now if they can only get rid of that cat... If you’re an actor these days the chances to play a serious Oscar-worthy role are just as great as playing a squirrel. Or a hedgehog. Or a guy called the Verminator. Over the Hedge has a fine slate of voices starting with Willis as RJ the raconteur raccoon whose pretty savvy to the ways of the paved and pre-packaged world of suburbia. Shandling is the heart of the film as the mild-mannered Verne who just wants to take care of his little woodland family. They include a couple of married-with-kids hedgehogs (pitch perfect Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara); a hyperactive but tender-hearted squirrel (a hilarious Steve Carell); an overdramatic possum (William Shatner playing it to the hilt) and his embarrassed teenage daughter (pop star Avril Lavigne); and a snarky skunk with attitude (Wanda Sykes who else?). As far as the humans Allison Janney voices a shrieking but vindictive homeowner while the Thomas Haden Church is said Verminator a fat balding but ruthless pest exterminator. What fun! Over the Hedge keeps to the spirit of the popular comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis on which the film is based. The strip focuses on the travails of friends RJ and Verne as they exploit the human world for their own personal gain while sardonically commenting on how messed up it is. Hedge sort of shows how these two might have met and is just a hoot from beginning to end. The images of woodland animal-meets-modern-day people are spot on: RJ’s spiel on how humans get food (“That’s the receptacle to get the food [a phone]...and that’s the tone when the food comes [the doorbell]”); SUVs (“Humans are slowly phasing out walking all together”); the skunk seducing the stupid cat (“I like your smell.”). The best is when Hammy the squirrel getting so hopped up on caffeinated soda the whole world comes to a stand still for him. Side-splitting stuff. Again success in animation comes when you stick with a simple story and create characters everyone can relate to. Plus hilarious dialogue. It’ll work every time.