Instead of following a ragtag team of brutes hired for a suicide mission to destroy an Earth-bound meteor Seeking a Friend for the End of the World plays out the apocalyptic "what if?" scenario from the everyman vantage point. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) the film pairs average joe Dodge (Steve Carell) with wallflower Penny (Keira Knightley) for a journey across the east coast a hunt for Dodge's college sweetheart. Scafaria takes a character-first approach to her anti-blockbuster examining the end of the world with a pitch black sense of humor. But the road trip loses steam as it chugs along with the film's insistence to avoid Hollywood disaster tropes taking a toll on the entertainment value. Dodge and Penny are so normal they aren't that interesting to watch. In turn neither is Seeking a Friend.
Worse for Dodge than the whole "destruction of humanity" thing is the fact that he's facing it alone; his wife leaves him he has no real family and he hates nearly all of his friends. While everyone he knows is either hooking up or shooting up in hopes of going out on a high note Dodge buckles under the weight of an existential crisis that feels all too familiar. To his rescue is next-door neighbor Penny who insists the two hit the road together to go find Dodge's one-that-got-away. They don't have much of a choice as New York City is quickly overrun by Malatov cocktail-hurling riots.
When the catastrophe and societal chaos is seen through Dodge's eyes and Carell's complex interpretation of the straight man Scafaria hits all the marks. Watching Dodge tell his cleaning lady to go home because "What's the point?" is heartbreaking while his good friend's descent into frat boy madness for the same reasons nails mankind's vile tendencies. And through it all it's funny thanks to Carell's impeccable timing. When Dodge is eventually paired up with Penny the film meanders the two never unearthing what it is about each other that keeps them sticking together. The duo run into a kindly truck driver (who's hired an assassin to off him when he's unaware) a TGIFriday's-esque restaurant full of zany drugged up waiters and even one of Penny's ex-boyfriends whose locked down with automatic rifles and Ruffles chips in anticipation of the end. But Dodge and Penny's quest is mostly about the in-between moments the quitter grounded human reactions to the apocalypse. Even with great performers at the helm Seeking a Friend doesn't organically shape those moments so much as contrive them. In one scene Penny fondly recalls the wonders of listening to music on vinyl Dodge listening carefully and learning. It's a soft and low key discussion perfect juxtaposition against the big-scale problem at hand but when a twenty-something is explaining records to a guy nearing 50 it comes off as twee instead of truthful. The problem infiltrates most of Seeking a Friend's character moments.
Scafaria has an ear and eye for comedy but Seeking a Friend boldly reaches for something more. Sadly ambition doesn't translate to success a messy tonal mix that fail to make it all that engaging or emotional. Carell and Knightley serve the material as best they can but this is the end of the world an even that requires a little weight a little sensationalism and a little more than a casual road movie.
The story of the most dominant racehorse of all time does not easily fit into the standard inspirational sports flick mold. Such films typically require its protagonists to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles be they competitive (Hoosiers) personal (The Natural) societal (Ali) or some combination of all three (Remember the Titans). But by all accounts the greatest challenges to Secretariat capturing of the 1973 Triple Crown were not rival horses — indeed Secretariat had no true rival — but a pair of slow starts and an abscess. And abscesses — apologies to dermatologists — simply aren’t all that effective as dramatic devices.
Lacking most of the vital ingredients of the traditional underdog movie formula Disney’s Secretariat is forced to synthesize them. Its screenplay written by Mike Rich and based rather loosely on the book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack adopts a conventional save-the-farm framework: When her parents pass away within months of each other Denver housewife Penny Tweedy (Diane Lane) is advised to sell off her family’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables a beautiful but unprofitable horse-breeding enterprise in order to pay the onerous inheritance taxes levied by the state. But Penny her deceased father’s hackneyed horse-inspired counsel fresh in her mind (“You’ve got to run your own race ” etc. etc.) is loath to depart with such a cherished heirloom. So she concocts a scheme just idiotic enough to work betting the farm — literally — that her new horse Big Red in whom she has an almost Messianic faith will win the Kentucky Derby Preakness and Belmont races in succession.
Of course Big Red under the stage name Secretariat goes on to do just that but only after the film subjects us to nearly two hours of manufactured melodrama. Lane grasping all-too conspicuously for awards consideration treats every line as if it were the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Her character Penny exhibits a hair-trigger sensitivity to the sounds of skeptics and naysayers bursting forth with a polite rebuke and a stern sermon for anyone who dares doubt her crusade from the trash-talking owner of a rival horse to her annoyingly pragmatic husband (Dylan Walsh).
Lane isn’t alone in her grandiosity. The entire production reeks of it as director Randall Wallace lines the story with fetid chunks of overwrought Oscar bait like so many droppings in an untended stable even using Old Testament quotations and gospel music to endow Penny’s quest with biblical significance. John Malkovich is kind enough to inject some mirth into the heavy-handed proceedings hamming it up as Secretariat’s trainer Lucien Laurin a French-Canadian curmudgeon with an odd sartorial palette. It’s not enough however to alleviate the discomfort of witnessing the film's quasi-Sambo depiction of Secretariat’s famed groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) which reaches its cringeworthy zenith when Sweat runs out to the track on the eve of the Belmont Stakes and exclaims to no one in particular that “Big Red done eat his breakfast this mornin’!!!” Bagger Vance would be proud. Whether or not Ellis’ portrayal of Sweat’s cadence and mannerisms is accurate (and for all I know it may well be) the character is too thinly drawn to register as anything more than an amiable simple-minded servant.
Animal lovers will be happy to know that the horses in Secretariat come off looking far better than their human counterparts and not just because they’re alloted the best dialogue. In the training and racing sequences Wallace effectively conveys the strength and majesty of the fearsome animals drawing us into the action and creating a strong element of suspense even though the final result is a fait accompli. It's too bad the rest of the film never makes it out of the gate.
Sony Pictures Entertainment set off a dazzling box office fireworks display that made this July Fourth weekend Hollywood's biggest ever.
Sony's three Columbia Pictures releases grossed $119.5 million for the five day holiday period -- about 51 percent of the key films five day total of about $235 million.
Men in Black II opened to a chart topping $54.1 million and a five day cume of $90 million. Mr. Deeds was a rich number two with $18.8 million and $26.3 million for five days. On top of that, it was a milestone weekend for Spider-Man, whose $3.2 million for five days brought its cume to $400.1 million.
20th Century Fox launched its own July Fourth sparkler Like Mike in third place with $13.1 million and $20.1 million for five days. Disney's Lilo & Stitch was a colorful fourth with $12.7 million. Fox and DreamWorks' Minority Report finished fifth with $12.4 million.
The weekend's other wide opening, Warner Bros.' The Powerpuff Girls Movie, fizzled in ninth place with $3.6 million and $6.1 million for five days.
Ticket sales were up over 19 percent from last year's July Fourth weekend. Key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more -- took in $151.2 million versus last year's $126.8 million.
THE TOP TEN
Columbia's PG-13 rated blockbuster sequel Men In Black II arrived in first place to an out of this world ESTIMATED $54.1 million at 3,557 theaters ($15,209 per theater). Its cume after five days is approximately $90.0 million.
MIB II's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, it stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith.
The original Men In Black's first weekend in theaters was July 4-6, 1997 with $51.07 million at 3,020 theaters ($16,910 per theater). With July Fourth falling on a Friday that year, the film's opening gave it a six day cume of $84.1 million. It went on to gross $250.1 million in domestic theaters.
"That's the biggest Friday-Saturday-Sunday July Fourth opening ever," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning, "beating MIB I at $51.1 million. And it's the biggest five days ever (for July Fourth) if you back out the Tuesday (preview) shows for ID4, which did $85.0 million July 3-7, 1996. But they had $11 million in Tuesday shows (giving the film $96 million for six days)."
Looking at other records set by MIB II, Blake said, "It's Will Smith's biggest opening ever. He now owns the July Fourth Triple Crown. MIB I was his biggest and Independence Day before that had done $50.2 million for the Friday-Saturday-Sunday (three-day portion of its 1996 July Fourth weekend). So he truly owns July Fourth -- one, two and three.
"Men In Black II is Sony's fifth number one opening of the year, joining Black Hawk Down, Panic Room, Spider-Man and Mr. Deeds. It brings our market share for the year to $965 million (from) Jan. 1 through July 7. We will hit $1 billion before next weekend. That's the fastest anyone has ever hit $1 billion. In our record year of 1997, which is the record that still stands at $1.27 billion, we hit $1 billion on Labor Day weekend. We'll have our $1 billion in our pocket (shortly) and we'll certainly have the balance of Men In Black II and the balance of Mr. Deeds. And we'll have (still ahead) for the year pictures like Stuart Little 2 on July 19, XXX on Aug. 9, I Spy on Nov. 1, Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights at Thanksgiving and Jennifer Lopez's Chambermaid at Christmas. So we feel very excited about what that could add up to. It's hard to tell, but we certainly plan to break our own record and hope to break our own record. We're running a full two months ahead of our pace in '97."
Looking ahead to where MIB II is going in domestic theaters, Blake said, "It's a little too soon to say, but we will go into our second weekend most likely with about $120 million or so of business. So that's a pretty good place to be going into your second weekend."
Sony's next release is Stuart Little 2 on July 19. The first Stuart Little opened to $15 million the weekend of Dec. 17-19, 1999 and went on to gross $140 million in domestic theaters.
Columbia and New Line's PG-13 rated comedy Mr. Deeds fell one peg to second place in its second week with a still rich ESTIMATED $18.8 million (-49%) at 3,231 theaters (theater count unchanged; $5,819 per theater). For the five day holiday period it grossed an ESTIMATED $26.3 million. Its cume is approximately $74.0 million.
Directed by Steven Brill, it stars Adam Sandler and Winona Ryder.
"We have the biggest one-two punch in history with MIB II and Mr. Deeds," Sony's Jeff Blake noted. Together the two films did about $116.3 million over the five day holiday period.
"The previous biggest one-two punch that any studio had was last year (when Warner Bros.') Ocean's Eleven opened to $38.1 million Dec. 7-9 and Harry Potter's fourth week was $14.7 million (giving them a combined total of $52.8 million)."
On top of all that good news, Blake added, "We have a little picture called Spider-Man, which hit $400 million. The Friday-Saturday-Sunday is $2.2 million, down 15 percent. We're in 1,502 screens (with an average of) $1,465. And we're at $400.1 million. The five day (total for) Spider-Man was $3.2 million. There's probably about $5 million or so left (to be grossed), I would imagine, (which should bring it to) $405-410 million. It's only the third film to hit $400 million in its release, joining Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace and Titanic. Star Wars and E.T. got there with multiple releases."
All told, Blake said, "These three pictures add up to $75.1 million for Friday-Saturday-Sunday and $119.5 million for five days. So I think by any calculation that's over 50 percent of the market."
As for the overall July Fourth marketplace, he observed, "It looks like a record to me. It looks like about $150 million Friday-Saturday-Sunday and about $235 million five day period (and) that's a record by a good amount."
Asked where Mr. Deeds is heading in domestic theaters, Blake replied, "We're feeling good at about $125-130 million. That puts Adam Sandler right back where we want him."
20th Century Fox's opening of its PG rated urban appeal basketball comedy Like Mike was celebrating in third place with an ESTIMATED $13.05 million at 2,410 theaters ($5,415 per theater). Its cume after five days is approximately $20.1 million.
Directed by John Schultz, it stars Lil' Bow Wow, Morris Chestnut, Jonathan Lipnicki, Robert Forster, Crispin Glover and Eugene Levy.
"Like Mike is a very, very nice launching," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning. "We were especially strong in African-American theaters. It (played best in) urban and suburban major cities. That's where the real strength was. It played exceptionally well. People loved the movie. I don't have (exit poll) scores yet."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated family appeal feature Lilo & Stitch held up well in its third week, sliding one rung to fourth place with an ESTIMATED $12.7 million (-41%) at 3,222 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,949 per theater). Its cume is approximately $103.1 million.
Written and directed by Chris Sanders, it was produced by Clark Spencer. Its original score is by Alan Silvestri.
20th Century Fox and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated sci-fi fantasy thriller Minority Report slid three notches to fifth place in its third week with a calmer ESTIMATED $12.4 million (-43%) at 2,729 theaters (-272 theaters; $4,544 per theater). Its cume is approximately $96.8 million.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton.
"We should hit $100 million probably by Tuesday," Fox's Bruce Snyder said, adding that Minority should get to "about $135-140 million" in domestic theaters."
In addition, Snyder noted, Fox and Lucasfilm's blockbuster Star Wars: Episode II "now looks like it will get to $300 million. In its eighth weekend the three day at 1,162 theaters (it did) $2.5 million and a five day of $3.6 million. The cume is now $291.2 million. (It should hit $300 million in) probably two weeks."
Universal's PG-13 espionage thriller The Bourne Identity dropped one notch to sixth place in its fourth week, holding nicely with an ESTIMATED $9.11 million (-19%)) at 2,513 theaters (-150 theaters; $3,625 per theater). Its cume is approximately $89.1 million, heading for $100 million.
For the second consecutive weekend, Bourne had the lowest percentage drop of any film in the Top Ten.
Warner Bros.' PG rated family comedy Scooby-Doo fell three slots to seventh place in its fourth week with a sleepy ESTIMATED $7.03 million (-43%) at 3,257 theaters (-190 theaters; $2,157 per theater). Its cume is approximately $137.5 million, heading for $155 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Raja Gosnell, it stars Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini and Rowan Atkinson.
Paramount's PG-13 rated thriller The Sum Of All Fears slipped one peg to eighth place in its sixth week, holding well with an ESTIMATED $3.75 million (-23%) at 1,592 theaters (-894 theaters; $2,356 per theater). Its cume is approximately $112.0 million, heading for $120-125 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson and produced by Mace Neufeld, it stars Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.
Focusing on the strong July Fourth marketplace, Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning, "There's a wide diversity of product out there with broad appeal -- from young to old. I think the strength of The Bourne Identity and Sum Of All Fears shows the adult audience is going, as well (as the under-25s)."
Warner Bros.' PG rated animated feature The Powerpuff Girls Movie opened quietly in ninth place to an ESTIMATED $3.56 million at 2,340 theaters ($1,521 per theater). Its cume after five days is approximately $6.1 million.
The film is based on the popular Cartoon Network animated series.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Warner Bros. and Gaylord Films' PG-13 rated drama Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, down two notches in its fifth week, holding decently with an ESTIMATED $2.85 million (-30%) at 1,792 theaters (-375 theaters; $1,590 per theater). Its cume is approximately $61.0 million, heading for $69-70 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Callie Khouri, it stars Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan, James Garner, Ashley Judd, Shirley Knight, Angus MacFadyen and Maggie Smith.
LOOKING BACK AT JULY FOURTH WEEKEND
Looking back at July Fourth weekend since 1990, it's clear that the holiday period's boxoffice fireworks have become increasingly dazzling.
In 2001, when July Fourth was on a Wednesday, 17 key films grossed $126.8 million. Warner Bros.' Cats & Dogs opened in first place ($21.7 million and a five day cume of $35.8 million). Right behind it were Dimension's opening of Scary Movie 2 ($20.5 million and a five day cume of $34.0 million), Warners and DreamWorks' A.I. Artificial Intelligence ($14.0 million), 20th Century Fox's Kiss Of The Dragon ($13.3 million) and Universal's The Fast and the Furious ($12.3 million).
July Fourth was on a Tuesday in 2000 when 16 key films grossed $128.6 million. Warner Bros.' The Perfect Storm opening was number one ($42.3 million). It was followed by Columbia's The Patriot ($22.4 million), Fox's Me, Myself & Irene ($13.3 million), DreamWorks' Chicken Run ($13.2 million) and Universal's The Adventures Of Rocky and Bullwinkle ($6.8 million).
In 1999, when July Fourth was on a Sunday, 18 key films grossed $160.4 million for the four day weekend. Warner Bros.' Wild Wild West opening was number one ($36.4 million and a six day cume of $49.7 million). On its heels were Columbia's Big Daddy ($26.8 million), Buena Vista's Tarzan ($19.3 million), Paramount's South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut ($14.8 million) and Paramount's The General's Daughter ($14.2 million).
In 1998, when July Fourth was on a Saturday, 17 key films grossed $103.7 million. Buena Vista's Armageddon opening was number one ($36.1 million and a five day cume of $54.2 million). On its heels were Fox's Dr. Dolittle ($19.7 million), Buena Vista's Mulan ($11.5 million), Universal's Out of Sight ($6.6 million) and Fox's The X-Files ($6.3 million).
In 1997 July Fourth was on a Friday. There were 14 key films with a combined gross of $116.8 million. Sony's Men In Black opening topped the chart with $51.1 million and a six day cume of $84.1 million. It was followed by Paramount's Face/Off ($16.1 million), Buena Vista's Hercules ($12.2 million), Sony's My Best Friend's Wedding ($10.8 million) and Warners' Batman & Robin ($8.0 million).
July Fourth fell on a Thursday in 1996. A dozen key films took in $121.0 million for the three day weekend. Fox's Independence Day opening dominated with $50.2 million and a six day cume of $96.1 million. On its heels were Universal's The Nutty Professor ($17.5 million), Buena Vista's opening of Phenomenon ($16.2 million and a five day cume of $24.5 million), Buena Vista's The Hunchback of Notre Dame ($8.9 million) and Warners' Eraser ($8.8 million).
In 1995 July Fourth was on a Tuesday. There were 14 key films with a combined gross of $102.8 million. Universal's Apollo 13 launch topped the chart with $25.4 million, followed by Buena Vista's Pocahontas ($16 million), Warners' Batman Forever ($15.3 million), Fox's opening of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers ($13.1 million) and Buena Vista's opening of Judge Dredd ($12.3 million).
1994 saw July Fourth fall on a Monday. There were 19 key films with a combined gross of $110.1 million for the four day weekend. Buena Vista's The Lion King placed first with $34.2 million, followed by Universal's opening of The Shadow ($11.7 million), Fox's Speed ($11.2 million), MGM's Blown Away opening ($10.4 million) and Buena Vista's I Love Trouble launch ($7.8 million for four days and a six day cume of $10 million).
In 1993 July Fourth was on a Sunday. Seventeen key films took in a total of $124.3 million for four days. Paramount's opening of The Firm was number one with $32.5 million and a six day cume of $45.6 million. It was followed by Universal's Jurassic Park ($25.3 million), Sony's Sleepless in Seattle ($16.1 million), Warners' Dennis the Menace ($10.1 million) and Buena Vista's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ($9 million).
1992's July Fourth fell on a Saturday. Fourteen key films combined to gross $72.7 million. Warners' Batman Returns topped the chart with $13.8 million, followed by Sony's opening of A League of Their Own ($13.7 million and a five day cume of $19.1 million), Paramount's Boomerang launch ($13.6 million and a five day cume of $19.6 million), Buena Vista's Sister Act ($6.8 million) and Fox's Unlawful Entry ($6.5 million).
July Fourth was on a Thursday in 1991. There were 14 key films whose total gross was $88 million. TriStar's Terminator 2: Judgment Day opened in first place with $31.8 million and a six day cume of $52.3 million. It was followed by Paramount's The Naked Gun 2 ½ ($11.6 million), Warners' Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ($10.3 million), Columbia's City Slickers ($8.2 million) and Universal's Problem Child opening ($5.4 million and a five day cume of $7.6 million).
In 1990 July Fourth fell on a Wednesday. Fourteen key films grossed a total of $66 million with Paramount's Days of Thunder opening in first place ($15.5 million and a five day cume of $21.5 million). Also in the top five were Buena Vista's Dick Tracy ($10.1 million), Orion's Robocop 2 ($6.4 million), TriStar's Total Recall ($6 million) and Paramount's Another 48 Hours ($5.4 million).
This weekend also saw the arrival of Fireworks Pictures and Samuel Goldwyn Films' R rated romantic drama Me Without You to a hopeful ESTIMATED $39,000 at 3 theaters ($12,975 per theater).
Directed by Sandra Goldbacher, it stars Michelle Williams and Anna Friel.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding added more theaters via IFC Films in its 12th week with a still attractive ESTIMATED $2.5 million (+25%) at 499 theaters (+6 theaters; $5,055 per theater). Its cume is approximately $23.6 million.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Miramax's PG rated comedy The Importance Of Being Earnest added theaters in its seventh week with an unexciting ESTIMATED $0.5 million (+7%) at 216 theaters (+8 theaters; $2,315 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.9 million.
Directed by Oliver Parker, it stars Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson.
United Artists' R rated satiric comedy Pumpkin went wider in its second week via MGM Distribution with a soft ESTIMATED $54,000 at 19 theaters (+11 theaters; $2,832 per theater). Its cume is approximately $109,000.
Directed by Adam Larson Broder and Tony R. Abrams, it stars Christina Ricci, Hank Harris and Brenda Blethyn.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $151.2 million, up 19.29 percent from last year when they totaled $126.75 million.
Key films were up about 9.29 percent from the previous weekend of this year when they grossed $138.35 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' opening week of Cats & Dogs was first with $21.71 million at 3,040 theaters ($7,141 per theater); and Dimension's opening week of Scary Movie 2 was second with $20.5 million at 3,220 theaters ($6,368 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $42.2 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $72.9 million.